Temporary closures become permanent for many Bay Area businesses as COVID-19 cases rise

Over the last four months, more than 1,200 businesses in the Tampa Bay area have had to close down, at least for a little while. But new data shows that temporary shutdowns are increasingly becoming permanent and local companies are concerned.

Skipper’s Smokehouse in north Tampa has been a local favorite for nearly 40 years.

“It’s so unique, it truly is an iconic Tampa restaurant, music venue, it truly is unlike anything else around here,” said Cricket Larson with Skipper’s Smokehouse.

However, the music stopped back in March.

When phase one of the state re-opening started, the venue opened with outdoor dining only, but it was short-lived. After some staff learned of possible COVID-19 exposure, the owners decided to temporarily shut down.

“We just felt like we had to do something to try to help mitigate the spread,” Larson explained.  “And if that means we have to take extreme measures for the greater good, then that’s what we have to do.”

No employees ever tested positive for the virus. 

The elective closure is going on five weeks, and 40 employees have been furloughed. The plan -- and the hope -- is to eventually re-open.

“We view this very much as a public health and safety issue,” said Larson. “It’s extremely difficult to be in the situation that we're in, it’s heartbreaking.”

It is a situation hitting many other businesses just as hard.

The Q2 Yelp Economic Average report found Florida has seen the fourth-highest number of closures across the country. Between March 1 and July 10, the Tampa Bay metro area lost 1,228 businesses; some short term, and some for good, including 125 restaurants and 141 retail shops.

The Yelp data shows a trend toward temporary shutdowns becoming permanent.

“It’s not too surprising right now because we’re currently one of the epicenters of the coronavirus itself,” said Randy Deshazo with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

Some small businesses, like Skipper’s Smokehouse, managed to get a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to help stay afloat during the pandemic. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council says PPP loans have helped the local economy improve a little, but the fight is far from over.

“There are important decisions for our elected officials to make in the coming weeks and months that will really help define how we recover from this particular crisis,” Deshazo said.

The Yelp Economic Average report also shows a significant correlation between increased consumer interest in restaurants, bars, and gyms, and the surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida.