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Coastal businesses are preparing for what they expect to be their best season yet

Rentals are already exceeding records set from this time last year, but loosened COVID restrictions could mean more people at our shore than ever before.
Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 7:02 PM EDT
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SWANSBORO, N.C. (WITN) - Tourism leaders had already projected the North Carolina coast to see record-setting numbers this year, and then the state loosened COVID-19 restrictions. Now tourism officials say it could be the summer they’ve ever seen.

It comes as a very welcomed surprise for businesses that have been struggling under COVID-19 restrictions.

“COVID was like a 1-2 punch,” said Randy Swanson, owner of The Boro in Swansboro. “The restaurant industry expects this season to be really wide open. Probably the strongest, perhaps, that we’ve ever seen in the area and on the coast.”

Tourism officials say rentals are already seeing numbers exceed last year’s record-setting reservations. But, despite that push, restaurants like The Boro have been doing everything they can to balance safety and turning a profit at the same time.

“When Hurricane Florence hit, a lot of businesses were negatively affected,” said Salem Clarke, the tourism manager for Onslow County. “Some still have never come back into operation from that and had to shift how they did business. So, once we were recovering from that into the end of 2019, and the pandemic hit.”

Businesses say that’s been even harder to come back from.

But now, most COVID restrictions are entirely loosened in the state. Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week they were lifting all mass capacity, social distancing, and mask requirements following guidance from the CDC that they would no longer be necessary for fully vaccinated people.

It’s a welcome boost for businesses like The Boro, who are now enjoying more customers than they’ve seen in nearly a year and a half.

“Now we’re able to pull them in closer,” said Swanson. “Now, we’re able to have increased seating, but our kitchen didn’t increase, and our staff size didn’t increase.”

Because of that, he added, he has run into a different problem: How to deal with larger capacities while, like a lot of businesses, struggling to find enough staff to meet the demand.

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