Hurricane Ian devastated the entertainment industry in Fort Myers and other Florida towns

Hurricane Ian has hit Florida’s economy, especially small businesses that rely heavily on tourists and temporary residents.

The scenes of destruction in Southwest Florida will keep many tourists away, as well as keep local residents involved in the task of rebuilding their homes and businesses for months or more, said Michael Maguire, manager of a group of family restaurants in Ft. Myers. “It could be months, it could be years, we don’t know. People who live in the area are not going to be in shape to go to restaurants.”

Ian’s winds tore roofs, collapsed walls and shook buildings off their foundations. The flooding, including tidal waves of over twelve ies, wiped out shops, bars and restaurants. Fisherman’s Wharf, a very touristy area, turned into a dusty and surreal scene, with capsized boats far from their usual moorings.

Tourists drive the region’s economy during the winter. “That’s where our business comes from,” Maguire said. Even before the storm, there were mixed economic signs for Fort Myers and the rest of Lee County, where Census Bureau figures show more than 60% of businesses have fewer than five employees.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported that unemployment in the region had continued to fall since last summer as the economy recovered from COVID, with the strongest growth in the leisure industries.

In Fort Myers, the sector added 2,700 new jobs in May from the same month a year ago. However, airport passenger numbers in Southwest Florida had already declined in July 2022, falling 13% from the previous year. Tourism tax revenue fell 2% in the region, with Lee County down 4%.

Some business owners were unable to do anything, Ian left their livelihoods in tatters, including many restaurants. GoFundMe campaigns have sprung up to help restaurant workers who have lost their jobs. “Business here is gone, but we’ll rebuild it somewhere else,” said Ashley Galassi, a bartender at Tina’s. “This will probably be torn down,” she said. “Tourists ‘won’t be back anytime soon’ because ‘there is total destruction all around us.’

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