Coronavirus Infects Local Economy

Mar 12, 2020

The economic effects of the coronavirus are not just reflected in the plummeting stock market. Visitor dependent Monterey County is already feeling the squeeze. You just have to spend time in a tourist area to see the impact.

For example, lunch time at Monterey’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf is quiet. Lauren Librea stands outside Crab Louie’s Bistro. It’s one of the many restaurants that line the wharf. She offers small cups of clam chowder as an enticement to people walking by. But there are few takers.

Lauren Libera stands behind a display of food that's on the menu at Crab Louie’s restaurant on Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Credit Doug McKnight

Inside, owner Rick Beidoun sits in his empty restaurant while CNN reports breaking news on the coronavirus from a nearby TV.

“With this coronavirus affecting everybody, the families, the kids. So nobody wants to go out,” Beidoun said.

Crab Louie’s Bistro is part of a nearly three billion dollar local tourism industry, according to the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau. But the number of tourists is now declining. Beidoun says the drop off, and its impact on his business, was sudden and dramatic.

“We cut payroll. I work every day instead of putting somebody to work. I'm here on hand. I am cook, busboy, dishwasher,” Beidoun said.

Crab Louie’s Bistro owner Rick Beidoun sits inside his restaurant. Even though it is lunch time, the restaurant is empty.
Credit Doug McKnight

Beidoun says he can no longer count on passengers from cruise ships to help his business through these slow days. The city of Monterey asked the cruise lines to cancel their upcoming cruises into Monterey Bay. These visitors contribute nearly two million dollars annually to the local economy, according to Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar. He says it was done out of concern for the health of those who live here. Two cruise line companies have already agreed.

“And those ships will not come to Monterey for the remainder of March as well as April,” Uslar said.

In addition to losing ship passengers, the Monterey Convention Center has had at least three conferences cancelled, which they are attempting to re-book. Uslar says other smaller convention sites may also be affected.

“You have on the peninsula the Monterey Hyatt that hosts conferences three to four hundred people. You have the Monterey Marriott. You have the Portola Hotel and spa, the Clement Hotel. You have the Monterey Plaza. So at any given time, we probably have on the peninsula, five, six conferences going on,” Uslar said.

Fewer visitors means less hotel taxes and hotel taxes are a third of Monterey’s revenue. That’s on top of what the city collects in sales tax.

“Sixty two percent of the sales tax is paid by nonresidents. So we are in the mode right now as a city that we are still tightening down the hatches so to speak,” Uslar said.

The Sea Otter Classic, a cycling and outdoor sports festival, has been postponed. It was supposed to happen next month, but now will take place in October. The event generates more than 35 million dollars for Monterey County.

Back at the wharf, Rick Beidoun reflects on happier times just a few weeks ago.

“Every day was busy because when you visit the Monterey Peninsula, you have to visit the wharf. It’s one of the attractions, it’s like you’re going to Disneyland,” Beidoun said.

A time, he hopes will return soon.