After a busy weekend that saw visitors flock to Myrtle Beach, local businesses and law enforcement are gearing up for another.
“Nobody knows what to expect,” said Bill Howard, who sits on the Horry County Council and owns Dirty Don’s Oyster Bar & Grill. “We’re judging it from last weekend. There were a lot of people here on the beach, which is great.”
Despite the popular Bikefest event being postponed to September because of the coronavirus, police and businesses still expect a surge of tourists.
Jeff Pryor, kitchen manager at Hurricanes Daiquiri Bar & Grill, noted that many visitors will have money to spend with a stimulus check windfall and they will be off for the Memorial Day holiday. Like other businesses, Pryor said Hurricanes was “unexpectedly busy” this past weekend, having reopened just a couple weeks ago.
For some, Myrtle Beach might be a place with less restrictions than where they live, and Pryor believes the city opened up too early. This past weekend was the first without certain restrictions for accommodations businesses in the city.
As indoor dining is currently allowed at 50% capacity, Pryor said establishments might not be fully prepared to accommodate an influx of business.
Earlier this week, mopeds and trucks blasting music cruised the strip and visitors shopped at stores and ate at restaurants.
The area appeared to be operating as usual just days after a shootout on the boulevard Sunday evening near Mr. Joe White Avenue garnered controversy and sent two people to the hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries. Seven people were arrested and charged in relation to the case.
A bullet hole could be seen at the Lazy Parrot store on Ocean Boulevard, which also had a door shattered in the shooting. Several people stopped to look at the bullet hole and take photographs with their phones as they walked along the sidewalks.
As a 38-year-old who grew up in the area, Pryor said the shooting was unsettling.
That same day, a Facebook video was posted showing golf carts stopped in the road and people dancing without regard for social distancing near Beach House Bar & Grill.
Not only are businesses prepping for a busy holiday weekend, but so are local police agencies.
More than 100 officers from across the state are coming to assist the Myrtle Beach Police Department (MBPD) this weekend along with more than 20 officers from local departments. Response teams will be ready to disperse crowds and handle vehicle congestion. State officers will be here to do compliance checks at businesses.
In last few years, the police have brought in 500 officers from around the state to handle traffic-related issues in the days of the 23-mile traffic loop and one-way traffic on Ocean Boulevard.
City officials are set to meet on Thursday to discuss plans for the weekend anticipated crowd. Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock has said the city does not plan on instituting the traffic loop that forces vehicles out of the city along U.S. 501, north on S.C. 31 and back into the city off Robert M. Grissom Parkway.
Police have said they plan to crack down on parking lot parties this weekend after responding to large gatherings in vacant business parking lots.
At a news conference Wednesday, Horry County police officials said the agency is also increasing staffing, but they will not be bringing in officers from outside agencies.
Traffic control devices have been staged at different intersections in Myrtle Beach, according to the city’s police department. If a roadway becomes heavily congested and the traffic demands exceed the roadway capacity, officers will use the devices to divert traffic to an area that is less congested.
The South Carolina Highway Patrol will be monitoring eight intersections at key points in the city during peak travel times, according to the MBPD.
The Highway Patrol will be directing traffic and controlling the intersections to make sure traffic is moving and that an intersection doesn’t become congested.
Pedestrian barricades have been placed along the curb on the boulevard that will encourage pedestrians to use crosswalks and to prevent them from walking in the road.
City officials said the emergency lane on the boulevard will be in the northbound lane forcing traffic to move south on the boulevard with various entry and exit points starting at 6 a.m. Friday.
The city has also put “no through traffic” signs on streets leading to residential areas to avoid cut-through traffic from major arteries.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s gunfight, Prock said her department makes staffing plans based on details including lodging data, information from the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce as well as intelligence gleaned from the State Law Enforcement Division and city officers.
“The information we originally received was inaccurate at best,” Prock said. “It was extremely disappointing to me and to my staff that the communication between our business community was lacking with our department.
Howard pointed out that incidents like shooting often happen on streets and sidewalks.
Restaurants work to control crowding at the business, ensure customers feel safe and report incidents that arise.
While the boulevard has seen issues arise, Howard said the city has handled any problems that occur well. He also praised the response of the MBPD to this weekend’s events.
“They do their best,” he said of the agency, noting city officers aren’t always able to stop an incident from happening.
In a statement, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC) President and CEO Karen Riordan said, “Our understanding is the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association will, at the request of the police, gather anecdotal data of occupancy in advance of major events or holiday weekends.”
The Chamber is sometimes asked by local police for help gathering advance occupancy data from its lodging partners.
Last week, as the area started to reopen, the Chamber was asked by the Horry County Police Department for help with projecting occupancy.
The Chamber polled hospitality partners and provided anecdotal data to both the county and city police on May 11, and noted that the booking window was changing quickly and many bookings were happening in a 48 hour or less window.
“Many of the people in Myrtle Beach last weekend saw the sunny forecast and decided to book last minute on Friday and Saturday, resulting in much higher numbers of guests than anyone could have predicted,” Riordan stated.
“Our national data were predicting a low level of guests at the 30% range across many destinations in the U.S.”
City council members were told in a meeting earlier in the week that the weekend occupancy was 100%.
Riordan said many people in Myrtle Beach Sunday were “day trippers” who drive in for the day and do not book any lodging.
“The safety and well-being of our residents and visitors is always our priority. We are saddened by the incidents that took place Sunday,” Riordan said. “We will not tolerate illegal and unsafe activities and we are working with area leaders to prepare for a safe Memorial Day weekend.
“We know times are challenging in our country, but each of us bears a responsibility to help keep our fellow citizens safe, that includes both adhering to social distancing guidelines and lawful behavior. The Chamber is working with the City and all our partners throughout the Grand Strand to educate guests on what to expect when they travel to the Myrtle Beach area and what we are expecting in regard to responsible travel. We will help facilitate communication between our hospitality businesses and law enforcement as much as possible for the safety of our residents and visitors."