North Myrtle Beach on Friday canceled its 32nd annual St. Patrick's Day parade and festival that was scheduled for Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
"Over the past 24 hours, some North Myrtle Beach residents who feel they may be more at risk to Covid-19 than others have expressed strong discomfort over a large public event held in the city at this time," the city said in a statement.
Mayor Marilyn Hatley said there was an "extreme amount" of calls from residents who were worried about the spread of the virus. She said vendors began canceling their attendance Thursday and Friday morning, although The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has not yet advocated cancelling events.
The mayor said the decision wasn't made by just council. "We talked with the chamber of commerce, we had them in a meeting this morning with us, as well as business people in our community," she said. "We wanted to make sure we were all united in this situation and we were all in agreement that it was probably best for us to cancel."
The city is encouraging residents to go out and shop at local businesses this weekend, particularly the businesses on Main Street that had invested in the event and could lose projected revenue from the event.
"Our festival brings thousands of people to the Main Street area," the mayor added. "Of course, it’s going to have an effect, but I hope and pray that the people will come out and support them. [There] will not be vendors on Main Street, so the restaurants and the businesses will not being competing with vendors, so hopefully that will help their business."
Buoys on The Boulevard owner Weldon Boyd said the festival's cancellation was a "substantial blow" to Main Street businesses.
"This, for Buoys and many other businesses on Main Street, is one of the most important days of the year because it allows us to bounce back from the winter," Boyd said.
In preparation for the festival, Boyd had spent thousands of dollars on entertainment and t-shirts, and placed a $10,000 order of food. He said he had double-checked the city's Facebook page to make sure the festival was still on before placing the order, and prior to Friday morning's announcement, the event was still scheduled.
Now he doesn't know what he's going to do with all the extra food.
"I’m in crisis mode right now figuring out how I’m going to save the day," he said. "I’m going to make the largest effort possible to convince people to come out and enjoy themselves. Main Street depends on it."
The Buoys owner was able to take part in a conference call with the city and other business leaders Friday morning before the announcement, and said the city let him make his case.
"I think they fully understand the weight that’s going to be put on Main Street businesses," he said, calling it a "lose-lose" situation. "They want this thing to happen, but the pressure that’s been put on them is incredibly disappointing."
People can still come out and have a good time on Main Street on Saturday even though the festival is canceled.
Buoys will have live music and a toilet paper give-away all day.
"We’re not going to buckle down to the people that are angry that everybody wants to have a good time," Boyd said. "I desperately urge the Horry County citizens to come out and have fun. Main Street depends on it."
North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce President Cheryl Kilday said in a statement the cancelation was a "prudent measure," given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that people to avoid large gatherings and to avoid travel when necessary.
"We are primarily a drive market for visitors, and we believe that remaining open to families and small group gatherings make sense while limiting large group gatherings is appropriate," Kilday said. "This action does not mean that we are closed for business and during this time, we would like to remind people to continue support of our local businesses including our restaurants and retailers."
To date, no Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Horry County.
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