By Erica Eding | email@example.com
Trolley trains with only a few passengers have become a frequent sight in the streets of St. Augustine. The nearly empty trains represent the damage that a struggling economy can do to tourism. The drop in visitors affects local businesses and their student employees.
Flagler senior Katie Curry works at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille.
“I do see people ordering less. Some people share,” Curry said. “Some people come in and see the menu and say ‘It’s so expensive.'”
Curry also says she’s been receiving fewer tips.
“You don’t make as much, but you’re still putting in the same amount of work,” she said.
Some business owners are searching for creative solutions to make up for the decrease in tourism.
“We’ve pulled in more lower-end items and focused on that,” said Michelle Vijgen, owner of Spanish-Dutch Convoy, Inc., a downtown leather goods shop.
“We’ve rolled with the punches.”
Vijgen had to change the store’s marketing strategy to accommodate tourists who are more wary of their wallets.
“They tend to buy lower end,” she said. “As opposed to maybe spending $20, they’re spending $15.”
Vijgen said she’s trying to identify what her customers want in order for her business to survive.
“I could say that even for myself,” said Nick Sacia, the executive director for the Economic Development Council at the Chamber of Commerce.
“I would still go on a vacation, but the money I spent on extra things would probably be a lot less,” said Sacia.
Even stores that cater to this year’s record-breaking amount of Flagler students are suffering.
“The sales are lower than they should be,” said Charry Lee, a sophomore and employee at Flagler’s Legacy.
Still, the gift shop hasn’t seen as dramatic a decrease in revenue as its neighbors.
“Our store, since we’re Flagler-based, we’re doing much better than other stores which are for tourists,” Lee said.
Barbara Golden, the communications manager for the Visitors and Convention Bureau, said tourism is down 8 percent.
The bureau is changing its strategy to try and attract more visitors to the area.
“We’ve put a lot more effort into marketing closer to home,” Golden said. “That was almost immediately after gas prices started to escalate.”
While there may be less of the traditional type of tourism, another group is visiting St. Augustine more frequently.
Renee Morris, executive director of the St. Francis House, a homeless shelter, said she’s serving more meals than ever.
“I have seen faces that I’ve never seen before coming into town needing our services,” said Morris. “A year ago we might have been feeding 60 people per meal and now it’s over 100.”
Morris said the influx of people is due to the economic crisis.
“Homelessness across the country has increased,” Morris said. “People are looking for work. Jobs are down, everything is going up, a lot of people are losing their homes, a lot of people are losing their work.”
While trolley trains, shops and restaurants may be emptier than normal, park benches and beds at homeless shelters seem to be filling up.