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As tourism season winds down, Put-in-Bay businesses struggle through pandemic

Tourism is down. Coronavirus numbers are up. Businesses in Put-in-Bay are struggling, but owners are staying hopeful for the fall and beyond.

PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — This time of year, the weather is perfect for a trip to or weekend stay on South Bass Island.

But the island has been far from immune to COVID-19 and many have stayed away.

On a typical summer Tuesday in the small village, roads would likely be flooded with people and golf carts. But Tuesday, most downtown restaurants were fairly empty, if not shuttered altogether; hotels were nowhere near full capacity; and a place that usually puts on one giant party, was anything but.

"This is a lot emptier than I thought it would be," Sean Stettin, a tourist visiting Put-in-Bay Tuesday, said. "I spoke to the bus driver on the way out here and I know the island's taking a hit."

"Things are off by about 50% for the season," added Ray Fogg, co-owner of Reel Bar in the heart of the village's downtown area.

Tourism is down and coronavirus numbers are up. Several businesses, not including Reel Bar, have been cited by Ohio's Investigative Unit for COVID-19 violations, but Fogg said he thinks the island has turned a corner.

"By and large, people are satisfied with what they're seeing," he said. "If there's someone that's not complying, they're sticking out like a sore thumb right now, and you can just avoid that place."

Credit: WTOL

RELATED: 2 Put-in-Bay bars cited for violating health orders

"We're a resilient little place," Put-in-Bay Mayor Jessica Dress said. "You have to be to live on an island in the middle of Lake Erie that freezes over in the winter."

Dress is approaching two years in her role and called this the "strangest" summer ever on the island.

"A lot of change, a lot of learning, a lot of decision-making for business owners on how to operate safely and get people here," the mayor said.

As Labor Day, or the proverbial 'end of Summer,' draws near, the overall impact on the island's economy isn't yet clear. But Dress said leaders are already considering funding options moving forward, including grants and even a new tax levy.

"There's a lot of options up in the air but we're going to have to pursue those to be able to properly fund our streets, our parks, our maintenance, our police department, our docks," she said.

Credit: WTOL

RELATED: Ohio Coronavirus Update: DeWine urges Ohioans to stay vigilant ahead of Labor Day weekend

Back at Reel Bar, Fogg hasn't lost all hope for the fall.

"I mean, I think it's a foregone conclusion that we're not going to make up what we've lost," Fogg said. "But there's a lot of positive things to it. A lot of people really enjoy Put-in-Bay and find it fun when it's not as crowded."

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