Local business hurting financially as Florida struggles to contain pandemic.By Casey Albritton

CLEARWATER, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Local businesses are responding after organizers announced the annual Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival in Clearwater is cancelled for 2021 for a second year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to organizers, the festival generated about 32 million dollars in 2019 for the Clearwater community, and one local restaurant owner says he was depending on the festival to make up for some money lost over the past year. Owner of Cousins Maine Lobster in Clearwater, Ricardo Varona, says when the pandemic started he had to shut down his business for several months. “That was, of course, huge because your expenses, everybody knows, keep coming and you have no income.” Varona says once his restaurant reopened in May of 2020, business didn’t go back to normal. “We could say anywhere between 30% to 40% lost revenue that we are still experiencing,”

Credit: Sugar Sand Festival | CW44 News At 10

Hearing the annual Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival was cancelled for a second year in a row because of COVID-19, was even more upsetting. “You’re thinking this is going to help us rebound. It’s a big amount of revenue that you’re getting this festival, because of all the people who come in, so it’s a disappointment for everybody,” said Varona.

Artists from all over the country participate in the festival every year, creating large sand sculptures, and Varona says he already spent money in preparation for it. “Tent equipment, kitchen equipment, electronics. We went into a big expense and then all of a sudden they are not happening so you kind of dig yourself a little bit more in the hole with that,” said Varona.

RELATED: Clearwater’s Annual Sea-Blues Festival Is Cancelled For 2021 Due To COVID-19 Concerns

Jason Beisel with the City of Clearwater says cancelling the festival was a difficult decision for organizers. “Very disappointed about having to do this, but their main concern is the safety of people and the visitors and sculptures and volunteers,” said Beisel. He says it’s too risky to hold an event so large with coronavirus cases increasing, but both Beisel and Varona say they are trying to stay positive. “Once everything is safe and once we are able to do so, we will bring more events back and make them bigger and better,” said Beisel.

Credit: Sugar Sand Festival | CW44 News At 10

Varona remains hopeful in the face of the bad news for his business, saying, “We just have to take it with a grain of salt and move forward and hopefully the festivals will come back soon.”

The cancellation message on their website reads:

Due to the current health and safety concerns presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as numerous travel restrictions that prohibit us from bringing in the team of talented sculptors from around the world, the Annual Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival on Clearwater Beach, FL will not take place as planned for April 2021. These sculptors are an integral part of what makes this event SANDTASTIC! Additionally, as a result of the present protocols placed on large events, the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival is unable to obtain the necessary permits which would allow the event to take place. A heart-felt thank you to all of the sponsors, residents, visitors both domestically and internationally who have supported this community event over the years and made it a shining success for Clearwater. Our goal is to bring you the type of event that you have come to enjoy and cherish, a museum quality art exhibit and family-friendly celebration where our patron’s safety is of the utmost importance. We look forward to seeing you in 2022! – Respectfully, Team Sugar Sand.

City and festival leaders say in 2019, there were 200,000 people who attended the festival and the goal is to bring those people back in 2022.

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