VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – This week, tens of thousands of people would have been flocking to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront for the second annual Something in the Water festival.
Among city officials, residents and visitors, anticipation was high, before the coronavirus pandemic forced festival organizers to cancel.
“This year was going to be a much larger event, so we don’t know exactly what the direct impact would’ve been – several million, for sure, like we saw last year,” said Ron Williams, deputy city manager of Virginia Beach.
Pharell Williams and his team had expanded their plans for 2020 to include a week of free events focused on sustainability, women’s contributions, food and wine and innovation and technology.
The news was particularly exciting for businesses in the ViBe Creative District, located close to the convention center, where many of those events would happen.
“The ViBe district was prominently on the festival map, which we were very thrilled about,” said ViBe executive director Kate Pittman. “There were plans for new murals, and food and wine day in the ViBe and numerous other business opportunities for small, local businesses to participate in the festival this year.”
Those same small, local businesses are seeing profits decimated by the pandemic, reporting losses of 75 to 80 percent, according to Pittman.
The losses will keep coming, as months go by without tourism or festivals.
Along big draws like Something in the Water and Patriotic Festival, the city cancelled hundreds of events at the convention center, aquarium, parks and other venues.
“Collectively with the 500 other events we had to cancel, we’re feeling it,” Williams said. “The hotel and restaurant industries are suffering right now and that’s making a significant, direct impact on the city.”
Williams is hopeful that regulations will relax later on in the season, allowing businesses and the city to rebound.
“Hopefully we can return to normal – a new normal – that provides us the ability to have visitors and therefore provide us the revenues that we can continue to reinvest to make sure that we have safe gatherings,” he said. “We’re hopeful for that.”
In the meantime, Pittman says that ViBe businesses are swiftly reworking their business models.
“Many of those businesses were 70 to 80 percent walk-in traffic and they’ve had to move completely online,” Pittman said. “That’s a really quick turnaround. Within a week or two, many of them were really quickly adapting to a new way of life.”
As businesses work to survive 2020, both Pittman and Williams say they’re confident about the opportunities Something the Water 2021 will bring, because of what they’ve seen from Pharrell and his corporate partners thus far.
“They know how to do it,” Williams said. “The momentum will be there, as long as we can operate in whatever the new normal is going to be.”
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