HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — The city of Hot Springs is the biggest tourist destination in the state and the month of March rakes in more than $1,000,000. Now, with COVID-19 precautions, all of those major events and attractions are getting the axe.
Hot Springs is known for three things.
Bathhouse Row, Oaklawn Racing and normally the shortest parade,” Hot Springs resident Deborah Cole said.
Two of those three are held in March, but as COVID-19 sweeps the state, these types of attractions are getting cut left and right.
“It’s just been devastating. Devastating to our local economy,” Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison said.
The first to go was The First Ever 17th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“It draws people from other states, from all over Arkansas. “Typically we have about 30,000 to 32,000 people that attend that parade,” Hot Springs City Manager Bill Burrough said.
What’s usually a sea of green this day is now just leftover decorations and the scattered few who came anyway.
“It’s a little surreal. It’s like a ghost town,” Krista Pennie Myers said who has been coming to the parade for six years.
Next came Oaklawn.
They started by racing in front of no spectators but Sunday announced the casino was closing too. As of Monday the bathhouses were the only tourist attraction left open but in just one day all of them closed their doors.
“We don’t have any business,” Arrison said.
Normally this month is the big money maker for the city.
“We bring in about 1.2 million in sales tax,” Burrough said.
This year, Burrough says that number will be drastically different.
“It’s a hardship not only for the city but our restaurants and shops and everyone that’s trying to get through this period,” Burrough said.
“I don’t know how many businesses can survive if this lasts a long time,” Arrison said.
As a city that relies on tourism, they’re now tasked with making budget cuts.
“I’ll probably put a restriction on capital spending, any type of discretionary spending,” Burrough said.
City leaders say the public just needs to do what they’re supposed to like social distancing and washing their hands the next few weeks.
“We are a resilient community and we will make it through this,” Burrough said.
City leaders are most concerned with the small businesses. Right now they say restaurant sales are down 80% and believe it will only keep dropping. They urge the public to buy gift cards and take out at this time to keep these mom and pop shops afloat.