HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Shops and restaurants opened for the first time since the pandemic hit. As the number one tourist destination in Arkansas, businesses in downtown are struggling to make ends meet. The Downtown Association of Hot Springs and Chamber of Commerce held a downtown reopening to encourage the community to come out and support local businesses.
Owning an operating two boutiques in downtown Hot Springs, one for 25 years, Renee Tompkins thought she’s seen it all.
“We’ve made it through a tornado, we’ve made it through a flood but this one kind of pulled the rug out from underneath us,” Tompkins said.
Surviving a pandemic is the next item she hopes to add to the list.
“Seventy days we’ve been shut down,” Tompkins said.
Making it through that kind of closure requires heavy foot traffic but most of that usually comes from across state lines.
“Tourism is a good 80% of our business,” Tompkins said.
In fact if you ask any business owner on Central Avenue, they’ll tell you their business relies on tourism and sales have taken a dramatic drop.
“It was challenging. There were a lot of slow days,” BubbaLu’s owner Ginger Bastin said.
Bastin said they had to cut employees when their dining room closed.
“It was scary but we just worked through it and that’s all you can do,” Bastin said.
Now, the open signs are hitting the windows and the shoes are hitting the pavement.
“We’ve already started ramping up and hiring some more people back,” Bastin said.
More than ever, these business owners are relying on the people right in their backyard to foot the bill.
“Just to see things opening back up this is awesome,” Shopper Brenda Richardson said.
This weekend was the first time in months shoppers like Richardson and her sister Donna Wheeler could get out to eat a meal or buy some shoes.
“We’ve missed the rain by staying in the shops and shopping and spending money and so yeah it’s been good and fun,” Wheeler said.
While the experience looks a little different, the business owners are excited to get back to a new kind of normal.
“This weekend was the beginning of the feel of what it was like before it was shut down,” Tompkins said.
With every card swiped, it brings hope even in a time of uncertainty.
“Yes it’s a struggle, it’s a step but we’re all going to come out better and I think we’re going to have a bigger summer than we ever have,” Bastin said.
Shop owners were encouraged by how many people they saw out but they hope to see even more for Memorial Day weekend.