ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — A day after St. Augustine’s mayor closed all bars, ended restaurant liquor sales and put the brakes on the city’s two iconic tourist trolleys, the Ancient City moved at a decidedly slower pace.
On Wednesday, some cobbled streets were empty. Finding parking – which usually requires a few prayers if not a few choice words – was abundant. Tourist attractions, including the Castillo de San Marcos and the city’s many bars, were closed.
Susan Magner, who came to St. Augustine after her original vacation plans fell apart, found the city quiet.
“Everything is closed pretty much,” she said.
Magner last visited St. Augustine 26 years ago. This trip was unplanned, but she looked forward to showing the city to her son.
“They canceled our cruise because of [the] corona[virus]," she said. “Most of the shops, the restaurants [are closed]. One restaurant owner gave us a menu and said, ‘Please come back and have lunch -- we want to feed people!’ So the businesses are suffering.”
Some bars used the forced shutdown to do a deep clean. Generators powering pressure washers and steam cleaners were a roaring soundtrack for the sunny day.
But while a few stores on St. George Street were closed, more remained open. Restaurants, even at the required 50 percent capacity, stayed busy.
Twenty-year-old German tourists Shahali and Hendrick said the atmosphere in St. Augustine was very different from that in their hard-hit country.
“I think they don’t really care that much,” Shahali said. “We’ve seen so many people at the beaches parting like last night -- so many people at the beach.”
“The young people especially,” Hendrick said.
St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch noted that paradox when he announced the closures Tuesday.
“It feels a little counterintuitive," he said. "We have absolutely gorgeous weather, it’s Spring Break for many colleges, for school districts. The beaches are beautiful, the weather is beautiful, the vast majority of people feel great. So this is an odd experience for all of us.”
For now, that disconnect unites visitors, even as officials urge them to stay apart.
“God’s gonna take care of me,” Magner said. “I work in a nursing home, so I know the concerns. But we’re washing our hands and using sanitizer and doing the best we can. But it is what it is.”