Southbound Kingsville snowbirds grounded by pandemic fears

Normally Canadian snowbirds like Adrian and Marilyn Farnworth of Kingsville would be thinking about heading south to their place in Florida.

But this year it may be only that — a thought.

“Right now everything is on hold,” said Adrian Farnworth.

The Farnworths usually leave for Clearwater at the end of October and time their return to coincide with the start of the Masters golf tournament in April.They have a car in Florida and could fly down to their winter getaway to avoid land border restrictions.

Still, they’re staying put.

“It’s because of COVID and the election. It’s quite volatile down there right now,” Farnworth said.

Florida, one of the first states to ease quarantine measures and restart its economy, surpassed 660,000 cases of COVID-19 on Sept. 13.

Canada so far has about 136,500 confirmed cases.

The number of Canadians who travel to Florida is huge. According to a 2018 federal study, 3.5 million Canadians visited the state in 2017, spending US $6.5 billion.Many of those tourist dollars will now stay in Canada — and in Kingsville and Harrow.

“We’ve got a lot of great things happening here locally, tourism assets that people may not have enjoyed in the past,” said Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor, Essex, Pelee Island.

“This gives us a great opportunity … to promote those assets.”

He said the economic spinoff from thousands of local residents staying put this winter will be widespread and not only include breweries, wineries and restaurants, but also grocery stores, hair salons, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.Tourism Windsor, Essex, Pelee Island promotes staycations on its website

Jennifer Flynn, manager of the Grove Hotel in Kingsville, already sees signs this winter could be busier than normal.

Flynn said she usually sees bookings begin to wane in September. This year the 18-room hotel is booked solid through October.

“It’s hard to say what the winter is going to look like … but I’m confident the trend we’re seeing will continue.”

Mark Muzzin, co-owner of the Kingsville Butcher Shop and Kingsville Brewery, has had a first-hand look at what the potential impact of stay-at-home snowbirds might be.

He said several of his customers buy large quantities of meat in the fall, freeze it, and then transport the frozen steak and hamburger down to Florida in their trailers or RVs.

Now, they will be buying meat for the entire winter and Muzzin is excited by the business opportunities.

“It’s mind blowing when you think about it — a couple of thousand extra people here in Kingsville.”

Normally, we would go down just after Thanksgiving for two weeks and then come back for Christmas, then go back down again. We have no plans whatsoever of going down there.

Trevor Loop has parents who won’t be travelling to Florida this year. The operations manager for the Banded Goose Brewing Co. said the brewpub and its sister operation, Jack’s Gastropub, will offer services typical of what Canadian seniors enjoy in Florida — like happy hours and early bird specials. Takeout meals will also be offered.

Orr said COVID-19 has forced many businesses to think on their feet.

“One of the things that has come out of the pandemic like this is innovation. Whether it’s online platforms or e-commerce, they’ve pivoted their business to takeout, open streets and outdoor patios,” he said.

“People are trying to weather this pandemic and do it for as long as they can, as best they can.”

One of the businesses that has pivoted is Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery near Harrow. Sprucewood Shores, like many local wineries and breweries, will ship product directly to a customer’s home.

Stephen Mitchell, winery president and co-owner, said he is cautiously optimistic there will be an uptick in business as a result of local snowbirds spending the winter in Windsor and Essex County.

“We certainly rely on the local business over those winter months when we don’t have the tourism from the rest of Ontario and if the snowbirds are looking for a nice wine, something to do, we certainly hope they would come out our way.”

Maggie Durocher, parks and recreation manager for the Town of Kingsville, said the town knows more residents this winter will be looking for things to do. She said the town will “ramp up” services as demand increases.The parks and recreation department offers arts programs, urban poling and yogalates fitness classes. Senior shinny and ice skating will be offered after Thanksgiving.

Like the Farnworths, Bob Kipping and his wife Linda have also put their plans for Florida on pause. And it’s because of COVID.

“Normally, we would go down just after Thanksgiving for two weeks and then come back for Christmas, then go back down. We have no plans whatsoever of going down there.”

Kipping said he is hoping for a mild winter so he can continue playing golf, but if not, he’ll do more walking. He’ll also fire up the backyard hot tub — and his long-unused outdoor fireplace.

“You do whatever you have to do. It’s not something that upsets me. What happens, happens. Just make the best of whatever is there,” he said.

Get the ‘rock star’ treatment

The Grove Hotel has slashed its advertising budget this year and is relying on word-of-mouth referrals to boost bookings. It’s also come up with some novel ideas.

The Main Street East hotel has added a “rock star” clause to its booking contracts which encourages guests to pretend they’re rock stars or celebrities and make special requests to the hotel — within reason.

Among the most daring requests so far: two packets of Presidents Choice mac and cheese and some fruit rollups.“We’ve made it fun and it’s something people talk about when they leave. It’s designed to create a memorable experience,” said hotel manager Jennifer Flynn.

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