KEY WEST (CBSMiami) — The streets of Key West’s famous Duval Street are not as packed as they would normally be on a Sunday but considering it’s the off-season, the city’s mayor is happy with the amount of traffic he sees as the city officially opens back up to tourists three weeks after Hurricane Irma Hit.
“This is the official opening where all businesses got together, took down all the shutters, cleaned up their businesses, have staff on hand, so we can show the world that Key West is open,” said Mayor Craig Cates.
A delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which includes Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, took a tour down to Key West from Miami. The mayors wanted to show their solidarity as Key West, considered to be the engine of the Florida Keys, tries to get back on its feet, along with the rest of the island chain.
“You could see that this was a place that had a massive cleanup operation going and right now it’s clean,” said Mayor Levine. “The streets are open, businesses are bustling. I know the cruise industry has come back and it’s starting to happen.”
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu also lent his support of the recovery effort.
“It really has been amazing to see how quickly the mayor and the citizens have brought the Keys back,” he said. “This is just really important that everybody in America knows that they’re open for business and are ready to go.”
The owner of Two Friends Patio, Danny Hughes, said his place opened back up for business one week after the storm hit. For the past couple of weeks, the locals have been the main source of business for his 50 employees and getting tourists back in is vital for the economic recovery of the area.
“Being from New Orleans, living through Katrina, you have to get open so your people can earn money and they can go pay their bills and get their lives back in order, so we wanted to be back open quickly,” Hughes said.
Employees are ready to go, as well.
“We work basically paycheck to paycheck, so when you have even just a one-week span where you don’t have any income, it really puts a damper on things when you have to second guess everything,” said food server Tara Whisner.
With three million visitors per year and the busy season right around the corner, residents are relieved to see Key West looking more like it used to. Even on this first official day it’s open to tourists, residents and visitors said the difference is obvious.
“More trolleys, more people out, more golf carts,” said Lisa Hinkley. “Everything’s on sale. Some of the places are like 70 percent off and yeah, it’s all good.”
Teresa Freese came all the way from Germany.
“Many things were on sale,” she said. “I bought a towel and bikinis were on sale. You can go shopping. That’s very good here now.”
Mayor Cates said the economic impact from Hurricane Irma is not yet known. Those numbers should be out in a few weeks.