Key West Business Owners, Employees Hoping For Strong Fantasy Fest After Hurricane Irma

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KEY WEST (CBSMiami) – Behind the fantasy of the 2017 Fantasy Fest is an important reality. Workers and business owners here need a strong event to replenish bottom lines that took a hit during Hurricane Irma.

Fantasy Fest is a massive party with wild outfits, furry friends and a happy vibe. Something in great demand after Hurricane Irma.

“We’ve come back really, really well from the hurricane,” said Key West resident Melissa Barton.

Everyone from business owners to workers to the city’s mayor hope Fantasy Fest makes it even better.

“It’s hard to hold on if you’re not making any money so with these people coming back, bringing their business to Key West, it’s really gonna help us,” said Key West Mayor Craig Cates.

Danny Hughes, owner of the Two Friends Patio Restaurant, says they’re seeing a difference.

“We’re exceeding our numbers,” Hughes said. “Last night we were packed and that’s important. We’ve crossed the goal line.”

For some regular Fantasy Fest attendees, like the Wayburn’s from Philadelphia, dressed in Hershey kiss outfits, they made it a special point to return this year to support the businesses recovering from Irma.

“We wanted to support the people here in Key West,” said Ann Wayburn. “It was a hard time for them.”

For many residents it’s still a hard time. Some are living in hotels on FEMA’s dime because they can’t live in their homes. Some of those hotels asked those residents to leave so they could rent those rooms for top dollar during Fantasy Fest. Others, like the Perry Hotel, which is housing dozens of FEMA recipients, did not.

“We just said look how do you ask people that don’t have homes, how do you ask them to leave?” said owner Brad Weiser. “We have not done any of that.”

Related: “Over-The-Top” Headdresses Take The Stage At Fantasy Fest 2017

Mayor Cates said he sees both sides.

“Thank you for the hotels doing that and I respect the other hotels trying to make some money here,” Cates said. “It’s not a bad thing but they gotta pay their bills, too.”

Workers, like Sandy Bowen, who’s happily serving drinks at Two Friends restaurant, are hopeful that tourists spend their time and money in the Keys.

“We need your money, our economy relies on tourism and it would be a second storm for us, if we didn’t have tourist money coming in,” she said.

Everyone agrees that the crowds are smaller this year, which is to be expected, nearly seven weeks after Hurricane Irma. City leaders hope to get about 80 percent of the typical Fantasy Fest crowd, which would still be tens of thousands of people. The hope is that any weather on Saturday doesn’t deter those one day visitors who might come to visit.

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