In a place still recovering from the wrath of a Category 4 hurricane, which left thousands homeless last month and more than a thousand jobless, several businesses in the Florida Keys remain closed.
Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10 pulled the roof off Nick’s Fitness Express near mile marker 53 bayside like it was a lid on a tin can. Workout equipment could be seen under piles of debris for days. Some of it has been removed. The Burger King restaurant nearby looks like it took on a major tornado. Tree limbs and garbage still block the main entrance and drive-through.
Pizza Hut, nearby on the oceanside, has been closed since the storm and isn’t even listed as a store anymore on the company’s website.
There is no sign or time frame available for either restaurant about possibly reopening. The gym, according to its Facebook page, is closed until further notice.
They’re just three of 27 businesses in Marathon that have closed, according to Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Daniel Samess. Some are slowly reopening, he said, adding most plan to.
In the Middle Keys, 452 jobs have been lost in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Seventy percent of the jobs are hospitality related, Samess said. Of the 452 jobs, more than half are from Hawks Cay Resort, which laid off 260 employees Oct. 13.
In Islamorada, 32 businesses closed after the storm, resulting in 1,014 lost or frozen jobs — 98 percent of which were in the hospitality sector, Samess said.
In Key Largo, he said only seven businesses closed, yet about 279 positions have been lost or frozen, 97 of which were hospitality related.
“These numbers are not 100 percent accurate, as information is changing every week,” Samess said, adding more businesses, especially in Marathon, are reopening as time goes on.
He said the numbers were produced by calling all Marathon chamber members, which includes some Upper Keys businesses. Almost all businesses plan on reopening, he said, but their length of time being closed depends on the severity of damages. And the longer they are closed, the longer their employees are without work.
The Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce did not have post-Irma unemployment numbers available. According to the state Department of Economic Opportunity, about 1,535 people countywide were jobless in September out of the county’s workforce of 46,628.
The .06 percent change from August to September bumped Monroe County into a group with four other counties where the unemployment rate was 3.3 percent for the month — still lower than the statewide rate of 3.8 percent.
Monroe County long held the position of the state’s lowest jobless rate, which in September was held by St. Johns County at 2.7 percent.
Among all of Florida’s 67 counties, Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate (8.6 percent) in September, followed by Hardee County (6.0 percent) and Glades County (5.3 percent), according to the DEO website.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219