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Economic Hardships from Oil Spill Disaster filters into Unexpected Areas

By Teresa Collier | Published 02 Mar 2011 01:22pm | comments

Mississippi’s fishing and coastal tourist industries aren’t the only ones feeling the economic pinch of last year’s Oil Disaster. As money stops flowing into the businesses most directly impacted by the spill, economic hardship filters into some unexpected places. Eve Abrams reports.

Melvin Barnes has been cooking crawfish all his life. People call him Cuz, and so that’s what he and his wife named the restaurant and seafood market they opened in Bay St. Louis.

CUZ: This come up for sale, so my wife and I mortgaged everything we had and bought it. Then 10 months, 11 months later, lost it in Katrina. And then got it built back in October ’08, had a good season, April 20th an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shut me down in August.

Though locals eat and shop at Cuz’s, the majority of their customers are out-of towners, who come to Bay St. Louis to fish.

CUZ: When they shut all the fishing down, my business was zero, because back behind me is a lot of camps, these guys come to fish, weekend camps – a lot of Metairie, New Orleans, lot of Hattiesburg. We got folks from Ft Lauderdale, FL come down to camps.

Without recreational fisherman in town, Cuz’s had virtually no customers, and therefore no money.

CUZ: We shut down but our bills kept comin in. We had inventory, we had to keep running freezers. We just had to spend money and it got us in a pretty bad jam there at one point.

Cuz’s restaurant re-opened up a few weeks ago, after they received an emergency payment from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Business is still slow, but Cuz is hopeful that when the warm weather comes, so will the people.
Cuz’s isn’t alone. Without those out-of-town visitors, all sorts of businesses suffer.

BOB BENNET: It didn’t just affect the coast, it affected Florida, and Florida affects us.

Bob Bennet is the owner of the Edgewater Inn, in Biloxi. He says that when tourists stop vacationing anywhere on the Gulf coast, the state’s economy suffers.

BOB BENNET: So it not only hurt out hotel business here on the coast, it hurt Jackson, Tupelo, all the northern counties suffered because people would go to Florida through Mississippi.

Bridgette Varone is the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association. Like Bob Bennet, she says when the coast hurts, tourist dollars go missing up and down the state.

BRIDGETTE VARONNE: If someone is coming from Atlanta to the coast, they’ll drive through the state of Mississippi a couple times to eat before they get here.

And it’s not just tourist dollars missing from the economy.

SANDRA KNETT: It snowballs. It’s a big snow ball effect. Everybody thinks it just hurts the fisherman and that’s not so. Because it in turn hurts people like me which in turn it hurts my suppliers.

Sandra Kinett manages Ellzey’s hardware, a family owned business her grandfather started in Biloxi in 1914. Kinett says that since the spill, business has been down by as much as 25 percent.

SANDRA KNETT: We’re only three blocks from the beach. So we do a lot of our business with shrimpers, fishermen, charter boat fisherman come in and buy from us, and since they’ve all been out of work, then it’s hurt our business too.

Normally, these winter months are when fisherman are shopping at Ellzey’s for stainless steel hardware, fasteners, and glues to repair their boats. Not this year.

SANDRA KNETT: A lot of the fishermen were not working on their boats because they didn’t have the money to because they didn’t generate any revenue during the season .

Business is also down for another big client of Ellzey’s – the shrimp processing plant.

SANDRA KNETT: And when they’re not working because they had no shrimp to process, then again, it’s the same thing. Their machines aren’t breaking down because they’re not being used so they don’t come by to buy hardware.

Kinett reminds me that Ellzey’s Hardware is just one business in this growing economic snowball.

SANDRA KNETT: I wish I had a crystal ball. I wish I could tell you what it was going to be like. I’m afraid that we have not seen the last of it.
For MPB News, I’m Eve Abrams. 

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