SANDUSKY, Ohio — Help is on the way for local business owners on the Lake Erie Shores and Islands as Cedar Point opens for the season after a two-month delay. The reopening will now attract tourists who pump millions of dollars into the local economy each year.
"We have a brand new car we can't drive because there is no gas. Cedar Point is the gas that fuels all of us here.” Mike Sortino, director of operations for the Cedar Corner Complex said.
Sortino is referring to the newly renovated Holiday Inn Express located just down the road from Cedar Point.
It officially opened March 17 and was closed the next day. The rest of the facility, which includes the popular Thirsty Pony bar and restaurant, closed soon after due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
"In the first few days we went from 100% occupancy to less than five rooms.” Sortino said."We received over 2,000 cancellations, 200 events, 2,000 room nights. Never seen anything like it. You couldn't predict it, you couldn't be prepared for it."
Sortino wasn’t alone. A region dependent on tourists visiting in masses to places like Cedar Point were essentially crippled during their prime money making months.
It's a $2 billion industry, bringing in 11 million visitors a year and $255 million in tax revenue.
Bryan Edwards from the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Tourism Bureau believes with Cedar Point opening along with other businesses, the region should start to recover from what could be upwards of a $1 billion in losses.
“Tourism in this region is a $2 billion industry. So it’s definitely something that not only affects tourism businesses, but all businesses in the area.” Edwards said.“Hopefully we’re seeing those people who kind of have that pent-up demand. That cabin fever, that they’re looking for a place to get out that’s safe and affordable. That’s what we have at shores and islands.”
At the Thirsty Pony, most of the staff is back but Mike Sortino believes it would take weeks to sort out the financial losses due to COVID-19. And like most in the region, they’re ready to welcome back guests in a safe responsible way.
"We're just glad to get a glimmer of hope with Cedar Point opening in the next few days that we can finally start making some money and put our people back to work.” Sortino said.“We're trying to do everything right. If there is something we're doing wrong, we say please let us know so we can do better."