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ETX town’s tourist-driven economy hit hard by coronavirus closures


JEFFERSON, Texas (KTAL/KMSS) – As some COVID-19 restrictions begin to be lifted in Texas, after weeks of lost revenue, it’s a long road to recovery for local economies.

“Had you been here yesterday, you probably would’ve seen two cars parked on the street behind me,” said Jefferson, Texas, Mayor Pro Tem Victor Perot.

Jefferson is following Governor Greg Abbott’s guidelines and allowing restaurants and retailers to open to the public at 25 percent of their capacity beginning May 1.

The move is a step in the right direction, driving some traffic to downtown.

“Everybody has lost so much money by being shut down,” said Perot. “Tourism is the number one industry here. We need people back.”

The historic town’s population of about 2,000 people increases exponentially when events are in town.

“Pilgrimage we can have 8,000 or 10,000 people,” said Perot. “For one of the motorcycle ride-ins, we can have between 15,000 and 30,000.”

But, not this year. These and several other future events have been canceled due to COVID-19.

This is the first time in more than seven decades the Jefferson Historical Pilgrimage hasn’t been held the first weekend in May.

“There probably would’ve been close to a million, million and a half dollars go through the community,” said Perot. “Just this weekend.”

That’s a huge hit to the local economy and businesses banking on that extra foot traffic.

“It’s one of my biggest, biggest weekends,” said Sylvia Gibson, owner of Cherry Bomb Boutique. “But…”

Her store opened its doors for the first time in weeks May 1.

“I think that once the safety concerns die down, then people will be back, they’ll start coming back,” said Gibson. “And, everybody loves Jefferson.”

That positivity also ringing true at the state’s oldest hotel.

“I feel confident that our guests who’ve been coming for years will come back,” said Nancy Canson, general manager of the Excelsior Foundation. “I just don’t know when.”

Since opening in 1858, the hotel’s seen its share of guests.

“President Grant and President Hayes…Lady Bird Johnson was a regular here,” said Canson.

“We stay booked every weekend and we have a waiting list typically.”

But now, all 15 rooms are empty.

“There’s been an enormous loss in revenue. Enormous,” said Canson. “More than we can even fathom right now how we’re going to fully recover from that.”

Since it’s operated by the non-profit Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club, the hotel is accepting donations to get through the uncertain times.

“Excelsior comes from a Latin word that means ‘onward,'” said Canson. “I just learned that, so we’re onward!”

The Excelsior House is booking hotel stays beginning at the end of May.

City leaders said they won’t know the full impact of the city’s loss of tax revenue until the third quarter of the year.

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