Bradley Nelson began preparations early this year. His bar, Bradley’s on 7th, sits in the middle of the Tampa Pride parade route, drawing thousands of potential customers to his doorstep each spring. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, he won’t get to serve them this year.
“I was being ‘smart’ and had already ordered all the alcohol for Pride,” which totaled $25,000, Nelson said. “(I) ended up shut down being alcohol-rich and cash-poor.”
As Tampa Bay businesses continue to reel from the deep economic hardships brought by efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, many are preparing for the compounding financial blow of canceled Pride celebrations.
Late last month, the organizers of St. Pete Pride and its sister celebration, Tampa Pride, called off their June events in an abundance of caution for attendees’ health and safety. The month began instead with a somber Pride Flag raising at St. Petersburg city hall Monday. This year, Pride month’s roots – a 1969 uprising following a police raid on the popular gay club Stonewall Inn – were at the forefront of the event as the systemic treatment by police of another group, the black community, was protested over days of civil unrest in Tampa Bay.
Most years, Pride celebrations are a major financial driver, particularly for LGBTQ communities.
St. Pete Pride has grown into the largest LGBTQ celebration in the state in recent years, drawing more than 150,000 attendees in 2019. Tampa Pride brought about 60,000 people through Ybor’s historic district that year.
“We knew this year would be another major influx because we were bringing in three major concerts,” said Carrie West, president of Tampa Pride.
According to an economic impact study commissioned by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the 2019 St. Petersburg celebration resulted $44.2 million in direct spending to the area. That includes event sponsorship, hotel stays, restaurant and bar sales and spending at local businesses. The findings were based on a survey of 338 attendees, 49 sponsors and exhibitors and an event organizer, representing an estimated 156,000 attendees.
West estimates that the Tampa events brought in $8 million to $10 million based on a survey sent to participating businesses in 2018.
“To have such an event not happen is certainly a big blow to the county,” said Chrys Bundy, president of St. Pete Pride.
One of the businesses that will take a hit this year is the Tampa Bay Pride Band, a wind band that was looking forward to its fifth performance in the Tampa and St. Petersburg parades. David Triplett-Rosa, artistic director and founder, said the events account for a third of the band’s annual income.
“Our membership is a big part of it,” Triplett-Rosa said. “That’s an opportunity for us to recruit and grow our programs.”
It currently takes donations.
Diane O’Dell, co-owner of Gayest Store on Earth, won’t get to sell the 3-foot-by-5-foot flags to young parade-goers this year. Her mobile merchandise trailer is parked in a Largo warehouse after in-person events around the state halted with the pandemic, but sales through her online store have picked up as Pride approached. The St. Petersburg resident offers more than 24 different kinds of flags.
“I want everyone to feel recognized,” O’Dell said.
Others are focusing on other business avenues to make up for the lost revenue. Ray Montgomery, owner of Pinellas Park-based Flashmanslights, sells light-up merchandise at St. Pete Pride and Pasco Pride. He typically expects to sell a large number of fans this time of year because of how hot Pride events can get, but likely will take a loss instead — the batteries in many of his products will expire before he can sell them next year. He’s focusing on his fence business in the meantime.
“I’m just keeping my chin up and saying, ‘we’ll get through this,’” he said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people that are a lot worse off than I am.”
Tampa-based Robert David planned to hire two people this year to help with his side business, merchandise store Got Pride!. The sharp downturn in events meant his sales nose-dived, and he decided to focus on online sales for the time being. He’s concentrating on his full-time job in the medical field.
Other economic effects are less visible. According to Justice Gennari, president of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce, large companies with a budget for minority-owned contracts often choose to spend with LGBTQ businesses this month, which may happen less this year because of the economic slowdown.
Several local high school band programs, too, won’t get funds they receive for performing in Tampa Pride, as the money comes from event sponsors.
For those who want to support their community LGBTQ organizations from afar, advocates recommend donating, ordering online or purchasing a gift card for later use. LGBTQ and allied businesses can be found on the chamber’s website and St. Pete Pride’s online directory.
“Let’s remember why Pride is important,” Gennari said. “It’s to show we’re a community.”
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