Pensacola Beach restaurants lose customers after bridge closure

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PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — The closure of the Pensacola Bay Bridge connecting Pensacola to Gulf Breeze isn’t just causing traffic issues. It’s affecting local businesses.

Pensacola Beach restaurant managers who spoke to WKRG News 5 on Wednesday said they’ve already started seeing fewer customers.

“It’s just another thing to worry about,” said Cafe Nola chef and kitchen manager Ted McCrary.

Residents who want to get to Gulf Breeze have two options now that the bridge was closed following damage from runaway construction barges.

From downtown Pensacola, residents either have to take Interstate 110 to Interstate 10 and drive to Exit 22 to take the Garcon Point Bridge into Gulf Breeze. Or, they must take Highway 87 into Navarre and then travel west to Gulf Breeze.

Both options add significant driving time that might deter some from heading to the beach.

“The first few days we were open (after Sally), business was almost nonexistent,” McCrary said.

Down Via de Luna Drive on Pensacola Beach, manager Arin Brown said Native Cafe is also feeling the affects of the bridge closure.

“We’ve definitely seen a slowdown because just before the hurricane hit, we were picking up steam,” Brown said.

That increase came on the tail end of a tough stretch for beach businesses in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic led Escambia County leaders to close the beaches for more than a month during the beach’s busiest weeks.

“Our business plummeted,” McCrary said. “We were only doing take out.”

Businesses are pushing for local residents to support local businesses during a tough time.

“If you can help support them right now, they’ll be there whenever everything comes back,” McCrary said.

Damage assessments on the Pensacola Bay Bridge are ongoing. Officials have said there should be an updated timeline on the bridge’s reopening within the coming weeks.

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