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Sunset Beach closed for the summer: Local vendors and workers hit by bad news

The question of whether Sunset Beach would open for this summer season was still up in the air a few weeks ago, but signs were not encouraging.

Long before Memorial Day rings in the summer, local workers know there’s plenty to be done in preparation for opening. At Sunset Beach, the hotel and restaurant go from being shuttered to colorfully adorned with plants and awnings in a matter of weeks.

“There’s a whirlwind that takes place every spring,” said Catherine Brigham, an Island artist who does the brightly colored chalkboards outside the restaurant.

“When I emailed my contact at Sunset in April about doing the chalkboard, I was told, ‘We’re still waiting’” for a decision on opening under COVID guidelines. Ms. Brigham offered to just do a temporary message on the board (“I hate seeing it empty”) and the response was even less encouraging: “We’re holding out hope,” she was told.

Around that time, local landscaper Vanessa Parsons said “the writing was on the wall” that her Homestead Garden and Design crew and sub-contractors would not be needed to get the property ready for opening.

“Luckily, it was a cold April,” she said, “ so the plants weren’t ready at the nurseries” and she was able to hold off on committing to orders. “There was some talk that Sunset could have a limited opening, but not long ago, we got word that it wouldn’t happen at all.”

And this week, published reports quoted owner Andre Balazs confirming that there would be no 2020 season at Sunset Beach, since it would be impossible to ensure social distancing among customers; also staff typically are housed together and work in close quarters.

“I absolutely understand that safety first is so important,” Ms. Brigham said. “It’s just that the opening of Sunset is my association with summer. In the back of my mind, I guess I was hoping that some part of it would happen.”

As the ripple effects impact the lives of Islanders who are essential to the tourist economy, people temper their difficulties with hope for the future. “We’ll come out stronger,” Ms. Brigham said, “and hopefully wiser for all of it.”