A somber summer: A small town outside Zion National Park copes with COVID-19 changes – NBC News

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Most residents welcomed the new rules. Business owners who have already faced financial setbacks from the park’s closure now face the urgency of earning the money they will need to stay afloat during the quieter winter, so several said they support safety regulations that will allow them to stay open.

Gregoric began requiring masks inside her supermarket weeks before the town did so. Unlike other businesses that shut down after the park’s closure, Gregoric kept her market open, because it’s one of only two grocery stores in town.

While she said most tourists abide by the rules, some refuse to wear masks, leading to tense discussions, including one that turned into a shouting match in August.

“It’s not something that happens around here very often,” Gregoric said. “It doesn’t feel good to have those conversations all the time, but it’s what we need to do to keep everyone safe.”

Residents say they have noticed that most of the tourists who have come to Springdale this summer have driven from Nevada and Southern California. Some are first-time national park visitors, stir-crazy in their homes, hoping an outdoor trip would be safe.

“I really didn’t feel like there was much else to do right now,” said Leah Cheshier, 26, who traveled from Houston to spend a week in the park with her fiancé, Nick Mustachio, 35.

It was the first vacation the couple had taken since the pandemic began in March. The pair, who both work for NASA, say they were not comfortable going to places where coronavirus cases were still surging, like Florida, nor did they want to go somewhere with many business closures. Cheshier said she noticed that visitors did not really interact with one another while in town, nor did anyone linger in the cafes or shops.

“Most people just keep to themselves, and we did, too,” she said.

Zion National Park on Aug. 22. The park reopened on May 13. Mikayla Whitmore / for NBC News

Even with the partial return of tourism, some Springdale business owners remain uncertain about the future.

Across the street from Gregoric’s market is Under the Eaves Inn, a seven-room bed-and-breakfast in a green cottage with red trim. Mark Chambers, 59, and his husband, Joe Pitti, have owned and lived in it for about 11 years. Like many other local businesses, theirs was able to stay afloat this spring only when it received loans from federal coronavirus relief programs.

“We just kept getting calls for cancellations, and we were returning deposits that we had counted on to make it through the previous winter,” Chambers said. He said that usually by this time in the year, they are turning away customers because the inn is booked solid through September and October. But now, the couple say, reservations come in only about a week in advance. They have few walk-in guests, and many of their regular customers have canceled annual trips.

“It’s like we just have to wait and see what happens instead,” Pitti, 59, said.

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To make the inn safer, Chambers and Pitti shut down the main room, where they had invited guests to get coffee and watch goldfinches play in the birdbath in the front yard. The pair no longer greet guests as they come in, giving them a rundown of the town and getting to know them, which had been the couple’s favorite part of being inn owners.

They also miss conversations at the post office, where neighbors often ran into one another and stopped to discuss town happenings. Now, people just grab their mail and leave.

“There is an absence of an energy that flows through the town in a much more kinetic way, because everyone is kind of in their own bubble,” Pitti said.

For now, he and Chambers are grateful to be in business this season.

Pitti pointed to the sun shining down on the canyon peaks on a late August afternoon.

“That right there, though,” he said. “That’s what keeps us going.”

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