AUSTIN, Texas — After several flooding events over the past two years and a blue-green algal bloom last summer, Lady Bird Lake businesses are taking another hit.
Unlike a weather-related lake closure or natural phenomena, the coronavirus pandemic isn't something a business like Rowing Dock planned for this year. It is, however, using similar methods to help its employees out.
“We’ve had the practice of having to be flexible, be creative," general manager Lindsay Rohler told KVUE. “We’re trying to be as optimistic as we can be and be strong and supportive and make smart decisions to help our community."
The business, located at Stratford Drive near MoPac, closed its doors on March 16, the beginning of spring break for many Central Texas school districts and students at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Spring break, for us, is definitely our kind of first opportunity of the year where kids are out of school, and this weather has been pretty awesome," Rohler said. "It’s always hard when you have beautiful weather and people want to be on the water that you feel like that’s not the right call."
Citing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which prohibited social gatherings of more than 10 people, Rohler made the decision to put her employees' and customers' health and safety first.
"On a busy afternoon, we’ve got hundreds of people out. We service thousands of people on a busy summer day. We felt it was socially irresponsible to stay open if we didn’t have a plan in place that we could really follow the CDC recommendations," Rohler said.
It wasn't an easy decision to make, considering the October 2018 flooding event, the May 2019 flooding event, and the algal bloom between July and November 2019 that kept a lot of people out of the water.
According to an annual report by the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Rowing Dock made $1,645,790 in gross sales in FY 2019, a decrease of $178,557 from FY 2018.
“Very hard to make that call [to close the week of spring break] given the potential loss of revenue there, but we definitely felt like it was the right call," Rohler said. "You’ve got to protect the people. Lives are our livelihood."
She remains focused on finding ways to help contribute to her employee compensation fund, which provides money for hourly employees unable to work due to circumstances out of their control.
"We’re working on ways to support our staff financially, even if we cannot be open," Rohler said. "It’s really heartwarming to see everybody supporting the service industry. Buying gift certificates and merchandise and planning for the future. We don’t really know what the future holds."
Fans of Rowing Dock can purchase T-shirts, guided paddle tours, and book events happening later in the year. Rohler is also considering a raffle or other ways to generate income.
“Every bit of that is going directly into a fund that we’re going to be dispersing to our staff," Rohler said.
In the meantime, she's keeping an eye on companies hiring in the Austin area right now and is recommending her staff do anything they can do support themselves.
“We’re hopeful that all these efforts that people are taking to social distance and be at home and take good care of themselves and wash your hands, all that good stuff, we’re really hopeful that that will help things in the long run so that we can get back to closer-to-normal operations," Rohler said.
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