Kimmswick, Jefferson County’s main tourist destination, is bracing itself for harsh economic repercussions because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“I really don’t know where we are going,” Kimmswick Mayor Phil Stang said. “If the worst happens from an economic standpoint, and we had to cancel the festivals, we would literally be out of money. Our only response to that would be to look for some type of federal or state aid to support us, or we could go to a GoFundMe page.
“It is a very straining event.”
Kimmswick is best known for its annual Apple Butter Festival, which is held in late October and reportedly draws more than 100,000 people each year to the small river town.
The town also has an annual Strawberry Festival held in early June, which also attracts a lot of people to the town, filled with old gift shops and a handful of restaurants and other businesses.
Both festivals are still scheduled – the Strawberry Festival from June 6-7, and the Apple Butter Festival for Oct. 24-25, according to Kimmswick’s website.
Stang said the festivals make up 75 to 80 percent of the town’s budget, and the other 20 to 25 percent of the budget comes from sales tax.
He expects the funds from those two sources to drop significantly this year since people are advised to stay home during the pandemic.
“Obviously, this will have a tremendous impact on the city,” Stang said.
Stang said Kimmswick, which has an estimated 152 residents based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 numbers, was already dealing with difficult financial times.
Access to Kimmswick was limited to one road for about four months last year following flooding, and that wiped out the Strawberry Festival and kept sales tax figures low, Stang said.
The mayor said because last year’s flooding was slow moving, the damage throughout Jefferson County was not as serious as in 2015 and 2017, which meant the county did not qualify for FEMA relief.
“Last year’s flood cost the city over $150,000 to fight, and we got no reimbursement from FEMA,” Stang said.
Because of Kimmswick’s financial losses last year, Stang said the budget was stripped down to “absolutely necessary spending.”
“Based on that, we have enough money to make it to the end of the year with a very judicious budget,” he said.
Stang said because of Kimmswick’s small size, the town has little leverage when reaching out for support from state or federal officials. However, the town is part of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), which represents 124 cities along the river, and Stang is a member of the organization’s executive committee.
“That (being a member of the MRCTI) gets us somewhere between 3 million and 4 million people (being represented), so we have a little bit more leverage than just little, old Kimmswick,” Stang said. “What I have been trying to do is find out as much information I can and express what our needs would be going forward.”
Stang said he is not sure how the pandemic will affect the planned arrival of the Delta Queen riverboat to a port being built for it in Kimmswick
“It was supposed to come in around late spring of 2021,” Stang said. “(The port, which is under construction) is still moving along, but like anything else, I have no idea.”
Kimmswick’s businesses also are trying to find ways to survive during the pandemic.
Restaurants and bars have been particularly hard hit, since dine-in service has been suspended until at least April 3 by county executive order.
The Kimmswick Merchants Association created a Facebook page called “Gokimmswick Mo” to give businesses as way to announce how they’re handling the pandemic.
“We invited the Kimmswick merchants and any business in Jefferson County to post their information there,” said Betteanne Smith, president of the Kimmswick Merchants Association and owner of Mississippi Mud Gallery and Gift Shop. “It is kind of a real-time situation. We are hoping that will help the Jefferson County community stay in touch.”
The Dough Depot, 216 Market St., is planning to stay open at its regular hours during the pandemic, but for carry-out or curbside pickup only, owner Cindy Huckstep said. Customers may call in orders and staff members will bring it to their vehicles for pickup, or orders can be made at a walkup window or the inside main counter.
“We have a really good customer base who have been very supportive,” Huckstep said. “We appreciate what they are doing for us.
“Our totals were down (last week), but still doable as far as payroll to pay my bills and labor cost. That is the best I can hope and ask for during this, so I can pay my bills and keep my kids working. That is the most important thing to me, to keep everyone working.”
The Blue Owl Restaurant and Bakery, 616 Second St., in Kimmswick, and its sister business, The Blue Owl Sweet Shoppe, 1 Ponder Executive Parkway, in House Springs, closed on March 18.
Smokee Robinson’s Smokehouse, 102 Mill St., in Kimmswick closed on March 21. Smokee Robinson’s also has a Pevely location, at 8715 Commercial Blvd., which is offering service at a drive-up window and curbside during the pandemic.
“It is very scary,” said Steve Boyette, a co-owner of Smokee Robinson’s in Kimmswick. “A lot of your life and investment is in this business. Plus we don’t know what the virus is going to do. It is in the early stages.”
Smith said she and her husband, Mike, will continue to operate Mississippi Mud Gallery and Gift Shop at 118 Market St. during the pandemic.
“I am here for phone calls and taking deliveries on new products that I had already ordered,” Smith said. “We are hoping for the best.”
Smith said every Kimmswick business owner is making his or her own decision about how to operate during the pandemic, and those who want to patronize the town’s shops should call ahead to see if the business is open.
“I know it will impact Kimmswick,” Smith said of the pandemic. “I hope when it is safe to get out and walk around, that people will come down and enjoy Kimmswick.”