Pensacola Beach bars and restaurants are gearing up for an unexpected — yet welcome — boost of tourism this weekend as the Blue Angels celebrate their homecoming air show and 75th anniversary on the beach instead of at the Navy base.
“In my opinion, it’s the most spectacular thing that could have happened for us,” said Michael Pinzone, owner of Papa’s Pizza on the Quietwater Beach boardwalk. “My wife and I will probably both have to work making pizzas to help out, but the economic impact will be great for the island, hotels, restaurants, pretty much anywhere on the beach.”
The Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show in November is usually held at Naval Air Station Pensacola, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the base could not host the show in 2021 for the second year in a row. Instead, local officials, Visit Pensacola and Kia Autosport got together to pivot and plan a second beach show.
Full Schedule: Blue Angels 75th anniversary air show at Pensacola Beach
Business owners are expecting flocks of people, but many don’t quite know what to expect because there hasn’t been a Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show on the beach since 2001.
“We’re expecting the beach to be pretty busy and since the water will be a little cold for all the boats, that could bring more people out onto the sand,” said McGuire Management Group partner Amy Martin. McGuire Management Group owns Crabs on the Beach and Flounder’s Chowder House.
Martin said there’s a definite sense of excitement for the show, but with the ongoing struggle to staff the restaurants and tourists carrying out previously delayed holiday plans, the restaurants have been busier than they normally would be on a fall weekend, anyway.
“Any other November, we’d have been like ‘Oh thank goodness’ (for a second air show) but this fall has been so busy,” she said. “It’s a lot of locals coming out, tourists especially from within driving distance, and for us, we’ve been so busy with so few staff we haven’t slowed down at all.”
Beach businesses have had a tough two years with COVID restrictions, sparse tourist crowds and the nine-month closure of the Pensacola Bay Bridge impacting customers. As the pandemic continues, many business owners report seeing the same staffing issues as are being experienced nationwide. Plus as the traditional tourist season end on Pensacola Beach, many of the college students previously working at bars and restaurants have returned to school.
But this summer has seen a strong rebound in bed tax dollars, indicating tourists are starting to return, and the beach businesses are glad to be getting a second round of Blue Angels crowds.
Sidelines Sports Bar and Restaurant, a smaller, less touristy place with a strong local crowd, has seen big crowds this fall for college football season.
Owner Jim Amberson said fall is actually usually busier for them than the peak tourism season around June or July, so it’s hard to know how Blue Angels weekend might play out for their crowd.
“We really have no idea what it’s going to be like, we have nothing to compare it to,” he said. “But we’re looking forward to having that boost in the middle of November.”
Pensacola Bay Cruises finished its season last weekend but is operating Thursday through Saturday to bring crowds to the beach from downtown.
HMS Ferry Service General Manager Joe Asebedo said Tuesday that the ferry service has one viewing cruise planned for during each Blue Angels show — Friday and Saturday — and both have sold out their 100 tickets.
While dozens of people have already pre-booked ferry tickets to the beach for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, he said there were still tickets remaining for all days as of Tuesday afternoon.
On Tuesday afternoon, Escambia County Water Safety crews were putting up lifeguard towers along Casino Beach and will staff lifeguards on the beach this weekend for the show, despite their summer staffing season having recently ended. Officials will also be operating trolleys and buses to help mitigate parking issues Friday and Saturday.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at [email protected] or 850-480-6979.