Zika impacts businesses in local art district Wynwood

The Wynwood Yard, a popular, outdoor gathering place in Wynwood, closed for a few days in the beginning of August after three employees tested positive for the Zika virus. Photo Courtesy Masson Li

It has been a tough month for Wynwood. The neighborhood, previously known for its monthly Art Walk and thriving restaurant scene, has made national headlines since it was first confirmed on July 29th that locally-transmitted cases of Zika virus had been diagnosed in the area. The CDC issued a travel warning for pregnant women, the first of its kind within the United States, as the virus can cause microcephaly in infants, a condition associated with severe birth defects. With fears about the virus running high, local businesses have noticed a decline in visitors.

“August tends to be a very slow month in the Miami restaurant and events business, so it’s hard to exactly pinpoint the cause of business being slow,” said Della Heiman, founder and CEO of The Wynwood Yard, an outdoor cultural space that features restaurant pop-ups and community events. “However, it has been quite slow at The Wynwood Yard and all around Wynwood.”

The Wynwood Yard has been hit particularly hard by the Zika downturn. After three employees tested positive for the virus, the management made the decision to temporarily close for a few days in early August, reopening only after comprehensive staff training and the installation of a mosquito mitigation system to minimize any future risk of further transmission. Like many other Wynwood businesses, it also provides free mosquito repellent to visitors. According to Heiman, neighbors have rallied around the start-up in this difficult time.

“We’re just really grateful to the community for the support they have shown us ever since we re-opened,” Heiman said.

To entice customers to return to the neighborhood, earlier this month many establishments participated in the Love for Locals campaign, offering limited-time-only deals and extended happy hours. Several of these promotions, including establishments Beaker and Gray, Joey’s, and Wynwood Kitchen and Bar, extend through the end of August. The Wynwood Yard is throwing a welcome-back party this coming Saturday with a craft fair and specials on milk and cookies from all of its featured vendors.

“We are hoping to remind people of what a magical, vibrant community Wynwood is, such a gem in both our city and country,” Heiman said. “Wynwood is full of small businesses like ours that need local support in order to survive, especially at this time”

Until earlier this week, Florida health officials had stated that Zika-carrying mosquitos, which only fly a few hundred feet away from their birthplace in their lifetime, were confined to a square mile in Wynwood. However, last Friday Gov. Rick Scott announced that five cases had been contracted in Miami Beach. It remains to be seen whether Miami Beach, one of the area’s most popular tourist destinations, will experience a similar business downturn like Wynwood. But in the meantime, both communities can only wait and see if their best efforts to draw the rest of Miami back, will succeed.