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Sparkling Ice to provide new pickleball courts at Doty Park

The beverage brand, Sparkling Ice, has teamed up with the Town of Summerville for its first-ever Sparkling Ice Cheers to You Town Beautification Project; an initiative that was created to give back to communities across the country.

The beautification project in Summerville will include the installation of pickleball courts at Doty Park, replacing the horseshoe pits. In recent years, the Summerville community has seen a great uptick in pickleball enthusiasts and an increase in demand for places to play.

With the growing demand of the sport, the new courts will be the first courts operated by the town that will be offered at no charge to the general public.

Summerville Mayor Ricky Waring said the town’s partnership with Talking Rain- the creator of Sparkling Ice- means the courts are no cost to taxpayers.

“The town is working to keep up with the area’s growth and high demand for more recreational activities,” said Summerville Mayor Ricky Waring. “The town is excited about this partnership and will continue to look for ways to provide high quality services as we build a vibrant future for Summerville.”

Sparkling Ice beverages is known for its role in giving back and supporting local communities.

Construction plans for the Pickleball Courts will begin this summer and will be completed by fall 2020.

Summerville restaurants endured devastating second quarter

On the heels of the nation’s sharpest economic decline since the Great Depression, local restaurant owners say they are still dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

Those early weeks in March and April were the hardest on Summerville’s restaurants as indoor dining stopped temporarily in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus which has killed more than 157,000 Americans.

In the months since, operators have adapted to changing regulations and new servicing systems. Many restaurant owners have invested in technology that provides customers with contact-less order and payment options. Kitchens have filled with to-go boxes and supplies as restaurants shifted to curbside pickup and delivery only.

Last month the Commerce Department revealed that the gross domestic product- the broadest measure of economic activity- fell at a rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter as restaurants and stores shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to data from Yelp, roughly 16,000 American restaurants have closed permanently due to economic strain caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In Summerville, three restaurant owners shared what they are doing to keep their businesses afloat through the pandemic.

Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar

During the Great Recession of 2008, Jason Thorpe witnessed a 30 percent loss in revenue in the restaurant business. As someone who has devoted his entire career to the restaurant industry, Thorpe has learned how to bounce back from an economic downturn. However, this year he witnessed the worst yet.

Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, he saw revenue drop by 90 percent at his downtown Summerville restaurant, the Summerville Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar.

When South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster closed dine-in service for restaurants and bars in late March, Thorpe quickly transitioned to offer meals to-go or by delivery.

“We stayed open and did take out for two or three weeks; we had staff that wanted to stay on and it was a dynamic situation at that time,” Thorpe said. “But I think it will eventually help us in the long run that we were able to stay open.”

The past four months have been full of ups and downs but Thorpe said he’s come to expect that from the restaurant industry.

“In the restaurant business there is something new everyday — you change and evolve with what is happening,” Thorpe said.

After dine-in services resumed in May, Thorpe was allowed to open the inside of the casual dining restaurant to 50 percent capacity. All servers wear masks and customers are required to wear one for much of their time inside the building.

Early in the pandemic Thorpe secured assistance from the Payroll Protection Program so that he could keep his staff intact but some employees were not able to return to work due to preexisting health conditions that might have made them more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19.

Even after hiring new employees, staffing remains difficult because on any given day if an employee shows any symptoms that might be COVID-19, they stay home until they can get a test.

“That is our biggest hurdle right now,” Thorpe said. “We have customers but staffing is a challenge.”

Business is still down 15 percent compared to last year, Thorpe said. He noted that there have been newer restaurants to open up nearby but he also believes cancellations of annual events and festivals have meant less foot traffic in the downtown area.

Located at 114 Central Ave., the Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar typically benefits from all of the downtown activities including the Summerville Farmers Market, Third Thursdays and the annual Flowertown Festival.

Despite the grim reality of COVID-19 and the recent economic decline, Thorpe remains optimistic. He is working toward opening two more Shuckin’ Shack locations in South Carolina.

“I feel that we are going to pull through this — we always do,” Thorpe said. “Business comes back, it might take a while but I think it will be back to where it was and we will be growing again.”

Madres Mexican Restaurant

Sisters Mariana Godinez LaRoche and Karen Godinez Butler who together opened Madres Mexican Restaurant last year, were forced to cancel the one-year anniversary celebration they had scheduled for March 28. Instead of commemorating the date that would have marked one year since they opened up their family restaurant for business at 100 Bacons Bridge Road, Unit C, LaRoche and Butler found themselves scrambling to adapt to new procedures for online ordering, curbside pick-up and meal delivery through door dash.

“It has been a huge adjustment but I think we’ve been doing okay as far as adapting to whatever we can do to survive in this time,” Butler said.

Fortunately Madres had already been offering online ordering prior to the pandemic, so that part was set up, Butler added. She quickly secured assistance from the Payroll Protection Program so that her staff members would continue to be paid.

“We managed to keep all of the staff by finding new positions for them and working with whatever we had; we were blessed,” Butler said.

She credits community support for keeping her business alive during a very rough few months.

Indoor dining is currently offered at 50 percent capacity, however Butler said she is still encouraging customers to opt for delivery, to-go, or curbside pickup because those options allow for minimal contact.

“We want to do whatever makes the customers feel comfortable,” Butler said.

The sisters recently updated their restaurant’s website to make online ordering even more convenient. The new changes will make it possible for customers to scan QR code and order from their phones while inside the dining room.

While business has slowly picked back up, Butler said she wouldn’t use the word “recovery,” just yet because she fears that if new cases do not begin to slow down, then there might be another economic shutdown.

“Everything right now is so unsure,” Butler said.

Eva’s On Main

Summerville’s iconic hometown restaurant, Eva’s On Main, is known for its popular southern comfort food including farmers omelets or country fried steak. Those menu favorites have been difficult to prepare in recent months due to shortages in the supply chain and the rising cost of food.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, prices have climbed for groceries — most notably for meat, poultry, fish and eggs.

Because the restaurant chefs cook with fresh food, rather than frozen, many of the items needed fail to be delivered due to a shortage. As a consequence, owner Ray Easler is sent on a last minute quest for staple ingredients.

Co-owner Whitney Easler said the insecure availability has impacted their menu and left the chefs scrambling to change the daily specials short notice. In addition, Easler said the shortage means that she is not able to be as creative as she would like with the menu.

“Before the virus we would try new specials but we’ve had to stop adding upscale or complicated menu items because of lack of availability of food and frankly trying not to put too much pressure on the kitchen to prepare a menu item that is foreign,” Easler said.

As far as business goes, things have been up and down. Easler said they have increased take out and curbside pickup service and made extra efforts to be sure customers know that is available.

Due to staffing challenges the restaurant cut back on its hours- opening at 9 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. Easler said she was disappointed by that but it was necessary in order to cut overhead costs. She also had to close one day a week in order to give her staff a day off.

Through all of the obstacles, Easler said she has been very grateful for the customers who have continued to support their hometown restaurant.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we have a loyal following — that’s really what has helped us to stay open,” Easler said.

Her customers have been very understanding and supportive of new safety measures, Easler said.

Before the town approved a local ordinance requiring individuals to wear masks, customers would wear them sporadically while in the restaurant but after the ordinance, every single customer has worn one.

“We’re doing all the things we can in terms of trying to keep our customers safe and our staff safe,” Easler said. “Most of our customers are very supportive of our efforts, we haven’t had any pushback about dining at half capacity. People have been patient and understanding.”

Easler has appreciated that change and said that she also is proud of her staff members for wearing masks throughout their entire shift — which is not always easy.

“Wearing masks and gloves is unpleasant for a whole shift but they all do it with a positive attitude,” Easler said. “It means the world to me to know we have a great team that works with us through difficult situations and they absolutely shine.”

Fortunately Eva’s on Main has not had to close temporarily due to any employees contracting COVID-19.

Easler said she considers her team to be very fortunate but she also said since the very beginning she has made sure her staff members are well informed about how the virus spreads.

“We really have worked hard in communicating to our staff- especially the younger ones — so that they are hopefully doing the right thing when they are not here,” Easler said. “They are family to us, not just employees.”

In July revenue was down 50 percent compared to last year, Easler said the restaurant is not yet making a profit, but progress has been made since March.

“We are holding our own and that’s the key to riding this thing out,” Easler said.

New Aquatic Center opens in North Charleston

Dorchester School District 2 and the City of North Charleston celebrated the opening of the new North Charleston Aquatic Center during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey spoke about how the aquatics center was a major undertaking for both the city and the school district. He praised the collaborative effort of the North Charleston City Council and the Dorchester District 2 board of trustee.

“I salute the board for working with us on this project,” Summey said. “This is a dream come true for a lot of people.”

Summey also looked forward to the benefits that the center can have on the children of the area. He said that the center can help in the effort to educate children about exercise and water as well as proper aquatic safety.

“Hopefully we can teach every child how to swim,” Summey said.

Charleston City Councilman Ron Brinson said that the aquatic center will not only benefit the swimmers in the community but all of North Charleston and Dorchester County. He explained that the people who will come to the aquatic center for events and swim meets will also bring with them, commerce to other Lowcountry businesses.

“This facility is going to attract every year thousands from across the country,” Brinson said.

DD2 Superintendent Joe Pye said that the North Charleston Aquatics Center is the beginning of a long partnership between the city and the school district.

“This is a growing partnership, this is not a one time event nor a publicity stunt,” Pye said.

Pye said that the aquatic center is going to lead to a lot of growth in the area as well as increase interest in swimming programs.

“This has tremendous potential,” Pye said. “This is going to be wonderful for our communty.”

The center officially pened on Aug. 1.

Isaias passes with little damage

Lowcountry residents awoke to booming thunder Monday morning that ushered in Hurricane Isaias pushing its steady grind up the East Coast from Florida.

The storm arrived in the Summerville area as a summer rainstorm rather than a hurricane as some weather watchers had feared.

The Category 1 hurricane quickly tapered off into tropical storm status after producing a storm surge and coastal flooding across the Grand Strand. By Monday night, Isaias had moved into North Carolina and by 5 a.m. Tuesday, wind gusts had dropped to below 70 miles per hour.

The storm strengthened some as it thundered its way toward the northern coast of South Carolina, leaving most Lowcountry residents relatively untouched. Isaias officially came ashore near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina at 11:10 a.m., according to the National Weather Service in Charleston.

Both Santee Cooper and Dominion Energy reported only a handful of power outages across Dorchester and Berkeley counties.

Wind from the storm caused some minor damage as gusts of 40 miles per hour were observed in some parts of the Lowcountry, prompting the National Weather Service to keep its Tropical Storm Warning in place through Monday afternoon.

The weather warning included a statement on flooding rain as well as tornadoes.

Peak rainfall amounts were expected to be 3-6 inches, “with locally higher amounts,” according to the weather warning.

While the tornado alert never rose to warning status, NWS weather forecasters said the “situation is somewhat favorable for tornadoes” and that there was a potential for a few tornadoes.

However, no tornadoes had been observed as the storm passed South Carolina on Monday, and all storm warnings for the tri-county region were canceled Monday night.

Isaias was expected to bring more wind and rain later in the week as it moved inland toward East Coast population centers, making it as far as Canada by Wednesday morning.

Looking forward, weather watchers were keeping track of a disturbance forming in the East Atlantic north east of the Bahamas. That unnamed low pressure system had a 30 percent chance of cyclone formation by Wednesday.

In May, the National Weather Service predicted 14 to 18 tropical storms for the 2020 hurricane season that runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. Seven to nine of those storms were forecast to become hurricanes.

To date, the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea have seen nine named tropical storms, Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna and Isaias. Hanna, strengthened to hurricane level forming in the Gulf of Mexico and becoming a Category 1 hurricane on July 25, making landfall on Padre Island, Texas before dropping to tropical storm status a day later.

While the annual hurricane season officially starts in June, hurricanes in North Atlantic waters can and do form in every month of the year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.