Businesses staying afloat despite oil

As tar patties began washing up on shore last week, many local residents began truly feeling the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The residents who make their living in the seafood industry have been feeling those effects for a while, and things don’t seem to be getting any better.

“The effects have been pretty drastic,” Buddy Scarborough, owner of Clawzillas Seafood and Restaurant said. “They aren’t exactly busting down the doors to get in here. Everybody wants to know ‘Why ain’t you smiling Mr. Buddy?,’ and I tell them because I ain’t got much to smile about right now.”

The oil spill has affected each and every business up and down the coastal communities of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Christy and Melvin “Cuz” Barnes, owners and operators of Cuz’s Seafood, have also been forced to make several changes to their operation. They closed their seafood market in early May, but are blazing right along with the restaurant, located on Hwy. 603.

“We started building back after Katrina and opened in October of 2008, and business took off like a rocket,” Melvin Barnes said. “Now the oil spill has set us back once again, and we cut down from six full days a week to five lunches a week and one night, which is Friday.”

When deciding on what their new hours would be, Barnes said he simply listened to his customer base.

“They let me know when we needed to cut back, and they’ll let me know when we need to add a night,” he said.

“That’s why we came back and we’re still here, because of our locals. We put a lot of trust in them”

Despite the current problems with the oil in the Gulf, Barnes is looking to stay positive and make a go of things as long as he can.

“We’d like to get back to where we were originally headed, but I just don’t think it will happen until we get our Gulf of Mexico back,” he said. “The locals aren’t the only ones who don’t want the seafood imported, we don’t either, and thankfully, we aren’t to that level yet.”

While Barnes hasn’t had to import food from other areas yet, Scarborough is forced to do so to keep seafood heading out to local homes.

“Shrimp-wise, crab-wise and oyster-wise, it’s pretty bad,” Scarborough said. “We’re having to import a lot of stuff now, and we can’t get those items like we want to. We want to have fresh Gulf seafood everyday, and that just isn’t possible now.”

Even though Scarborough is using seafood from other parts of the country, the cost of getting the merchandise only increases the amount his customers must pay.

“I’d say it costs us about one-third over what it normally costs us just to bring it in,” he said. “People have been remarking about the prices, but we have to go to Alaska, California or Mexico to get everything now. It just costs more now to get the stuff in, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Clawzillas is also getting hit hard by the fact it recently opened a restaurant alongside the seafood market.

“We were going to do this in November when everything was good, but delays pushed us back and we got open last Monday,” he said. “Business is, you know, but we try and keep the prices down as much as we can on our seafood dishes, but there just isn’t a lot of business around right now.”

Barnes has also seen a drop in business, operating on about one-third of the customers that normally came through the doors before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“We built back in the same area we were before Katrina, and our locals have been awesome to us, but we have a lot less of them than we did before the storm,” Barnes said. “The people in Hattiesburg and New Orleans have also been great to us, but it seems like since the oil spill, they have quit coming over here. I thought we had more of them playing in the river, but obviously they were just fishing fools.”

There are several programs being set up by BP to help local businesses affected by the spill, and while many other Gulf merchants have joined a suit against BP, Scarborough hasn’t added his name to the list. Yet.

“We’ve been talking to some people who are pursuing, but we’re going to give it a good try and not jump on the bandwagon just yet,” he said. “We’re just trying to live with the problem right now, and hopefully something will happen pretty soon. If I need help, then I’ll ask for it and see what they can do.”

Even though he hasn’t joined the suit, Scarborough isn’t sure exactly how long he can hold on.

“We’re struggling right now, but we’re trying to stay afloat,” Scarborough said. “If it stays like this, we’ll only be able to hold out for about another six months or so. Maybe. We can only lose money for so long.”

The Barnes family are keeping their noses to the grindstone and making a go of everything as well. Melvin Barnes also said there are no plans to close the restaurant.

“It’s time to quit crying and step up to the plate, and we’re making adjustments and moving forward,” he said. “My wife always tells me ‘Every time one door closes, another one opens,’ and that is how we feel right now. We’re fighters, and we could all be doing worse.”

BY: Josh Clark

The Sea Coast Echo

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