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The bars are empty, and the beach chairs stowed. The FlowRider’s waves are still, the ever-present country pop silenced. Margaritaville, like the rest of Hollywood Beach, has stopped trying to reason with the hurricane season and gone dark.
As South Florida came under hurricane and storm surge watches Thursday morning, mandatory evacuation began for Broward County residents east of U.S. 1 and on barrier islands. By 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Hollywood police were driving through the eastern neighborhoods, warning residents via loudspeaker to leave.
The sky and ocean were a brilliant shade of blue, and a few swimmers and sunbathers were out. But the mom-and-pop businesses and motels, a popular Marriott and the behemoth that is Margaritaville were facing the grim possibilities, even as a few paddleball players sweated it out on the courts and cyclists took advantage of the empty Broadwalk.
The $150 million Jimmy Buffett-themed resort, an 845,000-square-foot island-themed property with 349 rooms and seven bars and restaurants, opened in November 2015 (Buffett, naturally, played a surprise weekend show under dark skies at the grand opening), so it hasn’t had to ride out a storm the size of Irma before. Older businesses, some of which have added improvements to capitalize on Margaritaville’s foot traffic, have survived the likes of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, but nothing as powerful as Irma.
And on Thursday, most had taken steps to protect themselves.
At the Hollywood Beach Marriott, guests were long gone by Thursday, the water level in the pool dropped to a safer, lower level.
“It’s a waiting game right now,” said Warren Pereira, who works at the concierge desk. “It’s beautiful here right now. It’s like they say — the calm before the storm.”
The flags on the lifeguard stands flew at yellow — meaning “medium hazard,” somewhat surreal in light of Irma’s terrifying advance — but even with the storm’s arrival predicted this weekend, a few businesses remained open. The Marriott’s always-bustling Latitudes restaurant was quiet, but you could buy an ice cream cone for comfort at Haagen-Dazs further south.
Ocean Alley, a popular open-air spot on the Broadwalk, served a few diners Thursday morning. But Nick’s Bar & Grill on the Broadwalk was not open for business. Manager Jim Crowley finished boarding up the restaurant with his crew Thursday morning.
“We’re a big family here,” he said, adding that he planned to ride out the storm with bartender and manager Kelly Santiago a bit further west in Miramar. “Hurricane Matthew last year was the first big scare for me. Safety is the No. 1 thing. Staying open is just not worth it.”
Food King at 3111 Surf Rd. plans to stay open Thursday and Friday for locals who aren’t leaving, says co-manager Kaye Haidar, who hopes the store’s 15 foot-elevation is enough to withstand a blow from the storm.
Peter Simone, who lives on Hollywood Beach, manned the counter at George’s Market & Deli for residents like longtime resident Karen Rivera, who lives on the beach with her husband and said she has no plans to evacuate. Simone, who lives on the beach, said the store was likely to remain open through Friday and that he has no plans to evacuate, despite the warnings.
“I’m boarded up, I’ve got supplies,” he said as he rang up a customer’s purchase. “I’ve got my kayak. If people need help, I’ll be out there with it.”
Rivera, who was buying milk, said she was totally calm because she has lived in Hollywood more than 20 years.
“We’ve stayed for every other storm, and there has never been a problem,” she said.
“It’s just Mother Nature,” she said. “She’s mad.”