Businesses beaten down by lack of downtown Fort Myers foot traffic

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro
Published: Updated:

Traffic is getting worse on Southwest Florida roads, and downtown Fort Myers, one of the most popular areas in the region, is having some issues with foot traffic.

Sights of sparse foot traffic in downtown Fort Myers are becoming more common.

Businesses are saying 2024 is one of the worst and slowest years they’ve seen in a long time.

Businesses and groups organizing events in the downtown area say the numbers speak for themselves.

The numbers from April and May don’t paint an ideal picture.

If you’re looking for bars, restaurants, retail, entertainment and all that with a view, then downtown Fort Myers is your destination.

Downtown Fort Myers people walking around. CREDIT: WINK News

“Our downtown is just so charming and beautiful,” said Lisa Sbuttoni, the president and CEO of River District Alliance.

The River District Alliance plans events like the Art Walk, Music Walk and the Fourth of July fireworks.

The historic downtown has it all, but businesses report they’re feeling the pinch.

“April was just a really not good month for pretty much across the board for any kind of business,” said Sbuttoni.

Nils Richter has a hand in six downtown businesses.

“Cabos, The Lodge, Izzy’s, Social House, Capone’s and Firestone,” said Richter.

Richter reports April was actually strong, still basking in the sun of season, but since the sun has set, things are changing.

“The May that we’re seeing right now is much more quiet than we expect … so that is concerning,” said Richter.

“We saw that drop this year, which we had not seen since COVID,” said Sbuttoni.

Sbuttoni said COVID changed tourist behavior in the Sunshine State. Pre-pandemic, we had season, then Easter came, and people left, so the numbers followed, and businesses were used to it.

“Jump ahead to COVID, where everything, the whole world shut down, and then Florida opened up,” said Sbuttoni.

“In ’21 and ’22, it felt a lot less seasonal, we got a really big uptick of people that stayed down here and stayed down here longer,” said Richter.

“Downtown was still thriving, even as other parts of the world opened up, and then Ian hit,” said Sbuttoni.

And put a wrench in our era of good feeling. Sbuttoni expected the COVID-tourism boom to end eventually, but the hurricane shifted the outcome.

“I’m just hoping that our community rallies around our small businesses this summer more than any other summer. I think we’re going to need them,” said Sbuttoni.

There are more factors playing a role in the sparse downtown foot traffic for businesses. Factors like the economy, driving traffic, paying for parking and the relentless heat.

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