At Tropical Manor, a small family-owned hotel that has been a beachside fixture for decades, owner Audrey Dando, her employees and family members confront the impact of the coronavirus pandemic together.
DAYTONA BEACH — When Audrey Dando tells you that she has “never, never, never” seen anything like the impact of the coronavirus crisis, it’s an observation forged by a lifetime of experiences.
At age 87, Dando is the matriarch and owner of Tropical Manor On the Ocean, a 40-room hotel on South Atlantic Avenue that has been the family business for 64 years. During her lifetime, she has witnessed and endured a long list of tragedies and triumphs.
Coronavirus myths go viral in Florida
“I lived myself with the polio epidemic as a child,” she said, gazing out at the ocean from one of the hotel’s decks, eerily quiet without the presence of guests. “You couldn’t go outdoors because you might get something that could paralyze you for life.
“My brother was stricken with polio and told that he would never walk again,” she said. “I lived through the Second World War. My father was in the First World War. I’ve been through many tragedies in my life, burying two husbands.
“Never anything as devastating as this. I really don’t think I’ll ever recover. It’s a paralyzing situation.”
Like many hotels, the Tropical Manor is a ghost town in the wake of the stranglehold that the coronavirus pandemic has put on the tourism industry worldwide.
Coronavirus: What happens to the astronauts in space and those preparing to head there?
Footsteps echo along the empty walkways of the colorfully landscaped multi-tiered property, adorned with palm trees, statuaries of deer and dolphins, colorful murals of manatees, gorgeous flower blossoms and sailfish on brightly painted walls of yellow and coral.
Because of travel restrictions and calls from government and public health officials for self-isolation and self-distancing, there are precious few guests in the rooms bearing such whimsical names as “Cactus Flower,” “Tropical Breeze” and “Tangerine Suite.”
“Right now, we have three occupied rooms, out of a total of 40,” said Aileen Band, Audrey’s daughter, who runs the hotel with her mother. “Ordinarily, we would have about 35 occupied rooms.”
’Without the customers, you have nothing’
The impact is going to be severe, Dando said.
“I project at least a $100,000 loss of income for the next few months,” Dando said. “You have the value of the buildings, but without the customers you have nothing.”
The family’s initial reaction when business plummeted in mid-March was to close the doors, at least temporarily. The ordinarily firm gaze of Audrey’s hazel eyes briefly clouds with tears as she explained the reason she decided to persevere.
“I looked into the faces of the employees,” she said. “And what were they going to do? They value us and we value them. It’s a partnership. Everybody relies on everybody else and I didn’t want to disrupt that continuity.”
On the hotel’s website, members of the hotel’s 12-person staff are each highlighted with photos and brief biographies. Some of them have worked at Tropical Manor for as long as 25 years, Dando said.
“We don’t hire and fire,” Dando said. “We take care of them and try to help them along.”
Now, those employees are working roughly half the hours that they typically would, Band said.
“We’ll be doing that for the next two weeks and then we’ll re-evaluate,” she said.
Toting a tray of cleaning supplies, Band, 52, also is helping with an intensive cleaning regime that targets high-touch areas throughout the property: door knobs, railings, telephones, microwaves.
On this afternoon, only one housekeeper is on duty, at work in the two-bedroom, two-bath guest room known as “Audrey’s Beach House.”
Typically, there would be from two and four housekeepers at work. Likewise, there is no maintenance worker on the property, as opposed to the two who would ordinarily be working, Band said.
’You grow stronger’
Yet, even amid the anxiety, the family has found joy in the tough times.
Aileen’s son, Benjamin Band, 25, was married last week in a quiet ceremony at Sugar Mill Gardens in Port Orange. The original wedding plans had been disrupted because of coronavirus travel restrictions that had complicated the arrival of his fiancée, Martina, a citizen of the Czech Republic.
Coronavirus Florida: Publix offers free rent to tenants in shopping centers it owns
“They had it (the ceremony) just the two of them and then they came back here and we had dinner for four,” Aileen Band said. “I made dinner because there are no restaurants available.”
Benjamin, who works in the construction industry in the Orlando area, still helps at the hotel in the summer months. He represents the third generation of a family connection that began when Audrey and her first husband, Alfred Kelleman, bought the original six-room hotel, then known as Tennessee by the Sea, in 1956.
In 1972, Alfred Kelleman died of a heart attack at age 47. Audrey decided to keep running the hotel, at the same time she was raising young Aileen and her twin sister, “Little” Audrey, as a single mother.
In 1976, she married Judd Dando, and the family continued to call the hotel home. He died in 2007.
“We always helped out,” Aileen Band said of growing up at the hotel. “Checking people in, cleaning rooms, working at the front desk. It was always fun.”
The family’s connection to the business makes anxiety about the future even more intense, Band said.
At the moment, the hotel is receiving about two bookings a day, compared with six to eight cancellations, she said. That’s an uptick from a few weeks ago, when cancellations were coming at a rate of 30 to 35 a day, she said.
“My main concern is that it could affect our summer business beyond May,” Band said. “That would possibly necessitate closing it and selling it entirely. We’d certainly have to close it for at least a period of time.”
That prospect is unthinkable for the family.
“For us, it’s our lives; it’s our family,” said Dando, who lives in one of the top-floor units. “You cannot separate it. You cannot separate this property from our everyday life. It’s not a job.”
Yet the family also is hopeful – and resilient, they said.
Band is applying for the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program activated by Gov. Ron DeSantis in response to the coronavirus crisis, as well as a federal Small Business Association loan. She also is optimistic that the regular customer base that the hotel has developed over its long history will return once the pandemic has passed.
“Because of the fact that we have these relationships, when times are good again, people will come back,” Band said. “They will want to come back because of that relationship. I believe that wholeheartedly.”
For Dando, the experiences of a lifetime enable her to look straight ahead at tough times again, she said.
“You learn from these lessons,” Dando said. “You grow stronger to prepare yourself for the other problems that may ultimately come.”
This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.