The hustle and bustle of Hattiesburg came to a roaring halt when the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the city in March. Businesses around the city had to close down and events had to be canceled or postponed. With the new semester starting and the city taking precautions, events and local businesses are opening back up for new and returning students to experience what Hattiesburg has to offer.
Marlo Dorsey is the Executive Director of VisitHATTIESBURG, Hattiesburg’s official destination marketing and management organization. Dorsey said the pandemic has caused the organization to adapt to responsibly and professionally do their jobs.
“With that sentiment, we’ve worked with Hattiesburg event planning partners and public health officials at the local and state levels to put in place the latest best practices on events and meetings here in Hattiesburg,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey said that while many of the large events for the fall have been canceled, there are still parts of festivals and events everyone can enjoy. The events held will be mostly the same, if now only from a distance or in smaller groups.
“Spoiler alert, you can still have fun while wearing a mask,” Dorsey said.
VisitHATTIESBURG will be promoting many activities that can be enjoyed individually or in small groups through videos, blogs, event calendars and social media. Dorsey said to keep a close eye out for all that the organization is working on to present fun options for college students and their families to participate in.
“We encourage all students to explore Hattiesburg and get to know their home for the next four years, all while following local and state safety guidelines” Dorsey said. “In the meantime, students can enjoy Hattiesburg’s public art, outdoor recreation offerings, vast shopping and many eateries while maintaining social distancing.”
Amanda Hargrove is the Director of Marketing for the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, which includes the Hattiesburg Zoo. She said Zoo Boo and Lights of the Wild are two major events the Hattiesburg Zoo would hate to miss.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that we have already missed hosting other major events this year because of the pandemic, such as Tacos & Tequila, Sloth-A-Thon, Pirate Days and Zoostock,” Hargrove said.
The Hattiesburg Zoo has implemented extra measures to enhance the zoo’s regular program of hygiene, cleaning and operation. The zoo has increased the frequency of cleaning high-touch areas such as door handles, railings, counters, photo op locations, tables and more. Additional hand sanitizing stations with more visible signage to lead guests to them have also been added.
“We are carefully monitoring operational activities of industry leaders in North American zoos to understand decision factors as they face some of the same issues we do,” Hargrove said. “This means while we remain open, we may modify certain activities, programs or guest volume to provide the highest level of safe enjoyment to all.”
Hargrove said it is the zoo’s goal to provide a safe sanctuary for parents and children.
“Everyone has gone above and beyond to make sure the zoo remains a clean and safe place for guests to enjoy,” Hargrove said. “We are still working hard to get everything in order to hopefully open our newest exhibit spaces in the Fall, which will include giraffes, and lots of other cool animal exhibits, new restrooms, a new restaurant, event space and so much more.”
Hargrove said the Hattiesburg Zoo has not had any issues accommodating guests. There is a lot of room to move around the zoo, allowing for people to maintain proper social distance from one another.
“We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful place for people to get some fresh air and experience the great outdoors to raise spirits during times like this,” Hargrove said.
Mik Davis, the record store manager for T-Bones, said the store had been running at 50 percent capacity per municipal state orders since the end of April. Davis said while new students are welcomed at the store, they are asked to exercise caution.
“All of our services are here to provide for them no matter the limitations,” Davis said. “As both a restaurant and a retailer, we have been diligent with our staff and customers.”
Customers are asked to enter the store with a mask and to sanitize before touching any records, CDs, books or products.
Davis also said Record Store Day, an annual event held at many independently owned record stores, will now be split into three separate events over the next three months starting August 29.
“Each event will be properly stocked and socially distanced to provide our customers with the same opportunity as always — but with their safety firmly in mind,” Davis said.
New and returning students to Hattiesburg were encouraged to explore the city and take advantage of the outdoor activities offered. In particular, Dorsey said students could bike or hike on the Longleaf Trace Trace, participate in outdoor yoga at Town Square Park, kayak on the Pine Belt Blue Ways and play outdoor games in greenspaces.
“We encourage students to create their own adventure and take the opportunity to experience the local flavor that is authentic to Hattiesburg,” Dorsey said. “By the time the long list of local shops, restaurants and attractions has been explored, events should be ready to safely resume.”