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'It was devastating' | Sevier County plans to reopen May 1 after a month without tourism

While it will take some time before the tourist hotspot returns to normal, the local government is hoping to ease into reopening.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — In Sevier County, the economy will open up in phases starting on May 1. The mayor said the month-long closure without tourism was "devastating" for the county.

While most Pigeon Forge businesses and restaurants are preparing to reopen, the city's mayor, David Wear, said that doesn't mean the tourist hotspot is going to go back to normal immediately.

There aren't many cars on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge, businesses are shuttered and theme parks are silent. It isn't the usual scene during a "spring break week" in Pigeon Forge.

"We've lost quite a bit of business as a tourist destination this month," Pigeon Forge Mayor David Wear said.

RELATED: Most of Pigeon Forge plans to open for business on May 1

Empty parking lots and vacant hotel rooms have been commonplace for the Ramsey Hotel off the Parkway for the last month, according to owner Karl Thomas.

"It's surreal just to see everything vacant,"Thomas admitted. "We're actually cleaning the place from top to bottom and sanitizing with Clorox wipes everything a person would touch."

The staff is preparing to reopen next week while following CDC guidelines. Thomas mentioned guests will be able to "social distance to the extreme" with new touchless check in and check out, as well as spaced out hotel rooms.

"But we don't know if people are going to return," Thomas shrugged.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters isn't encouraging tourists to come back just yet.

"We have respectfully asked our visitors to not come until it's safe for them and us," Waters said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Sevier County is opening nonessential businesses in phases. That includes restaurants and hotels.

Dinner shows, including Pirates Voyage, Hatfield and McCoy and Dolly Parton's Stampede, are planning their next performances for May 9.

"You know our people are smart, our businesses are smart, we don't have to tell them a lot," Waters said in reference to the social distancing and CDC guidelines for reopening.

RELATED: Is it too soon to reopen Tennessee? Answering your questions about the plan

Wear said May is the right time to reopen.

"We're at a point right now where if we wait too much longer, there won't be businesses opening up," Wear said.

He's hoping May will sort of act as a buffer.

"From everything we know, and the challenges and opportunities that are known, we're going to be proactive and then learn through May to be reactive to anything that pops up so hopefully by June, Juy, we're ready to go to open to 100 percent," Wear explained.

Both Mayors said it's going to take action from everyone to make sure the people who live here stay safe and the COVID-19 cases don't spike. They want to make sure the community members are protected first.

We don't have exact dates for when the Great Smoky Mountains will reopen, but the national park website said Wednesday it will likely remain closed at least through April 30. 

We also don't have exact dates for Dollywood's re-opening.

RELATED: When will Dollywood reopen after coronavirus pandemic?

RELATED: East TN mayors stand united to reopen the economy safely after coronavirus shutdown

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