VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Businesses at the Oceanfront are preparing to kick off the busy tourist season, but after the violent weekend, many owners are worried about what that will look like.
As the night was winding down at Ocean Eddie’s Friday, Emily Piche and her coworkers heard multiple gunshots.
“Your stomach drops, and your heart just is racing because you don’t know if you are going to be OK or not,” said Piche.
Management directed their staff to stay inside the restaurant.
“You turn the lights off, you lock the doors, you just try to stay calm,” Piche said.
That night, three separate shootings in the area left eight people hurt and two dead.
“It’s March,” said co-owner Debbie Hague. “It was really shocking to me.”
Hague was floored to see the violence, especially so early in the season. She said all of her staff feel like family. She also has a lot of young staff.
“I want my employees to be safe and they can’t do that if they are walking through gunfire,” Hague said. “I want my customers to be safe and they can’t do that if they think this is the most horrible place to go to.”
Last summer, Ocean Eddie’s closed an hour earlier at night after a violent June. Virginia Beach Police report there were 20 shooting victims across the city that month. They said 10 of those shooting victims did occur at the Oceanfront.
Chief Paul Neudigate presented the 2020 crime report to city council in February. He noted that total shooting victims went up 70 percent in 2020. Most of those were non-fatal shootings.
Hague hopes the cycle doesn’t continue into the summer season.
“The restaurant really has got to do something about it,” Hague said. “I don’t know if we are going to close early or what.”
The Virginia Beach Hotel Association is calling on city leaders to act now.
“We’ve done a lot of work, planning, making sure everybody is ready post-pandemic, pre-pandemic, during the pandemic,” said VBHA President John Zirkle.
Zirkle said they sent a letter to city council.
“We are asking the city to focus on giving the police what they need to do to their job,” Zirkle said. “We need more cameras at the Oceanfront. We need better lighting at the Oceanfront.”
Hague said they spent money reworking their seating to maximize social distancing.
“Hoping that that will help people want to come here and eat and enjoy themselves, and not be worried about COVID,” Hague said. “But they don’t need to be worried about gunfire either.”
But she said safety is their top priority.
“I hope that the city government will take control of it,” Hague said. “I have total faith in them. We just have to get together, join forces and really work on this problem.”
Virginia Beach City Council will meet in a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the violent weekend.