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BELLE GLADE — Charles Corbin has seen a lot in his more than 55 years running Slim’s Fish Camp on Torry Island but never anything like what’s happened this year.
Business was decent to good at many tourism and outdoor sports-related businesses around the lake during the shortened 2019-20 winter season. It just evaporated more suddenly this year because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and governments’ reactions with business closures and stay-at-home orders, he said.
At Slim’s bait and tackle shop, sales clerk Linda Wiggins said they’ve stayed open their regular hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Linda apologized that Charlie Corbin, the longtime owner, wasn’t present but said she’d call him and put us in touch; he is self-isolating.
So, speaking from his home via phone where he and his wife, Nan, have been sheltering in place for about the past month, Mr. Corbin talked about the situation.
Fishermen ‘need fish bait’!
He said the campground there was nearly full into spring. “We had a lot of people in the campground all winter long. But you know, traditionally, everybody — all of the Northerners — leave the campground around the middle of March to the first of April so they can get home to get their income tax done and go to the Easter parade.”
There are still the year-round residents, though, who are keeping Slim’s open. “About the time all this stuff (coronavirus prevention actions) got hot and heavy here and they closed the boat ramps, most of the Northern people had already left. We have quite a few campers still in the campground that stay here or come on the weekends, and … a little bit of business coming in from the coast. And a lot of the local people want to get out of the house and do something so they come out and get a little bait,” Mr. Corbin explained.
Still a way onto the lake
The public boat ramps on the island are still officially closed, which of course has greatly reduced traffic, he said. Originally, it was supposed to be only the ramps to saltwater bodies on the coasts, not freshwater ramps. “Then eventually somebody realized that we had boat ramps still out here in Belle Glade, and when the governor issued his stay-at-home order, then the city asked that these be closed down.”
There is, however, a private boat ramp on the premises. “We have one private ramp that people have been using,” Mr. Corbin said. “Not a lot of people have been using it, but some people have.”
Slim’s Fish Camp is an officially designated Palm Beach County historic site, having opened its doors as a business in 1935. “I’ve been owning it since 1964,” Charlie said.
Only one event in all those decades stands out to him as having been worse than the current economic slowdown, and that was the catastrophe wrought by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
“Wilma put 7 feet of water inside the store and decimated our inventory and our whole store,” he said. The Okeechobee Waterway was closed for a year afterward, and Slim’s didn’t reopen until 2007.
Right now and for at least the near future, Mr. Corbin and wife Nan are staying home except to go out for her treatments; she stays in when he goes to get supplies or visit the store.
“My wife’s immune system has been compromised and she’s taking treatments, and the doctor told her if she caught the virus it’d be a death sentence for her,” he said grimly.
He expects that around the first of May most of the restrictions locally might be lifted, as Palm Beach County’s rate of positive COVID-19 tests seems to be leveling off and hospitalizations are not rising significantly.
Mr. Corbin has a local couple managing the shop with Ms. Wiggins’ help, Melanie and Thomas Dean. You’ll find at least one of them in the store at all times, but Mr. Corbin said business has fallen off so much he can’t keep all three there at the same time.
Slim’s Fish Camp is located at 215 Marina Drive, Belle Glade, FL 33430, and their phone number is 561-996-3844.
Chris Felker can be reached at email@example.com.