The store's unique location brings equally unique challenges.
Editor's note: Since the publication of this article, the Tomoka Outpost was able to reopen on Sunday, May 17.
This is not the first time the owners of Tomoka Outpost have had to close their business.
Each time a hurricane hits, the locally-owned camp store inside Tomoka State Park faces the same dilemma. Unlike other businesses that may be able to open after a couple of days, the Tomoka Outpost's location inside the park means that a closure can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks as debris is cleaned up. It's par for the course when you're located inside a state park.
“Once the front gate closes, we’re closed," Ashley Cornelius said.
The Corneliuses said they've been closed at least once a year since they opened the store in 2016. But the Tomoka Outpost has never been closed this long; it's been almost two months.
Because they expected to close at some point due to COVID-19, the Corneliuses began preparing for what keeping the store afloat would look like during the pandemic. Scott Cornelius said that, just before the store closed, the Tomoka Outpost was more stocked than usual as they geared for what is typically their busiest time of the year. They were already advertising the goods they had for sale on social media.
When the park closed, and people could no longer enter their store — which under the governor's order was deemed an essential business — the Corneliuses regrouped. They began offering to deliver people's orders to the front gate. They sold firewood. They asked people to buy gift cards. They sold cajun peanuts and beer to people who could still visit by boat.
They weren't making as much as they did before, but Scott Cornelius said it still helped.
“Something is better than nothing," he said. "If you’re going to pedal, you might as well try to pedal forward.”
The closure also allowed him to complete several projects related to the business. He rebuilt their pontoon boat they utilize for tours and fishing charters. He made a table out of a boat for the inside of the store, and removed some of the indoor seating.
With their son unable to go to daycare, the goal was to make the store as efficient as possible, Scott Cornelius said, as only one of them will be manning the store for the time being; the other will be watching their son.
Trying to stay positive
About 80 state parks were reopened on May 4, but Tomoka State Park wasn't on the list. Ashley Cornelius said they had hoped it would have been included in that first wave of reopening. A couple of days later, they were informed the park would reopen on May 7.
However, in order to open their business, they had to submit to the state a reopening plan outlining safety procedures in light of COVID-19. It's a four-phase approval process, Ashley Cornelius said. They were hoping to open by Friday, May 15, but they have yet gotten the OK from the state to do so.
“We’ve been as positive and optimistic as we possibly can be through all this, but as more and more time goes on, it’s starting to get really hard to stay positive and optimistic," Ashley Cornelius said.
The extended closure has taught Scott Cornelius not to "put all your eggs in one basket."
“As much as you might love what you’re doing for a living and want to be fully involved in it in all times, and fully invested, we’ve learned that unfortunately, you have to spread it out more than what you want," he said.
The hardest obstacle for them has been the unknown, said Ashley Cornelius. The store's unique location comes with equally unique challenges.
“We’re anxious to reopen and we’re excited to see our customers again," she said. "We’re excited to help the visitors here. That’s what we do — that’s what we love, is to help visitors have a better time here in Tomoka State Park.”