VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The night of March 26, Janet Hollinger was at her home near 17th Street and Pacific Avenue when she heard the familiar sounds: arguing followed by gunshots and then sirens.
Ten people were shot in the area that night, including DeShayla Harris, 29, who was struck and killed by a stray bullet and Donovon Lynch, 25, who was killed in an officer-involved shooting.
"Come to the ocean. It's safe," insists Hollinger, when News 3 visited her business, The Beauty Tree Spa, near Pacific Avenue and 32nd Street weeks later.
Hollinger's spa is one of the many businesses in the area who need the 2021 resort season to return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic kept many away in 2020.
She says locals who live in Hampton Roads year-round make up just 30 percent of her clients.
"We did have to go into debt to keep (the doors) open and if business doesn't recover, we won't be able to sustain that," she said.
But if early numbers are any indicator, the City of Virginia Beach believes this area will see an improvement year-to-year.
Acting Resort Administrator Brian Solis says March 14-20, the week of what was a largely-virtual Shamrock Marathon, hotel occupancy rates were about double from what they were in 2020. Luxury hotels reported the highest increase at 172 percent.
"We're ready to have folks and we believe you can summer safely here in Virginia Beach," said Solis, not only of keeping families safe from coronavirus, but safe all-around.
One week after last month's shootings, Virginia Beach deployed its Beach Ambassador program to help keep the Oceanfront looking and feeling safe.
"I believe having that program in place from 5 a.m. starting with primarily cleaning through 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays, you keep that positive vibe going for everybody that's out to have a good time. That along with the entertainment program, we do believe will make a difference," he said.
Solis tells News 3 compared to other resort-heavy cities, Virginia Beach hotels fared fairly well during the pandemic, but he understands how crucial it is that other businesses see their numbers bounce back.
"It's very important," he said. "It would be a strong indicator that, as we believe we will, [we will] come out of this pandemic stronger."
Hollinger, who's preparing to pass her business to her daughter, Devin, says she needs 2021 to be a rebound year. So far, it's looking like it might be.
"We have attracted such great therapists that we want our locals to come and discover us but as far as business picking up, yes, the visitors do seem to be coming back. It's spotty though," she said.