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No Drag Queen, Conch Shell Or Pirate Drops At New Year's Eve In Key West This Year — And The Party Ends At 10

Huge crowds gather in Key West in 2018 to watch Gary Marion, better known as Sushi, drop at midnight in a giant ruby slipper
Andy Newman
Florida Keys News Bureau
Gary Marion, attired as drag queen Sushi, hangs in an oversized replica of a women's red high heel over Duval Street, late Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, at the Bourbon St. Pub in Key West, Fla. The Red Shoe Drop is a Key West tradition and is one of six Key West warm-weather takeoffs on New York City's Times Square ball drop to mark the beginning of the new year.

Usually Key West is packed for New Year's Eve with people crowding downtown to watch various things drop at New Year's. There's a drag queen in a ruby slipper, a pirate on a ship mast and a Conch shell at Sloppy Joe's.

All those events have been canceled for this year and the city is further trying to discourage crowds with a curfew well before midnight. Mayor Teri Johnston says it's too big a risk with COVID-19 numbers rising.

"We're talking about inviting 50,000 people into town during a global pandemic," Johnston said.

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City Manager Greg Veliz said he was worried about extra crowds from the mainland — like Miami-Dade, which has had a midnight curfew for months.

"As long as we are an attractive alternative to wherever they're coming from, they're going to come," he said. "Somehow you need to make that number you're looking at up there, that amount of people, reduce."

Johnston has issuedan executive order saying all non-essential businesses must close at 10 p.m. on New Year's Eve as well as Jan. 1 and 2. People have until 10:30 p.m. to get back to their homes or hotel rooms.

That order came despite objections from people in the bar and restaurant business. They say they rely on the New Year's crowds.

"This is not a balanced approach. This is just wrong," said Bill Lay, who owns several restaurants on the island and served on a task force that recommended a 1 a.m. curfew.

"The people are going to come. We've heard that over and over again," Lay said. "We're giving them nowhere to go."

Johnston said she sympathized with businesses but that the health of the community was paramount, as the CDC recommends that people not travel or gather in groups for holidays.

"I know people want to make money. I would say if we had an extra 30, 40 thousand people in town, even if they had to go home to their hotel at 10 o'clock, we're going to make some extra money in town and keep people afloat," she said. "What we have to do is keep them alive and healthy."

Key West code officials say more people are wearing masks downtown — but those who won't are more combative.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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