Palm Beach adjusts to having the president as one of its part-time residents
By MICHELLE YE HEE LEE THE LORI ROZSA | The Washington Post | Published: December 27, 2017
PALM BEACH, Fla. — In the months after his election last year, President Donald Trump would cause a stir among locals and visitors when he visited this south Florida island where some of the wealthiest people in the country reside.
His arrival was often accompanied by protests and counterprotests, drawing more than 2,000 people on one occasion. Drivers had to get used to being delayed by sheriff's officers as Trump's motorcade snaked through town. Roads around the president's private club were closed off, forcing people to take alternative routes or sit in traffic.
But this holiday season, as Trump makes his 10th visit as president, his presence has become an afterthought to many. Logistical problems caused by his stay remain a mild annoyance, but those who live and visit here say they have learned to plan around the inconveniences.
Palm Beach has adjusted to having the president of the United States as one of its part-time residents.
On Worth Avenue, an upscale shopping district just north of the president's private estate of Mar-a-Lago, shoppers and store owners now change their schedules on the basis of when the Trump plans to arrive.
"I don't think it's really affected business, but people are worried, when he comes in, about how it affects traffic," said Kim Kagan, manager at 120% Lino, an Italian clothing store, of Trump's frequent visits in town. "Let's say he's landing at 5 p.m. People will definitely be off Worth Avenue around 3 or 4, because they don't want to get caught up in the Secret Service roadblocks."
Palm Beach does look different when Trump is in town.
TV trucks line the main road leading to West Palm Beach, and Secret Service agents armed with rifles keep watch from Coast Guard boats on the nearby Intracoastal Waterway. Sheriff's vehicles are stationed around town, where stretches of the road are blocked throughout the president's stay.
But it appears these changes have become so routine that some residents were surprised to hear he was already in town - he arrived Friday - settled in with his family and golfing at a nearby Trump course.
"He is?" said Cindy Ochoa, a Palm Beach County resident who was not aware Trump was already at his estate less than two miles from the beach, where she was relaxing on Christmas Day. "We get a lot of famous people here. . . . So him being here isn't such a big deal. We're used to it."
Winter is high season here, with visitors from colder areas of the country flocking to 80-degree weather over the holidays. For many of them, coexisting with Trump while vacationing is now just a part of the visit.
"I feel like he's a little more spotlighted among people who don't live here, like New Yorkers and seasonal visitors," said Jenna Garmon, who was visiting the historic Breakers hotel on Christmas Day. "But I don't think much has changed."
Trump's presence has taken a financial toll on some merchants off the island, particularly ones near to Palm Beach County Park Airport, a small airfield that effectively shuts down because of the airspace restrictions throughout the president's stay. Business losses off the island mount into the thousands every time the president visits, merchants say.
On the island of Palm Beach, however, many say Trump is good for business, whether he is in town or not. And there is a general sense of optimism, particularly about the international attention on the area since Trump became president.
"Last year, right after the election, things were a little off kilter," said Monique Javarone, owner of Fashionista Palm Beach, a high-end consignment shop. "People didn't expect him to win, and people felt so strongly on both sides that it caused some issues."
"Things are better now," Javarone said. "And I know with the new tax plan, my business will get better. I'll be able to hire another employee. My season is already off to a stronger start than usual."
The tourism business in Palm Beach County is growing, up nearly 5 percent over last year and up 50 percent since 2011, according to the local tourism board, Discover the Palm Beaches. The Palm Beach County Convention Center had its best year in 2017, and hotel room bookings throughout the county were up 19.7 percent from 2016.
But there is no clear connection between Trump's election and the local economy.
This year, Discover the Palm Beaches commissioned a study by the tourism analytics firm STR to determine whether there was a "Trump bump" in Palm Beach. The study was an "attempt to quantify President Trump's association with the Palm Beaches and his impact on tourism in the area," according to board president and chief executive Jorge Pesquera.
The study concluded that there was no statistical proof that Trump's frequent visits had a direct impact on the economy, he said.
"We certainly recognize the significant visibility the destination has received from coverage by the various media outlets and are hopeful this will translate into greater visitation in the future," Pesquera said.
Although the Secret Service and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office are primarily in charge of protecting the president, his visits are draining resources from the town of West Palm Beach, which is separated by a bridge from the island where the president resides. West Palm Beach is seeking $1.1 million in state and federal funds to pay for new police equipment to better protect the town during the president's visits, the Palm Beach Post reported in October.
Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago, the 17-acre estate between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth, in 1985. In 1999, he built a golf course nearby, the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.
Trump does not stray far from the routine he has established over the years: He goes to his estate and leaves to play golf. The club's members and employees interact with him regularly during his visits, but he is rarely spotted outside of those settings.
As president, he is greeted by supporters on the ramp at the airport when he arrives - but that is about all the public interaction he has when he is in town.
Many residents do not mind that Trump prefers to keep to his own properties rather than frequent local restaurants and other businesses.
"Why should he? He's busy, and he's got to think about the security," said Lori Bernstein, owner of Lori Jayne Monogramming and More on Palm Beach.
Bernstein is a Trump fan, and her family members belong to Mar-a-Lago.
Although 19 charities pulled their events from Mar-a-Lago after Trump's controversial comments following white-supremacist protests and counterprotests in Charlottesville, Bernstein suspects that the charities' departures were affected in part by the increased security at Mar-a-Lago.
"The truth is, he's a huge draw," she said. "People would go to those events no matter what their political views. People want to see the president."
The club now hosts more political fundraisers and events by pro-Trump groups and allies.
Sandy Kriser, a customer at Bernstein's shop and a Mar-a-Lago member, said security at the club "has become much more streamlined" since Trump's early visits as president.
"It's 100 percent better," Kriser said. Security procedures take "maybe 15 minutes, tops."
But Trump's critics are not quite warming up to the logistical challenges just yet.
"The people who belong to Mar-a-Lago are loyal to him. They like him. They belong to the club, they pay all that money - they should like him," said a woman who had just walked out of Saks Fifth Avenue on Worth Avenue the day before Christmas Eve and declined to be named so she could speak frankly about her views on Trump. She was skeptical about his policies and worried that his politics diminish the United States' popularity globally.
The woman attended a ladies luncheon last weekend at Mar-a-Lago as a guest. She described the security check for Mar-a-Lago as a "pain in the neck." Trump showed up to greet about 200 women attending the luncheon, she said.
"He showed up — jacket and tie, all dressed up. It was a good tie. Everybody jumped out of their seats to run and say hello to him," she said. "Let's just say it's a happening. Having him around is a happening. Good or otherwise — it's a happening."