HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — After a year of hardship, Anthony Valinoti didn't know if it would be even worth staying open.
"I'm going to be completely honest with you, I didn't want to do this anymore," Valinoti, the owner of Deluca's Pizzeria in Hot Springs, said. "Two weeks ago, when people started coming to back into the restaurant, I realized my personality was in the restaurant."
It was the spark he needed to keep going, and it's one that's being seen up and down Central Avenue in the Spa City.
"This year, it's big," Bill Solleder, Director of Marketing for Visit Hot Springs, said. "It's noticeably busy downtown, very busy, some of the most busy crowds I've ever seen."
This time of year means huge crowds of tourists as everyone from college students to families come to town.
Last year, Hot Springs missed out on that revenue as lockdowns were starting to be put into place, and the city looked like a ghost town.
"We lost a lot of good businesses that had to close," Michael Dampier, General Manager at The Ohio Club, said. "I mean, unbelievable, having to close, and not knowing what our future holds, and unbelievable how everyone's bouncing back, the restaurants, seeing all the visitors."
While it's good to see crowds like those out Saturday, that doesn't mean the hardships of the past year are gone.
"I couldn't say it on TV," Valinoti said. "Troubling. It was troubling. The world went through something that we've obviously never seen before, and we hope we never see the likes of again."
One of the most complicated parts of economic issues affecting Hot Springs is that everyone's connected. They may be competing for the business of customers, but they still depend on each other.
"Everyone's connected," Solleder said. "If we don't have restaurants and we don't have hotels, the plumbers lose business, the HVAC's lose business and on down the line, so it's all connected."
It's all part of an idea we've heard of a lot during the pandemic – the idea of people sticking together to persevere.
That means a lot, especially when Hot Springs is home, even after the tourists go home.
"This is my hometown, so to see my hometown bounce back like this... really means a lot, melts my heart," Dampier said.
And even though it's been tough, Valinoti says there's always a silver lining.
"You have to look forward to the, knowing something better is coming," he said. "At least now we've got an opportunity to come back and do what we love to do."