Tom Bowes and Daniel Lemieux came to Maine to spend Labor Day weekend soaking up the sun in Ogunquit.
They weren’t about to let a little rain derail their fun.
With a day at the beach out of the question on Monday, the pair from Nashua, New Hampshire, donned matching yellow raincoats and headed to Portland, where they enjoy dining at the Miss Portland Diner and strolling through the shops of Old Town. Port.
“It’s good liquid sunshine,” Bowes said as a steady drizzle bounced off the sidewalks.
Labor Day marks the unofficial end of a summer tourist season that has brought both large numbers of visitors and challenges for businesses, including labor shortages and supply chain issues.
At the start of the season, there were fears that labor challenges, high gas prices and inflation could torpedo Maine’s summer tourist season, the highest earning time of the year. Restaurant owners and seasonal businesses have struggled to find enough workers and have had to reduce their opening hours.
Gas prices and inflation have weighed on tourism, with 66% of respondents saying they traveled less over the summer and 80% saying they cut back on spending, according to an AAA survey. Despite those concerns, people shelled out more than $2 billion for lodging and restaurants between January and June, according to the most recent figures from the Maine Revenue Services. Maine Turnpike Authority officials expected a record number of travelers over the weekend.
A SOLID SECOND HALF
Sunny, hot, dry weather and moderating gas prices made all the difference in the second half of summer, said Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association. But high costs and competition for workers wore business owners out at the end of the season.
“Businesses said they were busy, just like last year, but it’s been a grind,” Cameron told the Press Herald last week.
In Portland, business owners said the quiet Labor Day was just a brief pause before the arrival of more cruise ships, which can draw thousands of visitors in a single day. Their presence, along with the leaf voyeurs arriving by bus, makes for a busy fall season.
Customers lined up at Holy Donut and Becky’s Diner on Commercial Street, huddled under brightly colored umbrellas and pulled hoods tight around their faces. A tour guide led a group of visitors along the seafront, seemingly undeterred by the gloomy weather.
Inside Local Color, employee Ann Oliver greeted shoppers as they strolled through store owner Kate Nelligan’s colorful nautical-themed creations. Oliver thought the rainy weather would kill business for the day, but six people were waiting outside the store when she arrived and more quickly followed.
“It’s been wonderfully, wonderfully busy all summer,” she said. “The days go by quickly and the people are fun.”
Prior to the summer, Nelligan faced supply chain issues by ordering all products early for its Portland and Kennebunkport stores. Beautiful spells of weather in July and August brought lots of people to Maine and kept its stores busy, she said.
“We had the best summer of our lives,” Nelligan said. “We can’t wait to calm down a bit and enjoy fall with the peepers.”
At Sheepscot River Pottery on Moulton Street, employee Michaela Flint stood in the doorway, watching people pass and waiting for customers to stop. She is confident that tourists will be back in droves as more cruise ships arrive and fall visitors come up the coast.
“I personally like rainy days, but unfortunately it doesn’t really bring out the tourists,” she said. “It’s not a day’s walk.”
The unofficial end of summer coupled with rain may have temporarily slowed Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours operations, but the carts still pulled away from the curb with passengers ready to circle the city.
“Yesterday was a huge day for us,” said Jack Coggeshall, the travel agency’s chief operating officer.
On Tuesday, two cruise ships are expected to bring about 7,000 passengers to Portland, Coggeshall said. This keeps the company busy throughout the fall with 15 or 16 visits per day.
As the tour operators loaded customers into a cart, David and Karen Batten drove past with their dog, Roam. The couple arrived in Portland on Monday in their Sprinter van, in which they are traveling the country. They were heading to Acadia – hopefully missing the busiest days – and had to stop in Portland to check it out.
They also wanted to try a lobster roll and asked a local man working at a pet store for his recommendation. It was great, they said, and the rain didn’t spoil their stop at all.
“Portland is a great little city,” said David Batten.
IN ATTENTION OF QUIETER SEASONS
At the Casco Bay Lines terminal, passengers filled the benches inside while waiting for a ferry. Gone are the crowds that filled the ferries to Peaks Island all summer.
Linda McCann, who splits her time between Winslow and Long Island, welcomed the break from the crowds, even though tourists do not flock to Long Island in the same numbers as Peaks. With only 250 year-round residents, Long Island feels a little different once the beach time ends.
McCann, who grew up there, looks forward to calmer seasons on the island.
“The weather is beautiful – crisp, cool fall evenings and fire pits,” she said.
At Old Orchard Beach, the Monday vibe was decidedly post-summer.
The long stretch of sandy beach was empty except for a few walkers and a man sweeping a metal detector across the sand in wide arcs. The door to the Palace Playland arcade was open and the melodic beeping of arcade games filled the place, but few people were inside to play games. Amusement park rides that have been twisting and turning all summer have stood still.
Souvenir shops were still open, though few people were buying fancy Old Orchard Beach t-shirts and gifts. There were no queues outside of iconic stops like Pier Fries, Bill’s Pizza and Lisa’s Pizza.
It was good with Is right Rancourt and her 15-year-old daughter, Victoria, who came into town for the weekend from their home in Vasselboro. They stay at Old Orchard Beach every Labor Day weekend with their family from Connecticut because they love the food, the nightlife and the atmosphere.
The Rancourts stopped at Lisa’s Pizza for a fried dough topped with butter and powdered sugar. They swear it’s the best in town.
“It’s the first stop and the last stop,” said Isreal Rancourt.
John Murray, who runs Lisa’s Pizza and has worked at the popular food stand since 1978, said this summer has been amazing for businesses like this.
“Busy, busy, busy,” he said. “Mad.”
Canadians finally able to return after an extended border closure due to pandemic restrictions have made all the difference, Murray said. He spoke this summer to several couples who came from Quebec three times or more to make up for lost time.
Murray loves visitors, but also looks forward to the calmer days of fall while they last.
“But if we get a 70 or 80 degree weekend, everyone goes back to the beach,” he said.
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