The gloomy economy has cast its shadow on the Queen of American Lakes, bringing what could be one of the slowest winter seasons in decades to Lake George.
“This winter, we have seen many more restaurants and shops close [for the season],” said longtime Lake George Village Mayor Robert M. Blais.
In the past, these businesses have stayed open, for weekends at least, through the winter, he said.
“This winter is a setback,” Blais said. The slumping economy and the high cost of heating the businesses are reasons for the seasonal closures, he said.
Even the McDonald’s Restaurant on Canada Street is closed for the winter for the first time, Blais said.
In past years, the Lake George Steamboat Company, with a large wharf on Beach Road, has offered weekend cruises on one or more of its three large boats in November and December. But not this year, the mayor said.
The Fort William Henry Resort and Conference Center, with 193 guest rooms and an indoor pool, fitness center and full conference center facilities, will be open only on weekends in December and will be closed Christmas week, said Heidi Orleman, an assistant sales manager.
“In the past we have been open all winter,” Orleman said.
The reduced winter schedule, which includes weekends only in January and February, is a direct result of the sluggish economy, she said.
Groups not booking
Orleman said there are fewer large groups booking rooms in the recently expanded resort hotel. The corporate customers, she said, have seen their budgets cut. “They are not booking,” she said.
Mayor Blais has cut back on the hours his own business — The Fun World arcade on Canada Street — is open for the upcoming winter.
He said he used to stay open at least Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the winter months. “This year I closed three weeks ago,” he said.
He said he will reopen during the winter school holidays. A major reason Fun World closed shop for most of the winter is the increased costs of heating and for the electricity to run the many video arcade games.
“People just don’t have the disposable income,” Blais said about the generally middle class tourists who make Lake George Village their destination.
He said during the past summer season in Lake George, local restaurants noticed that fewer families were going out to dinner. Instead of taking the family out to a restaurant, the people would order pizzas sent to their rooms.
“We are a family resort, we cater to the middle class and they were hurt by the economy,” Blais said. “People with three or four kids, they stayed for shorter times [than in the past].”
July wasn’t too bad, he said. But tourism during August in Lake George was slower than in August 2007. “This wasn’t one of our banner years,” Blais said about the summer season. “It was a good season.”
He said one reason for the slower business in August is that hundreds of new hotel rooms have been built in the city of Saratoga Springs over the past four or five years.
In the past, many families booked rooms in “mom and pop” motels in Lake George for the August thoroughbred horse racing season in Saratoga Springs.
They would head down the Northway for the races in the afternoon and drive back north to Lake George for dinner and entertainment. Blais said these people are now able to stay in the many new hotel rooms in Saratoga, causing a decline in business during August in Lake George.
At the relatively new Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Water on Route 9 in Queensbury, across from the seasonal Great Escape amusement park just south of Lake George, the lodge and indoor water park will be closed during the week in November and December, according to Don McCoy, general manager.
“This reduced weekday calendar [consistent with other hotels and resorts in the area] is in effect for a limited period of time and does not extend to next spring,” McCoy said in an e-mail.
McCoy said the new Johnny Rockets restaurant connected to the lodge and indoor water park remains open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Johnny Rockets Sports Lounge is also open daily and features live entertainment on Friday nights, McCoy said.
Both the Fort William Henry Resort and the Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Water Park will be open during the school vacation week, Feb. 16 through 21.
North of Lake George Village in Bolton Landing, The Sagamore Resort will continue to close down Sunday night and reopen the following weekend during parts of December, January and February, according to general manager Tom Guay.
He said the 72-acre island resort, which was recently purchased by Ocean Properties, has been closing during the week in the offseason months for more than a decade.
Guay said this winter will be no different from other winters but the shutdowns “really makes more sense” during the economic downturn.
“Business is certainly softer than it has been in the past,” Guay said.
He said corporate business is “off a bit” but the bookings by various state associations for conferences and meetings remains strong.
The Sagamore has large and luxurious conference facilities, six restaurants of various styles and sizes, and a large indoor swimming pool and European-style health spa.
Back in Lake George, the annual winter carnival will be held, as usual, in January and February, Blais said. “But they too will be impacted by higher costs,” he said.
“I don’t think things will turn around any time soon,” he said. “We are being careful about the upcoming season.”
“The lake is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer,” he said. He said there will still be things to do, especially during the winter carnival, during the winter months.
“In general there are some really good places still open, weekends in particular,” he said.
Some of the restaurants on Canada Street have closed for the season but others remain open, including the popular Boardwalk Restaurant and Marina.