LAKE GEORGE — The streets of Lake George on a warm sunny Memorial Day Saturday, with just enough wind to put a light chop on the water, ought to be shoulder-to-shoulder with free-spending visitors from across the Northeast and beyond.
This year, of course, is different, and on Saturday it showed. Parking, which usually involves a hunting expedition for a spot, was plentiful, even on Canada Street — though it still cost $1 per hour.
Couples, families with children and a few packs of young people roamed the sidewalks with ample room for them to create social distance, and most did, at least with strangers. Compliance with the state recommendation to wear face masks in public was spotty, but seemed to improve as the day wore on.
While most village retailers are still “closed for now” due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Million Dollar Beach was open (limited to half-capacity) and some retailers were trying to comply with Phase I re-opening rules, which allow curbside retail sales. The stores blocked their open doors with merchandise tables, and made sales across the table.
Not all restaurants were open, but those oriented to serving pizza slices, ice cream, or willing to offer takeout were attracting small sidewalk gatherings.
Dilligaf, which offers humorous and ribald clothing, was doing a steady business in face masks, but they’re a $10 item that doesn’t really make sufficient profit for the business, said owner William Massry. “I’ve always had great business, but with this COVID, this weekend I might get five percent of my usual sales,” he said. “It’s very challenging, but we live in challenging times.”
How things go in Lake George this three-day holiday weekend could be a harbinger of how businesses will fare in other resort towns where attractions are closed or canceled. Saratoga Springs, for instance, is looking at a summer with few events at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and Saratoga Race Course conducting racing without fans.
Massry said he has employees who are afraid for their health because some customers don’t wear masks, and his hope — assuming people will be allowed to shop in stores soon — is to achieve 50 percent of his usual summer sales this summer.
“It’s definitely going to be a different summer,” said Carol Lee LaBruzzo, who owns Shady Business on Canada Street, which cares beach supplies, sunglasses and jewelry.
“What we’re getting today is day trippers,” she said. “This would normally be a big camping weekend, and people can’t camp.”
Robin McDonough, who has owned an Irish shop in Troy for 20 years and bought Molly Malones Irish Gifts on Canada Street last November, said people should be allowed to come into stores, as long as a safe environment can be maintained.
“If we can have 500 people on Million Dollar Beach, why can’t we have at least six people in a store?” she asked. “I don’t understand why we have to wait 14 days… Walmart is open. There’s not much we can do, but it’s unfortunate so many places are closed, because a lot of them are seasonal. I feel like it would have been better if we were allowed to be out on the sidewalk.”
While Adirondack Winery on Canada Street is considered an “essential” business and therefore able to be open since March, it can’t hold wine tastings. “That’s our bread and butter,” said associate store manager Jackie Donovan.
“It’s good to see foot traffic again,” Donovan said, while acknowledging, “On a normal Memorial Day, there’s no room between people.”
“It’s cool some things are still open, they’re running as smoothy as you could expect,” said day visitor Anthony Garcelon of Albany, as he prepared to enjoy some soft ice cream.
Northbound traffic on the Northway Saturday morning, which on a typical holiday weekend would start to clog before Exit 20, was free-flowing, another indication the usual crowds weren’t going to be showing up. Most vehicles had New York plates.
Anyone visiting the Adirondacks and traveling from more than a short distance away was doing so against the advice of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which urged people to get outside, but do their recreation locally.
“DEC is encouraging visitors to New York’s natural resources to get outside to recreate locally, practice physical distancing, show respect, and use common sense to protect themselves and others this weekend and throughout the summer season,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said on Friday. “Special steps are being undertaken to reduce density at DEC sites and lands where we expect big crowds during the holiday weekend.”
In the High Peaks, where holiday weekend overuse has been a growing issue for the last several years, predictions of big crowds — by hiking country standards — seemed to be borne out. Reports from law enforcement in the High Peaks were nevertheless that major trailhead parking lots had filled by early Saturday morning.
The state had electronic signs warning of trailhead restrictions, and that hiker shuttles weren’t running. State police and DEC law enforcement personnel were actively enforcing rules that hikers not park along state Route 73 and other trailhead roadsides.