Travel 2021 | Brant Lake: Hopes high as Warren County ‘tourist town’ reopens

A boat heads out on the water at Brant Lake in Warren County.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A boat heads out on the water at Brant Lake in Warren County.

Visitors mean business in this mountainous Warren County setting with a year-round population of nearly 1,600 residents.

Horicon, the halfway point between Albany and Plattsburgh in the southern Adirondacks, is home to a corner of Schroon Lake and all five miles of Brant Lake. Seasonal traffic for the latter destination — a lesser-known Adirondack spot — funnels commerce.

“We’re a tourist town,” Supervisor Sylvia Smith said. “We don’t have a lot of businesses.”

Operating near deep thickets, narrow byways and glacially carved mountainsides are a sparse number of businesses riding the wave of COVID-19 deregulation as the summer nears.

“People are ready to get back on track,” Smith said.

Smith recently filled the role of Republican Matt Simpson, elected to the state Assembly’s 114th District in November. Sitting in the town’s recently reopened community center, Smith expressed content with the direction of local commerce as COVID-19 restrictions increasingly wane.

Horicon’s public library in early April reopened browsing sessions. Museums are expected next.

Drew Cappabianca welcomes the shift. The 35-year-old has owned and operated The Hub, a bicycle shop, eatery and music venue, since 2014.

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

“We’re at the 75% rule, everything is 6 feet away, we’re doing fine and we have live music coming back,” Cappabianca said in an early May interview. “It’s the most normal it’s felt in a long time.”

The Hub experienced a revenue lull in 2020 as a result of the restrictions. Cappabianca is chuffed by the April 28 repeal of the state’s food and alcohol order mandate, a policy he claimed “turned a lot of people off” from venturing out.

At the Lazy Moose Garden Market, it is unclear whether tourists since March of 2020 have buoyed plant sales. Olivia Evans, manager at the garden supply-meets-convenience store, described those responsible for boosting business as “everybody.”

Customers depleted the inventory sooner than expected last May for the first time in the company’s then-six-year history.

“We just are lucky with plants,” Evans said. “I think because everyone had to stay home, they took up new hobbies and planting is one of them.”

COVID-19 had a different impact on the Himoff family’s Route 8 hub. Most weddings arranged at Jimbo’s Club at the Point last year were rebooked for 2021.

For months, the lakefront club’s restaurant was takeout-only under the management of Jim Himoff, the family businesses’ patriarch. Brandon Himoff, director of the camp, said the restaurant was mostly intended to supply jobs.

“It’s a rural area, so sometimes hiring can be tricky,” Himoff said. “But you also want to make sure that you take good care of your great staff because we all take care of each other.”

With some 30 year-round personnel and upwards of 140 seasonal staff, according to the son, the Himoffs are one of the largest employers in town. Year-round employees remained on payroll despite “limited business.”

“We had substantially less revenue, but are believers that we’ll be back to normal soon,” Brandon Himoff said.

Cappabianca, too, struggled to break even last year despite an increase in bicycle repairs and a steady flow of takeout orders.

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

The Hub experienced a dip in regionally based second- and third-homeowner customers concurrent with an uptick in New York City metropolitan area customers. Cappabianca believes the area was likely seen as a safer and quieter alternative to high-demand resort towns.

The regional bump overshadowed the shortfall of Canadian tourism, barred by a closed border.

Real estate brokers last summer reported a boost in renters and buyers from downstate New York flocking to the Adirondacks, according to the Times News-Herald.

“I don’t think they’re gonna go away when COVID goes away,” Cappabianca said. “I think it just put us on the map — and real up on the map.”

Sunset Mountain Lodge owner Giles Kolakowski has high hopes for this summer. Assuming prospective guests are more likely to be vaccinated, carry disposable income and avoid “scare tactics” from an unnamed entity, he expects a tourism boom.

The 67-year-old owner avowedly has guests booked up on his calendar each year. Kolakowski is confident his younger guests, lodging beside family regulars, will one day book the space on their own.

“It’s a beautiful lake and we have all repeated business,” Kolakowski said. “They are families and they love it.”

Brant Lake in particular is a popular fishing destination for bass and trout, the state Department of Environmental Conservation reports.

Pushed by local leadership in the early 1900s, the lake was restored as a tourist destination after being used briefly as a waterway for log hauling.

From the town’s website, Horicon is described as “quiet but spectacular.” With an average of 25 people per square mile, it has the lowest population density among census-designated places in the state.

Town Clerk Krista Wood has an ongoing objective to increase Horicon’s visibility. Devised and implemented through an ad-hoc committee in 2019, the effort involves street grub and live music near the narrows of Brant Lake.

Co-managing an automobilia and gas station petroliana shop in town, Wood and her husband are directly involved in the local economy. She wants others to experience the town’s business sector.

“We do have a lot here to offer, actually,” Wood said. “But the people never hear our name, they don’t know about us and they don’t even know we’re here.”

Shut down last April as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, Food Truck Friday at the Pond will return July 2.

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

Categories: Life and Arts, Travel 2021

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