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Crowds bigger than expected in Lake George, say businesses, tourism officials

LAKE GEORGE — Lake George business and government officials say more visitors came to the area than they expected, despite the COVID-19 pandemic — an encouraging sign for the season.

Village Mayor Robert Blais said Saturday was slow but Sunday seemed to pick up a quite a bit as a lot of people, especially families, came up and enjoyed getting out in the fresh air and hitting Million Dollar Beach.

Blais said as long as people feel safe, they will come. Tourists love to be in the Adirondacks and near water.

“This won’t be one of our banner seasons. It will still be good,” he said.

Still, crowds were about 40% of what he would expect on a normal weekend, according to Blais. Some hotels and lodging establishments opened up only half of the rooms, but did fill them. He said this is a credit to the hospitality businesses and Lake George officials to make sure they put their best foot forward.

The village had doubled its staff at its restrooms and put out hand sanitizers to keep people safe.

People were respectful and well-behaved, according to Blais.

“We didn’t have any serious problems, a couple of other minor violations that were addressed very quickly. Some of it was probably just misunderstanding,” he said.

Among the issues were some retail establishments allowing shoppers to go inside their store or patrons consuming food on restaurants’ decks, according to Blais. Those activities are not allowed during Phase 1 of the region’s reopening from the coronavirus shutdown.

Gina Mintzer, president of the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce, also said she was hearing from hotels, retailers and restaurants that business is better than expected.

Mintzer said the guests seemed to be day-trippers from the Capital Region and people staying overnight from the tri-state area.

“People wanted to stay safe, and they heard that Lake George was such a safe area,” she said.

Hotels were operating at half-capacity but they filled the rooms they made available, according to Mintzer.

Mintzer said one of the complaints is that visitors wanted to do more outdoor activities, but miniature golf courses are closed and boats still docked in Phase 1.

Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore said he also hopes that the state would allow the outdoor dining and other activities.

The county had lobbied for activities to be opened up, such as boat rentals and then Million Dollar Beach. Monday was the first day that recreational vehicle parks and private campgrounds were allowed to reopen. State-owned camps are not open yet.

Still, Moore said there is no question that occupancy and sales tax revenues will be down this year. He hoped that state and local governments would receive aid in the next federal stimulus package.

Moore also said there were not any major issues of people not respecting social distancing and other precautions. People enjoyed themselves in a safe way.

“We were worried about it because it’s been such a beautiful weekend and people have been cooped up,” he said.

Mintzer hoped that restaurants would be able to reopen soon — even if it is just outside dining.

“Our restaurant community is also a big draw,” she said.

Restaurants that were open for curbside business were taking precautions and getting creative.

Martha’s Dandee Cream in Queensbury put up barriers between each window to help separate guests.

Mintzer said the Holiday Inn did a takeout barbecue for their guests.

“They did a whole takeout barbecue so people could sit outside and enjoy the scenery and enjoy dinner — whether it was a picnic-type setting or just to be outside since it was so beautiful,” she said.

The Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center transformed its Village Blacksmith Steakhouse into Bob and Jean’s Car Hop. It is named after the Fort William Henry’s late president, Bob Flacke, and his wife, Jean. The change included a new marquee and signs, according to Tom Wysocki, director of sales.

People could order online and waiters came out to deliver the food in a bag. It was well-received.

“There were crowds here,” he said.

There seemed to be a lot of traffic down through Beach Road with restaurants doing carryout, according to Wysocki. He also noticed a lot of day-trippers from the Albany area.

However, Wysocki said room occupancy was down about 50% over usual levels.

“Normally, the hotel would be sold out for the weekend. Obviously, that didn’t happen,” he said.

The hotel would be busy booking reservations for the rest of the season. There are some reservations, but it is last-minute booking for a day, Wysocki added.

He hoped that business would pick up as the region reopens.

“We’re ready to go. We’re anxious,” she said.

The hotel is doing extensive disinfecting, including using ultraviolent rays to clean rooms.

There were some retail businesses open.

The Lake George Olive Oil Co. had steady customers at its curbside pickup.

“We have lots of customers coming back. It’s definitely a different experience,” said retail manager Alina Rosu.

The bulk of the visitors seemed to be from New York City or Connecticut, according to Rosu.

“Everybody was really nice. Everybody is taking precautions and following the rules, so we’re happy about that,” she said.

Blais said usually officials talk about Memorial Day weekend as being a good barometer for the summer season, but this is a very different year.

“I would say a very good start to a very unusual start to our season, but at least an indication that everyone seems to be working together to make something like this possible,” he said.

Blais was optimistic about the summer.

“As long as we continue to work together to make it safe and attractive for people to come here, Lake George will have a decent season,” he said.

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