B y Derek Liebig
It may be summer, but it doesn’t feel that way for local businesses and organizations that depend on tourism.
Despite the passing of the Fourth of July Weekend two weeks ago and Canal Fest this past weekend, local business owners have said business is lagging behind previous years.
That lack of business can be chalked up to a lack of boat traffic along the canal, local business owners say.
“The boating season has been dismal. The seasonal boaters just aren’t here,” said Robert Elmy, owner of Champlain Harbor Marina.
Last year at the same time, Elmy said he had nine boaters stay at the Marina, but this year that number was done to one.
Ray Faville who owns Lock 12 Marina also said boat traffic has been slow.
“There are empty docks all over the place,” Faville said.
And those empty docks extend south of the canal to the spots located along the canal behind the Canal Corp Visitor’s Center.
Pat Gordon, who occasionally fills in at the town offices, said that only one group of boaters had passed through the visitors center Monday and she’s noticed less traffic along the canal when she’s taken her dog for walks.
“There’s been virtually no canal traffic,” Skenesborough Museum volunteer Wayne Senecal. “It’s been relatively slow. Local traffic may be up some, but drive-by traffic is less than normal.”
Both Faville and Elmy think this spring’s flooding is the main culprit.
“All the marinas along Lake Champlain have had issues. Everyone got a later start because of the flooding,” Faville said.
Elmy said he thought that the flood may have caused people who may normally vacation along the canal to change their plans.
“Reservations are way down. The flood has really left its mark.”
Besides a decrease in business, Elmy said his business still isn’t fully operational because of the flood.
“We’re half open and still cleaning things up.”
He said the Sea Harbor Tavern has yet to open because two of the coolers were damaged when they were submerged under water and the ground just recently dried up enough to allow the RV campground to open.
Flooding isn’t the only factor affecting business. The price of gas isn’t inspiring people to jump in their boats or RV’s for an extended vacation.
“The gas prices are too high. It’s $5 for a gallon of diesel at the dock and it’s not any different for RV’s,” Elmy said.
The Fourth of July weekend and Canal Fest didn’t have much of an impact on business either.
“The two weekends were fairly disappointing to anyone who thinks it was going to help kick off the summer season. If they are indicative of what’s to come, it’s not encouraging,” Richard Corsetti, owner of Smokin’ On the Water said.
Elmy said he had one boat on the fourth of July, which is pretty standard, adding that the holiday doesn’t usually translate into greater business.
“I don’t think we’re capturing the traffic off the highways to the extent we’ve seen an uptick in business,” Corsetti added.
If there’s a silver lining to be found, it appears local restaurants seem to be faring a little better.
“We’re doing alright,” said Faville, who owns Finch and Chubb Restaurant. “We’re open seven days a week now and some days are better than others, but it’s been alright.”
Much of his customer base at the restaurant is made up of local and regional people, many from Vermont.
Similarly Corsetti, who opened his restaurant earlier this year, said relies more on people who live within 30 miles that he does tourists.
“We don’t rely on boat traffic as much as road traffic,” he said.
The next few weeks should go a long ways in determining the success or lack thereof this season will ultimately be.
Traffic tends to pick up at the end of July when many Canadians are on vacation.
“Ninety percent of our business in July comes from Canadians,” said Elmy who hopes the re-opening of the RV Park and the Tavern (which may open in a few weeks) will help business pick up.
“I’m optimistic; I’m a businessman so I have to be. We’ll see what happens,” Faville said.