HYANNIS – “Summer was great. The Cape was jamming,” said Mike Lyons, owner of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream franchise on Main Street. “The foot traffic was terrific. There was an amazing amount of people.”
And then came Labor Day and the first day of school. On the second day of school, Lyons looked around his ice cream shop and said, “It drops in half, like bam!”
While Wednesday’s weather was spectacular – a perfect day, in fact, for ice cream – a handful of retailers along Main Street noted a significant, even fractionally-measurable drop-off in tourist traffic just two days after Labor Day.
“I have noticed a difference,” said Holly Lemieux, owner of Pupcakes, a doggy boutique. “It’s a one-third decline in business. I won’t know until the weekend for sure, but the week so far is much slower.”
Tanya Johnson, manager Fresh Ketch Seafood-n-Steak, said her hours at this time of year drop from 70 a week to 40 a week. “Everybody’s ready for a rest,” said Johnson.
While a clear break from the jamming traffic of summer came after this weekend, Nancy Lyon, owner of Black Whale Gallery, noted, “There’s still bus tours coming in. Still people coming in for September.”
And Lyons, of Ben & Jerry’s, said of the bus tours, “I had three today before 2.”
So no, Hyannis is not a ghost town.
But Cape Cod certainly looks different than just a few days ago. And that’s mostly okay with these retailers.
“Everybody seems excited for the changes,” said Lyons. “Not just the kids talking about school but I even saw some ladies the other day talking about how excited they were to be changing up their wardrobe.”
“It’s a double-ended sword,” said Lemieux. “I would like my business to be more brisk year round, but I don’t have any employees so I’m due for a much needed nap.”
As Johnson said, “It’s not like the people are bad, it’s just that so much of everything is compacted into four months.”
And those four months, by all accounts, were great. “It started early and ran like gangbusters all the way through,” said Johnson.
“It’s a grind, but it’s a good grind,” said Lyons. “It’s not a bad thing, but the lines can be a little relentless.”
Rachele Dawson, 17, of Hyannis, a scooper at Ben & Jerry’s said, “It was very busy, lines out the door. Especially the Fourth of July and Fridays – well, weekends.”
Lyons noted that Hyannis and Cape Cod have done well attracting tourists in recent years. “We compete with the Jersey shore, Maine, New Hampshire, and the mountains. We got a lot of people back. My opinion is that the Cape is doing well,” he said.
“People are smarter,” said Lyons, noting how everyone has a smart phone. “Everyone is an educated consumer now. I would think the educated consumer is good for us. We have a pretty educated group of business people.”
And Lyons credited a revamped downtown Hyannis for part of the resurgence. “Hyannis in general has had quite the transformation. The street looks great. It’s now a good place to buy, not just ice cream and t-shirts. Isn’t it funny?” He paused and looked around his ice cream shop. “I shouldn’t say that.”
Yet despite his praises for the transformation of Hyannis and the way smart consumers find Cape Cod, Lyons admitted, “I don’t care how good technology is or how pretty the paint is, we’re still pretty weather dependent.”
And seasonally dependent. When the school year starts, a lot of tourists leave. But not all.
“I don’t really have a shop that brings a lot of kids in, said Lyon, owner of Black Whale Gallery, featuring scrimshaw, local artists work and antiques. However, she said, “I had people with kids in from Germany. They don’t start school until next week.”
The start of school coincides with a lot of changes in Cape Cod businesses.
“With the falling off of the season, we have a falling off of the staff too,” said Johnson. “We have just enough people coming in for our staff. We have a lot of seats but we might not have enough people to wait on them.”
Workers go back to school and those that are in school still need to be able to do their schoolwork. Dawson said her boss, Lyons, is flexible with her schedule and demands that she bring homework to work so she can get her schoolwork done when the shop is not busy. “If I don’t bring it, he sends me home,” she said.
She is glad that the business slows down at the exact time that school begins. “It’s perfect timing with school,” she said.
Dawson described the difference in business between before Labor Day and after as, ““Not as many customers. A lot more locals. No more people with accents.”
— Brian Tarcy