NNY businesses report strong tourist turnout for Memorial Day weekend

Lydia Maloney clears a table at Bella’s in Clayton. Warm weather has drawn large numbers to locations dependent on seasonal business. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

Lydia Maloney clears a table at Bella’s in Clayton. Warm weather has drawn large numbers to locations dependent on seasonal business. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

On Memorial Day Monday, Melissa A. Ringer-Hardy said customer traffic was so high at her bistro, Bella’s, that she had trouble getting enough staff in place.

Last year, cold temperatures limited traffic to about 50, and mostly kept them inside.

This Monday, Ms. Ringer-Hardy said the temperatures were warm and the sun was shining, and people filled its outdoor decks, which seat nearly 300 people.

“The numbers compared to last year, they were double,” she said.

Bella’s was far from the only business benefitting from an influx in traffic.

In St. Lawrence River-area communities in the north country, businesses and advocates said tourism traffic showed reason for enthusiasm.

“The hot weather makes a big difference,” said John R. Chamberlain, owner of JC’s River Run, Waddington. “There were more people around.”

Jill Winters, president of the Waddington Chamber of Commerce, said in an email to the Times that campgrounds around the town were booked solid, and that the warm weather drew a lot of boat traffic.

Gary S. DeYoung, executive director of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, said he’s received some strong feedback about foot traffic in waterfront communities.

“The weather helped us, as people come up for the weekend,” he said. “It’s a good indicator that there’s interest there when the weather is right.”

More importantly, Mr. DeYoung said inquiries from travelers are up.

That increased interest, coming at earlier times in the year, has also been seen by the Clayton Chamber of Commerce.

“People are just wanting to start their vacations, and see what we have to offer,” said Tricia L. Bannister, the chamber’s executive director.

Ronald G. Thomson, owner of Alexandria Bay-based Uncle Sam Boat Tours, guessed that national coverage of the region in the last year, including a lengthy feature in the New York Times, could be upping interest.

“I think we’ve been the beneficiaries of some good national recognition,” he said.

The touring boat company’s numbers for the holiday weekend were comparable to some of his best days of summer, he said. Mr. Thomson said business owners he spoke with told him their traffic was up for the weekend compared to previous years.

“Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come,” he said.

The state’s tourism was valued at $100.1 billion in economic impact in 2014, the most recently studied year, and supported approximately 853,000 jobs, according to figures presented at the recent Empire State Tourism Conference.

Traffic influxes for the north country and Thousand Islands region this past weekend appear to match national trends for travel.

More than 38 million Americans were expected to be traveling this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA, spurred by the lowest gas prices in more than a decade.

AAA also reported that gas prices were expected to remain relatively low during the upcoming summer driving months, which could push demand for gasoline to levels that haven’t been seen since about 2007.

By Gordon Block, Watertown Daily Times