America’s first wave of coronavirus nearly wiped out the summer season on Cape Cod, one of the most popular summer destinations in the United States. There is now talk of a second wave – will this jeopardize the escape from the vacation spot?
When the pandemic hit the United States in March, Sarah Sherman, owner of Hopper Real Estate in Eastham – a vacation home rental company in Cape Town – saw her summer season wiped out with cancellations. But by mid-July his business had restarted – despite the number of record-setting cases in the country.
At one point, she scored over 16 bookings in just two days – an unprecedented number in a typical year.
“It’s really like summer,” she says.
The return of visitors has been a major relief for Ms. Sherman and business owners like her across Cape Cod, a peninsula that juts out from Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean and has been made famous as the land of the Kennedys summer game.
Cold and gray in winter, it depends economically on the summer months, when its population doubles and families from the northeast flock to sunbathe, cycle, and gorge on lobster and fried clams.
While the country was on lockdown, bookings “stopped,” she recalls. “We were like, ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen?’ ”
“We didn’t know if there was going to be a summer. “
This worst-case scenario did not materialize.
Families with second homes moved for extended stays earlier in the year than usual. Renters quickly followed suit, as a long locking spring created pent-up demand, especially for places like Cape Town, where most visitors drive by.
On the 4th of July weekend, usually one of the busiest of the year, hotel occupancy rates were over 90%.
But as the number of cases rises elsewhere in the country, Ms. Sherman says it’s too early to tell if the region’s economy has slipped away.
“As we watch the rest of the country skyrocket, we’re like, ‘If this happens here, it could end the rest of the summer very quickly.’ ‘
Consumer spending stall
Ms. Sherman’s concerns are widely shared.
Economists have warned that consumer spending in the United States appears to be stagnating, even in places, like Massachusetts, which have so far escaped a sharp increase in cases.
Spending has flattened across the country since the July 4 holiday and remains down more than 6% since January, according to data from a team of researchers at Harvard University, which found the decline was attributable to wealthy families and resulted in significant job losses. in businesses in neighborhoods that cater to such a clientele.
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For a place like Cape Town, which depends on tourists’ money, the economic impact is likely to be significant, says Karen Dynan, senior researcher at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Wealthy families are more likely to have been spared jobs and income cuts, which could help spending rebound when people feel safe again. But it’s unclear how many businesses will be able to survive by then, she said.
“We’re only just starting to see the long-term damage to the economy,” she said.
‘Not so busy’
Many restaurants and other stores offer a 20% or more discount because visitors buy and eat less.
At the Scargo Cafe in Dennis, take out and alfresco dining have helped keep business going, but with a nearby cinema and theater closed, co-owner David Troutman says it’s nothing like a typical summer, when people pack three at the bar and wait an hour to be seated.
Many of his 73 employees work part time and he has not hired additional seasonal help.
“Whether it’s a good economy or a bad economy or the pandemic, [second-home owners] will come here no matter what, “he said. But people are definitely afraid to enter the building… It’s certainly not that busy. ”
The subdued tone is especially evident in Provincetown, a small town on the tip of Cape Town whose art galleries and restaurants are usually crowded with visitors.
Mike Carroll, owner of the Schoolhouse Gallery, says he’s cut audience hours and downsized his staff from three to one, choosing to handle most things himself.
“It’s really good to have a daily to-do list because the news is not good,” he says. “Our visitor population will be down, business will definitely be down and the seasonality of it will certainly make it more acute. “
This is what Zoe Fishman, a longtime Cape Cod vacationer, fears.
Although her family has retreated to their second home in Cape Town almost every weekend since March – much earlier than usual – activities have largely been limited to the beach and pool at the grandparents’ house. . And she knows it will have dire consequences.
“There are certainly major changes in the way we spend,” said the pediatrician, who called her economic outlook “dismal.”
“I hope next summer will be a summer full of new restaurants. I hope we will see a new kind of economy, ”she said. “But I think what we’re probably going to see next summer is a lot of empty seats. “