Causeway businesses bank on sunshine

A CROWD STANDS along the boardwalk while an amphibious car is parked on the beach of Long Lake. The Classic Wooden Boat Show is one of many events that bring even more people to the Naples Causeway in the summertime. (De Busk Photo)

A CROWD STANDS along the boardwalk while an amphibious car is parked on the beach of Long Lake. The Classic Wooden Boat Show is one of many events that bring even more people to the Naples Causeway in the summertime. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Scenic views of the water and mountains, attractive and walkable spaces, souvenirs on the shelves, and a variety of food choices including ice cream — what more could a vacationer ask for?

The Naples Causeway offers the right combination of scenery worth stopping for and things to do during the summer months.

The summer of 2015 has been a banner year for consumer spending on the Causeway, according to several local business owners.

“We had a great season,” said Harry Hewes, owner of Sunsports+.

“I would attribute a lot of it to the weather. We didn’t have any rain. We had a slow start to the summer — if you want to count June as the summer. But, in July and August the weather was good,” Hewes said.

He recalled that hardly any rain fell during the weekends, which was a big plus.

“We have 10 weeks that are really busy and, as a whole, the weather was good.

That is what dictates our business more than anything,” he said.

“The Causeway is a draw in itself. But, it isn’t as much of a draw when it is raining,” he said, adding that is the reality of seasonal or tourism-based businesses.

Sunsports+ ended its season on the Naples Causeway on the last weekend of September, according to a Facebook post.

“Maine needs snow in the winter and sun in the summer,” Hewes said.

Elaine Merced, who operates Merced’s on Brandy Pond year-round, agreed that ideal summer weather played a major role in keeping the seats full in that dining establishment.

“The weather was superb. There weren’t many rainy days after June,” she said.

“Business has been phenomenal. The price of gas was down. The minimum wage in Maine went up. That meant more disposable income. There is more money available. That money is being spent at small businesses,” Merced said.

One mainstay on the Causeway is the regal paddleboat replica, the Songo River Queen II, which is owned by Kent Uicker.

During the first week of September, the number of tickets purchased for cruises “has broken our record for the last 40 years. It was phenomenal,” Uicker said.

“It has been a very good summer. Our sales have been up,” he said.

“It has been busy along the Causeway all summer long. I think it’s been a great year,” he said.

“We have had a phenomenal summer weather-wise. The economy is better, too,” Uicker said.

“People are feeling better about the economy. They’re not afraid to spend as much as in the past. We are dealing with the lowest gas prices in the last decade. People have a whole bunch of disposable income. They’re not afraid to splurge,” he said.

However, that monetary spending happens more freely when umbrellas aren’t involved.

“The unfortunate thing I found is people put far too much reliance on weather reports. Weather predicting is the least accurate science in this day and age. But, people put faith in it,” Uicker said.

“If the forecast was for good weather, more people showed up on the Causeway,” he said. Likewise, the possibility of rain kept folks from making the trip.

Rich Cebra owns Steamboat Landing Miniature Golf Course off Route 114. Although his recreation-based business is not on the Causeway, Cebra has followed trends in tourism traffic for more than a decade.

“The Causeway is an entity into itself,” Cebra said.

“The trend is that the number of people in town really multiples during the last two weeks of July and first two weeks of August. That is the busiest time every year.

That is when most people are on vacation,” he said.

“I think the economy is slowly grinding back to better. The economy is getting better,” he said.

“There are more people around now that everyone knows the Causeway construction is done and it is a really nice place,” Cebra said.

Businessman Dick Dyke has for years leased out retail space on the Causeway. Also, he has a summer home right on that popular thoroughfare.

Dyke agreed that pedestrian traffic has increased.

“People have grown more comfortable with the Causeway.” Dyke said, adding that the business owners have shifted accordingly.

Businesses have figured out the ebb and flow of traffic on the Causeway. The people who operate businesses “have adjusted how they staff their businesses and what hours they are open,” he said.

According to the owner of the Causeway Dairy Bar, Laurie Frizzell, “Compared to last summer, it has been busier. My days are always long.”

“There are more people. People enjoy the Causeway — just walking around,” she said during an interview on a warm and sunny Labor Day weekend.

“The weather has been nice this summer,” she said.

“The (Maine) Blues Festival was huge. That Saturday the weather was good. But, June was cold,” she said.

Labor Day weekend offered the ideal weather for swimming, boating and eating ice cream.

“Ice cream is 100% weather-related,” Frizzell said.

The state of the economy does not dictate whether or not people purchase the product she sells.

“People always treat themselves to ice cream if the economy is up or down,” she said.

 

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