LAKE GEORGE — Lake George Mayor Robert Blais is expecting big crowds for what is predicted to be a gorgeous Memorial Day weekend, but he said the village will be noticeably different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Benches and tables have been removed and signs reminding people to wear masks and hand-sanitizing stations will be all over. Visitors will be relegated to takeout food and curbside pickup shopping.
“I expect we’ll have a good crowd, not like normal, but larger than people expect,” the 49-year mayor said Wednesday. “After a crisis, people are dying to get out, and there’s something magic about water and what better water than Lake George?”
But while Blais welcomes visitors, he did so with a message: If you don’t follow the rules and wear a mask and keep others safe, “you folks are not welcome here.”
He said the village has been fielding 25 to 30 calls a day from potential visitors wondering what the scene will look like. He’s also fielding complaints from people saying visitors in recent weeks have been ignoring the face-mask rule, which is troubling to him.
“We just hope people who visit will respect others,” he said.
And the village is doing its part to make the summer kick-off as normal and safe as possible, including doubling the staff and cleaning restrooms “almost hourly.”
They’re also requiring merchants to wear masks, keep logs of when they cleaned last and create social distancing markers to get treats like ice cream, he said.
He’s working on other ideas, too, like a food court-type tent on a side street so people have a safe place to eat takeout food, because now they are eating while walking or sitting on walls and park grass.
And if he has his way, Charles Wood Park might soon be converted into a drive-in space to be used for movies and potentially concerts and church services. The Warren County Parks, Operations and Management Committee gave preliminary approval for the idea Tuesday but further approval is needed from the state oversight group handling COVID-19 issues, he said.
Village and town beaches, Blais said, will not be open, nor will the Beach Road parking area.
And although visitors will be allowed to rent boats after a state decision on Wednesday, the famed Lake George tour boats, including the paddlewheeler Minne Ha Ha, will remain parked.
Although the village will portray a very different mask-covered scene this weekend, Blais said he expects many businesses will be open, offering curbside pickup. It was a sentiment echoed by Lake George Chamber of Commerce Director Gina Mintzer. But whereas Memorial Day usually serves as the kickoff to summer and is a huge boon for businesses, Mintzer said this year, because of COVID-19, it’s more of “the process of getting open” with an “emphasis on safety and well-being.”
“The message is not everything is reopening, the message is adhere to process,” she said, adding that the chamber’s website https://lakegeorgechamber.com has a FAQ section explaining rules and guidelines.
Blais said businesses can display items for sale in their windows and maybe on tables out front, but they are not allowed to let people shop in stores.
And Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore, in an emailed response, cited state guidelines regulating in-store/curbside pickup as basically retrieving pre-ordered items but they are not allowed to let people shop in stores “or browse or place an in-person order.”
Canada Street was quiet Thursday, with some restaurants and a few shops open, but with very little foot traffic. Many businesses had signs offering curbside pickup, including The Village Emporium. Its owner, who was on a business call and was short on time, said he doesn’t know what the weekend will look like. He seemed confused by the process, saying, “You talk to 10 people you get 10 stories.” He said he’ll be open, but because he can only show so much in his front windows, he wasn’t expecting big business.
Melissa Sabitz, of The Corner Shop across the street, said she isn’t opening. Her shop sells both souvenirs and necessities, and she said it really doesn’t lend itself to curbside pickup. She said she was also concerned about dealing with people not wearing masks and she mentioned a mask-related shooting in Denver, saying she doesn’t want to be put in any situation like that.
But Erin Spreen at Adirondack Winery seemed excited about the weekend. Although the wine shop has been permitted to be open throughout the pandemic, patrons have been relegated to curbside pickup for safety concerns, she said. That could change this weekend, she said, if signs she ordered to direct visitors and keep them safe inside arrive in time.
Two mask-wearing hospital food service workers from New York City, who said they were staying at the Marriott, chatted about how beautiful it was Thursday and how much they were enjoying their needed three-day getaway from the city. They said the hotel was pretty full too.
Warren County Sheriff Jim LaFarr said on Wednesday that he’s heard other hotels were booking up for the weekend. He said he knows his officers will be busy, but he’s hopeful people obey the rules and respect each other by social distancing and wearing masks.
His officers will have “conversations” with those not abiding, rather than immediately taking punitive action, LaFarr said. But those who opt for “rigid non-compliance” will be dealt with to “resolve the situation,” he said.
He said his officers will also work closely with businesses to make sure they’re complying and staying safe.
“Our enforcement is to keep people safe, happy and healthy,” he said. “Usually we’re dealing with alcohol and fights and I’m not even thinking about that this year.”
Mintzer and Warren County Tourism Director Joanne Conley also stressed that the area has a lot more to offer than just Canada Street, noting the region’s many hiking, biking and paddling options as examples.
“We welcome people to explore more than Lake George,” Conley said.
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