Bar Harbor tourism outlook rosy

Posted May 24, 2009, at 9:10 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The skies over Bar Harbor turned overcast Saturday, but the outlook for many of the businesses here was decidedly rosy.

With Memorial Day ushering in the tourist season, Main Street was bustling with visitors in town for the three-day weekend, and businesses seemed pleased with the official start of the tourist season and optimistic about what the summer season holds.

Parking was at a premium in downtown Bar Harbor and groups of tourists ebbed and flowed on Main Street, moving past — and into — the shops that line the street. Bright yellow, green and pink plastic bags signaled where they had stopped and shopped.

“People are happy,” said Mary Musson, a manager at the Cool as a Moose apparel shop on Main Street. “It’s like it’s supposed to be. People are happy, they’re smiling and they’re shopping.”

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The shop stayed open through the winter this year as the owners made improvements inside the store, and Musson said that despite the state of the economy the store was busy, especially on weekends.

“Business was good,” she said. “We were busy; they’d come for the day on Saturday from all over. We’re coming off the winter optimistic and we’re hoping for the same this summer.”

The number of people in the store on Saturday, she said, was a “good sign” for the coming season.

Down the street at Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, where a steady stream of pedestrians were lured by the irresistible aroma emanating from within, managers Yvonne Higgins and Adrienne Buckley were equally optimistic.

“We’ve had a few good days,” Higgins said. “The town is definitely starting to liven up.”

Despite reports that fewer Americans will be traveling throughout the U.S. than in past years, Higgins and Buckley said they were optimistic about the rest of the season. Some are coming early, hoping to take advantage of specials that some hotels are offering, Buckley said.

“At least that’s what we’re hearing,” she said.

Although there is always a lull right after Memorial Day, they predicted others will travel to Bar Harbor but may not come from as far away.

“I think people will stay local rather than go farther afield,” Buckley said.

That seemed to be the case on Saturday. Most of the vehicles parked at the Acadia National Park visitors center lot and at the town dock parking lot bore Maine license plates. With a scattering of vehicles from places such as California and Texas, most of the others were from New England and other East Coast states.

The variable in the tourist season, as always, is the weather and that will be true again this summer. The recent stretch of warmer weather attracted visitors to the park where a steady stream of tourists sought information at the visitors center and to other outdoor activities.

At National Park Sea Kayak, the warm weather over the past few days attracted adventurers who came to see the area from the water. There was so much interest that for Sunday, the company increased the number of trips from two to three to meet the demand.

“For Memorial Day, that’s pretty big,” said guide Andrea Russell, who has been leading kayak trips for 10 years.

That number will increase to about six trips a day during the height of the season, and Russell said they already have advance bookings through the summer and into September.

In economic times like these, travelers are looking for a good value, and, according to Russell, kayak trips such as those her company offers are still a bargain. The price of a trip has increased just $3 — to $48 — in the 10 years she has been guiding, she said. That price is comparable anywhere in town.

“We’re still a pretty cheap vacation here,” she said. “It’s a cheaper vacation than going to a lot of places — cheaper than going to Disney World or flying to Europe.”

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