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'An Economic Tsunami': Cape Cod Businesses Weigh Reopening Ahead Of Uncertain Summer Season

Summer won’t be the same this year on Cape Cod. Many businesses in the region rely on tourism during the warmer months. Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to announce the re-opening plan for Massachusetts on Monday, but with so much uncertainty and so many questions about how the state will reopen, some Cape Cod businesses are scaling back — or may not open at all.

In Mashpee, business owner Mike Morrison prefers to be kayaking on Popponesset Bay and planning tours for his bike, kayak and paddle board business, RideAway Adventures.

But now, with the coronavirus pandemic threatening to eat heavily into summer tourism — which his company completely depends on — Morrison is focusing on something else.

“We just redid our website to have a retail section,” Morrison said. “That was a big adjustment.”

The business is shifting gears to sell more outdoor equipment online, and at his Sandwich and Mashpee stores.

Morrison has been busy reorganizing the retail displays. He expanded the Mashpee shop to create more space so customers can keep a safe distance — that is, when he’s allowed to reopen. Morrison is in full prep mode, tuning up bikes and cleaning.

He’s also scaling back some parts of his business. He’ll hire less than half of the 34 employees he normally brings on for the summer. His tours will be smaller. And he’s cutting some of the more specialized activities, like paddle board yoga.

“I hate to say it, but that’s the first stuff that has to go because it takes guides, it’s expensive and it takes a little more logistics to run,” Morrison said. “So those types of niche things, we will have to cut.”

The outdoor activities will be less hands-on, too. To limit in-person interactions, Morrison is creating instructional videos for customers who rent equipment. He even came up with a shovel-like contraption that he can use to help customers get their kayaks into the water with no personal contact.

Morrison knows he’ll take a hit due to the pandemic. But he’s optimistic that enough people will still come to the Cape this summer.

“I think people are starting to go a little bananas,” he said. “So, my hope is that we are just that release.”

He may be right about that. A recent TripAdvisor survey found that most travelers are looking forward to their next vacation. It also found that 44% of travelers are more likely to take a road trip, and 40% are more likely to take beach vacation.

“They’re saying they want to drive. That’s good for Cape Cod. They’re saying they want to go to the beach. That’s great for Cape Cod,” said Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross, who has been watching travel data closely.

Northcross is part of a task force making plans for how the Cape will re-open. Some of the task force’s ideas include closing down streets to give pedestrians more room to walk or allowing businesses to use outdoor spaces for some of their operations, Northcross said.

“We know Cape Cod is a respite for people,” she said. “We know that this is a place they want to go away to recharge, relax. And boy, if you ever needed it, it was going to be this year.”

At least, that’s the hope.

Business owners on the Cape are hoping the visitors who do come are ready to spend.

For Mashpee entrepreneur Amy Kelly, her business is Cape Cod. She makes jewelry inspired by the landscape and hoped to make a big splash this summer after securing a retail location at the Mashpee Commons shopping center. Kelly’s shop, Moon Compass Studio, was open for just a few weeks before she had to shut down due to the coronavirus.

“I’ve been trying to do a lot more things online — pushing more social media stuff, trying to drive business to my website.” said Kelly. “But that’s also difficult. There’s a lot of people doing the same thing.”

Many on Cape Cod are waiting to hear what rules and restrictions may be put in place by Governor Baker on Monday, for everything from beaches to restaurants.

Kelly said she has mixed feelings about re-opening, and is prepared to put her business on pause this summer.

“I would love to return to work, but only if it’s safe for me and my customers,” Kelly said.

“It’s an economic tsunami that’s hit us, basically,” said Rick Murray, co-owner of the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown, a massive entertainment complex in the middle of the town’s busy Commercial Street.

Murray said there are health concerns with visitors coming in from all over. He added that many businesses rely on foreign workers who likely won’t be able to travel, and that many of the major events that attract people to the Cape have been canceled.

Nearly 80% of Provincetown businesses plan to open this summer, according to a recent survey by the Provincetown Recovery Coalition’s business group, which Murray is a part of. At least one business in town has already decided to close. “It is just not worth it,” said Anthonie Edwards of Bliss! Frozen Yogurt.

“We’ve got to find that balance as to what we can do to reopen, what kind of economic activity we can have, and, at the same time, being very careful that we don’t turn the spigot on too fast,” Murray said.

Murray said he’s spaced out the tables at his restaurant, installed sneeze guards at his bars, and bought extra cleaning supplies for his hotel and thermometers to check temperatures.

But even with all these preparations, Murray may not be able to reopen.

“If we can meet the guidelines and we can make it work, we’ll make it work,” Murray said. “But if we can’t fit the guidelines, you know, how can you open up your business?”

It’s a question many Cape Cod businesses will be weighing as the state begins to reopen.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Tourists walk down Commercial Street in Provincetown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Tourists walk down Commercial Street in Provincetown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Copyright 2020 WBUR

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