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Sunnier times on Cape

Tourists help businesses bounce back over Labor Day weekend

Yankee Ingenuity owners Sharon Hayes and Jon Vaughan said Labor Day weekend business was good. Yankee Ingenuity owners Sharon Hayes and Jon Vaughan said Labor Day weekend business was good. (Steve Haines for The Boston Globe)
By Bryan Marquard and L. Finch
Globe Staff And Globe Correspondent / September 6, 2011

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HYANNIS - The powerful storm that forced people away from Cape Cod a week ago switched course - economically speaking - on Labor Day weekend and turned into a warm wind that brought tourists looking for an escape to the Bay State vacation spot.

The mostly sunny holiday weekend had shoppers crowding the streets of Provincetown and drivers clogging the roads heading to the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis.

“I think people just really needed to get away,’’ said Wendy Northcross, chief executive of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of people from Connecticut were calling us at the office last week and saying, ‘You know, we don’t have any power, so we might as well go someplace where there is power, and get a vacation, too.’ It’s working for us.’’

Some merchants and restaurateurs said the fragile economy continues to hurt business, but many innkeepers recorded an uptick in beds filled over the weekend.

“We did great, thank God,’’ said Ed Maas, owner of the Orleans Waterfront Inn. “Last weekend, of course, was the storm, but we made up for it. For Labor Day, we broke all records. It was just terrific.’’

The inn filled to capacity each night of the holiday weekend and its restaurant “served 1,000 people a day,’’ he said.

At the Brewster General Store, Sarah Dawson of Cleveland held her daughter, Grace, 2, as she shopped with her husband, Chris.

Chris Dawson said fluctuating gasoline prices did not deter the family from their annual weeklong trip to share a cottage on the Cape with relatives.

“We’re coming hell or high water,’’ he said as Grace played with a toy airplane, her brown curls bouncing as she made airplane noises and swooshed the toy through the air.

New England had plenty of high water in recent days but also in abundance was something the couple did not anticipate, because of the economy.

“I expected less people,’’ Sarah Dawson said. “That was a shock.’’

Though tourists abounded, they were not always spending a lot of money.

“People don’t have the money,’’ said Joseph A. Cotellessa, 79, whose son now runs his longtime restaurant, the Original Gourmet Brunch, in Hyannis. “But it’s been OK. I can’t complain. There’s a number of people who come here no matter what.’’

At Oceana, an Orleans shop that offers items with an ocean theme, “the people who were in the shop this weekend were definitely buying,’’ said assistant manager Karla Harrington, but that did not translate into record sales.

“People were spending money, maybe not in huge amounts,’’ she said. “When you compare things to years ago, numbers are still down, but I think this is the new normal.’’

About a mile away at Orleans Wine and Spirits, wine manager Alek Leontie said there seemed to be more tourists from Quebec, and that customers appeared to opt for more expensive spirits.

“I’d say the brands were up a level from last year,’’ he said. “They bought higher-end tequilas and wines. I think people were spending a little more this year than last, even on beer. Instead of Michelob, we sold a lot of craft beers.’’

And at Yankee Ingenuity, a contemporary craft shop in Chatham that has been open 40 years, owners Jon Vaughan and his wife, Sharon Hayes, said sales this year, including this weekend, were not robust but still good.

“People are hesitating a bit more for big-ticket items, but we’ve been very lucky,’’ Hayes said of the store that sells a variety of items such as a “We’re happy as clams’’ decorative sign to a lamp made of glass soda bottles.

Many tourists chose sun over sales yesterday, such as Nikki Guyton, 35, of Washington, D.C., who left Sandwich at 12 and has returned to the Cape annually as an adult.

Sitting on a towel, blonde hair in a ponytail as she watched her son, Benjamin, 1, wobble in the sand at Corporation Beach in Dennis, Guyton said gas prices were daunting. The trip to the Cape cost about $120 for her family’s minivan.

“But we try every year to come for the kids, just so they have that memory,’’ she said as her husband, Frank, and their daughter, Avery, 3, played in the water. “We’ve been to the other East Coast beaches, but Cape Cod is so unique. It’s just gorgeous.’’

Gas prices may have made Provincetown too long a drive for an end-of-summer splurge, but many tourists found other routes to the tip of the Cape.

“The town and streets were full,’’ said Candice Collins-Boden, executive director of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce. “There were a lot of people coming in on the high-speed ferries.’’

Labor Day “is a moderate holiday weekend for us, it’s never been a blockbuster, but I was pleasantly surprised,’’ Collins-Boden said. “It was about the same as last year. Even though the hurricane stopped the momentum, I think people are still thinking about short-term vacations.’’

One measure of commerce on the Cape is how long it takes to get around. Labor Day weekend provided respite from bad weather but not from bad traffic.

“Yesterday, I was in one massive traffic jam of people trying to get to the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis on Route 132,’’ Northcross of the chamber of commerce said. “People were bumper to bumper. I know there’s a Labor Day sale, but I was surprised. I think retail might have gotten a bump up.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at L. Finch can be reached at