Those Visitors From Away …

August in Maine! Pardon for making a very large generalization … but August and September are my two favorite months in Maine. Not TOO hot, not TOO cold … not TOO much rain … pretty much, just right.

Other people agree. People from Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Ohio,  Florida, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Nova Scotia, Virginia … and those are just the license plates I saw this morning in a Damariscotta parking lot.

As my husband sometimes puts it, “They’re here.” Parking lots and restaurants and grocery stores are full. Yes, there are sometimes lines to get over the bridge in Wiscasset because of so many people crossing Main Street there. (In Maine, cars are required to stop when pedestrians are in a crosswalk.) Freeport and Kittery, outlet towns, are full to bursting. You might drive around for twenty minutes trying to find a parking space there.

Now — don’t misunderstand.  This is not a bad thing. Tourists and vacationers and those who choose to divide their years between Maine and some other state (usually more southern, but sometimes — would you believe Vermont?) also bring jobs to Maine. They buy art and crafts and tee shirts and antiques and lots of lobster rolls. They eat at restaurants. They take boat trips and visit botanical gardens and wineries and historical sites; museums and islands and beaches and parks. They shop at those outlets … and at souvenir shops and jewelry stores and book stores.

Those of us who live here all year do those things occasionally, too, of course. But many of us work in summer months (sometimes more than one job) to earn enough to winter over. And … even when there’s back-to-school shopping to be done, why hassle an outlet town in August when the same store will be there in October?

Tourism has changed since I was a child. Then summer was (almost officially) the Fourth of July until Memorial Day. Many visitors to Maine rented cottages for two weeks (the two week vacation – remember that?) You could count on traffic being heavy on the Maine Turnpike at the beginning of July, the middle of July, the middle of August, and Labor Day weekend. Those were the “changing of the guard” dates for summer rentals.

And although there were people who summered in Maine and wintered in Florida, most of the summer visitors were from New York New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and, sometimes, Pennsylvania.

Today the pattern has changed. It isn’t unusual to see a license plate from Washington State or Utah or even Alaska, and Texans definitely claim a place in the summer order, as do people from both the Carolinas. And those are just people who drive here; those who fly, and who rent cars, are more invisible.

The “two week rental” hasn’t totally disappeared, but “one week” is more common, and it’s possible to rent a house for only a few days. People take long weekends. They work from their vacation spots.  Many people don’t come to the same place every year (although, of course, some do,) but choose to “tour” — driving each night to a new town; a new motel.

The season has been extended, too. People who spend the whole summer here now may arrive as early as April. By Memorial Day the state is in full summer swing … a swing that lasts through Columbus Day.

One reason? Public schools in southern states end classes in late May, so families from the Carolinas or Virginia head to Maine then. (Schools in more northern states don’t end until about the third week in June.) On the other hand … young families from the south head for home about the first of August, because schools start up again then. New Jerseyans and New Yorkers stick around until close to Labor Day.

And then there are the visitors who plan their vacations for September and October. They tend to be people without school children. They include, but aren’t limited, to the leaf peepers – some of whom may come from as far away as Australia. Locals (quietly) call visitors at this time of year the “newly wed and the nearly dead.”

No insults are intended: these folks without young children tend to spend more money than those who arrive in July and have less frenetic schedules. We welcome them, as we do visitors who arrive earlier in the season.

Maine’s license plates claimed the nickname “Vacationland” beginning in the 1930s. Tourism is still a major industry here. Com’on down and claim your lobsters and Maine tee shirt! The state is open for business … and would love to see you!

About Lea Wait

Maine mystery author Lea Wait writes the Mainely Needlepoint series and the Shadows Antique Print series and historical novels for ages 8 and up set in 19th century Maine. Married to artist Bob Thomas, she loves reading, writing (of course!), speaking to people of all ages about writing, drinking champagne, walking along the coast of Maine, and rowing her small skiff. She invites you to friend her on Facebook and Goodreads.
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5 Responses to Those Visitors From Away …

  1. Gram says:

    The newly wed and the nearly dead -that is what people on the islands call the cruise ship passengers.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    Love that, Gram!

  3. John R. Clark says:

    I remember the shock of tourism influx when I was the librarian in BBH. I had no clue what I was in for. Between repeatedly telling folks where the nearest restroom and feeling like an air traffic controller due to our limited internet capability (this was in the late 1990s). I was happy to see Labor day. Fortunately, I discovered Enchantments and that became my go-to place for destressing (with a huge side benefit of discovering New Age music). Even so, it was great fun to meet so many interesting people from all over the world.

  4. Living in a tourist destination, while gorgeous, is not always fun, as you know. I live in one too–on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Nevada (it’s 1/2 in CA). So when the tourists arrive in May or June, and by July we can barely get into the big Raley’s grocery store, we residents hide in our houses or hike on trails that we hope won’t have too many out of staters on it, or go somewhere else. Sure tourists are great for the businesses, but we like the off-seasons better. Then there’s the weather: this year Squaw Valley had skiing until mid July! Last winter town roads had walls of snow over 8 feet high. Great to be in the Sierra mountains. Long live Maine.

  5. Beth Clark says:

    We recently had a summer visitors who became permanent residents. They have become valued volunteers in the community. Another summer visitor appreciated the library so much that, when he died, memorial donation in his memory came to the library from 29 friends and relatives in twelve different states. A real boon to a small town in rural Maine. I try to remember this when I am in one of those traffic jams.

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