The rhythm on the Island this time of year is usually bass-heavy, a steady sequence of thuds that are the suburban equivalent of tribal drums. It is the soundtrack to a mating dance, and as countless tanned bodies bend into one another, they feel the beat through the floor and the sun on their faces at one of the many clubs, bars or restaurants that rely on Ra himself to set the wheels of nature in motion. It is summer on Long Island, a time of Earthly celebration as the sands warm and a current of booze washes across our shores.
The rhythm has been different this year, though. The steady tapping of rain has replaced the power of driving bass lines, the clinking of beer bottles and the hum of boat motors idling dockside. At a time when Long Island’s economy needs a shot in the arm, June has all but been washed away, and the crucial summer economy has to make up for a lot of lost time.
June has been a non-stop cascade of rain and gray, misty days. The rough start to the important season puts a lot of pressure on Mother Nature to deliver nothing short of perfect weather in July and August. On Long Island, where tourism has been the most important economic engine since the departure of the aerospace industry, the difference between a sunny weekend and a rainy one can mean jobs. It can mean the life (or death) of a business that relies on the skies to stay clear.
It’s not about the turbulent international economy, either. For seasonal business owners on Long Island, it is the weather that affects the balance sheet, and June 2009 was the collapse of Enron, the housing market and Bernie Madoff all rolled into one.
How bad has it been? According to www.wunderground.com, very bad. In Seattle, where people worry if it doesn’t rain nearly every day, the city saw about 0.17 inches in June 2009. Are you ready? Syosset, which is not directly adjacent to the beach or any water to speak of, was soaked by 6.65 inches of rain during the same time period. There have been fewer than 10 days when rain did not fall. That does not mean sunny, beautiful days.
That means no rain was falling.
“The weather has hurt us [this year] way more than the economy,” says Charlie Lunenfeld, owner of The Fishery in East Rockaway, a tiny village in Nassau County. His is pretty much the only place in the area that has an outdoor deck with a bar, plenty of standing room, ample dining space and an area for live music. “This has been my worst June ever,” says Lunenfeld, who bought The Fishery five years ago.
Lunenfeld’s saving grace is his indoor dining room, which is open year-round, although he says this winter was cold and brutal enough to keep people at home a little more than he would have liked. But as the summer approached, Lunenfeld got ready to make up for some lousy nights. June ruined that plan.
“I worry about other places that don’t have the year-round business like we do,” says Lunenfeld. “This weather is going to put a lot of marginal or really seasonal places out of business.”
Long Beach is another prime example. During the winter months, the City by the Sea is often lonely, with many businesses shutting down entirely between October and April. In June and July, though, parking is scarce in Long Beach, restaurants and bars are crowded, business is good. That is, if it’s nice out.
“Ever hear anyone say they are tired when it is sunny outside?” says Rob Richards, owner of Sutton Place, located in the center of Long Beach. Richards also owns The Beach House in the fabled and party-friendly west end of Long Beach. “Even the locals are depressed. People are ready to have a good time.”
Although his places are buoyed by year-round business, it is the summer that closes the gap and makes the difference. “Yeah, we see a big uptick in the summer,” Richards says. “When it rains, though, people don’t go to the beach. The volleyball games are canceled. Softball is canceled. You can’t get those days back, either. They’re lost.”
Rain, Rain Go Away
According to Moke McGowan, President of the Long Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (LICVB), there is a whole lot relying on the summer economy. The LICVB’s mission is to promote tourism to travelers from out of town. Until just a couple of years ago, those efforts were concentrated to states close to Long Island, and even to native Long Islanders, with the LICVB’s “Vacation in Your Own Backyard” marketing campaign earlier this decade.
The LICVB is well aware of the newest buzzword in the travel dictionary: “staycation.” But McGowan thinks bigger. In 2005, he began the organization’s first international campaign, aimed at travelers from the U.K., Germany and other German-speaking nations in Europe. Research proved that these groups were doing the most traveling to New York City and, therefore, the LICVB wanted to get them to come out east for a day.
“International travelers like to make Long Island an extension of their New York City travel,” says McGowan. “We know that international travelers do more exploration [of a region].”
Business travel is just about nonexistent, says McGowan, as companies strive to save every penny. Without that segment filling up the hotel rooms, this year’s tourists will be welcomed with open hearts and minds.
McGowan says it has been proven that, for the most part, locals do not take full advantage of attractions in their own backyard. Local travelers who make the greatest impact on the Long Island tourism season are from a distance of about 200 to 250 miles, and are singles or couples traveling without children, people who are looking for a quick getaway without the kids.
“They are haggard couples who need a night to themselves,” laughs McGowan.
But the tax revenue generated by Long Island’s tourism economy is no laughing matter. In 2007, tourism in New York State generated $13.8 billion—$6.8 billion to county and state alone, according to a report put together for the LICVB by Pennsylvania-based Tourism Economics. On LI, that number is $5 billion, and the tourism economy supports more than 70,000 seasonal jobs at the peak of the tourism season.
Some other stats to chew on:
- 4.3 percent of all labor income in Long Island is generated by tourism.
- Suffolk County is more dependent upon tourism than Nassau County is, with 4.4 percent of all labor income generated by visitors.
- Tourism in Nassau County generated 4.1 percent of all labor income [in 2006].
In 2009, of course, there are other factors. McGowan acknowledges that the state economy will probably have an impact. Last year, one McGowan calls “one of the last great ones,” even with gas at prohibitive prices, the tourism season was a success. Andrew Lynch, vice president of the Hampton Jitney, which runs luxury buses from Manhattan to all points east on the North and South Forks, agrees.
“The high fuel prices helped us last year,” says Lynch, whose company employs as many as 300 Long Islanders during its high season.
How was June 2009 for the Hampton Jitney? “Not so good at all,” says Lynch. “Pretty bad, actually.”
Historically, the Hampton Jitney carries about 500,000 passengers during the season. Lynch is looking forward to a big July and August. “Those are the months that make or break it on the East End,” says Lynch.
In Port Jefferson, where a bustling downtown offers a true waterfront that is the home to a ferry terminal, marinas and vistas of the Connecticut shoreline, Danford’s Hotel and Marina serves as the centerpiece for the tourism business. Danford’s has gotten off to a good start in 2009 thanks to an $8 million renovation overseen by Stewart Weiner, Danford’s Hotel and Marina executive director and general manager.
In the summer months, the large deck that holds about 150 people is usually crowded with diners, drinkers and more. But this month, it was quiet. In fact, it wasn’t open until early this week, when Weiner finally decided to open it up and take his chances. The loss of the deck was tempered by the lounge at Danford’s, which has been a popular addition. The lounge’s success will only carry the weight for so long, though.
“Oh, the rain has really hurt us,” says Weiner. “We were down in June.”
Like Lynch, though, Weiner is optimistic. “We have a chance to make it back in July and August.”
Up until now, the rain has hurt everyone, it seems. On the surface, even the U.S. Open that was played at the Black Course in Bethpage State Park seemed to suffer from the constant rain. Golf is not usually a foul-weather game. On June 18, thousands of spectators lost their chance to see the world’s best players face off on one of the most difficult courses in the country because of the rain, winds and mud. The U.S. Open had to extend play for one day. Terrible, no?
No is the right answer. That extra day meant extra nights in hotels, extra time in Farmingdale’s downtown, more dinners and drinks at Carlyle on the Green, which is basically on the Black Course, and another day of television coverage.
According to Ron Foley, regional director of New York State Parks on Long Island, the United States Golf Association gave the state parks about $6 million for the tournament.
“That extra day meant a lot for the local economy, no doubt,” says Foley.
But that’s an anomaly. One recreational industry that has gotten the worst of the June weather is the fishing industry. Between the weather and tight restrictions on fluke fishing, charter and party boat captains are getting crushed by June 2009, and can’t wait for better days.
“It is the perfect storm,” says Capt. John Capuano of the Shinnecock Star, a Hampton Bays-based fishing boat that, Capuano says, has spent 75 percent of June at the dock, unable to sail due to weather. Fluke, the most popular quarry for boat-based anglers in the summer, are not to be fished for again until July 3. Capuano hopes the weather holds up because he is sure the fish will be there waiting. Regardless, he says, he needs a great July and August to survive.
Edward Corrigan, owner of Southampton-based landscape-and-property-management company A&E Estates, says the weather has seemed to push the beginning of summer off for his company. This year, Corrigan opened the A&E Estates Deerfield Nursery to complement its business, which includes everything from massive landscaping projects to property management for many East End homeowners who have second homes that they cannot tend to on a daily basis. Corrigan says he is definitely seeing business pick up a bit, but this year is off from last year, so far.
“People are delaying their work,” says Corrigan. “I don’t think it’s the economy as much… The rain has made it very difficult to get work done this June, and people are not thinking about landscaping projects when the weather is like this. They are looking to get outside, but the weather is holding them back.”
Plenty of studies have been conducted and have determined something that seems, well, pretty obvious: Human beings don’t like it when it rains every day. Rain or bad weather in general has a range of physical effects on people. Weather can affect mood, weight and even memory. This is known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Although SAD is most common during the fall and winter months, there have been cases in areas of continuous rainfall regardless of the season.
In a study done by the University of Michigan, researchers found that “people who spend time outside during nice weather experience more enjoyable mood and improved memory.” But health isn’t the only thing affected by bad weather. A 2001 study by David A. Hirshleifer, professor of finance at the University of California, Irvine, and Tyler Shumway, associate professor of finance at University of Michigan Business School, found that with nicer weather comes better mood thus increasing spending both in the market and in stocks.
And, one hopes, at restaurants, hotels and bars on Long Island.
Despite the health risks of excessive sun worship, studies have shown that early day sunlight has benefits for human health, too. Studies indicate that sunlight aids in the conversion of cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D, which helps control calcium levels in bones and reduces cholesterol levels. Studies also show that sunlight helps those with depression and other illnesses. Sunlight is also known to increase white blood cells to boost the immune system and to increase red blood cells to increase muscular endurance. Endurance is good when you are setting out for a weekend on Fire Island, or going for a jog through wine country.
Moke McGowan says another aspect that has affected travel is the ability to check weather patterns days or weeks out from a possible vacation. Looking to head to the beach next weekend? You might change those plans when weather.com says that there is rain on the horizon. Or you might see a break in the clouds, and try to get out for an afternoon…and still end up all wet. For all the studies the LICVB has done, one thing that can never be truly figured out or counted on is weather. McGowan holds his breath like thousands of others and hopes for a good July and August.
“We can do all the studies, but at the end of the day, we can’t just shake up a crystal ball and know what the weather is going to be,” says McGowan.
Just hope for sunny days.
Nicole Rojas contributed to this story.