Irene Chases Away Catskills' Labor Day Tourists

Labor Day is usually a busy one for towns in New York's Catskills. Tourists from New York City and nearby states come to enjoy the last long weekend of summer. But this year, many towns are still cleaning up from the floods that followed Hurricane Irene. Business owners worry that even if they manage to reopen, the tourists won't come.

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Damage by Hurricane Irene affected the economy in some communities. Tourism is suffering as we head into the holiday weekend. Restaurants and hotels at the Jersey Shore want to lure tourists back.

In Upstate New York, mountain towns are still cleaning up after flooding.

NPR's Jeff Brady visited the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains.

JEFF BRADY: The Catskills have become a favorite place for city-dwellers from places like New York to get away from it all - maybe stay in a nice inn, drink wine and buy fresh produce from a roadside stand. Along State Route 30, Fultonham, New York pretty much survives on tourists. There's Laura's Ice Cream Shop and Shaul's Produce Market.

That's where I met 10-year-old Adaline Engle, who says the after effects of the storm are keeping visitors away.

Ms. ADALINE ENGLE: It has changed a lot. There used to be a lot of people, a lot of vegetables and fruits. And it used to be a lot busier. Like, there'd be cars all over at Laura's, and there'd be a lot of cars here at Shaul's, but there's not.

(Soundbite of forklift)

BRADY: One of the workers here, Joe All, steps off his forklift to say farmers lost a lot of their crops last weekend when Schoharie Creek turned into a mile-wide river.

Mr. JOE ALL (Shaul's Produce Market): But we do have what we picked Saturday before the storm, which is quite a bit. And we will - we are open for business, and we will be open for business until we run out.

BRADY: He predicts that toward the end of the Labor Day weekend, some of the produce will be gone.

Mr. ALT: We will be low on onions and potatoes by then, but we do have winter squash and we have sweet corn left.

BRADY: A few miles down the road is the small town of Middleburgh. It sits right on Schoharie Creek. On the main street, all the businesses are closed while owners rebuild after the flood. The quaint downtown is slowly turning from a muddy mess to a dusty one, as the streets and sidewalks dry out.

Frank Monaco owns a wine and liquor shop here. He's been so busy cleaning up that he pretty much forgot Labor Day is coming up.

Mr. FRANK MONACO (Liquor Shop Owner): I'm sorry you reminded me of that. It's a very big weekend. It's probably the third-biggest weekend of the year - lots of parties, lots of everything. I don't know what I can do, because I don't intend to order anything. I don't have any room to put it.

BRADY: Business owners here are getting a strong reminder of how their local economy works. If the dominant agriculture sector suffers, then so does everyone else down the line.

Donna Peck owns a pet grooming business. She's cleaning up after three feet of water flooded her shop. Peck hopes to reopen in two weeks, but she knows business will be slower than it was.

Ms. DONNA PECK (Owner, Pet Grooming Shop): I've actually had customers already call me and say that they had appointments this week. They're cancelling them. Even though I would have cancelled them, anyway, but they're cancelling them without notice because they lost their home, their barn, and they're staying with friends and they just don't know when they can have their dogs groomed.

BRADY: Down the street, Dan Bartholomew owns Mr. B's Restaurants. He has plenty of help cleaning the mud out of his business. Still, there's no way he could open to take advantage of any holiday traffic that might come through town.

Mr. DAN BARTHOLOMEW (Owner, Mr. B's Restaurant): It'll be a month at least to rebuild. And I'm hoping everybody in town does rebuild, but I don't know that that'll be the case.

BRADY: Middleburgh has been remade in recent years into a destination for weekend travelers. Bartholomew worries that if some business owners choose not to rebuild or can't afford to, the town could risk losing its reputation as a nice stop during a trip through the Catskill Mountains.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Albany, New York.

INSKEEP: And as the East Coast cleans up, the Gulf Coast is preparing. Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency as a tropical depression gains strength. What could become Tropical Storm Lee is expected to make landfall tomorrow afternoon.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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