‘It’s a scary time’

Mayor, town/village historian say empty streets, closed stores in Lake Placid are unprecedented

There were plenty of parking spaces on Main Street, Lake Placid, Tuesday, March 17. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — The coronavirus is having a big economic impact on this tiny Adirondack village.

For some long-time residents, the stillness and empty streets harken back to years ago, when Lake Placid wasn’t a year-round tourist destination. For others, this time is unprecedented. It’s a historic moment.

Village Mayor Craig Randall, who grew up not far from Main Street, said at the village board meeting Monday, March 16 that this time reminds him of the days when business would drop off significantly at this time of year.

“This might be a little like the old days where there was nothing in March until July,” Randall said. “This is a little worse than that.

“The world has turned around in less than a week,” he added later.

Town/village Historian Beverley Reid said locals used to refer to that down period as “spring break.” With the ski season over, and prime hiking season weeks away, fewer tourists roamed Main Street. It was quiet.

“Those who could afford it went south,” she said. “If they owned stores, they would go south for vacation. Sometimes they would leave a skeleton crew behind to run the stores. But people still lived here year-round, and we couldn’t afford to go on vacation.”

Reid said she was personally in the latter group. With seven children, her family stayed in Lake Placid regardless of the season.

“We couldn’t afford to go on vacation,” she said. “We just stayed home, the children did what they could do. They made their own fun. We just kept going on fine.”

Reid was born in the 1930s, years after the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, but she remembers subsequent pandemics, and none of them had as much an effect on everyday life as this one.

“I’ve never heard in my life of all the stores on Main Street closing, even during World War II,” she said. “I remember they had cut times, they weren’t open as many hours to save people’s gas. And the grocery stores didn’t have enough food, and we had to use the stamps to use food. I’ve never seen the stores closed like this. It’s a scary time, certainly.”

The streets of Lake Placid were eerily quiet on Tuesday. The wind kicked up sand and blew it across Main Street, where just a few people quietly walked from one place to another. Parking lots were nearly empty. Many storefronts were shuttered to the public. Restaurants and bars either switched to takeout only or closed altogether, leaving many workers without jobs and worried about their ability to make rent and pay bills. Businesses that remained open found ways to skirt the village’s sandwich board rules and let passersby know their doors were still open. Some businesses, like the Non-Vintage Antiques store where a small fire erupted this past December, were openly undergoing renovations.

For the first time in its nearly 100-year history, the Mirror Lake Inn closed its doors to guests on Monday in an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. Other hotels, like the Best Western Adirondack Inn followed suit.

The Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, and all of the other local Olympic sites, have been closed indefinitely. Many businesses and public spaces were ordered to reduce their occupancy by half, then later ordered to close by the state.

“It is a big historic moment,” Reid said. “I think we know too much. Back years ago, when we did have outbreaks, like the measles, you wouldn’t hear about it for weeks or months because all we had was the radio. We wouldn’t get the news up here for a month or so. Now, it happens in Timbuctoo and we find out immediately.”