Memorial Day a renewal for lakeshore shop owners

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — On Memorial Day, on the crowded sidewalks and in the busy outdoor seating areas of restaurants in Holland and Saugatuck, it was almost as if the pandemic had never happened.

So this is what normal feels like.

“I think that people are just so hungry to have fun,” said Mike Jones, co-owner of The Dunes Resort in Saugatuck and chairman of the Saugatuck-Douglas Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In both cities, shoppers were mask-free for the most part, which is now OK indoors for those who are fully vaccinated and outdoors for everyone.

You could feel the energy.

“The town itself is prepared for probably one of its best summers ever,” Jones said of Saugatuck.

“This has definitely been the busiest weekend we’ve seen in over a year,” added Nate Gilbertson, whose family owns Tip Toes in downtown Holland. “So people are starting to come back out and feel comfortable coming downtown.”

Downtown Holland on May 31, 2021.

Sales tumbled last year at his family’s children’s boutique. Now, thanks to rising vaccination numbers and falling infection rates, they’re already coming back, Gilbertson said.

“The traffic in the store has picked up; sales in the store have picked up,” he said.

For Ella Alscock of Chicago, a vacation to the family’s summer home in Saugatuck meant a skateboard ride on the up-and-down road to Oval Beach.

“Everything was a lot calmer last year, a lot emptier,” she said of the family’s 2020 vacations to Saugatuck. “You had to wear a mask everywhere last year, but now you really don’t have to. Everything’s getting so much better.

“You see a lot more people coming up again this year. It’s a lot nicer.”

On Monday at Oval Beach, most of the license plates were from out of state.

A man enjoys the lake at Oval Beach in Saugatuck on May 31, 2021.

“It feels good; most people are vaccinated, so it’s not such a concern,” said Daniel Yahav, who brought his family to Saugatuck for the weekend. “Anyone who wants one can go out and get one. So now with restrictions down, the kids can enjoy it more. Everything’s a lot looser. It feels better.”

Not far away, the “no vacancy” sign was lit up for the weekend at The Dunes. It had a better year than feared in 2020, as did the entire Saugatuck area, said Jones, the resort co-owner and chair of the convention bureau.

“Because we’re a drive destination, people could drive here, they didn’t have to get on an airplane,” Jones said.

Already, he said, The Dunes is sold out for upcoming holidays.

The front porch of The Dunes Resort in Saugatuck. (May 31, 2021)

“We sold out for Memorial Day probably six weeks earlier than normal; we sold out for July Fourth almost two and a half months earlier than normal,” he said.

Those who rely on tourism are looking forward to July 1, when the state lifts the rest of its broad pandemic restrictions.

“We’re hoping for more of a normal feel, back what it was like in 2018 and 2019,” the co-owner of Tip Toes said.