PLYMOUTH — Not long after the Mayflower II left dry dock in Fairhaven last week and returned to its berth in Plymouth Harbor, following an absence of eight months, another welcome sight appeared: tour buses.
Crowds of tourists are again on the waterfront, lining up to visit the replica of the 17th-century ship that brought the Pilgrims from England and providing a boost to businesses that have struggled without their neighborhood’s main attraction. Over the weekend, restaurants and gift shops reported a much-needed lift to sales, but many said it has come too late to save their season.
“The summer is over,” said Bethany Sinn, who works at Pilgrim’s Corner, a gift shop on Water Street. “This is the slowest summer we’ve had in 11 years.”
The Mayflower II, completed in 1957, was in dry dock as part of a seven-year, $2 million restoration to prepare it for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing in 1620. The scheduled repairs were supposed to be completed in time for the summer tourist season, but the craftsmen discovered a rotting hull, which required more extensive work to be done.
A shortage of durable white oak planks further delayed the return of the ship, and tourism along the waterfront suffered.
The Mayflower II docked in Plymouth Harbor a week ago, where it was greeted by hundreds of people celebrating its homecoming.
On Saturday, the sun shone down on the waterfront as people crowded the sidewalks and the smell of fried seafood wafted from busy restaurants. Live music could be heard from a festival down the street.
At the John Alden Gift Shop, directly across from the Mayflower II, manager Shannon Deptula said it was one of the busiest days in months.
Laurie Gibbs, who owns the gift shop and three others in the waterfront district, said the return of the ship could not have come too soon.
She estimated the combined sales at her stores were down 30 percent, compared with last year.
“We had a good weekend,” Gibbs said. “I’m definitely up a little bit; I can only assume it’s probably because the Mayflower is back.”
The tour buses were back, too. Tamara Thomson is a manager at Carmen’s Cafe Nicole, a restaurant on Water Street that teemed with patrons waiting to eat lunch on Saturday. With the fall season still ahead, she said she was hopeful that busloads of leaf-peepers in autumn would make up for a slow summer.
“Usually, with tour buses, they park by [Plymouth] Rock and the Mayflower, and people have time to meander, and to eat,” she said. “We should have a rebound.”
Over the past few months, many tour buses carrying international tourists or day-tripping seniors skipped Plymouth Harbor and stopped at other attractions.
Cherye Poyant, a tour coordinator at Cape Cod Custom Tours, a company that helps group tours plan their routes, estimated that of the 200 to 300 tours they plan each year, about 75 percent visit Plymouth.
“We had to deal with it as we waited for the Mayflower to come back,” she said. “They still went to Plymouth, but we sent them to another attraction.”
As a result, other tourist districts benefited during the Mayflower II’s absence, said Paul Cripps, the executive director of Destination Plymouth, a tourism organization. Shops and restaurants in downtown Plymouth, for example, probably enjoyed stronger sales, he said.
Revenues from Plymouth’s room tax were up about 18 percent in the first half of the year, he said.
With the Mayflower II back, visitors were again crowding around the upper and lower decks.
As she made her way around the ship, a German tourist, Gabriele Pesch, said that she was unaware the ship had been missing from the harbor. As a teacher, she said, she wanted to be able to tell her students about the ship after inspecting it first-hand.
“It would’ve been a pity to come here and not see it,” she said.
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