PLYMOUTH — On a recent sunny and mild afternoon, anyone hoping for lunch and a beverage at the Pillory Pub across the street from the famed Plymouth Rock was out of luck. A sign in neon green marker indicated the pub wouldn’t open until 4 p.m. because of construction nearby.
The sidewalk along Water Street was an unwelcoming, unpaved jumble of rocks and dirt, leading up to a number construction vehicles, yellow caution tape, and orange traffic cones.
Plymouth Rock itself, though open to the public, is also flanked by construction vehicles and blocked off from one side amid sidewalk repairs.
Such disruptions are a necessary inconvenience as this historic coastal town gears up for a 14-month-long celebration of the 400th anniversary — starting in late 2019 and extending through 2020 — of the landing of the Pilgrims. But combined with the absence of the Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship undergoing repairs in Mystic, Conn., until 2019, some waterfront and downtown business owners say the situation has hurt their bottom line.
“The Mayflower not being there is having a big economic impact on the businesses downtown,” said Bob Nolet, spokesman for the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce. “The rock has never been completely cut off; it has been opened to pedestrians the entire time. But naturally after the rock, visitors would go to the Mayflower.”
Christine Albert, who works at the clothing and souvenir store Livin’ EZ on Water Street, across the pier where the Mayflower II would berth, said the usually bustling summer and fall tourist season had been quiet this year — even before construction across the street got underway earlier this month. Many visitors have popped in the shop to ask where the ship is, only to leave shocked and disappointed that it had departed last November, she said.
“It’s quieted down quite a bit,” Albert said.
On average, businesses in Plymouth’s waterfront and downtown report a 20 percent drop whenever the Mayflower II is away, said Lee Hartmann, Plymouth’s planning and development director. He said he has not received reports for the current tourism season, but “I suspect it’s no different.”
However, Hartmann said the town has a thriving restaurant scene and other attractions that keep drawing visitors looking for alternatives to the typical Plymouth Rock-to-Mayflower II trek.
“Plymouth isn’t just about Pilgrims,” he said. “We have a very active harbor.”
Joseph Wynne, manager of the CabbyShack, said the waterfront restaurant is having one of its better seasons despite the Mayflower’s absence.
“People do come to see the Mayflower, but it’s not as impactful as people imagine,” Wynne said. “As far as a [negative] financial impact, I honestly have not seen it.”
Rich Azulay, owner of Maui Wowi, a seasonal counter-service coffee and smoothie shop, said he “did all right this year.”
While overall visitor spending for the fiscal year ending in June totaled $650 million in Plymouth County (up $21 million from the prior fiscal year), the missing Mayflower II certainly hurts businesses closest to the waterfront, said Paul Cripps, executive director of the county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“When you have more attractions, people stay an extra night. When the Mayflower is not here, it’s that sigh of disappointment,” Cripps said.
With the Mayflower away, Cripps said the “worst-case scenario” for tourism next year is that the numbers will be flat. “I don’t see us backsliding,” he said.
Already, some of the effects are being felt. According to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, hotel occupancy in Plymouth County was down 3.4 percent in the first nine months of this year, compared with the same period in 2016. Statewide, the rate remained flat for the period.
At Plimoth Plantation, the outdoor “living history” museum that maintains the Mayflower II, administrators declined to release visitors’ figures. But a spokesman said that any time the replica ship is away, the museum experiences lower admissions.
But for another attraction in town, the Pilgrim Hall Museum, the absence of the Mayflower II has translated to an increase in admissions as visitors look for other things to do. From February to September, the museum saw a 29 percent increase in visitors, and a 68 percent increase in September compared to the same month in 2016, said Denise L. Giblin, group tour and marketing manager.
Many businesses are counting on Thanksgiving, the capstone of the season, to boost their numbers as they head into or prepare to close for the winter months. But even more are just hoping to weather the next couple of years, anticipating a windfall as the town celebrates its 400th anniversary.
“This is the longest stretch [without the Mayflower] that businesses have to gear for,” said Nolet of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce. “But the icing on the cake is we’ll be hitting 2020, and the Mayflower will be back in 2019, so businesses will make up for their losses then.”