CHATHAM — It was the summer that brought a black bear, man-biting sharks, and country songstress Taylor Swift to Cape Cod.
But the arrivals that headlined the season? Dazzling weather and hordes of crowds.
A year after Tropical Storm Irene drenched Cape Cod and chased many revelers back across the Sagamore Bridge before Labor Day weekend, business owners around the Cape said balmy temperatures and clear skies had driven soaring summer sales, both during the holiday weekend and throughout the summer.
At Monomoy Coffee in Chatham, owner Pierrette Cook was gleeful.
"It's been a terrific summer with weather," Cook said, as a line of 11 people stretched outside the door. "We've been very, very busy."
Numbers for the first half of the summer suggest it was indeed a rebound season for businesses around the region: Hotel occupancy was up by 10 percent in June of this year, and while July occupancy rose only slightly, room rates charged to tourists increased by 22 percent, said Wendy Northcross, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.
Numbers aren't in yet for August, she said, but it's looking good.
"Usually, the first two weeks of August are really slamming, and then it drops off," said Northcross, who hired extra staff to handle increased crowds this summer. "But no — this year, it seems like it was really busy until today."
Much of the credit goes to pure meteorological luck.
In each of the last two years, the week leading to Labor Day weekend was marred by storms — Tropical Storm Irene last year, and Tropical Storm Earl the year before — prompting Governor Deval Patrick to declare an initial state of emergency, then make a trip to Cape Cod, declaring that the region was still open for tourist business.
At Pirate's Cove miniature golf course in South Yarmouth Sunday, groups of players queued at almost every one of the 36 holes.
"This particular year has been a banner year," said Don Lam, an assistant manager at the course who has worked there for 10 years. "August was a very, very good month."
And even as long, lazy summer days draw to a close, business owners are hopeful the heightened crowds will continue well into the fall.
As he leaned on the countertop of the 63-year-old Wee Packet restaurant in Dennis Port, owner David Shortt said he expects the busy summer at his restaurant to continue a few weeks more. "This year, we feel like September will be much better," Shortt said.
The stars did not all align for Cape Cod tourism this year: Gas prices are the highest they have ever been, said Mary Maguire, spokeswoman for AAA Southern New England.
Still, in the poker game of Cape Cod vacationing, weather trumps gas prices.
"Even though gas prices are painfully high, it's still a reasonable proposition for most families," said Maguire, a Norton resident who made a half-hour drive this weekend for an afternoon of Cape Cod biking.
At Provincetown's Surfside Hotel and Suites, there wasn't an empty room Labor Day weekend, and summer business was up 8 percent, said general manager Elaine Quigley.
This season was the most lucrative in the establishment's nearly 50-year history, she said.
"Goodness, they were coming from everywhere — Germany, the UK, lots of people from Ireland," Quigley said. "Having a full house this year was pretty darn good."
"I heard a lot of different accents," agreed Nicole Hague, manager of PJ's Family Restaurant in Wellfleet, the takeout eatery known for lobster rolls and fried clams. "And we definitely saw a lot more out-of-state license plates than usual."
David Bixby, a recreational fisherman from New York who summers in Chatham, said the area has seen lots of traffic this summer.
"I thought the Cape was quite busy this year . . . It'd be hard to believe there's an economic downturn," he said, as he prepared to launch his motorboat from a dock at Stage Harbor, "but this is Chatham."
The Cape's comeback year may also have been aided by sharks. More than a dozen great whites of "Jaws" lore appeared along shorelines with more frequency than ever in recent memory, prompting occasional swimming bans. A 50-year-old Colorado man was bitten in the leg on a Truro beach last month, though he lived to wisecrack about the attack.
"All summer long, we were holding our breath with this shark story," said Northcross. "But it's really been a positive thing for the Cape."
The shark phenomenon is centered in Chatham, she said, where devotees prowl the streets purchasing great white T-shirts or shark tooth ice cream.
Exhibit A: Alex Greniet, from Somers, Conn., who spent Labor Day morning on Lighthouse Beach in Chatham.
"I believe we found a shark tooth!" he announced to his parents after sprinting from the shoreline.
His mother, Julie Grenier, glanced down at his find. "I think that's a shell," she said, smiling.
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