An ethnographic view of tourism on Canada Street, Lake George, NY
O f f s e a s o n Meaghan Pogue
An ethnographic view of tourism on Canada Street, Lake George, NY
Ta b l e o f C o n t e n t s
Sights 3. Economy 15. Perspective 41. Afterword 61.
Revisiting Every summer for the better part of my existence
my family and I took an annual pilgrimage to a small cozy town in upstate New York not far from Lake George. For a family of city-dwellers, our temporary home in the Adirondack Mountains was always a lovely change of pace. Surrounded by blooming nature and air clean enough to breath deeply, I can remember those trips like they were yesterday. All four of us, and the dog, were shoved into our minivan with enough luggage to move to a new continent on our voyage five hours north. Two blissful weeks of miniature golf, hearty mountain meals, and clean family fun would follow.
My father and I, Lake Saranac, 2000
Now, after a few years of reflection, I wanted to visit these areas of vacation relic and see what they held in the fall. When I arrived in Lake George Village on a crisp October morning, I began to see the miniature golf and the gift shops and the deserted country streets much differently than I had before. Hints of summer stain every inch of Lake George, as signs go up on windows announcing the season of hibernation for local businesses has begun. The streets and views I remember being so crowded echo with the sounds of nature reclaiming the environment they had sacrificed for those three short bustling months. I began to realize what was really in front of me was a ghost townâ€”a village held captive by a tourism economy which dictates every aspect of its way of life. I studied the places I visited and the streets I drove on from a new perspectiveâ€”through a lens that exposes what happens when the miniature golf closes and the city-dwellers trek back to their concrete mountains, and when Lake George enters its offseason.
Sig h t s I always knew we arrived at the Adirondack Mountains by the way my dog inhaled every last bit of air that flowed through the crack in our car window—how his eyes would close slightly and he’d raise his nose high, almost as if he was overwhelmed by the clarity of the scent. Even under hot August sun the air upstate had a certain crispness I had never felt anywhere else. The horizon, bursting with green mountain peaks, was striking enough to hold the eye of a restless child who had just sat in a car for five hours squished between her brother, her standard poodle, and her family’s half dozen suitcases. The sights of the Adirondacks are one of the finest gifts the eye can see, especially in the offseason. On cool fall days as the seasons change, the docks are empty and vast lonliness clings to the mountain air. That emptiness remains as beautiful as ever.
Photo by my father, Lake Luzerne Area, 2003
Empty sidewalks along Lake George on an early October morning.
p. 4-5 The Minnie Ha-Ha, one of Lake Georgeâ€™s most popular tourist attractions sits empty on Lake George. p. 8-9 Sunrise over Lake George from Shepard Park.
View from docks on the shore of Lake George.
p.10-11 Change of seasons in Lake Geroge 13.
Economy Lake George Village, and others like it, have become a mecca for what my grandmother affectionately calls “crap stores.”
Aisles upon aisles are filled with a litany of cheaply made, random knick-knacks-as my grandmother would say, “the place to buy all the crap you’ll ever need.” As a child coming to summer colonies like Lake George, these stores were heaven for the countless useless items that I would lose under my bed that were cheap enough to convince my loving parents to invest in. Year after year we would visit shops like this, buying the same t-shirts and coffee mugs to bring back home as a reminder of the quiet little place we ventured to each year. My brother, Lake George, 2000
As nostalgic as these shops are, coming back and walking these once busy streets in the offseason was sobering. As soon as the youth-tinted glasses were stripped from my vision, I began to see Canada Street as its nine-month-long reality—an empty town whose few yearlong inhabitants are left stranded after the tourists go home. Store after store, hotel after hotel, all catering to a crowd of people who exist for three short months—what’s left in the offseason is a difficult struggle for business owners trying to make a living in their humble home in the north.
Sunday morning, Canada Street.
p. 16-17 The commerical center of Lake George Village, Canada Street, empty for the offseason. p. 20-21 Buisness wanes on Lake George Village in the offseason. Tom Tom Shop, one of the oldest shops on the strip remains open year-round, bearing the struggles of a tourism economy. 19.
Beach of Lake George closed for the winter.
p. 22-23 Store fronts on Canada Street.
Travelodge on Canada Street.
p. 26-27 Hotels off Canada Street.
Ronald Richardson of Sullivanâ€™s Rexall, Canada Street.
p. 30-31 An empty store front reflects the lake. p. 34-35 Remnants of summer season. 32.
A few remaining tourists taking photos by Lake George.
p. 36-37 Empty streets and storefronts are scars left by the offseason. 39.
Perspective My memories of my time upstate are a medley of
images at miniature golf courses, tiny Native American museums, and gift shops upon gift shops. As a child the town seemed enchantingâ€”created solely for my enjoyment. The sights I remember so fondly took on an entirely different significance in the offseason. The rickety figures that adorned the miniature golf courses of my childhood told the melancholy tale of Lake George. The courses are weathered and desolate, falling apart from the battering of the summer season. The lone teenager manning the booth, waiting for customers long gone, is a reminder of the seasonal slump the town just entered. In the gift shops I loved exploring so much, I stopped to read the wooden signs that line every wall. I realized these popular items were nothing but easy, bigoted jokes printed on slabs of cheap wood. I began to feel like Lake George was not the enchanting village I remembered, but a desperate summer town fiercely trying to survive.
Photo by my grandfather, Lake Luzerne, 2003
Gas station twenty minutes south of Lake George Village.
Magic Gardens, one of Lake Georgeâ€™s tourist sites, sits empty.
p. 48-49 T-shirts and knick-knacks for sale on Canada Street.
Popular items from various shops in Lake George Village.
Magic Gardens figurines in storage in a cabin off a side street in Lake George.
p. 54-56 Magic Garden storage, Lake George.
Gooney Golf, Canada Steet.
p. 56-58 Gooney Golf, Canada Street.
Afterword Tourism is a highly lucrative sector of the global economy.
All over the world, countless people leave their homes to visit another for relaxation. This relationship creates a beautiful connection between people from all corners of the globe, and can foster the development of local business. Itâ€™s important to see places like Lake George during both the summer and the offseason to understand the bigger picture. Tourism can also be an imperialist force of recreation. Tourism economies are unpredictable environments for business owners, holding places like Lake George captive to the highly volatile vacation season. The entire ecosystem of the area is incredibly vulnerable and interdependent, and the unexpected failure of any one piece can bring the whole thing crashing down. When the seasons change and the last of the visitors leave, Lake George begins to hibernate. Although the desolate streets and waning economy whisper with loneliness and longing, the beauty that rests in the vastness of the Adirondack Mountains remains.
Photo by my father, Adirondaks, 2000