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Busy Memorial Day weekend gives hope to tourist town businesses

After a year of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, business was booming in Saugatuck and Douglas.

SAUGATUCK, Mich. — In small lakeshore towns, tourism is big money in the summer. 

Alec Payleitner knows this well, as he has been running Grow Cafe + Bistro in Saugatuck for six years. Memorial Day weekend is always their first big weekend of the summer. Except for last year. 

"Last summer, we weren’t even open yet," said Payleitner. "We were doing carry out, but our doors weren’t open. My wife is the chef. So, it was literally just the two of us working doing takeout on Memorial Day weekend."

This year is very different. Downtown Saugatuck was bustling with visitors dipping in and out of shops and stopping for lunch. 

"It is great to see people walking around feeling safe," said Payleitner. 

Grow even expanded this year, opening The Trap, a Middle Eastern bistro open for dinner. He is excited for a busy summer to come. 

Credit: 13 OYS
"Every single business here in Saugatuck is directly attached to tourism. And if it isn't, it's just one step away from tourism," said Grow owner Alec Payleitner.

Meanwhile, Isabel's Market + Eatery partner, Garnet Lewis, was experiencing her first Memorial Day weekend business in Douglas. The eatery welcomed customers in September, after having its opening delayed due to the pandemic last year. 

"We knew this would be busy, but we didn’t have any idea," said Lewis. 

Lewis is preparing for the busy summer season by expanding their hours, moving from open five days a week to seven, and working around staffing. She said staffing is one of their biggest hinderances, as it is hard to find people to work in just about every industry at the moment for multiple reasons. 

"Last year, I would have almost panicked if we had so many people inside," said Lewis. "We would have had someone at the door saying we can only have this many people. Yesterday, I had to pause and say, it’s all good."

Credit: 13 OYS
Isabel's opened in 2020, after a retail study in Douglas found locals wanted to see a store with a bakery and fresh fish. The European-style market offers both and a store.

COVID-19 restrictions easing across the state meant many people ventured outside to various towns for the first time in while. 

Rod Holman and his wife Theresa were enjoying Kilwin's ice cream cones. Living in Grand Rapids, this was their first visit to Saugatuck in 15 years.

"It’s fantastic, great to get out and feel free again," said Rod Holman. "We just hope the pandemic is winding down."

Credit: 13 OYS
Rod and Theresa Holman drove from Grand Rapids to spend the day exploring Saugatuck.

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