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For Cape Cod Businesses, It's Wait-And-See When It Comes To Coronavirus And The Tourist Season02:48
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General Manager Derek Deweese holds a lobster in Mac's Seafood in Eastham (Lisa Mullins/WBUR)
General Manager Derek Deweese holds a lobster in Mac's Seafood in Eastham (Lisa Mullins/WBUR)

On Cape Cod, you can have the beach almost to yourself this time of year. It's low season for tourists.

But businesses are worried about if there'll be much of a high season this summer. Tourists on the Cape generate more than $1 billion in direct spending.

So the stakes are high for the state, for the region, and for local shopkeepers. Sheldon Schwartz co-owns Hersheldon's Leather in Provincetown. The shoe and bag store has been a staple for 45 years. He's not worried about his supply chain.

"There's a few brands that we carry like Crocs," Schwartz said. "Crocs are, every single pair that I know of comes from China. And last year when I was reordering, I mean I have already orders.

"So what's my biggest worry? Not the merchandise, I can deal with that. And I've already started to do a preemptive strike on my own. My biggest fear is people just coming."

In Truro, business this weekend was pretty typical for Atlantic Spice Company. The place sells everything from saffron to cinnamon to tea, according to co-owner Mark Irving.

Some of that tea comes from China. When the Chinese government quarantined its population, that meant no one could pick the tea.

Irving said he's got plenty of supply in the pipeline already, but it's unclear how much Chinese tea he'll get in the months ahead.

"Personally, I'm concerned more of what the effect on our whole society's gonna be," he said. "It's a new virus. It's spreading, and personally that [has] more of an effect on me than the business angle."

Up Route 6 in Eastham, Mac's Seafood was doing robust business this weekend.  Derek Deweese was selling scallops, cod, bluefish, and lots of lobster. He told me so from across a pool of live lobsters.

"[It's been] much busier in the last couple of days, and really in the last week," Deweese said. "More like a school vacation week.

And what are people coming in for?

"You know, fish, lobster," he said. "We completely sold out of fish yesterday, which is unprecedented for most times of the year, any time of the year, let alone winter."

But everyone's waiting to see what happens in the summer. Back on the tip of the Cape, the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce says so far, tourists are keeping their summer reservations. The only cancellations have been for the next few weeks.

A trio of friends from North Carolina didn't cancel, though. They came for the weekend. They are nurses, and seemed to take everything in stride.

"As long as you do good handwashing, we haven't really thought that much about it," one of them said.

This segment aired on March 16, 2020.

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Lisa Mullins Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.

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