John Whelan: 'It’s A Short Season'


“The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea

It lingered there, to touch your hair and walk with me

All summer long we sang a song and we strolled that golden sand

Two sweethearts and the summer wind…..”


Frank Sinatra recorded the most memorable rendition of “The Summer Wind” back in 1966. The song was written by Heinz Meier with lyrics in German by Hans Bradtke in 1965. The great Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyrics and Frank Sinatra took it from there.

I thought about the song as I sat on the beach on the day after Labor Day. As is often the case, the day after Labor Day was gorgeous with bright sunshine, warm but not hot, with warm water and that wonderful summer wind. A week earlier and the beach would have been packed with families and couples. Today, there were a few of us, actually very few of us, scattered from Holway Street past Andrew Harding's Lane, and the stark realization of the seasonal nature of Chatham’s economy came back to me. In reality, Chatham has an economy somewhat like a three-legged stool. The three legs are not even as tourism has become much more important than fishing and real estate.

The fishing leg of the stool has been shrinking for years and faces many hurdles just to stay relevant. The lack of fish, federal regulation, and the ongoing problem of our fishermen getting to the sea, are the main issues. Access to the ocean from the fish pier at Aunt Lydia’s Cove presents an everyday challenge. Heading south from the pier and out the traditional channel is dangerous with certain winds and tides. Heading north and out the new cut at the northern end of North Beach Island is also difficult. The recent overturned boat and the discovery of a drowning only emphasizes what we already know. Both cuts are treacherous. Dredging has been approved for the new cut and could provide some relief, but one never knows how sand will shift. The possible use of Stage Harbor for part of the fleet could be a partial solution, but again there are issues. My conclusion is that fishing will continue to be a tough way to make a living. The town of Chatham needs to address the issues and plan accordingly to help the industry. I feel the ball is firmly in the hands of our select board and town manager. Let’s see what they do with it.

Now back to the second leg of that stool: The retirement industry is important and steady. I’ve written many times that Chatham, with its relatively mild climate, natural beauty, attractive downtown and low real estate taxes should continue to be a magnet for retirees. The construction of retirement homes and the renovation of former summer cottages for year-round living is good business. Construction is an important industry here, and one with the legs to stay strong into the future. And when one considers all the service industries that caters to our retirees, the impact of the retirement industry becomes even greater. We probably should not worry about that leg of the stool.

And then there is tourism. It is the tail that wags the dog. Last month, I wrote about the summer visitors who own homes and return year after year. I don’t consider this group when discussing tourism. These seasonal residents will always return to Chatham. The tourists I’m concerned with here are those who stay at the hotels and motels, and the B&Bs, and those who rent homes and condominiums on a short term basis. First of all, I admit to not being an expert on tourism or marketing, but I do have an opinion. I recognize it is this group that is the target of much of the work of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce. There has to be sensitivity to the shark issue. A program touting Chatham’s natural beauty, wonderful museums, theaters and restaurants and terrific summer weather ought to work just fine. The relatively small support from the town of Chatham seems like a good investment.

The other factor in the tourism package is the significant number of daytrippers that make their way to Chatham on summer days. Debbie Ecker has expressed the opinion that this group does not add much to Chatham’s economy. She feels that their presence adds to the congestion downtown and reduces the overall appeal of the town. Some merchants appreciate these daytrippers and some do not. My personal opinion is that, in 2018, Chatham was at the maximum limit of daytrippers. A few less would be fine.

And now, on to a great summer event in Chatham that unfortunately many people were not able to see. Greg Heyl and his husband, Eric Riley, planned an incredible musical performance that was held at the Chatham Drama Guild over the Aug. 24-26 weekend. For many years, Eric has been a singer and dancer in Broadway musicals. He has many friends whose talents have also landed them in Broadway shows. So Greg and Eric recruited four friends, all professionals, to round out the group. Joe Wilson, Jr. is a mainstay at the Trinity Rep in Providence and recently completed a run on Broadway in “The Iceman Cometh” starring Denzel Washington. Julia Lema is also an old friend of Eric’s and has many theater credits. Dennis W. Spears is also a seasoned performer and has toured with many of the all-time greats of music. And finally, Dana McCoy is a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, playwright, actor, dancer and teacher.

The song selections was terrific and the backing band, led by pianist Fred Boyle, was spectacular. With only one week to rehearse, the production was flawless, and it is actually an understatement to say that the crowd went wild. Standing ovations became commonplace. Eric carried the heaviest load, but each of the singers had a number of great performances. My one regret was that tickets sold out very quickly and many people missed the shows. The limited seating at the Chatham Drama Guild was the issue. The Drama Guild was one of the beneficiaries of the performance along with the “Chance to Dance Youth Scholarship Program” at Studio 878, and the Emerald Hollow Therapeutic Riding Center in Brewster. The show was titled “A Diva’s Roadtrip from Broadway to Chatham.” It was pure joy for all and I think of it as a wonderful present to the people of Chatham. Congratulations Greg and Eric!