Visitors cope with weather, beach rules | Local News

LACONIA — The weather was anything but tourist-friendly on July 4. But Miguel Corrales and Kevin Carbaral had driven from Maryland to enjoy Weirs Beach with a relative from Boston, despite skies that shifted between storm clouds, sprinkles and sudden soaking rain. 

Like everyone there, they noticed the signs prohibiting grilling, smoking and loud music. They sat at a picnic table with Corrales’ shih tzu dog named Bobbi and inhaled the peace and quiet. There were 17 people on the beach at 1 p.m. — up from just one group of six before noon, friends who had driven from Hoosic Falls, New York to vacation here.

“We don’t cook? No problem. The weather is no good for enjoying the water. But we’re happy about it,” said Corrales, who first came to Weirs Beach in 2019 and was glad he made the trip this year. “I love this place anyway.”

It was a sentiment shared by almost everyone there. The population didn’t exceed 20 during the first first half of the day. Given the rain and unseasonably cool temperatures, it was impossible to discern whether the new restrictions on beach usage were keeping many tourists away.

Local opinions remain highly polarized, and the effects of the regulations on local businesses differ according to the nature of the enterprise. Some restaurants may see profits jump when visitors who can’t cook on the beach buy takeout or sit-down meals instead. But one sentiment remains clear: most area business owners depend on a whirlwind 12-week season to make a living for the year, and they don’t want any rules that dampen tourism.

“The weather kills business. We’re very weather dependent,” said Stacie DeMatos, owner of Weirs Beach Convenience and Gift, which makes a good chunk of its revenue selling gas and charcoal grills, charcoal and propane tanks, and a full menu of outdoor cooking utensils and foods to prepare outside. They also sell beach floats, which are now prohibited when lifeguards are on duty. “The new rules have really put a strain on this business,” said DeMatos, who estimates that her sales have sunk by 40 percent. “These are huge pieces of my business that I’m not seeing.”

“I don’t believe the rules are very fair. They kind of ruin the spirit of going out to the beach,” said Susan, owner of the Weirs Beach Diner and three other area restaurants. She declined to give her last name because she is afraid of political backlash on what has become a contentious topic. “It’s always been a very wonderful community that comes up here to the beach. My tourists are from everywhere. I just think the rules may be a little too strict,” she said.

DeMatos believes the regulations discriminate against Latin families – many of whom drive from Lowell, Lawrence and Methuen, Massachusetts – to enjoy a beautiful outdoor place to gather and eat. The solution, she said, is more education about dumping trash and hot coals, more receptacles on the beach, with signs in English and Spanish, and a special section for grilling.

“I hope the mayor does what he needs to do to get everything revisited,” said DeMatos. “We’re a tourist area and our tourists should feel welcome. I’ve lived here for 22 years and nothing in this city has upset me more than this.”

City officials indicated that the rules were adopted to combat tourists dumping coals in the sand, leaving garbage and washing utensils in the water where people swim.

“The city should provide what is necessary to control the coals and the trash and encourage good, old-fashioned family cookouts and gatherings — not control the people in the guise of safety,” said Jose DeMatos, her husband, in a text message.

Stacie DeMatos said she believes the rules have racist overtones. “They don’t like them coming here at 5 or 6 a.m. They don’t like that they don’t speak English. I’ve never had a bad experience with any Latin customer in this store. They’re bringing their whole family and spending money while they’re here, and to get here. They’re paying tolls and gassing up their cars,” and contribute to the tax base.

DeMatos admits the weather was the primary deterrent for tourists this year, and it cannibalized profits on what is traditionally the busiest weekend of summer outside of Motorcycle Week.

Matt Mansur, the city’s assistant director of parks and recreation who was on duty Sunday at Weirs Beach, said attendance was shockingly sparse for July 4 and the weather was the obvious cause, with a cold wind coming off the water and drizzle all morning. Still, some families came to the beach, saw the no-cooking signs and remarked, ‘We’ll find another place to go,’ he said.

“Normally we hit our capacity, which is 1,500,” down from 2,200 allowed prior to COVID. “Normally this place is wall-to-wall people. Last year there were probably 1,000 people here before the gates opened at 7 a.m. They were lined up on the boardwalk. It was crazy,” said Mansur.

Cindy Randall of Hoosic Falls, New York, who was vacationing with friends from north of Albany, was undeterred. “We saw the signs when we got here Thursday. We’re going to go to lunch on the boardwalk. Swimming? It’s not that cold until you get out.”

Of Weirs Beach in general, “I think it’s nice,” said Alician Youngmann, also from upstate New York, who was sitting on a beach blanket close to the water while her daughter played in the sand. “You just have to make the most of it. We’re still having fun.”

Kim Black, who lives in Henniker and has a camp in Alton Bay, came with her children London, 10 and Kiki, 5, to watch the boat parade, which was off to a delayed start. “It’s not really a typical fourth of July. Last night we had to light the fireplace it was so cold.”

They didn’t seem bothered by the cool, damp weather and looked forward to celebrating Independence Day in several ways.

“Fireworks, fireworks and more fireworks,” said London. “Scary stories!” shouted Kiki.

Kevin, Marvin and Oralia Lopez from Lawrence, Massachusetts were hoping for better weather, “But we’re doing what we can,” said Kevin. “You go to other lakes, the water’s dirty. You come here and the water’s crystal clear. It’s beautiful.”

And he wasn’t bothered by not being able to cook on the beach. “We don’t care at all,” Lopez said. “We think it’s better with no smoking and without loud music. It’s more peaceful and calm. There’s more peace up here in New Hampshire and everything is more taken care of than in Massachusetts,” he said.

Lucy Moran, stationed to watch the boat parade, has been coming here from Boston since the 1990s, and this year came to enjoy the long weekend with her husband Miguel, without their grown children, who enjoyed the water slides when they young. “We’re not really bothered by no cooking. I think it’s safer to do that. We usually go out to eat.” The couple enjoys sitting on the beach and watching the sunset, and going out on a dinner cruise, and planned to enjoy the Tiki-Tiki cruise Monday. “It’s like a floating bar.”

One man, Jeff, who declined to give his full name but said he has lived in the Weirs for 58 years, is convinced that the new regulations are discouraging tourists and making it tougher for businesses to survive. “We’re a tourist community. They’re restricting fun at the beach. Why don’t they open it up to gas grills? There’s no coals. People smoke on the boardwalk. Why can’t they smoke on the beach?  People would come up for the day, barbecue on the beach, and go home at the end of the day. They are more or less telling people not to have fun,” he said.

Some beach visitors who own second homes nearby said the changes create a cleaner, quieter and less frantic beach. “Any day is a good day when you can make it to Lake Winnipesaukee,” said Al Vanacore, who lives in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, but has a vacation home in Weirs Beach. “It quiets things down, so it’s nicer.”

“Everyone I’ve talked to approves of the rules,” said Caroline, his wife. “But I’m sure there are people who have come here every year who will be disappointed.”