Provincetown Pivots Amid Pandemic: High Season's New Look

by Billy McEntee

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 15, 2020

Provincetown Town Hall
Provincetown Town Hall  (Source:Getty Images)

The most eye-catching colors on Commercial Street usually belong to billowing flags whose rainbow patterns welcome and celebrate all who stroll down Provincetown's main drag. But this summer, it's the unique and necessary parade of masks that may steal the show.

"We have been steadily busy since we were allowed to reopen businesses," said Anthony Fuccillo, Director of Provincetown Tourism. "Initially, the weekends were busy with foot traffic, and now we see a steady flow of day-trippers and overnight visitors."

The town's livelihood had been turned on its head in the wake of COVID-19. Hotels closed, bars shuttered, and reservations were canceled. All spring long, Provincetown played a proverbial game of cat and mouse, continually seeking details on new reopening dates, making plans based off of that date, and then adjusting strategies wholesale when circumstances changed or restrictions evolved. Many wondered and feared what the high season might look like at the tip of Cape Cod.

"This is, indeed, a financially difficult time for restaurants and businesses of all types, particularly in a resort destination like Provincetown," said Mike Potenza, Marketing Manager at The Lobster Pot, the longstanding seafood restaurant in the nucleus of Provincetown's commercial district. "The Lobster Pot expended significant resources and a lot of work hours adapting our business to the prevailing conditions."

Precautions have included the installation of an iWave air purifying system and taking the temperature of staff as workers begin their shifts. Other shopkeepers about town have echoed these steps.

"We put up signs reminding our customers to wear masks, and we disinfect every chance we get," said Carol Kambar, whose store The Shell Shop, sells fossils, sea glass and other excavated nautical goods. After decades of establishing a home on Commercial Street, she is now "very nervous about this season as we started June 9, which is much later than our regular start on the first weekend in April," Kambar shared.

Like many, Kambar's shop relies on tourism, "our largest economic engine," said Fuccillo. "The Town and businesses made very good use of the downtime in the spring when they were closed — they put in place all the necessary standards to meet and exceed guidelines for sanitation and social distancing," noted Fuccillo. "The Town and Board of Health worked closely to both enforce important guidelines and relax zoning to provide more outdoor options for businesses to operate. The Town has added hand-washing stations around the downtown business district for visitors."


Much of Massachusetts entered Phase 3 of reopening on July 6 (Boston will wait an additional week); for Provincetown, this means movie theaters, historical sites, and outdoor performance venues can reopen — all of which play significant roles in the town's economy. Fuccillo said this also includes "attractions like the whale watch and dune tour. Having the wonderful open spaces and the Cape Cod National Seashore is a big plus for us, too."

Claybourne Elder in a benefit streaming of "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me."  (Source: Provincetown Theater)

But even if some venues open, Provincetown Theater has said "the show must go online," per the new COVID tagline on the company's website. "Month by month, as COVID showed itself for what it was Massachusetts, and based on Governor Baker's plan, we finally decided to postpone the Provincetown Theater's entire 2020 season to 2021 and move all our new entertainment offerings into the virtual world," said the theater's Artistic Director David Drake.

This programming has included a recent live-streamed benefit reading of Drake's all-star production of the Obie Award-winning play "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me." Inspired by the titular and seminal gay activist, Drake's play featured Robin de Jesús, Claybourne Elder and Tony Award winners André De Shields and BD Wong, among others.

As for future planning, "I've got a couple of possibilities for live performances in the fall that will completely depend upon Baker's rolling out of Phase 4," Drake shared.

Even if none of the shows go online, Provincetown Theater is finding new ways to leverage engagement from a virtual angle. "I'm finding that creating virtual events and programs will most likely figure their way into our ongoing programming right alongside live productions produced at our theatre; the quarantining and limitations of the pandemic are actually teaching me how to expand our mission."

Like with theater, the in-person experience of clubs and hotels is near impossible to replicate online. As such, the hospitality industry has battled an uphill climb, financially and viscerally.

"My staff and I have been overwhelmed with the intensity of emotion expressed by a large number of our guests," shared Ken Horgan, who owns the Pilgrim House, a hotel that also features an on-site restaurant. "A visit to Provincetown has widely been known as a time to disconnect from the 'real world' and live, even for a weekend, in a world of acceptance, love, joy and unbridled unity."

Those who do visit indeed capture the magic of this safe, beachy haven, but not all feel they should leave their homes at this time. And even those who do make the pilgrimage will have a unique experience unlike trips from years past.

"We are taking a major hit with the loss of Tea Dance, and there's no way to stem that loss," said Jill Botway, Managing Partner of the Boatslip, a popular happy-hour locale famed for its socializing, drinks, and dancing to kick off the evening. "While it would have been easier just not to open, we decided to do so for the community and our loyal friends and guests. P-town wouldn't be the same if Boatslip were shuttered."

"Our crew is working overtime to spread some joy and remind folks that this will be over," Botway shared. "We will dance again when the time is right."

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