Lake Placid’s Tourism Economy Is Roaring Back, But Are There Enough People to Tend the Fire?

You see the signs all over town. “Help wanted,” some read, others, “Now hiring.”

Lake Placid, located along Mirror Lake in New York’s Adirondack Park, is booming. At least it appears that way, walking down sidewalks crowded with people, waiting in line to buy a cup of coffee or a scoop of ice cream. 

But perhaps the most apparent indication of the town’s economic health is in the “help wanted” signs plastered on store windows and restaurant doors. 

“The thing people don’t understand is businesses here can’t get the stuff they need,” a shopkeeper in Saranac, down the road from Lake Placid, says. “You see restaurants closed, but it’s because they can’t get the ingredients they need.”

The issue, the shopkeeper says, is that one supplier provides food for most of the area’s restaurants. And that supplier’s having trouble finding delivery drivers. Without people driving their trucks, the supplier can’t fulfill customers’ orders.

“And where’s the first place they cut?” the shopkeeper says. “Here in the North Country.”

Main Street in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Business is booming along Lake Placid’s Main Street, but are there enough workers to keep businesses open? | Nicholas E. Barron © 2021

A hometown for athletic competitions

Lake Placid is one of three places that’s twice hosted the Winter Olympics. St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Innsbruck, Austria being the other two.

Lake Placid hosted the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. Today, Lake Placid High School overlooks where the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1980 games took place. And the ski jump remains easily visible from many points across town.

And Lake Placid welcomes tourists year-round. Winter enthusiasts find many activities to enjoy, including skiing and snowboarding, while outdoor lovers can hike, canoe, camp, and more in the warmer months.

The weekend I arrived in Lake Placid happened to be during the 2021 Lake Placid Ironman. 

Athletes came from all across the northeast United States and perhaps farther afield to compete in the Ironman Triathlon, featuring a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and marathon-length run. Their families and friends came, too, to show support.

The Ironman didn’t bring me to town. And, yet, as race day unfolded, the supporters’ cheers and cowbell ringing captured my attention. 

It wasn’t long before I stood along the route, taking photos as cyclists and runners passed. Family members clamored for glimpses of their loved ones.

“There he is!” a kid shouts. “There’s dad!”

Even someone who never cared about an Ironman competition can’t help but feel strumming emotions at witnessing so many people encouraging those they love who are pushing themselves to their physical limits.

Night fell, and still, athletes crossed the finish line. They rested, hydrated, and enjoyed slices of pizza, grapes, and other snacks. Then, wrapped in foil blankets, the athletes walked Lake Placid’s streets, family at their heels.

As the Ironman athletes depart, participants in a Canadian-U.S. rugby tournament arrive. Thus, the carousel of athletic competitions taking place in Lake Placid continues rotating full tilt.

Who’s tending Lake Placid’s fire?

Visit a few restaurants in Lake Placid, drink in a couple of bars, and you’ll hear international accents. Italian, maybe something from the Balkans, and is that Russian or Ukrainian?

Although you may encounter a few visitors from outside the U.S, the words aren’t coming from tourists. Instead, it’s immigrants helping keep Lake Placid’s businesses running.

You wonder how they find their way from eastern Europe to New York’s North Country. Considering the pandemic and perceivably more stringent immigration and visa requirements, it seems no small feat for someone to go from, for example, Croatia to a small town in upstate New York.

Yet here they are, speaking perfect if accented English. Friendly and helpful, working alongside those who grew up in Lake Placid, a cocktail of residents and immigrants as old as this country.

Still, the “help wanted” signs tell you it isn’t enough. The tourists, presumably mostly vaccinated and certainly unmasked, are coming. They’re here.

Lake Placid’s tourist economy is back, bursting into roaring flames of outdoor and athletic-inspired consumerism. The challenge now facing this Olympic town is finding enough people to tend the fire.

This article originally appeared on Medium.