Nova Scotia

Ferry traffic lands in Yarmouth just as most shops close

Business owners in Yarmouth are seeing increased business this tourist season, but a debate remains about how early shops should open and how late they should close.

Debate about when businesses should open and close each day

While some Yarmouth businesses have adjusted their hours to reflect the ferry schedule, some have made no changes, while others have only made changes on certain days of the week. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

On a recent Tuesday and Wednesday night as The Cat ferry was tying up in Yarmouth, N.S., and cars were rolling off the ship to clear customs, the lights were off and no one was home in just about every store along the town's Main Street.

It's like that each night of the week.

Nothing other than some restaurants is open after 9 p.m., as passengers just begin hitting the streets.

When ferry service resumed between Yarmouth and Maine three years ago, one of the big beneficiaries was expected to be businesses in the seaside town. That is happening, in particular for restaurants and hotels, but keeping other businesses open late is proving to be a more difficult sell.

The town's downtown is looking better than it has in years, thanks in part to a facade improvement program, and there is a renewed optimism amongst business operators, reflected in buildings being purchased and renovated.

Debating hours of service

But Yarmouth's mayor says that isn't enough.

"For me it's all about critical mass, and I am not, as a visitor, stopping because one shop is open or because one restaurant is open," said Mayor Pam Mood. "I'm shopping and I'm spending my money because there is a number of them, even if they're set up in different areas. So that matters."

While some businesses have adjusted their hours to reflect the ferry schedule, some have made no changes, while others have only made changes on certain days of the week.

Mood said she's still trying to convince some business operators they can't be closed before people are off the ferry.

When ferry service resumed between Yarmouth and Maine three years ago, business was expected to benefit. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

"Visitors don't come over on a Sunday or Monday and say, 'Oh yeah, Sunday or Monday, everything's going to be closed.' That's not where [their] heads are. It's up to us to be open. If we want to be that tourist town and take advantage it, it's up to us to do the 100 per cent deal every single day.

"And that's difficult, I understand, but it's what we have to do to be who we need to be."

Robert Waite, general manager at the Rodd Grand hotel, said the hotel's restaurant hours changed to coincide with the early departure and late arrival of the ferry each day. Breakfast begins at 6 a.m. and a late-night menu is available until midnight.

"We've really made the hours so people coming off the ferry can have somewhere to relax, have a drink, have something to eat and not have to worry about running around town to find food at that point," he said.

Michael Carbonell changed the hours at the Shanty Café in downtown Yarmouth. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Another business that changed its hours was The Shanty Café, which now opens six days a week at 6 a.m. for breakfast.

Michael Carbonell said he has early risers on staff who were happy to come in and they thought it would be a good way to catch the traffic going to the ferry. The gamble has paid off.

"It's been great. It doesn't only work for tourists, it also works out for locals," he said.

But changing hours doesn't work for everyone.

Spending '$10 to make $5'

Donnie Hamilton, who owns Runner's Attic and Hamilton's Fine Clothing, said his businesses aren't enough of a tourist attraction to justify staying open late each night. They have extended hours on several nights, and remain open if there are people in the downtown, but otherwise he isn't stretching his hours.

"It doesn't make sense for me, as a business person, to spend $10 to make $5," he said.

Hamilton said his own travel habits partly inform that approach.

"When I'm travelling myself, when I get off a ship or a plane or a bus or whatever, the first thing I look for is my hotel or motel. Number two is something to eat. If it's 10 o'clock at night, I'm not going out shopping."

Still, Hamilton said the tourist season benefits him indirectly; if restaurants, hotels and motels are busy and staff there are making more money, they're coming to his stores to shop. He's also seeing decent traffic from the ferry's crew, who are living in Yarmouth for the season.

New ways to keep people in town

Beyond hours of operation, Waite said it's important businesses in Yarmouth find new ways to get people to stick around the area for extra time when they arrive or on the way back.

The hotel is partnering this summer with groups offering culinary walking tours, sea kayaking and boat trips to the Tusket Islands.

"We obviously are a port town. The ferry comes in here, and we understand that, and people are going to come in and go on their travels. But what we'd like to do is get them to stay that extra night and see southwest Nova and all its beauty; there's a lot of things to offer down here that I don't think anybody is aware of, really."

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at