As the waterway gets winterized, business slows.
As the winter season approaches, towns and villages surrounding Rochester are preparing for the annual closing of the Erie Canal. The process begins in early November.
Winterizing the canal is no simple task. First, it needs to be drained, so the banks can be inspected and repairs made.
Guard locks, which allow water traffic to move from one level of the canal to another by raising and lowering water levels, play an important part in moving water for winterizing, says Kevin Lynch, operator of lock 32 in Pittsford.
"Basically, to de-water, a guard gate is lowered in Pendleton, west of Lockport, which puts a stop to the entering of water from the Niagara River region into the Erie Canal," said Lynch, 50, of Holley. "After that, guard locks are lowered on sides of the Genesee River to isolate it, and canal water is then released to the streams of the Niagara, Monroe, and Orleans counties through openings in the sides of the canal."
The preparation and maintenance required to close down — and open — the canal for the season has been the same since it opened in 1825. With the New York State Canal System, the Erie Canal itself covers an area of approximately 363 miles.
Although this marks a busy time for those taking part in winterizing, not everyone associated with the canal is quite so busy. Business owners endure a notable decrease in tourism.
Lori Jones, 43, of Rochester, owns the Millstone Block along the canal in Fairport. This shop offers a variety of used and vintage books available for sale.
"Business at the store is definitely a lot slower from January through the middle of April, largely due to lack of tourism," said Jones. "We get a smaller amount of tourists and visitors to the store during this time, and not just those vacationing and sight-seeing from different states, but also people from around Rochester. This has shown me that climate definitely has an impact on not just my business, but many others."
Fairport has always seen a boon in business during spring and summer. Canal Days and other events, as well as seeing lift bridges in action or boating through a working lock, also attract visitors.
Pierre Heroux sees the effects of a down season at his eatery, Simply Crepes, in Pittsford’s Schoen Place. The restaurant's various locations in the Rochester area offer a variety of different crepe-based entrees and desserts. Heroux said the changing seasons can affect the flow of business traffic, and winter has its impact.
"It's interesting because three years ago we had a very cold winter and business was very slow. Two years ago, it was milder and more busy. Last year it was colder again and again business was slow," said Heroux. "This trend showed me that there was no question that seasonality and climate definitely produce a clear impact on the business that we, and many other businesses, do. Also, without the traffic of individuals sight-seeing, walking or biking along the canal because of winterizing, there is also a sizeable difference in our flow of customers."
Business owners like Jones and Heroux say it isn't easy to gauge exactly how much of a change they see during each season, but say traffic is much more plentiful during the warmer seasons.
Greg Marshall, vice president and director of marketing for Visit Rochester, formerly the Greater Rochester Visitors Association, has years of experience helping bring tourism to the Rochester area. He feels it’s a challenge to perfectly measure the economic effect that a closed canal has.
"In reality, there is no real substantial way to measure the economic impact of the canal's draw on the city and surrounding towns and villages without defining a more in- depth system," said Marshall. "What is known is that the Erie Canal is one of the great attractors of the greater Rochester area and area tourism, as well as business done, is definitely boosted largely because of it being located here."
The canal closes to recreational boat traffic Nov. 1. The closing date for commercial traffic is Nov. 7. These dates have moved forward from the previously announced closing date of Thursday Nov. 15 due to drought in the Mohawk Valley.
About the Erie Canal
In 1817, Gov. DeWitt Clinton proposed the plans to build a canal from Buffalo on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, to Albany on the upper Hudson River. On July 4, 1817, construction began in Rome, N. Y. The estimated cost of construction was $7 million. The original canal length was 363 miles long, 40 feet wide and four feet deep. The first portion of the canal, approximately 15 miles in length, was completed and opened in 1819, linking the area between Rome and Utica.
On Oct. 26, 1825, Clinton's dream became a reality as he sailed the Seneca Chief, a packet boat, from Buffalo to Albany. After taking the canal from Lake Erie all the way to New York City, he performed a "wedding of the waters" ceremony in which he poured water from the lake into the New York City harbor. Soon after, a great explosion in trade began as transporting of merchandise became an easier task.
The New York state canal system has grown, now covering an area of 524 miles from Lake Champlain to Lake Erie.