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Believe it or not tourism is one of Maine's largest industries. OK, maybe that statement wouldn't make the cut at Ripley's, but not everyone is aware of just how many tourists we get around here each year.
Just Google the words “Maine” and “tourism” and see how many hits you get. And don't try to be funny by saying, “John, you get even more hits when you Google 'Maine' and 'black flies.' ” This is serious! Maine's tourist industry earns hundreds of millions of dollars a year and provides work for tens of thousands of people (even some from Maine), so I'm not about to say any discouraging words about the subject.
After all the rain we've had this spring I don't want to say anything that would further dampen the enthusiasm of those eternally hopeful folks who labor in the tourist industry, or those people out there in cyberspace who are accessing sites at this very moment trying to decide whether they should actually come to Maine in person this summer.
When you see Maine tourism promotions in print and online these days do you sometimes scratch your head and wonder how we got to this point - touristically speaking - and exactly where it is we're heading?
Years ago everything about Maine tourism was pretty simple. When the tourism season started, and you thought you had something to sell, you'd put the item on your lawn with a sign on it and hope someone would stop.
It could be something as simple as Swiss chard and cucumbers, or something you made in your shop like whirly-gigs, birdhouses or lobster traps.
If you wanted to be a little fancy, you'd make some room in the barn for a few useless things you wanted to get rid of, and then you'd put a “barn sale” sign on the lawn. Tourists loved it. Whatever you made from a sale like that was found money.
Some people with extra land and time to spare would buy some lumber and build a small cottage near the water. When it was finished they'd take out an ad in the Boston Globe and in a few days someone would call to rent it. Nine times out of ten the callers were from Massachusetts. Occasionally an odd call would come in from some exotic place like Rhode Island, but that was as off-beat as the calls got back then.
The cottage didn't have to be anything special. It could have exposed rafters and beams and the renters would like it. It was called “rustic” and if the plumbing pipes and electrical wires were right there for all to see, they'd like it even more. That's because back then the people who came to Maine didn't want anything fancy.
What happened? I'm not sure, but those rustic-favoring tourists stopped coming. A new kind of tourist started showing up and those in the business had to change to please them or get out of the business.
It turns out I'm not the only nostalgic about Maine's past. Just this morning I read online that the Smithsonian Institution - which makes money off nostalgia - has a traveling display called - "Barn Again! Celebrating an American Icon."
An exhibit about barns! Who would have thought? A companion exhibit showcases Maine barns.
Too bad we don't have all those barns that were torn down or fell down on their own over the years. Imagine the money to be made showing them to tourists.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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