Laraine Creegan has been the executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce for the past 10 years. She discusses how Montauk businesses fared this summer and the upcoming Fall Festival, the Chamber’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
In recent years, Montauk seems to have blown up in popularity. Streets seemed busier than ever this season, how was the summer for local businesses?
It was good, it was very good. I think the weather makes for a big difference – anytime you have good weather out here it really carries you through, particularly in the fall.
And how has the fall tourist season changed? Has that also become busier?
Oh yes. I think, again, it goes back to the weather. Fishing is always good in the fall. Through September and October, there are striped bass, people go crazy – whether they be surfcasting or taking charters, fishermen are pretty busy because the fish are running, so that’s really what it’s all about. And the fall generally has been busy because of all of the events. People come out to Montauk to relax and go out to dinner and to lay back, but they also want something to do. And so other than shuttling them off to the North Fork, we like to have events and we do pretty much try to do that. There was an event this past weekend – the archaeology festival – at the Second House Museum. And the seafood festival we had last weekend – all of those things bring people out. And also weddings, weddings have become increasingly popular out here particularly in September and October.
Have businesses been staying open longer into the season to accommodate for this change?
A few more, I think what’s going to make a difference is keeping that Long Island Rail Road available. You know what it is, [business owners] are working so hard, to work seven days a week throughout the whole summer that it makes it difficult; they do start to take time off after Labor Day. I try to talk them into staying open, but the issue with that is finding help. That’s the toughest part.
This weekend is Montauk’s 33rd Annual Fall Festival, and with that, the annual Clam Chowder Competition on Saturday. How does that fierce competition work?
Well the chowder competition is almost an event of its own. The idea was to get people involved, we didn’t want to start voting, because people only got two tastes, how can you fairly do that? So I really insisted that we have to have judges. This will be the sixth year we’ve had a panel of judges and it really has worked out very well. We really are very cautious of how we do it: the pots are numbered so nobody knows, the judges sit behind, away from the checks. There are about five or six people on the panel, (including our very own Gavin Menu from The Sag Harbor Express.)
How else has the event evolved in your tenure?
When I first started here, ten years ago, it was pumpkin decorating, we sold hot dogs, hamburgers and sodas and we had pony rides, a wagon ride and that was about it. So we started to think of how to make it a little bit more festive. Then I was able to get the inflatable rides, from there it went to the carousel. The food tent has grown so we’re doing sausages and peppers, roasted corn, hot dogs and hamburgers, those big pretzels and beer and wine – that was added as well. The farmer’s market will also be under the tent. And this is also the third year we’ll have fireworks, that’ll be at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. We just try to make it fun and exciting – it’s really a fun family event. It’s also a nice way for locals to get a chance to enjoy their hometown in the off-season.
The Fall Festival will take place on Saturday and Sunday, October 12 and 13, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. right in the heart of Montauk’s Main Street. For those craving a cup of chowder, Ms. Creegan suggests getting to the festival before 1 p.m., when the soup usually runs out. For more information about the festival, or if you’re interested in volunteering, call the Chamber of Commerce at (631) 668-2428.