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Hundreds Join Video Discussion of How to Handle Summer Tourists in Chatham

Jennette Barnes
Participants numbered more than 380 at some points.

Hundreds of Chatham residents and business owners gathered on a video conference call Monday to brainstorm about how to keep the town safe and operating during the summer season.


Many urged town officials not to allow short-term rentals, while others said rentals could be done safely with social distancing.


Jane Wilson said the simplest way to limit visitors would be to allow only residents — summer residents included — to get beach passes.


“I want to live through this pandemic,” she said.


One person suggested posting “ambassadors” at tourist locations to remind people to wear masks and give out masks to those without them.


But Susan Ross, another resident, said noncompliance with mask use is already a problem, and enforcement won’t be easy.


“I don't think that trying to put ambassadors in place, or the police … I think that you’re really trying to set up a situation that isn’t going to be feasible,” she said.


Some business owners warned that their shops might not survive severe limits on visitors. And they countered calls for a pedestrian-only Main Street by saying traffic could go one-way, allowing for drop-offs in the second lane and pedestrians in the parking lanes.


Scott Hamilton, manager at Chatham Jewelers and president of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce, spoke against closing streets to vehicles completely.


Credit Jennette Barnes
Scott Hamilton, manager of Chatham Jewelers and president of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce and Merchants' Association, said closing streets would be impractical.

“Closing off the street to vehicular traffic is extremely impractical for the businesses to try to operate, to get not only their employees there, but also deliveries up and down,” he said.


He said he does, however, support one-way sidewalks to promote social distancing.


Limiting rentals would present a hardship for both rental owners and retail shops, according to 

John Hallgren, who owns cottages.


“I need to at least cover my expenses,” he said.

More than 380 people joined the meeting hosted by the Board of Selectmen, including part-time residents calling from Illinois, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia.


A few participants debated whether Chatham should hold its traditional 4th of July parade, with military veterans weighing in on both sides.


The town is accepting emailed comments through May 13 at