BY TOM DALTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — For the first time in memory, the “Vacancy” sign is up in Witch City on Halloween.
As of yesterday, there were rooms available at the Hawthorne Hotel, the Salem Waterfront Hotel, the Amelia Payson House, The Salem Inn, the Henry Derby House, and almost every other guesthouse and bed-and-breakfast in the city.
“I’ve never seen it before,” said Juli Lederhaus, general manager of the Hawthorne Hotel, which had more than a dozen Halloween vacancies yesterday. “I’ve never seen this kind of wholesale cancellations.”
The reason, of course, is Hurricane Sandy. The storm that blew through here Monday forced some guests to leave early and prevented others from flying or driving here.
Although that’s a blow to the hotels — and to the guests who may lose money or have to alter plans — large crowds are still expected here today.
The weather is such a concern that Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office, sent out an email yesterday reminding visitors that all attractions and restaurants are open today and that other events are going on as scheduled.
The one exception may be the closing fireworks, which will depend on wind conditions tonight.
For police, it’s business as usual.
“I have prepared for what I think is probably going to be a pretty crowded Halloween,” said police Capt. Brian Gilligan, who is in charge of public safety on Halloween night.
There will be 150 officers here from Salem and surrounding communities, motorcycle and bike patrols, K-9 units and mounted patrols, and tactical forces.
“I’m leaving things the way they are,” Gilligan said of the police presence. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
The twist to today’s celebration is the sudden vacancies at local hotels and guesthouses due to Sandy, which made landfall as a tropical storm in New Jersey on Monday and cut a broad swath across the East Coast.
“One of our most important demographics is New York, New Jersey and that whole area,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem.
“Clearly, this is not a good time for travel ... so rooms have opened up.”
The 93-room Hawthorne Hotel had 14 storm-related cancellations from around the country: Texas, New York, Florida, Ohio, Maine and California.
“We had a couple from Barcelona due in today,” Pat Kessler, owner of The Coach House Inn on Lafayette Street, said yesterday. “There were no flights coming into the U.S. (Monday), so they had to cancel.”
As of yesterday, the couple from Spain were still trying to get here, she said.
The Amelia Payson House, a three-room bed-and-breakfast on Winter Street, has a vacancy because of a cancellation from Nova Scotia.
“They called as soon as they heard the storm was coming up the coast,” said Donald Roberts, co-owner with his wife, Ada.
Several group tours also were canceled, a city official said.
For some, the storm provided an unexpected opportunity. There were a couple of cancellations at the Henry Derby House on Summer Street, but one was filled right away.
“I actually had a couple call me from Italy (on Monday) that heard about the storm and figured they’d get in on a last-minute cancellation,” manager Lisa Marchand said. The Italian visitors were due to arrive yesterday.
There is a list of available rooms on the Destination Salem website at www.hauntedhappenings.org.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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