Polar Opposites

by Niki Kourofsky | February 2021

Once the snow falls, everything changes in Inlet

Photograph by Nancie Battaglia

It’s the best kind of countdown,
 heading southwest on Route 28: Eighth Lake … Seventh Lake … Sixth Lake … Fifth Lake, then BAM! Inlet’s tiny downtown explodes in a funfetti of color and movement. Families line up for Northern Lights’ gelato or paninis at the Caboose, then hop over to Kalil’s for charcoal and bug spray. Green-and-yellow cottages, their clotheslines dripping with towels and trunks, line the way to Arrowhead Park’s buzzing beach. Mary’s White Pine Bakery starts pumping out donuts at seven a.m.; over at the Tamarack Cafe, the frenetic pace only lets up for the nanosecond between breakfast and lunch.

In the summertime, Inlet’s year-round population of about 300 plays host to thousands more. For businesses, that’s three-plus jam-packed months of making hay while the sun shines. “Oh, it’s huge,” said Carrie Stallard, who took over Fourth Lake Wine and Spirits with her fiancé, Stephen Cole, in 2017. Eighty percent of their business kind of huge. (Even during the summer of COVID, Stallard said, the pace didn’t slow.) For workers—like 27-year-old Brendan Simons, a bartender, waiter and historical society docent—that often means juggling at least two jobs. “You’re basically stockpiling income to live off in the winter,” he said.

By Columbus Day, the scene has emptied out, leaving darkened storefronts and a handful of cars parked along Main Street. Camp signs are packed away for the season and snowmobiles replace crosswalk crowds. Though winter weekends in big-snow years can be busy, it’s nothing compared to the hurly-burly of summer. “Absolutely everything about it changes,” said Inlet’s library director, Joanne Kelly, who’s been in town for 20 years. While the rest of us might be digging in for long winter’s naps, the year-rounders in Inlet are just starting to play. “You kind of shift gears and slow down. You try to enjoy things a little bit more,” said Misty Townsend, a sales associate at Inlet Department Store. “Locals come out of their dens.”

Margie O’Hara, who retired here in 2006, said many of her neighbors are too busy in the summer to socialize—so, when the weather turns frigid, they invent any reason they can to get together. “That’s what makes our life up here so much fun,” she said at a pre-pandemic crockpot cook-off dubbed “Let’s Get Crocked.” The adult Easter egg hunt is another favorite, along with a Wii bowling league at the pizza-and-wings joint Screamen’ Eagle. But one of the biggest parties of the year is Frozen Fire and Lights, a bonanza of skiing, sledding, skating and snowshoeing during the day, with fireworks and a bonfire after the sun goes down.

Deep winter isn’t for everyone. It gets cold here—double-digit negatives cold—and the bakery, bookstore and coffee shop close, among other businesses. “You can’t expect every luxury you have in the summer to be available, but I think that’s part of the beauty of it,” said Carrie Stallard, a transplant from Chicago. “Things that used to be necessities are no longer necessities.” Wintertime in Inlet—and in many Adirondack hubs—brings something more precious: a little time to recharge.

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