Williamstown girds for college commencement, tourism season

Women from the Williamstown Garden Club, including President Karen Pellegrini, far left, plant new flowers in the flower boxes on the Main Street bridge Thursday. Pellegrini called it a way to welcome visitors to town for the season, which kicks off with Williams College's graduation this Sunday.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Batten down the hatches, ladies and gentlemen.

With the beginning of Williams College graduation weekend, and the arrival of thousands of visitors to celebrate, the tourist season is here.

College officials estimate that 4,000 people will attend graduation Sunday, and that 3,000 of them will be visiting from out of town.

According to Williams College spokesman Greg Shook, "Every hotel, motel and B&B in town is booked, as well as many/most Airbnbs."

"Town businesses benefit from the sheer number of people in the area during Williams' commencement, and it may likely be one of the busiest and most profitable weekends of the year," Shook said.

Indeed, with this many people coming into a town with a population of almost 8,000, many businesses, especially hotels and restaurants, will be swamped for a few days. And that means a lot of hard work for a lot of employees.

Graduation weekend is "great for local businesses, especially for people who hustle and do the work," said Jane Patton, general manager of the Taconic Golf Club, a member of the Williamstown Select Board and vice president of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce. "Personally, I love it. It's a lot of work, but if you do a good job, it goes a long way."

The Taconic Golf Club will be hosting two private parties on-site, totaling about 200 diners, on top of regular visits from the public. And that is nothing new. The restaurant already is fully booked for Williams College graduation weekends through 2021.

"In fact, I just booked a party for graduation weekend in 2024," Patton said. "The student hasn't even started college yet, but his parents wanted to be sure they had a spot all set."

Local hotels are packed, as are local Airbnb rentals.

"We are seeing a spike in Airbnb guest arrivals in Williamstown next weekend, in time for the Williams College commencement," said Liz DeBold Fusco, the northeast press secretary for Airbnb. "This year, we are expecting about 240 guests for commencement — up from about 120 guests this coming weekend and 200 guest arrivals last year. We can tell that they are likely parents and families of graduates, as guests that weekend overwhelmingly report that they are ages 50 to 59, which is considerably more than either the weekend before or after. From our records, it will be the kickoff for a very busy season."

She added that with an average daily rental rate of $105, the 240 Airbnb hosts will receive a total of about $42,000 for renting space in their homes.

That kind of volume is something that benefits the local restaurants, hotels and stores, but it also benefits a plethora of nearby vendors who supply such items as tents, tables and outdoor heaters, as well as caterers, florists and musicians.

"We hire a long list of outside vendors," Shook said. "That includes videographers and photographers; rental companies for tents, tables, and chairs; a rental company for golf carts; catering, which tries to use as much local product as is reasonable; local florists for flower plantings on campus and for floral arrangements; professional companies for sound and livestreaming; and a printing company for programs."

Some examples of companies working with the college during graduation are Aladco Linens, Whitman's Crystal Clean, Scott Smith Trucking, TAM Waste Management, Connors Brothers Moving and Storage, Clifton Park Rental, Specialized Audio-Visual, the town of Williamstown, Countryside Landscape, The Flower Gallery, Mount Williams Greenhouses, Where'd You Get That?, Sand Springs Springwater, and Surgimed Corp. in North Adams, which provides wheelchairs (and sometimes access to day-rate caregivers) for guests with mobility/accessibility problems.

"We hire about 35 area musicians for the Commencement Ensemble, and hire members of Berkshire Highlanders for bagpipes, for a total of approximately 50 musicians," Shook added.

The college community itself becomes heavily involved in the effort.

"Commencement is an all-hands-on-deck event that requires extensive collaboration and participation from staff throughout the entire Williams community," Shook said. "Just about everyone from dining/catering, facilities (grounds and custodial), media services, campus safety and security, and several other offices are working on commencement weekend or in the days before to ready the campus."

The effort includes about 110 dining staff; 45 student workers to help during the weekend; 110 facilities employees, which includes custodians, window washers, recyclers, grounds personnel, architectural trades personnel, electricians and mechanical tradesmen.

And everyone in campus safety and security, about 30, will be on duty around the clock on details such as parking, traffic, crowd management, handicap access, commencement site protection, medical response, emergency management and transportation.

Patton said she likely will be working 30 of the next 48 hours this weekend, as will the rest of her staff.

"It's a big rush, but it's also a big boost in revenue," she said.

"This is one of the busiest weekends of the year," said Sue Briggs, director of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce. "We have a few times a year when it is wildly busy, and it can be a challenge for our business owners. But they know they have to make the most of it, so rest assured they are ready."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.