One weekend in Wellfleet—a Cape Cod photo essay
After lunch, we visited Salt, a women’s clothing store at 55 Commercial Street. Owner Siobhan Doane says her inventory includes some items that are perfect for vacation wear, some for life back in the city. She partners with Apolis of Los Angeles to create a specialty item for the shop: a stylish burlap bag made with leather handles. It’s called the Wellfleet Bag. What does she like about Wellfleet? “It has a small town feel,” she says. “You really get to know your clients. I like the combination of tourists and locals.” Doane’s father, Terry Galvin, was on hand during our visit. He helped Siobhan build the store, and he gave us his take on Wellfleet. “It’s a pearl,” Galvin says. “It’s a great little town. It’s actually getting better I think . . . New energy, new ideas.”
Energized, we stopped by Sickday Surf Shop, where we found a healthy selection of surfboards, skateboards, sunglasses and sandals. “I think the coolest thing about our store,” manager Chris Loretz says, “is how we interact with people. We just love on people. We’re open to all the surf, all the skate [communities]. It’s a pretty chill atmosphere.” Sickday offers surfing lessons and rentals, too.
While in town, one attraction that had me mesmerized was The Wellfleet Drive-in Theatre’s retro double feature of Back to the Future and Jaws. On Sunday evening, we arrived just as the cars began pulling in. “We’re the last drive-in on Cape Cod,” says co-owner John Vincent, Jr., who recalled other Cape drive-ins, including one in Hyannis, that have gone the way of silent movies and VHS. The Wellfleet Drive-in has space for 700 vehicles, and customers pay by the person—not the carload. To advertise, the staff posts old-fashioned movie bills around town, and the show goes on rain or shine—even if it’s pouring. Some moviegoers arrive in trucks with flatbeds, and they back into their spot so they can watch the film, with pillows and blankets, from the back of the truck. The venue is busy on weekend days as well as it’s also home to the Wellfleet Outdoor Flea Market. “I love Wellfleet,” Vincent says. “There’s no better place. People here are down to Earth.” The Wellfleet Drive-in Theatre celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017.
Gary Flomenhoft runs Outer Cape Sailing, a charter boat business in Wellfleet Harbor. Originally from Lexington, Flomenhoft came to the Cape to be a lifeguard in 1976, and today, he lives here in the summer. He says he loves the outdoors, taking in the wind and sun, and “meeting the really nice people that come here.” Flomenhoft brought us on a tour of the harbor, pointing out notable spots here and there. To the west, Great Island serves as the harbor’s barrier beach, and three centuries ago it was home to a tavern patronized by local whalers (Learn more about Smith’s Tavern in the July 2017 issue of Cape Cod LIFE). South of Great Island, Billingsgate Island was home to a small 19th-century fishing community with 30 homes before eventually being swallowed up by the surf. Today, Billingsgate—“Cape Cod’s Atlantis”—only exists as a sandbar at low tide.
Visiting Mayo Beach in the afternoon, we noticed several trucks parked on the sand. It was low tide, or just after, and fishermen were bringing in the day’s catch. Irving Puffer, well seasoned in the trade, works with his son, Jake, and a crew harvesting quahogs and oysters. It’s laborious, backbreaking work that all involved seem to really enjoy. “After 40 years, I love it,” Puffer says, “and it’s still the ‘first day on the job.’ I’ve never ‘worked’ a day in my life.” What’s all the fuss about Wellfleet oysters anyway? “Did you ever French kiss a mermaid?” Puffer asks. “That’s what Wellfleet oysters taste like.”
An hour later, we had our first taste of Wellfleet oysters at Bookstore & Restaurant, which overlooks Mayo Beach. The oysters arrive fresh each day, and in summer the restaurant may serve up to 800 per night. The oysters were delicious, and we enjoyed them while the sun set over the harbor. After dinner, we met John Fitzgerald, a Wellfleet resident who was casting for baby bluefish at the town pier. He went to high school in Western Mass., and the day after graduation he hit the road for Cape Cod—and has never left. “This is where I chose to live,” Fitzgerald says, “and I love it.”
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