Mystic - In the travel business, it's a "shoulder" season, that early-fall period that's decidedly off-peak.
Only this year, in this tourist haven, it's as if summer never ended.
On Monday, Columbus Day, the crowds downtown could have passed for those that packed the streets, shops and restaurants on weekends in July and August. At Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport, parking spaces had grown scarce by midday.
"We had our best summer since 2007, and the fall is up," said Annie Philbrick, co-owner of Main Street's Bank Square Books. "Summer never really stopped. People are just everywhere."
Clearly, unseasonably warm weather deserved much of the credit.
Philbrick, whose store is temporarily shutting down today to expand into a next-door storefront that's been vacant, said balmy conditions are a dependable boon to the downtown trade.
"When it's nice, people want to be outside as opposed to being holed up in a hotel," she said.
The new, bigger Bank Square Books will debut Oct. 22.
Monday's weather and the variety of Mystic's offerings lured Main Street shoppers Valerie Sandin and Julia Ballek from their homes in Haddam and East Haddam, respectively.
"We thought about going to Essex or Chester, but Mystic is bigger," said Sandin, whose mother, Leslie Sandin, happens to live in Mystic. "It's more spread out, and there's lots more to do."
The fall, in particular, tends to attract people from all over the country, including many traveling by recreational vehicle, according to Sally Foster, who greets visitors on weekends and holidays at the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce's Welcome Center at Mystic Depot.
"They're from Michigan, Arizona, Oregon," she said of the September-October crowd. "They're coming to look at the leaves and they're apt to visit Cape Cod, too. It's a different group of people than we see in the summer. They get along with each other. … I love the fall-y people."
Over at the Tourist Info Center in Olde Mistick Village, Greg Borkowski and his 13-year-old son, Matthew, were looking through brochures, hoping, Greg said, "to get a better feel for what's around." Having spent the previous day in Boston, they were headed home to Pearl River, N.Y., near Nyack and the Tappan Zee Bridge.
"It's a Columbus Day, father-and-son trip," Greg Borkowski explained. "Best time of the year to travel. Crowds are down, prices are cheaper. You can't beat this weather."
Mystic, he said, is "a nice weekend trip," about 2 hours, 15 minutes from Pearl River.
Father and son won't soon forget their Boston visit, during which they attended Sunday's NFL game in Foxborough, Mass., which the New England Patriots won in dramatic fashion in the final seconds.
"What did I say?" Greg Borkowski reminded his son. "Halfway through the third quarter, 'We could leave and go to Fenway to catch the Red Sox game.'
"It would have been just to say we went to both in one day," Borkowski said. "But if we did, we would have missed the end of the football game and we might have left the Sox game early and missed the end of that, too."
The senior Borkowski watched the Red Sox' win on TV back in the hotel. His son was asleep by then.
"We could have stayed in Boston today (Monday). The Bruins were playing," he said.
Instead, they visited Mystic on the way home.