Business leaders around the Island are feeling bullish following the Fourth of July weekend, which was marked by a jump in hotel room rentals, jam-packed stores and restaurants and the largest number of people traveling to the Vineyard by ferry in at least six years.
Many agreed it was no doubt due to the picture-perfect summer weather that prevailed all weekend.
“After doing this for 20-something years, I’ve learned it all comes down to the weather,” said Dennis daRosa, president of the Oak Bluffs business association. “High gas costs won’t keep people away, and a bad economy won’t keep people away. But bad weather — that keeps people away. And thankfully, we got good weather this weekend.”
The busy weekend may also forecast a bounce-back summer on the Vineyard. Last year the season got off to a slow start with terrible weather in June, but this year the strong start is giving some hope.
Beginning with the prosperous Independence Day weekend.
“I think we had some nail-biting moments in late May and early June, but after the [Fourth of July] weekend I think many people have a very positive outlook,” said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. “There is a buzz in the air, people are flocking to the Vineyard. Things are looking up.”
Bob Davis, treasurer of the Steamship Authority, said the total number of passengers for the seven-day week ending on the Fourth of July was up 7.5 per cent from last year, the highest ridership in six years and possibly longer; figures were only available this week going back to 2004.
Passenger traffic climbed from 39,078 last year to 42,207 this year, while car traffic increased from 8,459 last year to 8,840 this year, a gain of 4.5 per cent. This follows a strong June for the boat line, when overall passenger traffic climbed from 149,061 for the first three weeks of last June to 154,929 through the same period this year.
Mr. Davis said the parking lots in Falmouth filled up by 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
“The parking lots were full and the boats were packed all weekend. I don’t know if we had any passenger cutoffs, but I do know we had a busy weekend, maybe one of our busiest weekends ever,” he said.
Sean Flynn, manager of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, said the airport also had a busy weekend. Fuel sales were up 15 per cent, and overall traffic was slightly up, although final figures were still being compiled as of yesterday. This follows a strong June when fuel sales increased 20 per cent.
“I think it bodes well for a busy season. We had a lot of smaller planes over the weekend, because of the good weather, also a lot of larger private planes. If it stays like this we might wipe away the losses [in fuel sales] from last June,” Mr. Flynn said.
There were other indicators.
On the Fourth of July the Oak Bluffs water district pumped 3.03 million gallons of water, 30 per cent more than the same day last year, a figure likely influenced by the warm weather this year.
“But still a major increase,” said water superintendent Thomas Degnan. “Around 4 p.m. on the Fourth we were having a hard time keeping up with the demand. It was that busy.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the Edgartown wastewater facility set a new record on July 4, treating 449,000 gallons of wastewater, compared to the previous high mark of 430,000 gallons in a single day. NSTAR was also kept busy with heavy demands for electricity over the weekend.
Just before the fireworks were due to begin in Edgartown on Sunday night, a transformer exploded in the downtown area, knocking out power to 174 homes for more than an hour. The following day high demand caused an underground transmission line in Edgartown to fail, again knocking out power for about 90 minutes.
On Tuesday, power failure caused the Edgartown wastewater treatment plant to shut down, leading to a sewage backup in the basement of the Atlantic Restaurant at the foot of Main street.
But the incidents did little to dampen people’s enthusiasm for holiday merrymaking.
Erik Albert, owner of the Oak Bluffs Inn, said he was booked solid all weekend.
“We’re off to a strong start. I think [business owners] overall are upbeat about the summer,” he said.
Christina Cook, owner of the Christina Gallery in Edgartown, said foot traffic was up.
“And people were buying, not just looking. I was very happy,” she said.
George Laktash of Martha’s Vineyard Bicycle Rental in Vineyard Haven said Saturday was the strongest day of the weekend. “The day of the Fourth people were outside grilling, but the two shoulder days on Saturday and Monday were busy. There were a lot of people looking for bikes,” he said.
Carl Giordano of Giordano’s Pizza in Oak Bluffs also reported a strong weekend.
“People like to use us as the measuring stick for some reason. So I can proudly say we served lots of pizza . . . more slices than you can count,” he said
Oak Bluffs harbor master Todd Alexander said the harbor was nearly full, and he again returned to the topic of weather.
“I can’t remember a Fourth of July weekend being this busy. We’re already ahead of last year’s numbers. If the weather holds up, I predict big things. So let’s all pray to the weather gods,” he said.