Vineyarders shook the sand out of their towels one last time this week before returning to work and school, and now comes the time to look back and count the numbers. No doubt boosted by endless hot and sunny days, it was a good summer, most Island businesses report.
“The general consensus is that it was better than last year,” said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, this week. “People saw that generally there was a better attitude, a more relaxed visitor, a visitor willing to stop for an ice cream cone as opposed to panicking.”
Steamship Authority statistics back the trend. Passenger traffic between Woods Hole and the Vineyard was up 2.2 per cent in July and August over last year; the boat line carried 718,230 passengers during those two months this year compared with 702,378 in the same period last year. “The weather had a lot to do with that . . . we had very few cancellations due to weather,” Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson said this week. “We’re very pleased with the results and to be up over last year,” he added. Year-to-date ridership on the boat line is up 2.7 per cent through August.
The Martha’s Vineyard Airport also saw an increase in traffic, but airport manager Sean Flynn said numbers would not be available until the middle of the month.
Merchants said they are encouraged, especially after last summer when the recession hit the Island hard along with three months of nearly constant dreary, rainy weather.
“It was definitely warmer, and there were more customers around,” Voska Fondren, a manager’s at Brickman’s in Vineyard Haven said. “It wasn’t stellar by any means. I don’t want to blame that it was too sunny and too nice, but we didn’t have the typical one rainy day to get people into town. It was unpredictable when we were going to be busy.”
Island photographer Peter Simon said he noticed a change in customer spending at his gallery in Vineyard Haven. “I found that people basically want to buy things, they just can’t afford things that are that expensive anymore,” Mr. Simon said. “There was a tremendous shift in the pattern of purchases. We deliberately started producing lower end stuff.”
The days of people buying thousands of dollars worth of art in a single visit are gone, Mr. Simon said.
“I think people are a lot more careful,” he added. “There’s a lot of pent up purchasing desire.”
Christopher Wells, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, agreed that spending habits remain cautious. “The highest point of activity for us was 2007,” Mr. Wells said. “Everyone has been telling me that it’s better than last year, but not necessarily better than 2007 or 2008.”
He said deposits are up at the bank over last year.
And the real estate market has begun to show signs of life. “When you look at transactions in each town, all the towns are greater than last year, almost double, and that’s a good sign,” Mr. Wells said. He also said fall construction activity has picked up, and projects that were delayed for 18 months are being revived.
James Athearn, owner of Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, said his numbers were up this summer. Linda Alley, one of the organizers of the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, said she thinks vendors had a good summer with more people than last year. “It did very well considering the fact that everyone’s concerned about the economy,” she said.
“It’s definitely up from last year,” agreed manager Dave Gaffey at Nancy’s Snack Bar in Oak Bluffs, who thanked the good weather this season. “It’s not as busy as years past, but it’s getting better,” he said.
Even losing five days in the beginning of the summer due to a sewer malfunction didn’t stop the Atlantic Restaurant in Edgartown from having a positive summer. “We had a great summer,” manager Jamie Zambrana said yesterday. “The weather was great, business was terrific, and the customers were happy.”
In his second year at Sidecar Cafe and Bar in Oak Bluffs, Kyle Garell said they did better than last summer, citing a growing customer base. “We did well in May, so we’re hoping to have a good September as well,” he said. “Everyone’s worried summer is going to drop off sooner than they want. The hurricane got rid of people a week early, and we lost Friday because we were forced to close. But Saturday turned out to be one of the best nights of the season.”
The summer ended a little too early last weekend for many businesses when Hurricane Earl threatened but in the end mainly soaked the Island with drenching rain. While it wasn’t “a complete and utter disaster,” Ms. Gardella said negative impacts were felt across the board. “I know that some businesses were able to salvage part of the weekend, however there’s no making up for what was lost for Labor Day weekend,” she said.
Mr. Lamson said while hard numbers were not available yet, he estimated a drop in ridership by as much as 20 per cent compared to the holiday weekend last year.
Early this week, a sizeable crowd could still be found at Menemsha Beach for the sunset, which is a little earlier these days. Picnickers applauded the sun as it sank below the horizon, cheering on its hard summer work.