Starting a new business on Martha’s Vineyard takes courage during the best of times. High rents, variable weather and seasonal fluctuations in customer traffic and staffing are among the challenges that face Island entrepreneurs in a normal year—and 2020 has been far from normal.

But even in the face of the pandemic, optimistic risk-takers have opened shops, galleries, restaurants and services on the Vineyard this year. And despite continuing economic and political uncertainty, several new business owners told the Gazette they’re glad they went ahead.

“We had a very good summer,” said Dusan Veselinovic, who with chef Salvatore Della Torre opened Salvatore’s Ristorante Italiano on Union street in Vineyard Haven in late May. “I can’t imagine what it would be if there was not a pandemic.”

Mr. Veselinovic and Mr. Della Torre had a valuable head start when they opened their year-round eatery just before Memorial Day. Even though they could only sell food for take-out under state guidelines then in effect, Mr. Della Torre already had a loyal following of locals from his time in the kitchen at La Soffitta on Main street.

Grace Romanowsky opened Sea Legs in Edgartown in early March. — Jeanna Shepard

“Our main customers are local people, especially people from Vineyard Haven,” Mr. Veselinovic said.

As tourism increased over the summer and table service returned, first-time visitors came to account for about 85 per cent of the restaurant’s business, he said. Now the pendulum has swung back toward local customers.

“We’re getting them every night,” Mr. Veselinovic said. “They were the main reason that we opened.”

Memorial Day weekend also marked the debut of Seaweed’s in Oak Bluffs, owned by first-time restaurateurs Olivia Pattison and Danielle Pattavina.

“We were supposed to open in April, but obviously there were some unforeseen complications with the state of the universe that prevented that from happening,” said Olivia Pattison, the restaurant’s chef.

Olivia Pattison teamed up with Danielle Pattavina, a past manager of the Beach Plum Inn and restaurant in Menemsha, to open Seaweed’s in the former location of Twenty by Nine on Kennebec avenue.

A manifesto on the back of their menu begins, in capital letters, “SEAWEED’S IS A QUEER-OWNED natural wine bar serving Island-grown produce, meat & grain whenever possible.”

The statement is also posted outside the eatery, where a large rainbow flag hangs from above.

“I’ve lived here mostly since I was 17. I’ve lived here year-round since 2009, 2010, and there hasn’t been any place with a rainbow flag—no really queer community to speak of,” Olivia said. “There are obviously other queers here, but they’re hard to find.”

“We’ve been thanked by numerous people of all ages for our flag, just for being who we are. That makes this whole running a restaurant in a pandemic thing totally feel worth it.”

The partners currently plan to keep Seaweed’s open four days a week until December, with special events including a Ukrainian night Nov. 15 and a Thanksgiving market, with bread, candles and wine, Nov. 25.

The Island’s pandemic-fueled real estate boom appears to have sent buyers shopping for art, said two Vineyard artists with new galleries.

“We sold really well,” said painter Colin Ruel, who opened Ruel Gallery in Menemsha with his wife, jeweler Nettie Kent, in July after showing their work by appointment only at the beginning of the season.

“I think a lot of people bought houses here,” he said. “They were decorating.”

Paintings, jewelry and even his grandmother’s beach plum jelly all sold briskly at the Basin Road gallery, which Mr. Ruel continues to operate on weekends with windows and doors open wide.

“There’s tons of air flow,” he said. “Even though it’s getting colder, we’re treating it like it’s almost an outdoor-indoor gallery. If we closed it up, it would be warmer, but we’re keeping it just as safe as the summer.”

Provided that the worsening pandemic does not force another lockdown, Mr. Ruel said he is planning a Thanksgiving weekend gift show at the gallery.

“We’re just playing it by ear,” he said.

Photographer Lucy Dahl, who opened her Edgartown gallery Untameable in late July, said sales have vastly exceeded her expectations.

“It’s been phenomenal, really,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be nearly as successful as it is.”

The experience has given Ms. Dahl a new view of humanity.

“I was surprised that everybody was so nice,” she said. “They come in, and very, very few just wander around and leave. Most people come in and they want to chat. They’re friends of the moment.”

Just across Dock street, Grace Romanowsky had no idea what was coming when she opened her Sea Legs boutique in a former tackle shop in early March.

“We were only open for four or five days before we had to close down,” said Ms. Romanowsky, who had spent the previous two months readying her shop with the help of boyfriend Zach Pineiro. She used the lockdown time to perfect her retail website, Ms. Romanowsky said.

“We squeaked by just fine with online sales,” she said. “It got us through.”

Open daily since mid-June, Ms. Romanowsky has stocked her year-round shop with apparel, gifts and local artwork.

“I somehow manage to cram in something for anyone—gifts, jewelry, lingerie, kids,” she said. “I wanted to be able to offer the things that we may need. I don’t want to order my underwear on Amazon Prime any more.”

She is also her own sole employee. “People call and say, ‘Can I talk to the shipping department?’ I am every department.”

Ms. Romanowsky said she has learned a lot and has no regrets about opening this year.

“I got thrown in the deep end, but I’m swimming.”