For Wilfred (Buster) Giordano 2nd — co-owner of Giordano’s Restaurant and clam bar in the heart of Oak Bluffs — the 2021 season was supposed to be the summer of recovery.

Capturing summer memories at Coop de Ville. — Jeanna Shepard

And in almost every respect, it was. After a miserable 2020, with Covid-19 limits cutting customer capacity in half, Mr. Giordano saw a boom in business this summer, meeting or even exceeding pre-pandemic levels as travelers returned to the Island in droves and restrictions went kaput.

But it came at its own cost. Normally employing 75 people throughout the season, Mr. Giordano said he had 50 at the peak of summer, many of them family. On Tuesday, his daughter in law and granddaughter were staffing the clam bar. His three sons were working in the kitchen. Both his busboys were grandchildren.

“Last year was so bad, that there was only one direction to go. And that was up,” Mr. Giordano said. “This summer is better. But I don’t know how you say better? It’s not easier. Because you don’t have the help. And it doesn’t seem like we’re getting the help that we need.”

In interviews with nearly two dozen down-Island businesses, restaurant and retail managers told similar tales, saying that the summer of recovery would need its own form of recuperation after unprecedented demand met unprecedented challenges, including staffing shortages, Covid closures and a pesky virus variation that reared its head at the worst time.

Unlike 2020, when businesses survived through creative adaptations, government assistance and a strong fall season, they’ve made it through most of 2021 on adrenaline and will power, working unseemly hours to make up for the lost year.

In many ways, they did. They just don’t know if they can ever do it again.

Ever-present reminder that the pandemic is still here. — Jeanna Shepard

“Covid was like a life-or-death roller coaster ride,” said jeweler Stefanie Wolf, who moved from Edgartown to open an expanded shop in Oak Bluffs this year.

“The livelihood of my business and staff rested on my decisions every day . . .  I’m probably going to have some PTSD,” she said.

The summer began with high hopes. After Gov. Charlie Baker’s surprise announcement removing all Covid restrictions by Memorial Day, airlines added flights, ferries were packed and businesses welcomed off-Island visitors who were eager to enjoy their newfound freedom.

“A lot of these families have been cooped up for a year,” said Mark Snider, who with his wife Gwenn owns the Winnetu resort and The Dunes fine dining restaurant at Katama.

And business was strong, for most of those who had the staff to handle it. Melissa Scammell, who owns the Rainy Day gift boutique in Vineyard Haven, ranked 2021 among her best years ever.

“It was very good . . . better than pre-pandemic,” Ms. Scammell said.

“Definitely, it was a busy summer,” said Uma Datta, who, with her family, owns tourist shops on Circuit avenue, including It’s Me and Island Novelties. “May felt like June. June felt like July. July felt like August. And August was overwhelming.”

Off main street, farmers had a booming season, at both the twice-weekly West Tisbury Farmers’ Market and the individual farmstands.

“It’s been very, very busy,” said Rebecca Miller of North Tabor Farm in Chilmark. “We have been very lucky in selling everything we can grow and harvest.”

By mid-summer, indoor mask mandates were firmly in place again. — Jeanna Shepard

Business at the farmers’ market has been so good that organizers are continuing the Wednesday market, which usually ends in August, through Oct. 30.

But the Island’s labor shortage has persisted, leading to shorter hours, slower service and heavier burdens on many owners, managers and their families. Mr. Giordano stopped serving lunch on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. By August, he had to shut down a section of his dining room.

“There were definitely fewer people looking for work,” said Chuck Downing, owner of the Off Main gift shop in Vineyard Haven. “It’s an impossible pace to maintain — work every day, all day.”

Robin Sylvia, owner of Mardell’s Gifts & Jewelry nearby, said she put a help-wanted sign in the window, an unusual move for the long-established store.

“There’s been a lot less interest than in previous summers,” she said.

Chef-owner Michael Brisson of l’etoile in Edgartown still shudders at the way his season started.

“It was horrible,” he said. “We had . . . only three people where normally there were six.”

Although he has hired more people since, no Island restaurant has gone unscathed by the staffing shortage, Mr. Brisson said.

“I cannot explain to you how hard it was for all of us,” he said.

Supply chain issues have also dogged local retailers and restaurateurs. As trinkets, knick-knacks and T-shirts flew off shelves, Ms. Datta said global Covid shutdowns slowed inventory restocking by months. Ms. Wolf, who makes custom jewelry using beads from the Czech Republic and silver from India, experienced delays throughout the season as both countries dealt with surges.

Staff shortages forced many businesses to curtail hours. — Jeanna Shepard

For restaurants, a shift to takeout has caused headaches and new expenses. “When you get spaghetti, you can’t put it in paper,” Mr. Giordano quipped. Food prices are higher too.

“I’m paying twice as much for lobsters as I was in the spring,” Mr. Brisson said. “Just a piece of filet mignon costs $28 to me, and there’s only so much available.”

And despite everyone’s best hopes, Covid did not disappear with mask mandates and capacity limits. As the Delta variant caused case numbers to skyrocket again by mid-summer, prospects for a much anticipated “return to normal” receded.

Covid outbreaks among staff forced dozens of restaurants to close throughout August. During one week in Edgartown, four restaurants — Alchemy, The Port Hunter, Covington and The Newes From America, with employees often living in shared housing and working at multiple establishments — were all shuttered. By the middle of August, each town had reinstated an indoor mask mandate to try to combat the surge.

For Jane Chandler, owner of the Beach House in Vineyard Haven, the new rule aligned with what her store had been doing all summer, even before the indoor mask mandate was reinstated. However, she said customers were even more compliant once Tisbury issued the mandate and passed out posters to businesses.

“It’s incredibly helpful to have the town language behind us on a poster... it takes the responsibility off the shopkeeper,” she said.

Ms. Scammell, of Rainy Day, said her customers seemed eager to mask up.

“I think they were relieved to be wearing them again,” she said.

Other retailers noticed customers’ attitudes dampen with the change. Mathew Tombers, manager of Edgartown Books, said people were “ebullient” in June and July, but not in August.

Global supply chain problems affected many merchants. — Jeanna Shepard

“Once the delta variant began to be a threat and people began to wear masks again, business has gone down a bit and you could feel the change on the streets over about a three-day period,” he said.

Among businesses that felt an August delta-related dip, some were disappointed not to finish the summer as strong as they had started it, while others savored the respite from a relentless first two months. Mr. Giordano, who relies on Tivoli Day and the Oak Bluffs fireworks as two of his biggest days of the year, was secretly relieved both were cancelled.

“Without the staff, you can’t do it,” he said. “They’re burned out.”

As the summer traffic slowly thins, many retailers are pondering reducing their hours to give their staff a well-deserved break.

“I think we’re probably going to close down a little bit more, maybe take a day or two off,” said Mr. Downing. “We usually don’t until like February, but we’d like to take a little bit more time to level out a little bit.”

For others, shorter hours are not a choice — heading into the fall, they don’t have the employees required to operate fully during the shoulder season.

“This year it’s going to be tough. We might have to cut back our hours,” said Ms. Scammell.

But some are going to try to ride the summer wave into the off season. Ms. Wolf, who went from an off Main street, upstairs shop in Edgartown

to a seven-window location in Oak Bluffs, plans to be open year-round.

“Every day was like a marathon,” she said. “But we are maybe, in some senses, just starting.”

Down the street, Mr. Giordano, whose restaurant has been open since 1930, can’t wait for the Labor Day finish line.

“My dad always told me, a long time ago, you have 100 days to make your living,” Mr. Giordano said. “The thing I’m glad about now is that it is almost over.”