Island tourists spend, but very cautiously
Island business owners offer mixed reviews on the level of early summer business. Many of those contacted by The Times cited the high cost of fuel as a factor in the decisions of many summer visitors.
Leslie Hewson, owner of Mediterranean, an upscale restaurant in Vineyard Haven, echoed the view of many Vineyard merchants. "June is a very fickle month," she said. "I had a very good month, all but three days up from last year. I do see that people are cautious. I do see they're being choosey where they're spending discretionary dollars. They're not coming in three times a week, they're coming in once. I think there are a lot of people here, but their money stays a little closer."
Ms. Hewson and other merchants said they are seeing evidence of the weaker dollar, in the form of a noticeable increase in foreign visitors. When the U.S. dollar weakens, the euro and other foreign currencies buy more in the United States.
Merchants said that early-season business is more dependent on the weather than later in the summer, when people schedule vacations, and go through with their plans rain or shine.
Ms. Hewson predicted that the weather forecast for the July Fourth holiday weekend ahead would help Island businesses. "There are going to be a lot of people here, and some poor weather, so people tend to eat and do the inside things," she said. "I predict a very busy movie and retail 4th of July."
The Steamship Authority (SSA) confirmed the sense of several local business owners who see an increase in the number of people coming through their doors.
Passenger traffic was up 4.1 percent for the first three weeks of June, compared to the same period last year, according to SSA treasurer Bob Davis. That represents an increase of approximately 6,000 people coming to the Island during those three weeks. Automobile traffic was up 1.7 percent for the same period.
The increase in vehicle use seems a contradiction to the skyrocketing price of fuel, but the increase may be attributable in part to vacationers who made commitments earlier in the year, and New England residents who are taking vacations close to home this season.
Looking to the future, Mr. Davis expects traffic to be about the same this summer as last. "Vehicle reservations are pretty much on par," he said.
Jason Capley, manager of Edgartown Bicycles, said 2008 is shaping up to be the best year ever at the bike sales and rental shop on Upper Main Street. Part of that is the local summer season gearing up, but part of that is the current state of global economics.
"We're actually exceeding all numbers from last year," said Mr. Capley. "A lot more people are buying and renting bikes, rather than renting or buying cars. Gas being $5.10 a gallon has an affect on people."
Crowds at the Chilmark Flea Market, in its first year at the new West Tisbury School location, are about average for the early part of the season, according to flea market coordinator Phyllis Conway.
"We did have good attendance. It's par for the first two days," said Ms. Conway. "You have the visiting public and Islanders who come to the June shows. We have a whole other crew coming in for the 4th of July."
Pat Lynch, the vendor and space manager for the flea market, said the crowds have been all right during the first two sessions, on June 25 and 28. "The vendors that I've spoken to seem to have been pleased, they seem to be doing well," she said. "This week will tell better."
The Grande Caribe, a small cruise ship that visits Vineyard Haven harbor six times each season, is experiencing level business so far this season, but the company is forecasting increasing passenger traffic as the summer progresses.
"We are finding interest peaking," said Maria Prezioso, marketing director for the cruise line. "We've had a high demand. Many people are choosing to stay domestic. Some people are choosing an American cruise instead of a European cruise."