Business owners say summer was brighter

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Island business owners report tourism picked up in the summer of 2010, though most believe Martha’s Vineyard continues to suffer from the economic downturn that was most acute in the summer of 2009.

More people and vehicles arrived here in-season, this year. Steamship Authority (SSA) statistics show a slight increase in both passenger and vehicle traffic.

Through September, SSA ferries carried 1,941,679 passengers, up 2.2 percent over the same period last year. The ferries transported 300,670 automobiles, an increase of 1.7 percent. Truck traffic was down through August, with 106,452 trucks transported, 0.2 percent less than last year.

Final passenger figures for the Island Queen are not yet available, according to general manager Todd Bidwell, but he said business is improving.

“We definitely had an uptick over last year,” Mr. Bidwell said. “Probably not by great numbers. I think there is more optimism. I think folks are spending a little bit more and willing to get back to living life to its fullest. We’ve seen a very positive client base this summer, not the concerns or fear we’ve seen in the past.”

In Edgartown, several merchants agreed that business was on the upswing this summer. But many are pegging their opinions to last year, which they agree saw a significant decline.

“It’s up from last year,” R.W. Cutler bike rental manager Jason Merrill said. “Last year was probably the worst.” Like several others, Mr. Merrill believes the Island economy has not fully recovered from the recession that began in 2007. “Ten years ago it was really busy, crazy all the time. Now it gets busy, but not really as busy as it was.”

“This summer was definitely up from last year,” Olivia Koines said. Ms. Koines manages J. McLaughlin, an upscale clothing store on Dock Street. “June, July, August were very busy. September was slower. That hurricane kind of scared people away, and they didn’t come back.”

“So far we’re up,” Paola Fuller, owner of the Menemsha Blues clothing stores said. With her husband Bob, she manages clothing stores in Menemsha, Vineyard Haven, and Edgartown. “Overall we’ve had a good year. I wouldn’t say there were more people, but there were definitely more sales. June last year was horrible with all the rain, June this year we had one of the best months in a long time. Weather has a lot to do with it.”

She said the July 12 fire in Menemsha that destroyed the U.S. Coast Guard boathouse and several town piers affected business in that store. “We’ve always known we get a lot of boaters coming in and shopping, but we didn’t realize how much that would affect us,” Ms. Fuller said. “A lot of our regular customers who dock their boats in Menemsha were docking in Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown.” She said the upswing in business at the down-Island stores made up for the lost business in Menemsha.

In Oak Bluffs, Marguerite Cook, who owns The Good Ship Lollipop on Circuit Avenue, said more kids were satisfying their sweet tooth this summer at her candy store, and parents were giving them bigger allowances to do it.

“We had a good summer,” Ms. Cook said. “We’re almost back to where we were two years ago. Last year was a very difficult summer.”

Peter Smyth, in his second year as owner and chef at the Slice of Life, said the summer started slowly in his restaurant, but got busier as the season progressed. “It was steady,” Mr. Smyth said. “As good as last year, but not anything over.”

Weather is always a factor, more so in the shoulder seasons, according to Jake Gifford, owner of Lazy Frog, a leisure gear and clothing store on Circuit Avenue. Several recent days when Steamship Authority ferries were diverted from Oak Bluffs affected his business. “When they stop the boats because of wind, you notice a difference in foot traffic,” Mr. Gifford said.