Edgartown business owners upbeat on summer trade

On Main Street in Edgartown, business operators watch oncoming summer with a smile. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Edgartown business owners point to a number of new businesses, strong advance bookings, and new opportunities when they talk about an improving business climate, as the tourist economy recovers from the national financial crisis that began in 2008.

Maggie White, president of the Edgartown Board of Trade, is upbeat about the coming season. She said her organization counts 110 members now, more than double the membership last year. The Board of Trade, according to its mission statement, is the voice of Edgartown businesses, and works to foster a healthy economic climate.

Ms. White, proprietor of the Hob Knob Eco-Boutique Hotel, said she bases her optimism, in part, on an uptick in her own business. “I think it’s going to be a terrific summer if the luxury hotel and vacation rental bookings are any indication,” she said. “The good thing about the Vineyard is the businesses generally trend together. Stores have been busy, good traffic downtown.”

Brothers Patrick and Ted Courtney are among the most visible of the new businesses in Edgartown. They spent the winter refurbishing the space once occupied by In the Woods, to establish a new restaurant.

Patrick Courtney said most of the materials used to design and decorate the new eatery were reclaimed or salvaged from Martha’s Vineyard locations. That’s part of the reason the name of the new establishment will be The Port Hunter, after the the World War I era military supply ship that sank near the Island. Many of the supplies that local residents surreptitiously salvaged from that ship, some fished from the holds with quahog rakes, helped sustain Islanders through the difficult winter of 1918.

Mr. Courtney said he plans to provide upscale food and cocktails in a casual atmosphere. He views the current economic climate as both a challenge and an opportunity. “When you have the opportunity to do something like this in this kind of space, you have to take advantage of it,” he said. “For me, there’s more opportunity than there would have been in a strong economy 10 years ago. Some of these spaces haven’t turned over for 20 years.”

This week, Mr. Courtney interviewed prospective staffers and finished final details in preparation for a June 25 opening.

Down the street, Past & Presents manager Janice Wooden judged the business climate quite slow in the early part of the season, but she was hopeful this week that more people would visit the antiques and gift store that’s been in business for more than two decades in Edgartown.

Ms. Wooden said that there is no shortage of people visiting Edgartown, but so far they have not been in a spending mood. “It’s picking up, you can definitely feel it,” she said. “But it’s been a very quiet spring.”

Also new in Edgartown this year is PIKNIK, an eclectic arts and apparel store. Fashion stylist Michael Hunter opened a shop at 11 Winter Street this spring, a second location for his long established store on Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Hunter said he is hugely optimistic about the business climate in Edgartown. “It’s really a shopping town,” he said. “There’s a definite buzz. Winter Street has its own personality that’s slightly different from Main Street. There are a lot of new businesses along that strip that are making people turn the corner up Winter Street.”

Mr. Hunter said having two locations will change the focus of his retail operation. “I’ll be using Oak Bluffs more as mostly gallery space,” he said. “Edgartown will be a showcase for artists, and the majority of my apparel will be there.”

Michael Donaroma, chairman of the Edgartown board of selectmen and a local business owner, said the warm spring has helped business. “The weather has been pretty good for us, for people getting out and spending,” he said. “That’s the sense I get.”

Proprietors of two popular restaurants, the Main Street Diner and Detente, appeared before selectmen over the winter to request a change in their alcohol licenses from year-round to seasonal, after finding it unprofitable to remain open in the winter months. Another popular restaurant, Atria, changed its license from seasonal to year-round this past winter, keeping the restaurant’s downstairs dining room open.

“The season is getting shorter,” Mr. Donaroma said. “Years ago people were trying to stay open longer. It’s getting harder.”