More effort means more reward for Edgartown business owners

North Water Gallery may stay open later this winter. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Retailers are cautiously optimistic about the coming winter season in Edgartown’s downtown business district, and some are planning sales and promotions for local residents to get people in the door, according to several Edgartown business owners. At least one business owner who normally closes down in winter is considering staying open this year, thanks to a good fall shoulder season.

In recent years, the trend has been toward closing for the winter. The Main Street Diner and the restaurant Detente are two of the businesses that have stopped year-round operation in recent years, after finding the off-season business climate unprofitable. A reporter walking through town on a Monday afternoon saw only two tourists, and they were window shopping outside closed stores.

Annie Cooke-Ennis, vice-president of the Edgartown Board of Trade, said the business organization focuses on extending the summer season, with shoulder season and winter events, including Christmas in Edgartown, scheduled this year for December 7.

“We’re trying to grow it as much as we can,” Ms. Cooke-Ennis said. “A lot of the shops don’t have big advertising budgets. We’re going to do whatever we can to get people to the Island and get it to where we don’t think of it as off-season any more.”

For some businesses, however, it is simply not profitable to remain open past the busy summer season, according to Ms. Cooke-Ennis. “It’s difficult,” she said. “If we can keep everybody’s doors open until Christmas in Edgartown, it makes a huge difference and benefits everyone. It sets the tone for the entire town.”

She said that her own store, Backwater Trading Company, has extended its season more and more since moving to a Main Street location, and will remain open into January this year. She is among several business owners more hopeful this year as they add up and analyze receipts from the summer and fall.

North Water Gallery, which was closed last winter, is considering opening with limited hours this winter. “We’re thinking about staying open on weekends,” director Robin Nagle said. “This fall has been a lot busier than last year. If we have people here, we’re happy to be open.”

The decision rests on more than an uptick in business. Staffing is sometimes difficult in the winter months. Ms. Nagle said it is difficult to draw customers when most of the other business on the street are closed. But she said a new synergy emerged last winter.

“I think the Harbor View is doing a really nice job at their promotional events,” she said. “If they promote an off-season weekend, and people come here, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us.”

Zachary Frangos, the new manager at the Harbor View Hotel, and Elizabeth Rothwell, who began as the director of marketing and events last fall, have promoted a series of new events, including a New Year’s Eve celebration, Valentine’s Day specials, and a well received comedy series.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on the shoulder and off-season,” Ms. Rothwell said. “We’re trying to create events that will not only entice people to visit Martha’s Vineyard from the Boston area and Cape Cod, but also attract Island residents to the hotel. We’ve tried a lot of new things and we’ve only been successful because the Island community embraced what we’re doing.”

In the summer season, business owners have a steady stream of potential customers, drawn by the beaches, shopping, fishing, and boating. In other seasons, it may take an added attraction to get people on the Island and in the door.

“Our approach has become event-driven,” Ms. Rothwell said. “The fall is a really nice time to visit, and even in the winter the Vineyard is still so beautiful. I think it’s smart to give them another offering, something to do.”

As always, ingenuity and hard work can make the difference between profit and loss in the off-season.

“We leave our phone number on the door,” said Rachael Convery, manager of the Boneyard, a surf shop and clothing store that moved to a new Main Street location at the start of the summer. “If someone really wants to get in, we’ll gladly come.”

“Christmas in Edgartown helps,” Ms. Convery said. “People came last year, and really liked it. I think that’s going to bring people back.”

Fads and trends can make or break some businesses. Ms. Convery said the increasing popularity of paddle boarding has helped them extend the season. “People paddle board in the fall and spring, you’re not in the water,” Ms. Convery said.

The Edgartown Cinema may be one of the few businesses that doesn’t see a big drop-off in revenue during the off-season. Movies are one of the great escapes from the Vineyard winter.

“They support the theater, they come,” said Bob La Sala, manager of the Edgartown Cinema.

He said he cuts back on some of the later movie showings, and sees an increase in the popularity of 4 pm shows when winter sets in.

“We have bargain nights a couple nights a week,” Mr. LaSala said. He said business is more dependent on the films than the season. “It all depends on the movies. It depends on Hollywood.”