Bad weather, but business booms

How Island businesses fared in the rainy weather for Fourth of July weekend.

Traffic was snarled on Norton Lane in Vineyard Haven Saturday as visitors retreated from the beaches to stores and restaurants. -Rich Saltzberg

Despite the gray weather, the Fourth of July weekend called for the beach, barbecues, and business inquiries. The Times spoke with Island businesses about their Fourth of July weekend, and the impact of the influx of tourists after the many restrictions of last summer. 

Bryan MacPhail, owner of the Scoop Shack, Slice of Edgartown pizza, and MacPhail’s Café in Edgartown, said that the rain actually helped his restaurants this weekend. “Despite the rain, it definitely was busy. The cloudy, rainy weather drove people into town,” he said. Times intern Katie Cerulle also works at the Scoop Shack, and said the staff scooped well over 100 gallons of ice cream on Monday.

Danielle Pattavina, owner of Seaweed’s in Oak Bluffs, shared similar success to MacPhail, telling The Times that the rain is also good for her restaurant. “Seaweed’s is special because we are a cozy restaurant,” she said; “the people that came out were incredible, and we made some new friends, too.”

Rags in Edgartown also had a successful weekend. Store owner Barbra Butler told the Times the rain helped retailers come back from the year of COVID. “It was a big plus for retail stores. It was many customers’ first time shopping since COVID, so people were ready to go,” She added that this was the best Fourth of July weekend since the store opened. “It was the perfect storm,” she said. “We beat our 2019 sales, which was our best year in 45 years of business.” 

Brook Katzen said two of his businesses broke sales records over the weekend. Little House Café, which rarely reaches $5,000 in a day, exceeded $7,000 in sales one day. Island Cove Mini Golf also broke a sales record, with $5,300 in one day.

“It’s interesting — the weekend started a bit slow because of the weather and the rain,” Katzen said. “But Monday everything surged and was off the charts.”

Katzen said Mad Martha’s, another business he co-owns, did well. On Sunday, the ice cream shop sold $12,400 worth of ice cream between its three stores in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven.

“Mad Martha’s in Vineyard Haven lost power,” Katzen said. “But we were still scooping ice cream in the dark.” On Monday, when the weather cleared up, Katzen said, Mad Martha’s finished with $15,000 for the day.

Christine Todd, executive director of the Oak Bluffs Association, said at the beginning of July, the number of visitors checking in at the information booth in town was significantly up, even over 2019 figures. “We are definitely seeing a surge in visitors, especially foot traffic off the boat for day-trippers,” Todd said. 

She said the flow of folks asking for visitor information indicates that new people are coming to the Vineyard for the busy summer season. “I think that could be spurred by the fact that it’s still challenging to travel internationally, and for all those people who thought about putting off a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, but now see that it’s safe to travel here — they are coming in droves,” Todd said.

She noted that the cool, overcast weather packed town sidewalks, restaurants, and stores, as folks were held back from heading to the beaches. 

And since there were no major local events for the Fourth, many filled in their time with leisure, dining, and shopping.

For many businesses on-Island, the massive spike in visitor traffic is a double-edged sword, as some of the most popular establishments face a major staffing shortage, but still want to accommodate customers and sock away as much money as possible. 

“I think businesses are happy, but again, they are understaffed. It’s a stressful time, but I think everyone is happy to have their doors open,” Todd said.

Even with the most anticipated events of the summer canceled due to COVID, Todd said, visitors are still coming to enjoy the beaches and the buzzing town centers.

For Todd, the volume of visitors so far foreshadows a hectic few months ahead, especially for Island businesses. “You are kind of seeing the writing on the wall here. We [the OBA] didn’t have Harborfest this year, but that certainly didn’t stop people from coming,” Todd said.

As the Island grows in popularity, and more and more off-Island visitors flood the ferries each year, the problem of staffing for future seasons looms. 

Beaches are busier than ever, and outdoor entertainment and events will soon become more common, which will undoubtedly draw more people, Todd said. She added that the timespan when the Island is busiest grew significantly this year, and she anticipates it will only continue to expand. 

“These two months of the year have grown to be more than just two months, where we are strained to handle the demand of the seasonal residents and visitors who come here. This year seems like more of a challenge than ever, due to the pent-up desire for people to travel,” Todd said.

Sky traffic saw a bump this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Speaking to The Times by phone, airport director Geoff Freeman said the airport’s airline traffic in June saw a 1,210 percent increase from last year’s pandemic-stunted summer — the airport had 718 passengers last June, versus 9,405 passengers this year, which included more flights. Airline traffic was also up 80 percent from June 2019, and 71 percent from 2018.

“Passenger numbers were up from 2019; given the fact the weather wasn’t the best, it still did not deter a lot of air travel,” Freeman said.

He added there was most likely a decrease in single-engine aircraft due to the weather, but airline and private aircraft came in as expected.

No travel numbers were immediately available from the Steamship Authority.