Businesses take a breath

Busy summer season reported across the Island.

Nancy's reported a brisk August after a slower than expected July. -MV Times

As the peak summer season comes to a close and the post–Labor Day shoulder season begins on Martha’s Vineyard, residents and business owners are breathing a collective sigh of relief after making it through a particularly busy summer. 

With COVID-19 seemingly less pervasive, the aftermath of three consecutive pandemic summers on the Island has resulted, for many, in an uptick in business and a welcome increased revenue stream. 

Despite an acute housing crisis, staffing shortages, an overall decrease in employees on visas, and increased gas prices, Vineyard businesses showed resilience.

One of the biggest reasons for this summer’s success? Many business owners and employees touched on the same idea: People feel the urge to leave the worst parts of the pandemic — isolation and fear — behind them.

Steve Ansara, general manager of Nancy’s restaurant in Oak Bluffs, told The Times that despite a slightly slower July compared with the same month last year, August business came in strong. Ansara said that last July, business boomed, surpassing initial expectations. He theorized that following a still very serious pandemic concern, the short-lived mask-free start of the summer had pent-up patrons seeking normalcy, driving an increase in business. Last August, he said, the return of mask policies post–Illumination Night and subsequent tropical storm/hurricane predictions might have impacted the number of customers. But overall, “we lucked out,” said Ansara; “it was a pretty good summer.” 

He said partly due to an active effort over the winter to sponsor J-1 students to work at the restaurant, management didn’t have to struggle to adjust shifts or cut hours. 

Similarly, Kelly Hill, manager of the Oak Bluffs staple Tony’s Market, told The Times that this summer has been quite successful. The market, open year-round, is a go-to spot for Islanders and visitors alike, and benefited from daily crowds. “We had a really good summer,” Hill said. On the numbers, she said, “the usual  — plus a little bit more.” Saleswise, Hill said, this summer Tony’s exceeded pre-pandemic profits. 

Tilton Tents and Party Rentals, which provides essentially everything needed for an event on the Island, reported a thriving summer after the event business endured a lengthy ebb.

“2020 was a big hit for everybody,” Sandra Lippens, owner of Tilton Rentals, told The Times. But clients’ canceled plans from 2020 spilled into the next year, wildly increasing 2021’s workload  — and revenue — yet still not outdoing this current season. 

“After two years of COVID,” Lippens said she’s noticed a trend: “People have said, ‘The hell with it … off with the masks.’” Lippens relayed common sentiments among her friends and clients: “We’re going to start living [and] breathing, and moving about.” While still acknowledging the need to proceed with caution — Lippens said she only recently removed the “mask required” sign at the business’ entrance — she said there has been a noticeable “aura of freedom”; wedding planners and event organizers have “broken out, so to speak.” 

Lippens said postponed celebrations have led to a feeling of “let’s move along with the wedding,” or “let’s have a party.” These societal motivations to continue celebrating life events have been more than beneficial to Tilton Rentals. Lippens said her business had, and continues to have, an “excellent” season. “I’ve been very lucky,” she added, attributing much of the success to her crew and their hard work.

Blair Hill, owner of Blair’s Barber Shop in Tisbury, said this year particularly has been “excellent.” Revenue-wise, Hill said, this summer went “perfectly how I’d want it to go.” Besides already being a mainstay for many Islanders, Hill attributes the particularly successful season to the shop’s ideal location and swelling influx of summer visitors. 

Phil Hughes, owner of the Edgartown bike rental shop Wheel Happy, relayed that it’s been a good season for the business. “It was a busy summer,” Hughes told The Times, noting an increase in patronage, with vacationers looking to get some fresh air. Revenue-wise, Hughes said the bike shop didn’t necessarily see a significant uptick, but an uptick nonetheless. It was “enough that it was a good summer,” he said.

Michael Creato, pilot of Katama Airfield biplanes, attributes this year’s success to increased visitors — and of course, the accommodating weather patterns. 

In 2020, Creato said the airfield offered limited rides, and did what they could. Having “survived” the worst of it, Creato said they’re “lucky to have made it through” the lull. Similarly, there were ample people who needed some kind of outlet, he said; “even if they were worried about close contact with others, they still came for an airplane ride.” In a call with The Times, Creato said the increase was due to people’s urge to finally “do something liberating.” 

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce executive director Carolina Cooney told The Times that preliminary reports from Tisbury, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs boards of trade and business associations have suggested an undoubtedly busier-than-normal peak season. Some, she said, have even been “way busier than ever.” 

“Overall, it was a really strong summer,” Cooney said. The spring shoulder season may have seen some dips compared with 2021 — with the exception of Oak Bluffs, which enjoyed a stronger May and June than expected —  but August more than made up for it. Despite a massive amount of available short-term rentals, Island hotels and inns have been operating near capacity across the board. Additionally, Cooney said, many Island businesses have reported experiencing an influx in overseas visitors, a healthy sign indicating international travel is bouncing back. 

A lot of business owners are still in the process of decompressing from the fast-paced summer, Cooney said. Despite the undeniable benefits of businesses reporting good numbers, some underlying problems have ceased to find relief, Cooney said. Specifically, the lack of housing and the contiguous staffing shortage have pushed Island business owners to the edge. 

It comes as no surprise that many Islanders hustle their way through the summer, long awaiting the slower-paced off-season, but this year, many found themselves particularly overburdened and ultimately exhausted. The habit of “resign[ing] to the work overload [is eventually] not sustainable,” Cooney said. 


  1. Why doesn’t the Times report on how fed up and disgusted island residents are at the Steamship for continuing this no standby rule. The Island population wants no standby days to end immediately and for good.

Comments are closed.