Island businesses discuss island business

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 9:45am

The season may be winding down, people may be tired, but that didn’t stop a robust number of island business owners and others from attending a gathering to discuss how the season went, and what can be done to improve the business climate on Block Island. The event, which took place at The Spring House Hotel, was sponsored by the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, which had recently done a survey that showed business was down this past summer.

“We want to see what we can do to make the summer better,” said Chamber Executive Director Kathy Szabo. “We’re here because of tourism.”

The conversation got off to a lively start. “I think that honestly there are a lot of half-assed businesses out here, charging the most and giving the least,” said Clayhead Salon owner Michael Aaron Capps. “It’s embarrassing to those of us who try to deliver the very best product.”

Suzy Garneau, owner of Adrift Eco Boutique, said that when she greets customers with a friendly hello, “people say ‘You’re the first person who said hi to me.’” She said that letting people know you are aware of their presence in the store is also a powerful shoplifting deterrent.

Other people mentioned the lack of air conditioning in some hotels and inns.The manager of the Island Manor Resort on Chapel Street, said that consumers are “becoming much more demanding. The status quo is not enough. Will people continue to come out here if they can’t get what they want?”

Spring House Hotel owner Frank DiBiase said, “Air conditioning is not going to solve anything. It’s far larger than that. Block Island is spectacular, but what do we do to sell that? Start with something as simple as trash and cigarette butts. People need pride in their ownership.” He then suggested that business owners work with the Chamber to create a master plan for businesses to follow that will beautify each storefront and every business. DiBiase also suggested doing a local version of the “Adopt-A-Spot” program where businesses or individuals supervise the clean up and maintenance of a specific location not directly related to their businesses.

“The bathrooms (in Old Harbor) are disgusting,” said Old Town Inn owner Lucinda Morrison.

“We need new ones,” said DiBiase.

Atlantic Inn owner Brad Marthens said he agreed with DiBiase that a master plan needed to be put in place.

Jennifer Phillips, owner of Phillips Real Estate, suggested that business owners “see your business through your customer’s eyes.” She also believed that the demographic of the visitors of the island was changing and also becoming “more demanding.”

Realtor Susie Weissman, owner of Attwood Realty, said that there are between “500 and 600 houses rented all summer long — except this year. I’ve never known a season before when that was so.” 

First Warden Ken Lacoste, who also is the owner of the marina at the Hog Pen, and who also has a car rental business, said that the number of vehicles on the island may also be a hindrance. He related an anecdote where one family came with four cars and also rented a vehicle from him. “That’s what’s causing the backup in Bridge Gate Square,” he said. 

A person in the audience who identified herself as working for Ann Law at the Blue Dory and Avonlea suggested having a meeting once a month for business owners who are not tech savvy so they can create their own websites and get up to speed on other social media platforms.

Town Councilor Chris Willi, who owns Block Island Fishworks, a charter fishing company, noted that four of five Town Councilors were in attendance, and said all groups on the island want to work together. “You have a Town Council that wants to do better and a town manager that wants to do better,” said Willi.

Near the end of the session, Chamber member Cindy Lasser, former owner of Island Bound bookstore, suggested that Block Island business owners can offset inaccurate weather reports coming from the mainland by posting actual Block Island weather on their own websites.