Trips Abroad: Lathrop Insurance

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 1:00pm

“We love Block Island.”

John Lathrop, the owner of Lathrop Insurance Agency in Westerly, is effusive in his praise after years of dealing with island residents and business owners. It all started back in the early ‘70s, when Adrian “Tiny” Sprague and his wife, Barbara, called John’s father about a bond needed to build the Island Free Library.

“They were getting a bond from the state to pay for the library, and you need insurance on any state bond. All the major insurance companies wouldn’t look at them because of the risks on Block Island, and they asked my father to take a look at the project,” he said.

So Francis C. Lathrop Jr. found himself on a flight to the Island with Tiny Sprague, owner/operator of Tiny’s Old Town Lumber Yard, and an insurance representative from a New Hampshire firm who was willing to take a look at the plan. They went to the site, and spent “a couple of hours” around the Spragues’ kitchen table “eating tuna fish sandwiches.” They left with an insurance bond.

“Ever since then, the Sprague family has been very good to us, and we’ve worked together ever since on their insurance,” John said.

Other calls from the island started coming in. That led to a relationship with Edie Blane of Offshore Properties, who became their eyes on the Island.

“She would drive out to a house, take pictures and send them back on the plane – this was before the internet,” Lathrop says.

“She would include her comments – she was very strong-minded,” he said. “Once she noted a New York executive had a purple door, and Edie suggested that the homeowners change it.”

Lathrop would also get a complete history of the properties, “such and such was born years before in the house – since everyplace here has a backstory.”

That kind of relationship remains today. He points out that the town is very good to work with.

“We talk with every town in the state, and it’s so much easier talking with Shirlyne Gobern [assistant to the town manager]. She’s so easy to deal with – a breath of fresh air,” Lathrop said.

“When we get a call from Block Island, it’s a different excitement in the office, never boring,” he says. It normally takes some extra work and a few more calls, since standard insurance companies “won’t touch” Block Island properties.

That’s because of the wind exposure and lack of fire protection in the outlying areas, he says. “The volunteer firefighters are great, but it’s just a lack of water and the spacing of the homes.”

Lathrop and his team of nine employees are quite familiar with the nonstandard companies, including Lloyds of London, that are willing to write policies for large, expensive homes, as well as medium and small homes, and commercial facilities.

Prices are being driven up as the costs of re-insurance (insurance for insurance companies) increases. They work with many other agencies out of the area when islanders have other relationships, because few have the expertise to deal with the unique qualities of the area. Sometimes satisfied clients move their policies to his agency to keep them under one roof.

“We’re not hard-sell. We work with a person to do what they want. Unfortunately, for the most part premiums have continued to rise as the cost of reconstruction “skyrockets.”

“What was $100 a square foot a few years back is now between $250 and $300,” Lathrop says. Home and business owners are reacting by increasing their deductibles.

They also can reduce costs by buying private flood insurance, which is sometimes half what is charged by government programs. And the firm will often shop four or five companies to get the best price.

“People are watching their budgets,” he said.

Lathrop hopes to keep the firm in the family as growth continues. It was begun by his grandfather, Francis C. Lathrop Sr., in 1939, and although John’s four children are not active in the business now, “One of my sons is in the insurance business in New York, so …”

Lathrop Insurance Agency Inc., 85A Beach St., Westerly, is a full-service firm with a long experience handling the insurance needs of Block Island residents and business owners. Contact John Lathrop at (401) 596-2525 or with your questions or for more information.