There were more than a few picturesque days in the City-by-the-Sea this summer, and shop operators downtown reaped the benefits
NEWPORT — Weather is the the one variable that can make or break the summer season for businesses that rely on tourism. And this year, Mother Nature blessed the City-by-the-Sea with long stretches of hot, sunny days.
Yet, talking to a few business owners on Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, there are other factors that influence their bottom line. Some, such as limited parking and paid parking, are a constant. Others, like whether there is roadwork on the Pell Bridge and what large events are planned downtown, vary from season to season.
Still, weather is the biggest factor, said Keith Blondin, the owner of Paw Addict, an apparel shop on lower Thames Street. In the four years since he opened his flagship store here, the difference this summer has been that “the weather is nicer,” he said. “Turnout is all about weather.”
While endless rain dampens foot traffic, so does too much sun, warned Jennifer Solimine, the owner of BeDazzled, a jewelry and apparel shop at Brick Market Place. Sometimes, a well-timed rainy day is needed to pry tourists from the shoreline and get them indoors.
Too much heat also can pose problems. Just ask Hal Miller, the owner of Inpopnito on lower Thames, which sells popcorn in a variety of flavors. A salty treat doesn’t sound so appetizing on a scorching day. “July was not as great for us,” he explained. “We were down 5 to 7% because of the excessive heat.” As more temperate weather returned in August, his sales numbers rebounded.
Fay Thompson, who owns Newport Hand Crafted Silver, Sterling & Stone Co. in Brick Market Place, has sold jewelry in Newport for the past 20 years.“The season overall was good,” she said, adding she heard from fellow business owners that foot traffic was down.
Thompson said they have all felt the loss, in recent years, of the Newport Yachting Center entertainment venue that hosted concerts, festivals and comedy shows. Events there at the corner of America’s Cup Avenue and Thames provided built-in traffic for the businesses nearby, she explained. The sale of the property to the Peregrine Group in 2014 signaled the end of the entertainment venue. Now, the 84-room Hammetts Wharf Hotel is taking shape on the property.
Solimine also mentioned the loss of the events center and wondered about the impact of all the hotel development, including the Hammetts Wharf Hotel and the 57-room Brenton Hotel being built at the corner of Long Wharf and America’s Cup Avenue.
More hotel rooms can mean more visitors — and not just tourists in the peak season. The hotels accommodate visitors who come to Newport for industry conferences during the fall and winter, Solimine pointed out.
Jackie Hopkins, who owns The Salty Babe, a women’s clothing store on lower Thames, said she has noticed a bit more foot traffic this summer, crediting the good weather. One of the biggest limiting factors for business, she said, is the lack of parking. Before owning her business, she loathed visiting Newport in the summer. “I live in Middletown and I would never come to Newport,” Hopkins said. “The parking and traffic is pretty crazy.”
Like the other retail owners The Daily News spoke to, Hopkins said the gas outage last January had very little impact on The Salty Babe. While her store does not have gas heat, many of her neighbors do, forcing them shut down until National Grid restored service. Traffic slowed to a trickle as the city came to a virtual standstill for a little less than a week.
But given the timing of the outage during the dead of winter, the retailers said they were either closed or projected very little in terms of sales at that time anyway.
One last factor cited by some of the business owners was the effect of people shopping online from the comfort of home. Solimine doubted online sales were eating into too many sales from brick-and-mortar shops in Newport. Tourists want to bring home a memento from where they visited, something that can’t be replicated on Amazon.
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