Upswing for Island’s summer business

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/iSTOCK Island’s bounce-back following national trends
ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/iSTOCK The local bounce-back is  following national trends

If anyone doubts that the economy has improved considerably, just speak with Shelter Island business owners.

With almost no exceptions, Island businesses followed national trends in recovering handsomely from a brutal winter. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 192,000 new jobs were created nationally in March, a sign of optimism kicking off a solid spring and summer.

In an informal survey, the Reporter found that Island business owners had their own way of measuring summer success: Many were so busy they’re relieved to be able to take a breather this fall.

Stars Café in the Heights, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, had a summer to remember, said Lydia Majdisova Martinez, co-owner with her husband, Pepe Martinez. “Our sales this summer were up for sure,” Ms. Martinez said. “We would love to thank our customers for giving us an amazing season, our best yet.”  Speaking about their anniversary year, Ms. Martinez said, “We couldn’t be more surprised and proud.”

Down the hill from Stars, Jack Kiffer at the Dory hasn’t tallied his receipts, but he does know his sales tax bite was up considerably. That’s a sure sign his cash register was getting a bigger workout from May through September than the last several summers.

“The weather was really good and we got a lot of people out for weekends,” Mr. Kiffer said, with July and August particularly profitable.

“There’s a big smile on my face,” James Hull said about his first season at Shelter Island Craft Brewery. He admitted he was pleasantly surprised by the customers who found their way to his door.

“Everybody liked what we made,” he said. But he admitted he’s “weary,” since he often ran low on beer by the end of Sunday and had to spend late nights during the week brewing beer for the following weekend.

“I wish every summer was like that — very busy,” Orlando Salazar said about Eagle Deli. He described himself as “very happy” with the flow of customers he saw all summer.

“I couldn’t work any harder,” Townsend Montant said about the flow of business at Shelter Island Wines & Spirits. But he wants it to be clear he isn’t complaining about what he called “a good, solid summer.”

“We enjoyed ourselves,” said VUE partner Harry Brigham. Mr. Brigham, Ian Weslek and Joe Piscatello spent much of last winter and spring getting the new restaurant ready to open, making changes that would result in a more efficient kitchen and bar operation. Other changes enabled them to extend their outdoor season by providing a foul-weather enclosure to the porch area.

They also learned a few lessons this summer, Mr. Brigham said. “For everything I thought I knew, there were 10 I didn’t,” he said.

But the partners got a lot of support from Islanders and visitors and seated many repeat diners.

“Tons of people” found their way to Michael Kinsey’s Black Cat Books this summer, where they were able to find those unique and hard-to-find books they’d been searching for.

This summer at Elli’s Country Store was a lot busier than it had been last year, owner Amanda Ellioff said. This is her second year operating the store — formerly O’s Place — and she pronounced Shelter Island “a great community to be a part of.”

Ms. Ellioff plans to make improvements over the winter, but isn’t spilling the beans about what she’s doing, saying in case she falls behind, she doesn’t want customers wondering what happened.

What’s kept Jack’s Marine and Toy Store hopping this summer is turnovers in properties as older residents pulled up stakes and younger families with children moved here, said Mike Anglin. Their needs are different and many wanted to do work on newly acquired houses, providing a flow of customers.

Mr. Anglin and his wife Camille saw a lot of new faces and a lot more day trippers, plus a tremendous amount of boat traffic, unlike what he has seen in recent years.

While the season was good at Shelter Island Ace Hardware, Meredith Page said the summer wound down early with a definite slack in business during the last couple of weeks.

Twice the business from last summer to this year has been Amber Anglin’s experience at All Dogged Up, where she has seen a lot of business grooming and boarding dogs.

There seemed to be a lot more people on the Island this summer, Island Boatyard’s James Brantuk said. “The weather was phenomenal and business was great,” he added. “We finished strong.”

Now he turns his attention to hauling boats to be stored for the winter. Mr. Brantuk also will be putting the finishing touches on the catering facility at the Boatyard that should be completed sometime in October.

At SALT, Keith Bavaro and Ali Bevilacqua report that their fourth season was the busiest ever. And the Shipwreck Bar with its live music “took off,” Mr. Bavaro said.

The newly opened Shelter Island Tavern also had a great summer, for both the restaurant and hotel.

Under the guidance of manager Mariana Torrealba and Chef John Weston, the food and service really suited the refined palate. That and a relaxed atmosphere drew people to the tavern with the hotel booked solid all summer, they said.

Now operating one instead of two Island hotels and restaurants, Linda Eklund said business at the Ram’s Head Inn was “absolutely phenomenal.” She credits a great kitchen and front of the house staff.

“I think everybody had a good season,” Ms. Eklund said. “It’s nice to see it happen; it’s been a few years.”

The Ram’s Head is booked for weddings through 2016 and is booking for 2017, she added.

The Chequit that David Bowd and Kevin O’Shea of Salt Hotels acquired from Linda and James Eklund last year had its first season, and Mr. Bowd declared it a success.

“After being so warmly welcomed to the Island, we are delighted with our first season,” Mr. Bowd said.

The hotel has been full since the July 4 weekend, he said. After Labor Day, bookings remained strong through September with guests celebrating weddings and other special events.

Both the White Hill Cafe and Red Maple restaurant at the Chequit have been “a great success with our hotel guests and our neighbors,” Mr. Bowd said.

Red Maple will continue to be open, switching to a new menu at Halloween. “We’re looking forward to our first winter,” Mr. Bowd said.

“We did have a fabulous summer,” Lisa Murphy said about both Vine Street Café on the Island and Blue Canoe in Greenport, just around the corner from North Ferry. Ms. Murphy only wishes the summer season were longer.

Marie Eiffel has three businesses operating on the Island — Marie Eiffel Market, her clothing store and a home goods store, and all three did very well this summer, she said.

She saw a lot of new faces — some short-term visitors and others staying for a longer time on the Island. “We lowered our prices by 10 percent and got 15 percent more business,” Ms. Eiffel noted.

“Absolutely fabulous” is how John Riccobono pronounced his summer business at Bella Vita Pizza. Business started slowly but picked up quickly and was “super duper awesome,” he said.

“Everything was perfect” for Maria Schultheis at Maria’s Kitchen. Ms. Schultheis saw a lot of new customers this summer and said business was definitely better than last summer.

It was a slow start in May and June at Schmidt’s, according to owner Dennis Schmidt. But he said July and August were “fine.”

Grady Riley Gardens had a very busy summer, owner Gerry Siller said. Both the Garden Center and the maintenance business found customers wanting to spruce up their properties; they were either buying plants they would place themselves or seeking assistance in having the staff perform the labor for them.

“Overall, people seemed happy to be able to spend time working in their yards,” Mr. Siller said.

Kenny Keyser, who lives on the Island, but whose landscaping business has been predominantly on the South Fork, pronounced his rollout of business here as a success.

“Business was very good,” Mr. Keyser said.

Kolina Reiter at Bob’s Fish Market said business was brisk all summer — “better than last year.” But it was less so on the restaurant side where “the competition is fierce,” Ms. Reiter said.

“Everything seems to be okay,” Mary Lou Eichhorn said about business at her Cornucopia gift store. She hasn’t tallied the numbers yet and said others had to mind the store since she was out ill much of the summer. But overall, indications are that business was good.

Marika Kaasik saw the good weather as a bit of an enemy, saying, “Sometimes when the weather is too good, people don’t spend a lot of time shopping.” But at Marika’s Eclectic Boutique, she’s seeing an uptick in business as fall sets in.

“With 32 years here,” she said. “I’m just glad I’m still here and able to pay my bills.”
Weddings carried the day for Becky Smith at Shelter Island Florist. That’s typical of summer business.

Looking ahead to fall, she’ll be moving her shop from Grand Avenue in the Heights and opening in the same shopping center on North Ferry Road that houses Geo Jo Video. She expects to cut the ribbon there any day now.

And at Geo Jo, owner Jo Kresak said this was the 20th anniversary of her business, marking “a special milestone. I guess I’m blessed with wonderful customers.”

People who had not discovered her store in the past thinking it only provided videos, found their way to the store this summer to discover the many items she carries. Word of mouth apparently spread and was “a positive plus for the shop,” Ms. Kresak said.

Jackie Black’s summer at Studio Frameworks started slowly, but in August and into September business became strong and steady.

While some of a drugstore’s business doesn’t change, since people still need their medications, the rest of the Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy saw a pick-up in business, according to Greg Ofrias.

It started off slowly, but once the summer set in, there was definitely an increase in business, he said.

Given the terrible winter weather, he echoed what most business owners said, that he was more than grateful for what summer brought.