Bridge St. over troubled waters: Businesses adapt to survive pandemic

Bridge Street is home to businesses that have been in the same families for generations, as well as startups, and those in between.

Extremely quiet in winter, the block typically comes to life in the spring and is a hub of activity in the summer. As with any business, proprietors need a combination of good predictive skills, financial acumen and often, the luck of the weather to ensure they survive. COVID-19 has thrown in a whole new level of uncertainty, but shop owners are hopeful as restrictions are easing.

A new shop has been launched on Bridge Street this month, a boutique of home goods and artwork. SIMM’S (Shelter Island Makers Mart) carries works by Island artists, as well as host/hostess gifts at a range of prices. The shop, run by partners Bill Tancredi and Christina Peffer share the space with Marie Eiffel’s clothing and jewelry shop, opposite Marie Eiffel’s Market.

Pure Soul’s owner, Sylma Cabrera, has just returned for her third season on the Island, where she took shelter with a friend when Hurricane Maria devastated her native Puerto Rico. Now, having withstood an earthquake, she braved traveling during the pandemic to open the shop this week. “I was nervous about the airplane trip, but now I’m here,” she said. The shop features unique men’s and women’s clothes, jewelry and gifts at a wide range of prices.

Bliss’ Department Store and Jack’s Marine, family-owned for generations, have a steady following, as does Piccozzi’s fuel business and marina. Jack’s was taking orders online during the shutdown, with curbside pickup. With the Phase Two opening this week, Jack’s is open for shopping. Customers there, at Bliss’ and all retail establishments are required to wear masks.

Island Wines and Spirits has remained open, and requires customers to socially distance and wear masks. A fixture at the other end of Bridge Street is The Dory. Last week, unable to serve customers inside, owner Jack Kiffer set up a sidewalk stand selling hot dogs, chili, chowder and beverages.

“We’re selling beer, booze, anything you want,” Mr. Kiffer said. “Take it with you, carry it around. There are no open container laws on Shelter Island.” Although Phase Two opened this week, The Dory won’t be serving food to eat on premises until next week, because the limits on diners mean he can’t justify gearing up yet. But hot dogs are two for $5.

Crowdfunding buoys local market

Marie Eiffel with Ringo. (Credit: Charity Robey)

Since 2013, Marie Eiffel and her partner, Jason Penney, have operated the Market on Bridge Street on a long summer season, generally April to October. This year, with many second-home owners and new residents seeking safety from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on the Island, they opened the market in mid-March, a month earlier than planned. Although they received a warm welcome, the pattern of their business differed markedly from past years.

Orders needed to be placed online and picked up curbside, at first, because employees feared allowing customers inside. In the past week, the market allowed customers to enter, while observing distancing and masking rules. Business was definitely down, though, and the lucrative catering side of the business was halted. Faced with a sharp drop in revenue and looming expenses, Ms. Eiffel announced plans to vacate her lease in November and not open in 2021. In response, the Market became the focus of a GoFundMe campaign organized by, among others, A.J. Davis, a filmmaker and friend, who had used crowdfunding for some of his own projects.

More than $100,000 was raised against a $300,000 goal in a few days. Many donors — who run a gamut from $10 to $10,000 — commented on the GoFundMe page that they wanted to support Ms. Eiffel to keep a community gathering place alive and also recognize the support she had given to Island causes.

Inevitably, there were concerns expressed about other restaurants needing help, since virtually all Island businesses are having a difficult season.

Early this spring, Islanders Brett Surerus and Alex Graham created the Shelter Island Action Alliance, which enabled donors to support local restaurants that in turn provided meals for healthcare workers and senior citizens.

Nonprofit organizations on the Island, as elsewhere, have also been impacted by COVID. The Center for Effective Philanthropy put out a report this week showing that 90% of U.S. nonprofits surveyed had to cancel or postpone events.

Shelter Island’s Perlman Music Program, Sylvester Manor and the Historical Society all had to announce cancellation of their major fundraisers, with hope to recoup some of the donations through virtual events and the support of loyal donors.