Boat Line Riders, Hotel Visitors Both Down as Wet Days Go on

By JONATHAN BURKE

Starting with the boats, Island businesses are feeling the pinch of the wet and chilly weather of this spring.

This May, according to the Steamship Authority, there were 201,129 passenger trips to the Vineyard from Woods Hole, down 5.4 per cent from last year's 212,646. For the first two weeks of June, passenger trips were off 6.4 per cent, from 109,820 to 102,755.

And the impact of those missing passengers aboard the steamships ripples out across Island businesses.

Bob Breath, who operates Martha's Bike Rentals at Five Corners, said, "It's definitely off. There's no doubt about that . . . The forecasters are killing us."

Mr. Breath said people were canceling trips because of seven-day forecasts which showed weekend rain. At least one day on most weekends has been nice, he said; still, there have been 11 wet weekends out of the past 12.

And this week may prove no better.

The Weather Channel's long-range forecast for this week predicts partly cloudy skies through Saturday; rain showers due Sunday. Temperatures will range from daytime highs of 58 early in the week to a high of 77 expected Friday.

Island hotels also report an impact.

"Our occupancy for June is off about 7 per cent from last year and it seems to be very much weather-related. Every year in the past, it's gone up," said Joe Badot, manager of the 90-room Harborside. "What we're noticing is that people wait until the very last minute to make a reservation, and what we notice is that, because of the weather, many times they're deciding not to come."

"We can absorb this, but if it continues like this for the rest of the season it's going to be very difficult," said Mr. Badot.

For Mark Luce, manager of the Dockside Inn and the Oak House, 32 rooms combined, weekends have been okay because they are booked far in advance and there is a 21-day cancellation policy.

"They come down and in spite of the weather they have a good time," he said. But, he said, mid-week traffic, more spontaneous, is off.

"It all starts with us. Because if people don't stay, they don't buy the ice cream, they don't buy the T-shirts, they don't rent the mopeds," he said.

Steve Ruley, owner and manager of the Edgartown Dairy Queen, said, "It's tough. It's tough for everybody on the street. You can definitely tell the rain days. It's like two different worlds ... I have no indoor seating."

Giordano's, the popular family style pizzeria and Italian eatery in Oak Bluffs, is off about five percent.

"Things are starting to pick up. With all the rain on the weekends, we've definitely been down a little bit ... I have no doubt as of the 4th of July we'll be rocking for nine weeks," said Carl Giordano.

Businesses that rely on weekend warriors in their power boats may be the hardest hit.

Terry McCarthy, owner of the Dockside Marketplace and Marina on Oak Bluffs harbor, said his business was off 80 per cent for June.

"We had zero Memorial Day weekend and we've had (other) zero weekends. In June, boaters tend to come down Friday, Saturday, Sunday," he said. Fortunately, the shoulder season only makes up 15 per cent of Mr. McCarthy's bottom line, he said.

Though it has been felt, the weather's impact has not yet spoiled the summer. The Oak Bluffs Harbor Festival went off on Saturday, in spite of rain.

"People did come in, notwithstanding the nasty weather. They came out and they shopped," said Mr. McCarthy, chairman of the event.

He did, however, draft a letter to exhibitors at the festival, reminding them that there are no refunds on application fees. The event, he said, is not a profit-making one, and bands, supplies, advertising and administrative costs must be paid rain or shine. "This is the first time in 12 years that the weather was so miserable and the rain date (which would have been Sunday) was much worse," Mr. McCarthy said in his letter. "We did our best to make it happen instead of canceling all together."

And the Chilmark Flea Market is gearing up to open Wednesday. One of the parking lot areas is closed and some of the vendors have been rerouted to their spaces.

Over the last 12 years, according to Phyllis Conway, coordinator of the flea market, most summers have seen no more than one rainout of the biweekly event.

Mr. Breath of Martha's Bike Rentals likened the shoulder season to the gravy of a meal, with July and August the meat."If it was July and August it would be awful. As far as the spring being off, we can chew that, because we know the summer is there," said Mr. Breath.