A recent survey of 28 businesses in downtown Edgartown shows the pandemic continues to have widespread and often dire impacts on Island commercial districts, with nearly all retail and food establishments reporting drops in revenue, foot traffic and staffing throughout 2020 and the months of early 2021.

Conducted over the months of March and April this year by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the survey was targeted to businesses in downtown Edgartown to help develop a state Rapid Recovery Plan for the downtown and commercial district.

The results, released Monday, paint a stark picture of downtown Edgartown’s business landscape, with 82 per cent of businesses reporting a decline in revenue in 2020 compared to 2019 and 79 per cent either closed or operating at reduced hours and capacity due to Covid-19.

Every business surveyed said it had felt some impact from the pandemic.

The survey included 13 retail businesses, 10 food establishments, one arts, entertainment, recreation or fitness business and four businesses categorized as “other.” Business sizes ranged from two to more than 50 employees, with 43 per cent owning space and 57 per cent renting storefronts.

According to survey results, revenues declined almost across the board in 2020 compared to 2019, with 50 per cent of businesses saying income dropped by 25 per cent or more. The pandemic also affected downtown foot traffic and commercial vibrancy, as nearly 50 per cent of businesses reported fewer on-site customers in the first two months of 2021 than 2020, and 35 per cent reported a reduction of 25 per cent or more.

The effects of the pandemic also stretched beyond balance sheets and sidewalks. More than 60 per cent of businesses reported employee layoffs, 43 per cent stopped or deferred their mortgage or rent payments, 68 per cent incurred expenses to institute pandemic safety measures and 64 per cent had to establish alternative modes of product sales and delivery.

But although 75 per cent of businesses surveyed said the current regulatory environment poses an obstacle to operation, businesses gave high marks to changes in parking, zoning and outdoor dining that occurred last summer on Edgartown’s Main street, signaling that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the adaptations made at the local level.

“Expanded outdoor dining should remain permanent,” one respondent wrote.

The town transformed much of the tightly-packed downtown business district last summer, allowing restaurants to provide outdoor seating on streets and sidewalks to make up for capacity limits indoors. But parking remained an issue, business owners said in the survey, with respondents suggesting better satellite parking, free buses and more options for drivers.

Retailers also noted declines in foot traffic, blaming the issue in part on changes to parking and sidewalk patterns in the downtown district.

In written blurbs, respondents largely felt that the streetscape changes from last summer should not only be continued, but expanded.

“Eliminate car parking on Main street downtown, make buses free, create a safe clear path from the school to the district,” one respondent wrote.

Another suggested closing down streets entirely at night to vehicle traffic.

“Fully embrace outdoor dining and assist small businesses by finding creative ways to make space available, i.e. closing down streets at night, etc.,” the respondent wrote.

More than half of the respondents also said they would like to receive assistance in setting up online marketplaces, creating new services (like delivery), engaging in shared marketing or receiving financing for storefront improvements or property purchases.

But the biggest issue identified as summer approaches on the Island was staffing, particularly in the restaurant and food services sectors.

“We need workers! No one is available to work in the kitchens etc.” a respondent wrote.

Respondents said housing was a major factor in the staffing shortage.

“Staffing is huge issue. Incentives to attract seasonal and year round employees. Additional housing options for seasonal employees,” one respondent wrote.

The business survey is part of the Rapid Recovery Plan program’s first phase, which pairs communities with so-called plan facilitators to understand their specific economic recovery needs. Phase two involves project recommendations for communities, while phase three will see communities develop a final recovery plan that ranges from transportation infrastructure funding to marketing strategies.

Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are the only Island towns participating in the state’s Rapid Recovery Program.