2008-07-31 / News

Jamestown business owners cautiously optimistic

By Eileen M. Daly

A lagging economy and soaring gas prices are undoubtedly having an impact on local businesses, but most of the island's small business owners remain cautiously optimistic. The main impact, according to many, has been the increased cost of supplies and the now frequent gas surcharges that are being added to deliveries.

"Every single thing we are buying today has increased in cost since the first of the year," said Bill Munger, longtime owner of Conanicut Marine Services. Still, he remains optimistic about the future. "Though we've seen some contraction in gasoline usage, diesel usage has been about the same. People are still sailing, people are still fishing and much of our core business comes directly from Jamestowners." Munger also pointed out that Conanicut Marine Services has been in business for some 34 years and this is not the first time they have experienced a sluggish economy. "I believe the outlook for the future remains bright," Munger said.

Both David Urban, owner of the Secret Garden, and John Recca, owner of the Narragansett Café, have purchased their businesses in the last year. They share Munger's optimism.

"We've had a pretty good season. People are still buying flowers and plants. We've done a lot of weddings and funerals and people are still really good about sending sympathy gifts. Despite the economy, people are still taking care of one another," Urban said. He did agree that costs have increased. Everything from gas surcharges to the cost of the plastic pots that many of his plants are in, but overall, "business is good," he said.

Recca expressed similar optimism. "From my perspective, we're doing fine. It's true that product costs have risen and we're seeing gas surcharges along with everyone else, but business is still good. I can't really make a comparison to last year since this is my first year here, but there seems to be a good amount of tourism and overall I think business is still good."

Maurice Browning, general manager of McQuade's Marketplace, reported a slight decrease in business since last year. "The price of gas and the economy are definitely having an impact on spending. I think people are more cautious," Browning said. "We have seen a slight increase in the last few weeks, but there has still been a year-to-date decrease," he added.

People may well be more cautious about their spending, but according to Cathryn Jamieson, owner of the Cathryn Jamieson Salon, people are still taking care of themselves. Her business, like Munger's, "is largely dependent on local customers," she said. "And although costs have certainly increased, we've added some new services and we are open seven days a week so business remains strong."

Deborah Swistak and Carol Anderson, co-owners of Jamestown Designs, agreed that business remains strong. "Jamestown is a destination," Swistak said. "We haven't seen a decrease in tourism and, though costs are increasing, we've had some advance notice so we are trying to place orders before the price increases occur. We are also trying to take advantage of any shipping or purchasing incentives in order to keep prices down," Swistak said.

One business that is definitely feeling the crunch is Slice of Heaven, a restaurant and café. "We've seen across the board increases in every aspect of our business costs," said owner Steven Liebhauser. "On top of that, people are cutting back and eating out less. We're saving where we can and waiting for it to pass."

Despite the obvious challenges of a weakened economy, cost increases, and rocketing gas prices, Jamestown's business owners continue to be optimistic in their belief that a bright future remains for businesses here on the island.

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