2014-03-20 / News

Local merchants fend off snowy weather, prepare for warmer days

By Ken Shane

Downtown businesses suffer during the winter, especially when the snow is falling. Even Jamestown Hardware struggled during the snow season because of the salt drought. 
Photo by Rod Smith Downtown businesses suffer during the winter, especially when the snow is falling. Even Jamestown Hardware struggled during the snow season because of the salt drought. Photo by Rod Smith It may seem at times as though this winter might never end, but Jamestown merchants are looking forward to warmer weather and the increased business that it brings.

Most agree it was a particularly difficult winter, but businesses were able to persevere largely through reliance on the year-round residents who support them.

This was the second winter for the new owners of Grapes & Gourmet, and Will Wilson reported it was better than the first. The East Ferry store stayed busy with weekly Friday night wine tastings, and holiday offerings like a Valentine’s Day box filled with cheese, crackers and a truffle, and meat pies for St. Patrick’s Day.

“The wine tastings are a lot of fun,” Wilson said. “People keep coming out for them, so we’re going to keep doing them.”

According to Wilson, the frequent snowstorms this winter actually helped business.

“I think people fear the worst that maybe they’re going to be snowed in for a long period of time, or maybe it’s just an excuse to bulk up a little bit. People seem to come out of the woodwork during a snowstorm.”

Wilson said Grapes & Gourmet will add some new items to take advantage of the summer business. There will be products from the new Isis Cafe and Cakes that opens in Charlestown on May 1, as well as picnic boxes filled with a bottle of wine, cups and plates, and a new beer shelf featuring imported and rare beers.

“I love my beer and I’ve hunted down a bunch of really nice, unique beers,” Wilson said.

Scott Sherman said it was a difficult winter at Jamestown Hardware. Although it would seem the harsh weather would increase demand, things like salt, wood pellets and sand bags were not available.

“Even though we had storms, we had nothing to sell to go along with them,” Sherman said. “So it made it even worse.”

According to Sherman, one bright spot for Jamestown Hardware has been the TrueValue.com website. The site allows people to stay at home, shop for items, order them online, and have them sent directly to the local store for pickup.

“That’s been helping, but what we really need is that 50-degree kick to start things off,” he said. “While the true locals are happy there’s a parking spot in front, we know the season’s here when nobody has a parking spot. We want to stay consistently busy. There’s not much more I can ask.”

Island Animal just began its fifth year as a Jamestown business. The store specializes in healthy products for pets, and that has resulted in a loyal customer base from both on and off the island.

“Obviously, we’ve been growing anyway,” said co-owner Tori Hellewell. “We have products of necessity and quality. Health is our number-one concern and all of the products in the store reflect that. We actually have people coming from all over the state who find us because of our products. They go to the product’s website and find out what stores have them.”

Hellewell said her store is definitely slower in the offseason because people go away, but among those who stayed on the island, business was consistent. Despite weather, she said, dogs need to eat.

Hellewell pointed out that some islanders are dependent on summer business for income, so that leads to stronger sales during the warmer months.

“It happens every year in this community, and this winter, with all the cold and the snow, people stayed in and the dogs were in. We did have people who came and bought extra chew toys because they wanted to occupy the dogs. The dogs were going stir crazy.”

Another bright spot for Hellewell was the increased sales of Safe Paw, a salt-free ice melt that is healthier for a pet’s paws than traditional ice melt.

Hellewell said she is looking forward to the summer and having more people around. She is excited about some new products Island Animal will be stocking, and the special events in town always bring an increased number of people to the island.

At Jamestown Wine & Spirits, owner Ilesh Patel said the offseason this year was a little better than last. Although there was bad weather in January and February, he suggested the mild climate in December was the reason for the slight uptick over last winter. He is hoping this summer will also be better than 2013, which he described as “flat.”

The Conanicut Marine Ship’s Store & Chandlery is gearing up for a busy summer, according to purchasing manager Marilyn Munger. She said the winter is generally quiet on Narragansett Avenue, and her staff is used to the downtime.

Munger is looking forward to the Rhode Island Boat Show that will take place at the marina in early May. It’s expected to bring boaters into town, and the chandlery will mark the event with a 25-percentoff sale during the show. The biennial Newport Bermuda Race is also expected to bring additional traffic this summer, she said.

Debbie Swistak, co-owner of Jamestown Designs, said business was off because of the bad weather. She remains optimistic about the summer, however.

“The show buying has started,” she said. “We’re going to try to greet the summer with great enthusiasm.”

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