WESTERLY — In some ways the summer tourism season of 2019 was marked by a pronounced lack of controversy, business owners say.
“We handled the trash and might have figured out the traffic too,” said Caswell Cooke Jr., Misquamicut Business Association executive director.
In recent summers the main arteries were clogged, sending motorists onto smaller neighborhood streets looking for a quicker way to get to the beach. This summer, Cooke said, the traffic seemed more manageable.
Rick Koch, owner of Flyhawk Parking, the lot at 308 Atlantic Ave., agreed that motorists seemed to have an easier time reaching the beach this year. He attributed the success to the work of Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey, who he said brainstormed with state officials to improve the flow of traffic into Misquamicut State Beach.
Koch said the summer of 2019 was the strongest one for his business in three years, largely because of a very good July. It would have been better but the weather did not cooperate in May and June, “when it rained almost every weekend,” he said.
Private parking lot owners continue to hope that the state bumps up the rate for parking at the state beach, Koch said. The rate, lowered by Gov. Gina Raimondo to $6 per vehicle for state residents on weekdays, and $7 on weekends in 2016, influences what the other lots can charge. “I still have an issue with the state not raising its prices. We can’t compete with the state and have to pay taxes, payroll, etc.,” Koch said. “We’re private, small business owners, and don’t forget there are 18 private lots in Misquamicut.”
Koch, who arrives at his parking lot at 6:30 on weekend mornings, said the trash situation, a major issue in 2018, seemed improved. “I didn’t see as much trash on my way in,” he said.
Last year trash piled up in the state beach parking lot and elsewhere until a large receptacle was placed at the state beach. The receptacle was used again this summer, along with solar trash and recycling compactors loaned to the state beach by the town.
The MBA’s summer drive-in-move series had its best attendance this summer and the association’s other events went well too, Cooke said. Gino’s By the Beach, a new Atlantic Avenue restaurant, opened this summer in a space that was vacant last summer, and The Hotel Maria was in operation for its first full summer this year. Cooke said he also observed ongoing renovations at the former Ocean Blue Motel on Winnapaug Road. “It definitely looks like Misquamicut is getting a facelift,” Cooke said. Improvements were also made to Sandy’s Lighthouse, Cooke said.
“Our job is to put on events and activities and to promote the area and the businesses here. When the business owners are taking the time and money to make things look good, we want to promote that too,” Cooke said.
There was a bit of bad news this summer when Mike Kells, the owner of Water Wizz of Westerly, announced he would close his business after Labor Day. Kells, whose family has run the iconic water slide venture since 1981, cited mounting costs and sluggish revenue as the reason.
“That was probably the low point of the summer, learning that Water Wizz would be closing,” Cooke said.
While summer is winding down, it’s not completely over, and the MBA will now focus on the post-summer shoulder season. More than 2,000 runners will descend on Misquamicut for the Surftown Half Marathon on Sept. 8, and Fall Fest is scheduled for Sept. 13-15. Guy Fawkes bonfire night is scheduled for Oct. 19.
Cooke said the owners of Sandy’s Lighthouse and Gino’s By the Beach plan to stay open through the end of the year and he said the Windjammer and Pleasant View Inn stay open well past the end of summer.
Koch, on Friday, was already starting to think about the summer of 2020.
“We’ll be back for our 43rd year,” he said.