As Block Island businesses look to reopen, owners worry about shortage of visitors

Business News

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. (WPRI) — Block Island is preparing for the summer travel season, but tourism leaders for are worried that a potential lack of visitors due to the pandemic could be devastating for the island’s economy.

Steven Filippi, who serves as the Block Island Tourism Council’s president and also owns Ballard’s Beach Resort, says businesses on the island are nervous because the time they have to prepare — now, as well as prior to the pandemic — is far shorter than those on the mainland.

“It’s different out here because we have 10 weeks to do what everyone else does on the mainland in 52 weeks,” Filippi explained. “So if we don’t have some kind of summer, there’s going to be a complete economic collapse out here.”

He says missing a summer season would be the equivalent of mainland businesses being closed for a year.

“If we have a poor year, where we’re down 30 or 40%, you’re going to see economic damage that is permanent, and I’m afraid Block Island will never recover,” Filippi said.

Filippi says he expects all businesses will start to open during the first two weeks of June.

Ballard’s, both the resort and beach, will open on June 12, almost a month later than usual, and Filippi anticipates losing “a lot” of revenue in that time.

Despite the later opening, Filippi says the summer fun will go on, though things will look different at Ballard’s.

“Obviously, all our guests are going to wear masks, except if they’re on the beach,” he said. “Our tables are going to be spaced out differently. The bathrooms are going to have a whole different look within them to kind of keep people socially distanced apart.”

Ballard’s Beach, which Filippi says will be following state beach guidelines, offers private cabanas and small tents for guests , which can be another form of social distancing. Filippi says he’s purchased more of those this year.

He believes social distancing guidelines will be the hardest thing for himself and other businesses to adjust to.

“We’re going to have to work within them,” Filippi said.

Filippi hopes people will come to the island so businesses are able to reopen next year.

“We need as much help as we can from the state. We need as much help from the people in Rhode Island to come out and support us, all small businesses, not just Ballard’s,” Filippi said. “We’re all in a very vulnerable, dangerous position right now.”

On May 12, New Shoreham’s interim town manager James Kern issued a memo stating non-island residents from Rhode Island no longer need to self-quarantine when coming to Block Island. A shelter-in-place order was issued on March 23.

Kern also noted housing inspections are underway so boarding house licenses (for hotels, motels, etc.) can issued in the coming weeks.

Short-term rentals on Block Island are suspended until June 1.

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