Newport shop owner optimistic business will pick up during Phase 2

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NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Newport is typically a hotspot for tourists come Memorial Day weekend, but this year the picture was much different.

Michelle Fontana, owner of Chez Shell, said her shop has been on Thames Street for 10 years and she usually sees massive crowds come Memorial Day.

“Usually we’re swamped with people,” Fontana said. “It’s sort of like sardines on the sidewalk, you can’t get a table in a restaurant.”

But the new restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic have had a major impact on Newport’s businesses.

“I think it’s disheartening for the people who own the shops, because this is the weekend they usually do the best,” Newport resident Gail Johnson said of Memorial Day weekend.

Johnson, who’s lived in Newport for six years, said by 9 p.m. each night, Thames Street was a ghost town.

Fontana said her shop relies heavily on tourists, and sales were down 75% from last year.

“We’re not getting the events, we’re not getting the huge weddings,” Fontana said. “Some of the hotels, I think a lot of them are open, but people might have been a little squeamish about not knowing what to do.”

Fontana said her buying strategies have been challenging, since she isn’t sure how much she will sell at any given time.

“It’s a puzzle to figure out and I think so far, we’re doing it,” she said.

Fontana said she agrees with the restrictions Gov. Gina Raimondo has put into place, as well as her overall plan to reopen Rhode Island.

“I think she’s going along with the right pace,” Fontana said. “You know, of course we’d all love to jump right in and have it like it used to be, but this is the new norm.”

As Rhode Island moves toward Phase 2 of Raimondo’s reopening plan, Fontana said she’s optimistic her sales will improve and Newport will begin to see more tourists.

“People are sort of tip-toeing into the water – buying a little bit here and there, feeling a little bit better,” Fontana said. “As long as we go by the rules, the restrictions, you know, I think it will be just fine.”

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