Retail Riding a Wave in Nantucket

Shopping is the third major pastime on this crescent-shaped island of swanky, gray-shingled second homes — right behind sailing and sunbathing.

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Blu owner Kimberly Pizzitola.


NANTUCKET, Mass. — Shopping is the third major pastime on this crescent-shaped island of swanky, gray-shingled second homes — right behind sailing and sunbathing.

Retail rents run as high here as they do on Boston's Newbury Street, about $100 a square foot. And each year, the pressure is relentless to make the most of the eight weeks between late June and Labor Day, when merchants generate 80 percent of their annual volume.

Although the troubled economy is squeezing consumers nationally, Nantucket's 160 or so retailers tap into an estimated half-million visitors during the season and a resident population that swells from about 10,000 to 40,000. Among the wealthy summer homeowners are Sen. John Kerry and his wife, Teresa; Chanel vice chairman Arie Koppelman and his wife, Coco; Horchow Collection founder Roger Horchow, and Google chief executive Eric Schmidt.

Visitors and summer residents have an average household income of $143,000, according to a Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce survey. Tracy Bakalar, executive director of the group, said the figure is low because the survey didn't reach the wealthiest visitors who arrive on private jet or yachts.

However, Nantucket is "not immune from retail downturn," Bakalar said. "We're encouraging retailers to stay open past five, to keep regular hours and really stroke repeat customers....There are service things to pay attention to when our [local] economy is leveling instead of a rocket ship."

She cited a 5 to 10 percent increase in off-season bookings, a phenomenon that parallels what's occurring on Cape Cod as vacationers stay closer to home, and said there are "indications this will be a decent summer."

Ian Murray, co-founder of Vineyard Vines, said a new high-speed ferry service that runs visitors to the island in an hour, as opposed to two-and-a-half hours, has made a difference.

"With better accessibility, the season seems to be getting longer, starting earlier and ending later," he said.

Vineyard Vines operates a 2,700-square-foot store on Straight Wharf. Alongside the brand's well-known ties printed with teeny sailfish, Martini glasses and golf clubs, there are newer ventures in children's and women's apparel. The Nantucket unit is a top performer among eight company doors, Murray said. He wouldn't specify company revenues but said they exceed $50 million annually.
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