NEWPORT CITY — Businesses are reporting an increase in customers - in some cases dramatically - since the city opened downtown to all-terrain vehicles in mid-May.
Restaurants, hard hit by the state-wide closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and gas stations benefited the most during the first weekend after ATVs were allowed to reach downtown on May 15.
And the increase in customers has continued through the Memorial Day weekend.
Gas stations like Maplefields on Main Street reported as much as a 50 percent increase in business on that May 16-17 weekend, says Jim Davis, executive director of Newport City Downtown Development.
“The gas stations are really hitting it out of the park.”
And Tim and Doug’s Ice Cream Shop at Pick and Shovel on Coventry Street “was slammed,” Davis said Friday.
ATVs were parked all over the landmark store’s parking lot that first weekend. And the attraction has continued.
Restaurants like Hoagies and its T-bar next door as well as Wendy’s at Waterfront Plaza saw between 10 and 15 percent increase in business that first weekend, as did The Great Outdoors, Davis said.
He reported some of those findings in a memo to the city council at its last meeting, and has been touching base with downtown businesses ever since.
What’s good about the increase is that these are mostly new customers, Davis said.
“It’s bringing people into the community and it’s new. A lot who are coming in are from outside Newport.”
City Manager Laura Dolgin, a member of the Newport City Downtown Development board of directors, said she too has heard of “an uptick in business” during the first weekend of ATV access.
The city council adopted an ordinance last fall, approved by voters in January, to allow ATVs on streets leading to downtown and two trail head parking areas.
“At the time the ordinance was put in place, we had no idea that we would confront a pandemic that has prevented life as we know it, when all sponsorship of local businesses has been prohibited due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control,” Dolgin stated Friday.
“The strategic plan of the Newport City Downtown Development and the City of Newport has always been to embrace outdoor recreation and the potential to grow our economy with new dollars as a result.
“The advantage Newport has over other municipalities is that we are prepared to handle the influx of activity allowed under the governor’s Play Smart and Play Safe: Restart Phase V order. We welcome the opportunity.”
Newport City Council recently increased access to certain areas through a memorandum of understanding (MOU).
It clarifies that ATVs can reach the Tavern on the Hill on East Main Street, located on the Newport City/Derby town line across from the entrance to the Walmart Supercenter in Derby.
Dolgin said the council Monday is expected to consider another MOU amendment to allow ATV access to the Newport City - Derby town line at Prouty Drive.
That would link Newport City’s streets to Derby roads.
The Derby Select Board on Monday evening will discuss a MOU to update its own ATV access ordinance to open all its roads to ATVs. That could effectively open all Derby town roads to ATVs on Tuesday.
Newport City Council will also consider changing the ATV curfew - currently 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily - to 7 a.m. That would allow people access to breakfasts and work downtown by ATV.
Dolgin said the downtown development association is discussing an initiative to open downtown to more outdoor seating and pedestrian access for restaurants and businesses.