Seacoast stretching its tourist dollars

Sunday News Correspondent
August 30. 2014 8:26PM

Sami Ahmed says Mama Mia's sales of pizza and fried food have slipped because families are packing their own picnics and coolers to save money. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)

John Hurley fills the salt water taffy bins at the Candy Corner where his son-in-law, Bill Statires says sales have been off by about 10 percent this summer. (BARBARA TAORMINA)

The Statires family stocks more than two dozen flavors of salt water taffy, including strawberry cheesecake and cinnamon roll, at the Candy Corner on Ocean Blvd. at Hampton Beach, but watermelon is the biggest seller.

Ashley Harnum stretches some dough at Blink's Fried Doe, a Hampton Beach tradition since 1973. Harnum's co-workers say this year has been average for sales. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)

And this summer, although they've sold plenty of watermelon taffy, they haven't rung up a record number of sales.

"It hasn't been a bad summer. Not the best, but not bad," said Bill Statires, who opened the shop 16 years ago with his wife, Linda.

Statires said sales are down about 10 percent, and many different businesses along the beach said they've seen a similar slump. Most point to the fickled weather and the lackluster economy as the main culprits behind the less-than-stellar season, but some also say the character of the beach has been slowly shifting, and some of those changes have affected sales and profits.

Julie M. Leonard, manager of the waterfront Information Office for the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the state's $14.5 million makeover of Hampton Beach - renovated bathhouses, improved lighting and parking and a new sea shell stage for concerts and events - continues to boost area business.

Still, Leonard acknowledged weather is a huge factor for businesses that depend on a three- to four-month season.

"It rained on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July weekend was lousy except for the last day, and May was nothing to write home about," she said.

Business picked up

While the weather may have thinned the crowds during the early weeks of summer, Leonard said tourist traffic has picked up during July and August.

"We track hotels and motels, and many times, they have been full," she said, adding that there's always room for visitors at Hampton Beach.

At the Bel & Regis, a small motel that also rents guest cottages, owner Tina Russo said it's been a great summer.

"Our cottages are little homes away from home, and that's good for families," said Russo. "And that's who we like to have."

"I tend to cater to mostly weekly rentals," she said.

Ron McIntyre who helps his son, Ray, at Beach Bums, a small shop that sells t-shirts, sunglasses and other beach gear, said it has been a great season for the hotels.

"The Ocean View has had the best season since it opened," he said.

And McIntyre said the past couple weeks have brought in a wave of Canadian tourists who tend to stay for longer periods and spend a good amount of money.

But like others, McIntyre said he has seen better summers.

He blames the economy that has beach-goers more budget conscious. For Beach Bums, one problem has been the kiosks and competitors that offer less expensive products.

And McIntyre isn't looking for a big season finale during the Seafood Festival, scheduled for Sept. 5 to 7.

"The festival used to be something to help the merchants," he said.

But now, so many outside venders come in and set up tables on the beach, nobody comes across the street to the Ocean Boulevard shops, he said.

At Blink's Fried Doe, which has been serving up fried dough to tourists since 1973, Brian Roche said it's been an average year.

"We had a really slow spring," said Roche, who added he's noticed a lot more day visitors and families among the crowd.

So-so business

And at nearby Mama Mia, which offers a menu of soft-serve ice cream, pizza and just about anything that can be deep-fried, Sami Ahmed said while the influx of families visiting the beach has been nice to see, it hasn't been great for business.

"Mostly, the families that come ... are bringing their own food to try and save some money," he said.

While businesses are adapting to a more family-orientated beach crowd, some are also looking at the development taking place on the waterfront and wondering how that might eventually affect them.

McIntyre said more and more condos are going up, and he wonders if developers are eyeing some of the older businesses and arcades as possible sites for new projects.

He said that shift in property use would be, by far, the biggest change for seasonal beach businesses that lease and rent storefronts.

At Blinks, Roche also said the new developments are changing the landscape, but he feels zoning regulations and height ordinances are keeping it in scale with the rest of the beach.

As a member of the chamber, Leonard has heard some of those concerns, but as a longtime Hampton Beach goer, she feels the town is headed in a positive direction.

"A lot of people do not like change," she said adding that beach traditions are melding with new ideas and progress.

"I think what we're seeing is a nice balance of everything."

BusinessTourismTravel and commutingNew HampshireSeacoast

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