Some merchants expecting OpSail/Sailfest windfall

Brendan Turk, top, and Michael Messier of Power Posse Productions help assemble a lighting/cover rig for a performance stage on the Custom House Pier in New London Thursday. The stage will feature musical performances as part of Sailfest, starting this afternoon.
Brendan Turk, top, and Michael Messier of Power Posse Productions help assemble a lighting/cover rig for a performance stage on the Custom House Pier in New London Thursday. The stage will feature musical performances as part of Sailfest, starting this afternoon. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

New London - Purveyors of food, drink and maritime merchandise downtown beamed Thursday as they anticipated this weekend's OpSail/Sailfest and its promise of three days of profligate spending.

"I think everyone's going to do well," said Brian Robinson, who along with his father, Greg, owns Captain's Pizza on Bank Street. "We'll have a tent outside, the deck up top and the restaurant itself open. We'll have live music, double the staff.

"Orders have been coming in all week, quadruple the supplies we'd normally have for a weekend."

Robinson calculated that the restaurant could do two weeks' worth of business today, Saturday and Sunday, maybe more.

Not even the thought that it might rain dampened his enthusiasm.

"Everyone will just come inside," he said.

Nearby, The Commoner's crew was equally upbeat.

"Anytime you have a major event like this in town, it's a great thing for the community," said Ross Scofield, the restaurant's chef de cuisine and a new arrival from the Philadelphia area. "From what I've heard, it's going to be complete mayhem."

At the top of State Street, Diarmuid Hanafin, who was tacking an an OpSail poster to the front of his Hanafin's Public House, declared the bar's display that afternoon of a model of the Coast Guard barque Eagle as the unofficial start of the tall ships festival. Eagle will lead the OpSail parade of ships into the city's harbor Saturday morning.

Hanafin was suitably sanguine about the weekend's commercial prospects.

"OpSail's a great opportunity for everyone downtown," he said. "It's a food stroll on steroids.

"If they get half the numbers they've been saying, it'll be a huge success."

OpSail/Sailfest organizers have estimated visitors to the city will number in the hundreds of thousands each day this weekend. In the past, such crowds have prompted many downtown retailers to close on Sailfest weekend because of parking restrictions and the limited response from attendees.

This year, with Sailfest combining with OpSail, which is returning to the city for the first time since 2000, some shop owners are gearing up as never before to reap profits.

"The Sailfest crowd typically is not my customer," said Sara Munro, who owns the Studio 33 art gallery at 140 Bank St. "They like the party atmosphere, the fireworks, the rides. I'm hoping OpSail brings in more people interested in maritime art."

Munro, whose shop was on State Street when the city hosted OpSail 12 years ago, thinks she'll benefit from her current location next to the Custom House maritime museum. She said the shop will hold purchases until Monday for customers who don't want to carry them around during the festival.

On lower State Street, Kim Pettey, who owns Pinc! Boutique, said she expects OpSail to draw "a sailing crowd that's into maritime history," reason enough for her to stay open.

"I've heard from my customers in Lyme and Old Saybrook that they're coming, and people from West Hartford, too," she said. "People are definitely coming. Among the business people I've talked to, the vibe is cautious optimism."

Pettey said she's stocked up on easy-to-carry items and plans to feature her shop's exclusive line of New London-themed fabrics and merchandise, including pillows, bags, prints and postcards.

For some service businesses, OpSail/Sailfest weekend is a time to take a break.

"The parking's an issue," said Ric Waterhouse, who was cutting hair at his Waterhouse Salon on Bank Street. "I've been here for 22 years and it's just easier to close. It's more for the benefit of the clients than for me."

The salon will close early today and remain closed Saturday.

Across the street, Kristofer Angelino, general manager of the Bulkeley House Saloon, was looking forward to the new ownership's first OpSail/Sailfest.

"We do know it's going to be extremely busy," he said. "It's going to bring so many new faces to town - that's what's exciting about it.

"It's great for the city."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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