December 4, 2012

A cold and misty start to the annual Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson this weekend gave way to warmer temperatures and big crowds by Sunday, much to the delight of village retailers who had been suffering after superstorm Sandy blew through the area.

“Dickens went very well,” said Barbara Ransome, director of operations for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. “I think the energy on the street on Saturday was not as intense because it was cold and raw out and attendees seek as many activities as they could on the inside but Sunday the crowds on the street were huge, again weather always plays a role.”

The retailers that Ransome spoke with said they were thrilled with their sales for the weekend and restaurants also did well.

“We were definitely busy all weekend,” said Joe Ciardullo, owner of C’est Cheese, in an email to Patch.

Ciardullo said he did the same amount of business in all areas including food, alcohol and retail cheese but the average check was slightly higher over the Dickens Festival last year.

“We did sell a lot more gift cards last year though,” he said. “I don’t really know if that was just because we were only a few months old this time last year.”

In Ciardullo’s opinion sales were strong.

Ransome, who owns Ransome Inn on East Broadway, said the magician from the “Great Wizard of the North” show at the Masonic Temple stayed at her bed and breakfast. He told her that on Saturday all of his shows were filled to capacity.

The Chamber’s house tour was also a sellout and they were still selling tickets as late as 3:55 p.m. on Saturday for the tour starting at 4:00 pm.

“We had approximately 400 tickets that went. Almost a 20 percent increase from last year,” Ransome reported.

Danford’s Hotel and Marina also told her that they expanded seatings for brunch from two last year to four this year. The hotel also reported selling out their room reservations well ahead of Dickens saying they never sold out as quickly or as early, though Ransome said they didn’t know if that was also due to leftover capacity from Sandy.

East End Shirt Company reported that it was slow going at first.

“We weren’t sure if things were going to pick up,” said storeowner Mary Joy Pipe. “By midday half the parking spots were still available.”

Pipe, who has been in the village for 33 years, said she starts telling her customers about the Dickens Festival halfway through the summer. She also noticed many of her customers were from Connecticut.

“The advertising worked,” she said.

Though it started out slow things quickly picked up.

“By late in the day Saturday things started to cook,” Pipe said.

She said it was tough coming back after the hurricane for both customers and shop owners with people making decisions on what they could afford after enduring added expenses.

The most popular items people were buying in her store?

“Hats and gloves,” she said.

Business was “pretty close” to last year’s Dickens Festival Pipe reported.

But not everyone had robust sales. One East Main Street shop owner who wished not to be identified said that business was exactly half of last year’s festival on both days. It was a continuing trend since that business experienced a 50 percent drop in sales over the summer as well.

“Saturday was so cold so clearly there was more traffic on Sunday,” the shop owner said, who also felt that the spirit was missing this year.

“We didn’t have any characters come into our store this year,” the retailer said. “Last year they walked through the town and came into the store and said hello to everyone. We even had singers stop in last year.”

As for sales, people were only buying inexpensive trinkets not actually using the day to put a dent in their shopping.

“We had a constant line of buyers last year,” the owner said. “This year it was patchy.”

At TUMI, a boutique that sells items like clothing and jewelry produced in Peru, owner John Cotter said after Sandy his sales hit rock bottom.

“It was dead for weeks,” he said. “Before, during and after Sandy.”

He called the Dickens Festival “a godsend” that proved to be a turning point for his boutique after the hurricane slump. Last year’s Dickens Festival was TUMI’s best sales weekend ever. He beat that this year by 30 percent.

“They just kept on coming and coming,” he said. “It was just heaven.”