Fire Island officials remain optimistic in spite of recession

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday March 5, 2009

As the deepening recession continues to exert an ever-steep toll across the country, Fire Island business and property owners remain optimistic they will have a profitable summer.

Cherry Grove Property Owners Association president Larry Lane said he expects Long Islanders and others from New York and nearby suburbs will find Fire Island an attractive place to day-trip or vacation as they continue to spend less money.

"You've got a place that's 20 minutes from Long Island that you feel you've traveled hours to an exotic island," he said.

Lane further noted local real estate brokers have already reported brisk business. Fire Island Pines realtor Jon Wilner told EDGE in a recent interview his rentals are already higher than last season. He added he feels optimistic people will continue to visit the tony hamlet in spite of the ever-ominous economic outlook.

"It's a gay environment," Wilner said. "It's a very different kind of community."

Adam Weaver, marketing director for Fire Island Pines Operations, which operates the Pavilion and the majority of other businesses around the harbor, echoed Lane who stressed the beach's proximity to New York will continue to draw visitors.

"For us, it's the same price to come out because [people] take the train out; they know how much they will spend," he said.

"You've got a place that's 20 minutes from Long Island that you feel you've traveled hours to an exotic island."

A survey conducted by the San Francisco-based Community Marketing, Inc., last September found only 31 percent of respondents decreased their overall travel. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Provincetown and Washington were also among the top 20 travel destinations for LGBT travelers.

Community Marketing senior projects director David Paisley said he feels Fire Island and other gay resort destinations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic should fare better than Hawai'i, New Orleans and other geographically isolated destinations because of their proximity to cities along the I-95 corridor. He further argued local officials should focus their advertising and outreach budgets in those markets and capitalize upon those travelers who may want to vacation closer to home this summer than in previous years.

"The key for these destinations is local outreach," he said. "They have millions of millions of customers who are a car or train ride away."

Pink Banana Media president Matt Skallerud added he feels local businesses should turn to the Internet-and in particular Facebook, Twitter and other social networking Web sites and blogs, to draw potential customers and patrons into their establishments. He said he feels the recession has made these new marketing techniques more attractive as companies continue to cut their advertising budgets.

"You can blog about a new restaurant opening and events and integrate that with photos," Skallerud said. "You're finding destinations that do that are keeping in the forefront of people's minds."

FIPO will use both Facebook and Twitter this summer to let users know who is spinning at their bars and clubs and parties and other information. Weaver added DJ Tony Moran is among those already scheduled to spin on the beach this summer.

"We're not cutting back on our entertainment," Weaver said. "We're going to throw the same parties we always throw. We're ready for the boys to come. I think it will be a fun summer."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.