Rebuilding Greenport’s economy in the aftermath of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be a project. The Greenport Project could be seen as a small step on the long path toward post-coronavirus recovery.
Launched Friday, The Greenport Project underscores the sense that the village’s business and residential communities are interconnected in the economic spiderweb that constitutes its heartbeat. It is being done by putting names and faces on the people who run and work for those businesses.
The idea behind The Greenport Project is simple. Photos of Greenport business owners, employees (including those who have been furloughed or laid off), suppliers and others are posted, along with brief biographies, online at thegreenportproject.com. All business owners in Greenport, as well as employees of Greenport businesses who are Southold Town residents and other town residents with a livelihood that relies on Greenport are eligible to participate. The photos and bios may be emailed to [email protected]
Ian Wile, who owns Little Creek Oysters in Greenport with his wife, Rosalie Rung, came up with the idea to foster the notion that village businesses and residents are actually not two communities, but one with a shared interest in the community’s welfare. As Mr. Wile sees it, the project is essentially putting a face on the situation.
“We’re mired in so many numbers right now. The unemployment number is kind of unfathomable,” Mr. Wile said in a phone interview Tuesday, noting that about 20 photos had been posted so far. “All I was trying to do was, here’s a face, here’s a name. Here’s where they work. You know them, and they’re probably your neighbors and you probably had a barbecue at their house … They’re people that you kind of know and love.”
As with so many other areas during these trying times, Greenport’s economy is in a fragile state. Mr. Wile knows that full well.
Little Creek Oysters, in its sixth year, occupies 250 square feet on Front Street. “I’m the tiniest little postage stamp in the entire village,” he said.
The business currently has four employees. “This time last year we would have easily been between 12 and 15,” said Mr. Wile.
The 20-year village resident said Greenport “probably was in a little bit of a precarious position before this shutdown, even at the beginning of the year.” Nowadays, he said, “I see some empty storefronts. I see a high risk of a high percentage of empty storefronts if there isn’t a real public/private partnership between the village and the business communities to try and figure out how to coexist.”
As Mr. Wile sees it, there are hard times ahead and change is inevitable.
“What I’m learning, even from my own experience in this, is that there is no going back,” he said. “We’re not going backwards … Our businesses will never reopen. That’s like a terrible phrase. We’re going to do whatever is next, but it will never ever be like it was yesterday.
“I think we have a hard 18 months in front of us. You’re essentially asking for a three-winter season — your last winter, this summer will essentially be a winterish kind of season, and then we go into one more winter. And I think to ask anybody who hadn’t planned on being a three-winter business to sustain a three-winter business, you know, I fear for most of us.”
Greenport is made up largely of individually owned, small businesses that have had to think on their feet, perhaps more than ever. “What you’re trying to do is keep your employees on the payroll, keep your family fed, pay the bills and stay viable for next year,” said Mr. Wile.
At the same time, Mr. Wile said this turbulent period presents an opportunity for Greenport businesses to reinvent themselves. Business people can be a creative bunch, and that creativity may be more important now than ever.
“I think businesses are ready to be able to be fleet, adaptable and creative and just kind of make the best of it,” Mr. Wile said. “Anyone who’s able to adapt is going to have a good shot at survival.”