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Wickford Economic Panel Gets Down To Business

One idea: set a date to "reintroduce" Wickford to the world.

Alex and Ani CEO Giovanni Feroci sets out his idea for jumpstarting Wickford.
Alex and Ani CEO Giovanni Feroci sets out his idea for jumpstarting Wickford.

For the inaugural meeting of the Wickford Economic Development Advisory Board, members were asked to both introduce themselves and share what they thought should happen in Wickford. The response that garnered the most interest came from Giovanni Feroce, the CEO of Alex and Ani, which owns the Wilson's of Wickford site and has plans to open a Teas and Javas there. 

"What's important … is a. identify a date in which you're going to reintroduce Wickford to the world," Feroce said. "Between now and then, how many businesses open? How many change the way they operate, and maybe have a facelift, do whatever's necessary. But you kind of say, ok, we're cutting the ribbon today and here's Wickford."

Several members liked that idea, in particular the target-date aspect. 

WEDAB chair Ellen Waxman talked about the need to expand store hours and options to visitors, especially those who come by boat. Waxman said she'd love to see more transportation options for visitors. 

Board member Sal Marinosci tempered other comments, noting it was vital to consider Wickford's "limitations," in particular, the town's lack of sewers. 

"That's a big big limitation," he said. "With that limitation, it draws a line through a lot of things that can be done." 

He also said that the very thing that makes Wickford so appealing – its waterfront – can be problematic, noting the village's susceptibility to flooding. 

One suggestion to enlarge sidewalks perhaps at the expense of parking drew concern from shop owner Palmer Beebe. 

"We have to be very, very sensitive about parking. Parking is an old, old issue," he said. "We have to be sensitive to residents… traffic will be opposed."

Giving voice to the elephant in the room, Beebe added, "A lot of people want to keep Wickford the way it is."

The panel agreed to meet on the first Wednesday of the month, at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall. Their next meeting will be on Oct. 2.

WEDAB board members include:

Ellen Waxman, WEDAB chair, EDAB liaison, owner of Five Main, an art gallery in Wickford

Martha Pughe, EDAB liaison, head of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce

Scott Gibbs, president of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island in Cumberland

Giovanni Feroce, CEO of Alex and Ani, a Cranston-based company with holdings in North Kingstown

Bjorn Wellenius, North Kingstown consultant on telecommunications policy, regulation, and economics in emerging markets 

Eli Beckman, founder of Reckoner Group, a technology and design firm based in Newport

Sarah Tallarico, director of the Wickford Art Association Gallery

Sal Marinosci, member of the Little Compton Planning Board, property developer and owner of Nautika and Blu restaurants on the East Greenwich waterfront

Michael Earnheart, manager of The Clean Bedroom

Palmer Beebe, owner of J W Graham in Wickford, Wickford Village Association president

Stephen Souls, a social media and email marketing consultant

Ex Officio – Curtis Given, Wickford Plan Committee liason, owner of Green Inc. in Wickford, and a real estate agent with Randall Realtor

Ex Officio – David Calwell, EDAB chair, owner of Caldwell Construction based in North Kingstown

Staff Support – Paige Bronk, North Kingstown Economic Development Manager

Discouraged September 06, 2013 at 08:19 AM
Wow!!! Reintroduce Wickford to the world?? We don't have enough parking for the world. And, that comment about boaters coming to Wickford to shop is ludicrous. Boaters are going to change the economy in Wickford? Wow!!! Too many old timers in Wickford want to keep it untouched. You need to improve all the real estate that have gone out of businesses along route one. That area is a mess and a disgusting ghost town.
Melissa Devine September 06, 2013 at 09:01 AM
Mr. Feroce should get Teas & Javas open for business before he starts saying how much he can change the world. I'm getting tired of the spin cycle.
Pam September 06, 2013 at 09:06 AM
It would be nice to get Ryan's Market back into the mix. Does Ocean State Job Lot still own it? It would be a great space for something like wickford collection to move into and spread out its furniture, the way Comina has on the East Side and in Watch Hill, if the price could be made reasonable.
Jeff Crawford September 06, 2013 at 09:33 AM
What a great concept! Reintroduce Wickford to Rhode Islanders and the world. How about we don't sell Wickford Elementary and convert it into a 24/7 amusement park just like old New England towns. Then we could sell the naming rights to Alex and Ani and call it the Alex and Ani Waterfront Amusement park for people of all ages. That just might trigger more boaters to come and spend money.
jackfrosteburg September 06, 2013 at 09:51 AM
I love Wickford. Went to school there back in the late 50s/early 60s. Live in Washington state but keep in touch with all thinks NK/Wickford. My thought while looking at all the competent folks on this panel was "why not a couple citizens who are not owners?" I am retired and volunteer all over our small community and was a little surprised to see no "normal" citizens - even just one or two. I love the concept of what y'all are doing. Keep up the good work.
NK Parent September 06, 2013 at 10:10 AM
I second the need for something new and exciting in the Ryan's Market space. Something that isn't a return to the half-hearted embarrassment that Job Lots put forth. Nobody should be surprised that it barely last a year and the whole food/septic disagreement gave everyone an easy out.
Jeff Crawford September 06, 2013 at 10:41 AM
Jackfrosteburg- the reason you do not see many residents on the board is that there is a group of owners and nearby residents who do not want change unless it is change that they can control. The Town and the administration need to step up and do what's best for the Town of North Kingstown, as a whole. Wickford Village could become a destination spot, but not until changes are made to support the needs and wants of the visitors. If thats not in the package for the reintroduction of Wickford Village, Town resources need to be refocused to the areas which will benefit the Town of North Kingstown.
Pam September 06, 2013 at 10:48 AM
Jeff, what about wickford do you think would be best for NK as a whole? NK Parent, job lot bought Ryan's because nobody else would, and then actually asked for ideas on what to do with it. When they didn't get much response, they put some gourmet ish food and other things in there just so it would be open. They also put a little local ice cream branch in there, but the town objected when they wanted to put a few tables outside so people could sit and eat. So job lot gave up.
Ed Renehan September 06, 2013 at 11:17 AM
Most businesses in Wickford have been in business in Wickford for a very long time. Wilson's. Teddy Bearskins. Green Ink. Midnight Sun. Village Reflections. Grateful Heart. Different Drummer. Canvasworks. Mermaid's Purl. Beauty and the Bath. J.W. Graham. Gold Lady Jewelers. Green River Silver. Mystic Scrimshanders. The World Store. Yes! Gallery. Wickford Collection. Wickford Package Store. Kayak Center. I could go on. Also, I am rarely in either Tavern by the Sea or the Beach Rose Cafe when they are not doing a good business. I can only assume that all these long-lasting firms have stuck around because they are profitable. So, what seems to be the problem? Yes, there are a few empty storefronts. Yes, the empty Ryan's is something of an eyesore. But in a bum economy, there is a hell of a lot less empty retail space in Wickford than most other places. So what's to reinvent? What am I missing?
Jeff Crawford September 06, 2013 at 11:22 AM
Pam- If Wickford Village is to become a focal point for the Town to grow in that area, we need to get the sewer line installed and places connected. It will allow for the developer at the elementary school to go forward with his plan for a small convention center and hotel, it will allow for more restaurants and cafe's to serve the public, and most importantly improve the environmental quality of the air and water in and around the waterfront. Simultaneously, the Town needs to bring businesses back to Route 1 north and south of Quonset by offering incentives to the business community. I for one do not like having to drive all over to purchase something that should be readily available in a Town of our size. As for Job Lot, I am sure they would be ready to invest if the Town and community is ready to move in a positive manner for business growth.
Pam September 06, 2013 at 11:35 AM
I agree on sewers. They need to come into wickford village both for business reasons and the environment. I hope we get to vote on that in the spring. Unfortunately, our tax bills are so high compared to neighbors such as Narragansett, Jamestown and Newport that I fear people will turn down anything that raises them farther. This is important enough that I would vote to approve it, but higher taxes will be a hard sell. We'd really have to put on a good campaign.
Mark Oltedale September 06, 2013 at 12:34 PM
This reminds me of the Town Council hiring an economic development person who hires a consultant to determine what the next step should be. There are so many limitations built into the infrastructure of Wickford that development is impossible, widening the sidewalks? Please stop already. Sewers and cooperation with licensing of food and drink establishments could turn Wickford into Chatham. OR, just leave it alone and let it be what it has been forever, a quaint village in a challenged town who is just about out of options.
Jeff Crawford September 06, 2013 at 01:44 PM
A quaint village I am sure is an option for those who do not want change. If so, so be it. But let's make a decision and move on, one way or the other. The other areas of the Town, Lafayette, Solcum, Saunderstown and Quidnessett I am sure would love to see economic improvement which will only help their property values. Wickford does not have to become a Chatham to enjoy growth, but it could become a place where people could spend more time and money through out the seasons. A complete survey of all the businesses and home owners would be interesting to see if they are in favor change or they would like to see it remain as is.
Barbara September 06, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Good luck with the re-introduction idea. Wickford (and in the bigger picture, NK as a whole) doesn't exactly have a reputation for being business-friendly. Get rid of a few of the cliques and their members who have their noses in everyone else's business (when not up in the air) while professing that it's "for the good of the village" and maybe then you'll see some change. The comments about Job Lot above were unnecessary. They asked for ideas, they tried, the snobbish local citizenry ran them out. Well done, people. Let's get another fudge/candle/soap emporium in there quickly, before the Festival of Lights!
Andrew J. Correia, MBIE September 06, 2013 at 06:03 PM
Wickford does not need to be "re-introduced." We need a push in the right direction. Sewers are a great start. I would love to see representation from the residents of NK on the WEDAB committee.
Kerri Hicks September 06, 2013 at 10:40 PM
Here's a crazy idea. How about investing in Wickford Elementary to make it a school again? I was on the committee to figure out what it would take to do so, what, eight years ago? -- and it was not nearly as onerous as the naysayers would have the town believe. Suddenly, Wickford would be full and vibrant again, with people having coffee and breakfast, going to the library, grocery shopping, having lunch, buying school supplies and picking up needed sundries...just like we used to do when our kids were going to school there. Wickford thrived for decades primarily because of the elementary school (and before that, the library -- that move was a loss to the village as well, although a great benefit for the town). No sewer system or coffee shop is going to do for the village what those critical anchors can do. Without bringing back the school, or opening a cinema, or creating some true "anchor" destination, Wickford will never have the traffic it needs to thrive. Perhaps it can get by as a tourist destination, but it will never again see glory days without a heart. That school was the heart of Wickford -- without a heart, you can't have a soul.
Pam September 06, 2013 at 11:25 PM
Well, that's the thing. There's nothing in wickford you actually need. I live north of wickford, so I am closer to the post road rite aid and cvs than I am to the village rite aid -- but maybe people south of town use that as their drugstore? I can see Kerri's point: if you're there for the school anyway, you make better use of the village. I tend to shop in wickford when I need a gift, which isn't that often. (Tho I did buy my daughter's chihauhau a raincoat at Shaggy Chic recently -- he "needed" that!) I use the dry cleaner on the way to wickford, and I used to use the florist across the street before they closed. And I used to use the Bank of America branch -- which closed too. So I don't know -- what brings regular people -- not tourists -- into a village to become regular foot traffic? Even town hall is outside of the actual village. Maybe some often-used town offices should be in Ryan's.
Eric Dukat September 07, 2013 at 09:01 AM
If you want locals, you have to look at which ones you want. A nice place to hang out and enjoy the afternoon overlooking the water appeals to one demographic, like me, but I don't have time to do it. There's nothing in town for teenagers to do and they have access to their parents money spending it wherever they shop or hang out. South County Commons and Warwick are where we drive ours all the time... mostly due to movies and shopping... but as a social event. I think the Old Ryan's Market should be a place that brings different generations together like the country store that is connected to a Cracker Barrel restaurant on the highway.
deb September 11, 2013 at 05:05 AM
It was predicted years ago, with box stores & internet sales Main Streets would disappear. Could you imagine when friends and family come to visit taking them to Wickford and walking by insurance, accounting and realtors offices and no shops? It's happening all over the country, that is the NEW Main Street. So how do we combat that? Enter Ellen Waxman & WEDAB. My husband and I were at the meeting and there were a lot of good discussions, much more than were covered in this article, for example there is a party interested in the space at Wickford Market! Huge news, and yet not a word and there was a quite a bit of discussion during the meeting about that, also. Although, no surprise. It seems Patch thrives on strategic reporting with a huge dose of sensationalism to keep you coming back to read the comments. Without it, you would just check in for the NK HS Football schedule! So of course the snippet contained here is one that was felt would create the most comment. But come on folks, is it any surprise to anyone that Wickford could use a facelift?? Buildings in dis-repair, residential properties in need of a good manicure, more sightings of the street sweeper hard at work would be great, some paint and even some simple window-washing-and that is just on Brown Street. Wickford needs her pride back and this board will examine ways to make that happen. Are you aware that Westerly won a make-over your town contest and Benjamin Moore is painting the entire town! WOW! Wish it was Wickford, but we found out about it at the end of the contest and it was too close to get everything needed to enter. We can talk about bringing in the sewers all day, but I don't see them coming anytime soon. So, we need creative and ingenious ideas to keep her going. To sit back in your armchairs and complain and criticize those that are trying to come up with viable solutions is ridiculous. My husband and I live in NK, and own a shop in the village. We need tourists in order to survive. We don't care if they arrive by car, plane, train or boat but they bring outside $$ into our local community and we appreciate them. I will tell you the mood has changed in the village, merchants are positive the economy seems to be moving in a good direction. Also, there are lots of new people that have just moved into NK, and they are wide eyed and seem to enjoy the shops and are excited over changes on the horizon. Good things are happening. If you have not come down to Wickford of late perhaps you should. Maybe support your favorite store in the village? After all, when you need a item for that raffle basket do you go to T.J. Max or Marshall's for a donation? Yup, that's what I thought...
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) September 11, 2013 at 07:39 AM
Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Deb. You are correct, I've been remiss about reporting Paige Bronk's update about the former Ryan's Market. Look for an article on that soon!
seed and soil September 11, 2013 at 08:59 AM
As the coordinating manager for a shop in the village, it is wonderful to see so much thoughtful debate going on! One addition we have to add. Our customers are a nice mix of tourists and locals. Both comment all of the time that they are looking for SOMETHING TO DO in the village other than just the shopping. Having the beautiful harbor and coastal surrounds, Harbor Tours on a nicely outfitted vessel might be just the thing to add bit more WOW to the Wickford experience! Harbor Tours are something I hope this new group could work towards! I have stopped in at the Chamber of Commerce who kindly outfitted us with all manner of Historic Walking Tour maps (thank you Tim Cranston!), fliers for Smith's Castle, Gilbert Stuart Museum, Casey Farm, Sea Bee Museum, as well as maps of the local area to help out tourists looking to explore South County. Tourists and locals alike, are very appreciative to have the information.
OrangesPoranges September 11, 2013 at 11:29 AM
If my memory serves, didn't the owners of Inside Scoop want to open a larger facility in the old Ryan's Market, but the town wouldn't give them a restroom variance so they could have indoor seating? Even though public restrooms are available in the parking lot across the street? Something that simple and cost-effective would have certainly helped jump-start business in Wickford, but I suppose that just made too much sense (and not enought dollars and cents for somebody in power).

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