Business owners, their employees, and the residents that support them are like nautical knots, interwoven and tied together, making up an integral part of their communities. With an unprecedented summer season ahead, the Village of Greenport is looking to shed light on the faces that make up that community through The Greenport Project.
Ian Wile, and his wife, Rosalie, migrated to the area 20 years ago, and have built a beautiful life. Their son is part of Greenport High School’s Class of 2020, and their business, Little Creek Oysters, operates out of an inconspicuous little bait and tackle shop on Front Street, which has become a dockside staple. When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, they, like so many others, bore down for the economic storm that would inevitably hit. Then, in a single day on Memorial Day weekend, Wile created The Greenport Project to “see the broader scope of what it means to save the Greenport economy engine.”
The new initiative is an online platform featuring the faces and stories of the people that make up the village. It welcomes all submissions with the basic criteria that individuals be a business owner or principal of a business in Greenport — regardless of residence — an employee of the Town of Southold, or a person whose livelihood depends on Greenport’s economy to survive. Since its inception, there have been roughly 40 submissions.
“I have not edited out a single word. These are self-submitted bios, some self-submitted photos,” Wile said. “In some cases, people have asked if I could come take a new photo for the project. I think that is a fantastic part.”
He takes the photos in front of a “Hold fast, stay true” sign, designed and painted by Alexa Suess on the Little Creek building. The words refer to the nautical phrase used by sailors to bear down and fight through a storm, coming out on the other side stronger than going in. But the hardest part of the project has been including individuals who are currently unemployed due to COVID-19. “Those are the faces and stories that need to be added,” he said.
Greenport is an inherently quiet village, but with pandemic precautions still in place, its morale has swiftly switched to fearful self-preservation.
“I believe we have been at the edge of an economic crisis downtown for a bit as commercial rents went parabolic. This has simply been a catalyst. A tide has gone out and a bunch of us were swimming naked,” Wile said. “If there is anything to be gained here, it will take some grand vision and planning. It is a time full of opportunity to change what was breaking.”
The economy, reliant on summer tourism, driven largely by food and beverage, is still on hold until Long Island can enter Phase 3 of reopening. That phase could roll out in mid-July, with a potential six-week setback adding more pressure on an already struggling community.
“The Greenport Project is the perfect way to put a face and simple statement behind the interconnected fabric that makes up our community,” said Richard Vandenburgh, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company co-founder and president of the Village of Greenport Business Improvement District. “The Business Improvement District in Greenport is so much stronger because of this fabric, and in this time of commercial and community stress, we need to do everything we can to reinforce the tapestry we call the Greenport community.”
Wile has been cross-promoting stories to social media and the community Facebook group “Hold Fast Greenport,” there are hopes to turn the project into a Hold Fast Fund, operating as a micro-finance tool to stabilize local Main Streets.
“In order for our business to succeed, we need others to succeed also,” Wile said. “Ideally, we could create a fund which would make targeted investments in local entrepreneurs who would then help guide each other next round.”
Former Mayor Dave Kapell said The Greenport Project helps dispel the myth that Greenport merchants and businesspeople are not reflective of the community at large.
“The project underscores the fact that our friends and merchants are our neighbors in the residential districts,” Kapell said, “and that our futures are inextricably linked in confronting the tsunami threatening downtown Greenport and the entire village with it.”
Read all about the individuals at www.thegreenportproject.com or @TheGreenportProject.