President Barack Obama and his family are heading to the wealthy island resort of Martha’s Vineyard for a three-week vacation starting Saturday, a near-annual ritual that islanders say is a boon to local businesses even if it comes with added hassles for vacationers during what’s typically the busiest tourist month of the year.
At Big Al’s, a sports memorabilia store in Oak Bluffs, owner Alex McClusky prominently displays “I vacationed with Obama” T-shirts he’s sold since the family’s first visit in 2008.
“The visits have been great for business,” he said. “He’s brought more people down because people want to see him.”
Island businesses capitalize on that.
Mad Martha’s ice cream shop will roll out an Obama-themed flavor in its three locations, as it has in previous years, said owner Patti Roberts. “Barack My World” features coffee ice cream with caramel swirl and macadamia nuts.
At Nancy’s, a popular Oak Bluffs restaurant serving fried clams, lobster rolls and other New England summer staples, owner Joseph Moujabber said he hopes the Obamas’ visit boosts a season that’s been slower than he would have liked.
“It’s nice to have him. Every time he comes to the island, he comes here,” Moujabber said during a lull in an otherwise busy lunchtime this week.
Regular summer residents, many of whom acknowledged they were Obama supporters, said they’ve come to accept the hassles.
“I don’t begrudge them the 10 minutes that I have to wait if they are coming through an intersection or if I can’t get a reservation at a restaurant,” said Lawrence Aber, a New York University professor who has vacationed on the island nearly every year since he and his wife honeymooned here nearly 40 years ago.
Residents and businesses on the island in the heavily Democratic state brush aside criticism Obama has faced for taking a prolonged vacation while the nation faces a number of intractable challenges.
“There’s always going to be a crisis,” Roberts said this week as she opened up the Mad Martha’s on Vineyard Haven’s main street. “It’s not like he’s turning off everything. We’re not a political forum here. We’re here to sell ice cream and make people smile. That’s what vacation should be.”
Some short-term vacationers, though, were less than enthused about the prospect of spending their limited time on the island navigating detours or sitting in traffic.
On Oak Bluffs’ rolling town green overlooking Nantucket Sound, Cara Pearson said she planned her visit in hopes of missing the president altogether. She leaves the day after the Obamas arrive.
“I imagine it would be a little chaotic here,” said Pearson, who works in Washington and said she’s well-acquainted with the presidential motorcade. “It’s just an island. Everything would be gridlocked.”
In Chilmark, on the western part of the island where the Obamas have stayed in and around nearly every summer, residents are breathing a sigh of relief that the president picked a less conspicuous vacation spot than before.
This year, the Obamas are renting a seven-bedroom, 8,100-square-foot house along the island’s Vineyard Sound side, far off the main roads.
Said Chilmark Town Selectman Warren Doty, “They'll just be another quiet summer visitor.”