• Small business owners voice concerns to Gov. McKee during visit to Thames Street in Newport

    Small business owners voice concerns to Gov. McKee during visit to Thames Street in Newport

    Savana Dunning
    Newport Daily News

    NEWPORT — Gov. Dan McKee purchased $10 worth in Newport-made fudge and rubbed elbows with local business leaders during a visit to Thames Street on Tuesday afternoon.

    Guided by Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Erin Donovan-Boyle, the governor spoke with small business owners about their concerns and excitement as they reopen for the upcoming summer season, including the ability to vaccinate employees.

    Red Parrot owner Russel Dulac, right, talks with Gov. Dan McKee on Tuesday during a small business stroll through the city. Looking on its Lt. Gov. nominee Sabina Matos.

    "We'll work with the city of Newport, and with the chamber in identifying these pockets (of people) that we have to vaccinate," McKee said. "Restaurant workers are certainly a priority in my mind, for the food vendors and people involved with food, and the frontline people providing these services. That's going to happen as long as the supply keeps on moving in the direction it is."

    The group visited five businesses: Forty 1° North Hotel, Midtown Oyster Bar, the Red Parrot, Newport Fudgery and The Francis Malbone House. Each business representative spoke to the governor about their concerns for business in the summer.

    Among the group was Lt. Gov. nominee Sabina Matos, Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, City Manager Joseph Nicholson Jr. and Commerce Secretary Stafan Pryor.

    From left, Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, Gov. Dan McKee, Midtown Oyster Bar co-owner Larry Phillips and Erin Donovan-Boyle with the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce talk inside the Thames Street restaurant Tuesday.

    Larry Phillips, co-owner of Midtown Oyster, spoke to the governor about the vaccination schedule and the need for his employees to obtain vaccinations as summer draws closer. McKee said he plans to work with the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce to help protect employees with personal protective equipment while they wait for their time to be vaccinated. 

    “One of the biggest issues for us this whole past year has just been the lack of a plan at times,” Phillips said. “For us, at least, then we can see it trending in the right direction ... especially in a seasonal town like this, where, you know, 80% of our income is summer-based. There’s a lot of nervous restaurant owners right now wondering what the summer is going to be like.”

    McKee grabbed a tasty treat at Newport Fudgery after owners Sidney Anderson and Jane Kropp shared with the governor the changes they had to make to the business in order to remain COVID-compliant, including individually packaging servings of fudge instead of cutting from the log.

    Kropp said the business has done well with online sales, having just sent an order to Hawaii.

    At Francis Malbone House, part-time chef and front desk operator Liz Carnevale told the governor many of her guests have mentioned feeling safe in Newport, which is why they plan on visiting again.

    “We're very fortunate because we have such a repeat clientele, and we've done everything to make them feel safe,” Carnevale said.”They're coming back and they're very happy and they’re vaccinated, so they're ready to get out. I think like everyone else, they're ready to break out and have a vacation, so it feels like it's getting back to normal.”

    McKee said he expects the state to be 78% vaccinated by mid-June, based on the current numbers being projected. For McKee, the strategy of reaching this goal is prioritizing various groups of people that represent a diverse pool of Rhode Islanders, such as restaurant workers or college students.

    “We will prioritize these areas where there's pockets of individuals that represent different populations. Like we're going to be prioritizing college students over the summer time,” McKee said. “We want to make sure that every college student is vaccinated before they go on campus again, and that's going to help all around the state.” 

    Gov. Dan McKee chats with Erin Donovan-Boyle, left, executive director of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce, as Lt. Gov. nominee Sabina Matos looks on during a small business stroll through Newport on Tuesday.

    Another issue the governor plans to address as more people get vaccinated is managing disparities between groups in vaccination rates. Currently, the state is experiencing a gender gap in vaccine distribution, with women receiving around 60% of total vaccines distributed by the state.

    “We can't let that lag,” McKee said. “We got to make sure that we do that, just like we're doing right now with some of the communities, the Black communities and the Hispanic community. They're not receiving the vaccine at the same percentage as they represent in the population.”


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