One of the great things about my day job as director of Insight Radio (part of Insight, a non-profit in Warwick that promotes independence and opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired) is that I get to see just about every news website or publication in the state. Everything from the South County Independent to the Valley Breeze to the East Bay newspaper group to the Beacon Communications papers to the Johnston Insider to GoLocalProv.com comes across my desk. There are many things going on out there on the highways and byways of the Biggest Little that don't see the light of day in the BeloJo.
Last week there were a couple of interesting stories that appeared in the Standard-Times of North Kingstown, Exeter, and Jamestown on June 23. Both were written and reported by Paul J. Spetrini.
The Wickford Marketplace, the key retail operation in the middle of historic town (on the site of the former Ryan's Market), announced that they would be closing up shop. Spetrini noted that "shock and confusion" ensued on the streets of Wickford, leaving "more questions than answers."
According to Wickford Marketplace's Paul Conforti, "the managing partner for Ocean State Job Lot's restaurant division, which runs the building," the town council had been constantly throwing obstacles up, stymieing the business. Conforti told of the council's opposition to a hot dog cart he wanted to operate in the parking lot (his initial application for a license was denied but he eventually got the green light after challenging the decision), as well as a small neon sign that the ice cream vendor Inside Scoop wanted to put up. Then he was told to take down the awning valances on the front of the building because they had the words "coffee," "prepared foods," and "deli" on them.
Finally, Conforti's attempt to put tables and chairs on an outdoor patio was thwarted because the facility lacked a bathroom on the first floor, which Conforti claimed he was restricted from installing due to the nature of his septic system.
Wickford, like every other community in the state, is struggling and Wickford Marketplace is one of the primary businesses in town. One wonders why the town council seems unable to work with Conforti and the other owners to resolve these differences. Isn't this give-and-take done all the time in other cities and towns?
So far the council has been exceedingly rigid in its dealings with the business. Spetrini quoted council member Charlie Stamm, who gave an " 'impassioned' plea" supporting the denial of the Marketplace's plea for an exception to the first floor bathroom restriction, saying, "It's our intent to try to be even-handed and fair in everything we do. Unfortunately, the owners of the Marketplace have tended to either ignore or flaunt the requirements and do as they wish rather than obtain the necessary prior approvals which, in most cases, are quite simple to achieve." He continued, "The other merchants in town do abide by these requirements, they do have public restrooms available, they don't have neon signs in their windows."
At this time, only the Inside Scoop is still operating inside the Marketplace.