For years it bothered former MBA President George Tattersall that there was no safe and well-lit way to go from the East End Business District past the state beach to the West End Business District of Misquamicut. So a decade ago he came up with an idea. It took years to permit and get approved. In 2022 the dream became a reality thanks to the partnership of the Misquamicut Business Association, The Town of Westerly, RI DEM, Home Depot and the Governor’s office. Now we have the Minabaug Bike-Pedestrian Lane on Atlantic Ave. The lane was dedicated last September. Minabaug was the original name given to the pond that was later known as Brightman’s Pond and more recently as Winnapaug Pond. It was suggested by Caswell Cooke to give the connector back the name that Native Americans called it. This was approved by the Town Council in 2021. We encourage you all to use and enjoy this lane when walking, biking, pushing a stroller or skateboarding along Atlantic Ave. There are benches, a historical marker and a kiosk with the history of our area. There is also a public kayak launching area. It is for all to enjoy! Please help us keep the area clean and free of trash.
The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) that was established in 2022. Its mission is to is to enhance, beautify, protect, and clean greater Misquamicut Beach and surrounding areas and any other lawful purpose of a non-profit corporation in Rhode Island. Because of its 501(c)(3) status the foundation can accept donations and be eligible for many grants to help make our favorite place in the world, better than ever.
The Board of Directors is made up of a passionate group of each loving individuals who are part of the fabric of Misquamicut Beach, and love everything about our special corner of the world. They include:
Tim Brennan (President): Owner, Two Little Fish
Geoff Maynard (Vice President): Co-Owner, NorthSwell
Rebecca Colucci (Secretary/Treasurer): Co-Owner, Andrea Seaside Restaurant
Scarlett Driscoll: Store Manager, The Home Depot Westerly
Vincent Scaramuzzo: President, Ed-Exec, Inc.
Lydia Shell: Director of Philanthropy, Mystic Aquarium
Holly Sisco: Co-Owner, Shorecrest Store
The Foundation will be participating in many exciting initiatives and beach cleanup days throughout the year. Stay Tuned for more announcements. This spring, with assistance from the Misquamicut Business Association, and a generous donation from The Westerly Home Depot, the foundation will be installing over 30 fresh planters throughout Misquamicut Beach in the coming weeks. This season they will also have educational opportunities available with the support of Mystic Aquarium – and other events coming soon. If you have a great idea for the foundation, would like to donate your time, or make a generous contribution, please contact Rebecca Colucci at [email protected]
Sandwiching the best Summer Has to Offer
Chef Carmine Cozzolino was looking for a perfect place to work his culinary expertise when the Misquamicut Sandwich Company was for sale in fall of ‘21. He replaced the surfboards in the logo with bread–a nod to the fresh bread brought in from the Bronx to create the stacks of satisfying sandwiches–and made the kitchen his own. “We aim to please the ‘meatiest’ of carnivores to the ‘veggiest’ of vegetarians, and to everyone else who falls somewhere in between.”
This is his first summer at the helm and there are a lot of new items for guests to try. “The Reuben, I put my own spin on it,” he says with corned beef brisket, Swiss/gruyere cheese, housemade slaw and dijon mustard on marble rye, and adds “I will make it the old-fashioned way with Russian dressing if that’s what you want, but it started as a special and quickly made it to the main line-up. I make the brisket in-house–and we’ve got great vegetarian quinoa burgers! I make 98% of everything we offer here in house.” Cozzolino says proudly. The muffuletta is another popular pick-up, due to the housemade giardiniera. What will you get? No need to limit yourself, just go back multiple times during your stay and try them all.
The Misquamicut Sandwich Company
57 Shore Road
Westerly, RI 02891
How the 17th Century foiled plan of Guy Fawkes on the English Parliament become a staple on the shores of Misquamicut
When your stay in Misquamicut is winding down, it is time to plan your return, and as you book your stay for next summer, there is a charming local event October 1 that would be a perfect time to squeeze in an autumn visit, too.
The Guy Fawkes musical and bonfire night all began with this local guy: Caswell Cooke. Today Cooke is a town councilor, a champion of the beach, founder of the Misquamicut Business Association, and really, a local celebrity. Born and raised here, he truly never ceases thinking about how to elevate, celebrate, and share our corner of the shore. So it is no surprise that in 1995, after returning from an internship in England with a member of Parliament, he found the spark of this bonfire idea that would become what is now officially a 25-year event the locals look so forward to.
“I was at The Prout School, right after the school had become coed,” he said. “So my friends Ryan Zemanek, Chris DiPaola, Matt Hopkins, and I, well we were really close, as part of the small group of guys there.” Caswell brought the history of Guy Fawkes home and coincidentally attended a Fawkes party at Trow Cottrels home with his good friends and thought what a great way the story could bring more guests to the beach in the off season. So a script was written and a tradition was born.
In the beginning they performed at The Andrea for a dozen people, but each year the friends put a new creative spin on it, added musical numbers and staging and costumes and it grew and grew to nearly 500 last year.
The event is raucous, very musical and a smidge bawdy. “The story is presented in such a funny way,” says DiPaola, who is a local celebrity himself as the owner of WBLQ radio. “It parodies movies and music and current events–and it changes every single year.” DiPaola is usually cast as the king and brings a great improvisation of Rodney Dangerfield to the character.
Archbishop robes are bestowed annually on Zemanek, who as a Thespian and writer himself, is often part of the annual reimagining and humor of the production. “We keep it fresh, and so the audiences grew. It is a family experience. Twenty-five years have gone by in a blink. It’s most extraordinary to see these fine young men and women who started as torchbearers and are now part of the larger cast. We are bringing the show now to the next generation.”
Some hilarious themes from the years have been The Beach Boys or The 2016 Election and even once Guy was played as a misunderstood criminal with a tone of William Shatner.
“If you want to laugh your face off and learn a little something of history at the same time, this is a perfect evening for you,” says DiPaola.
*Even though GF Day is officially in November, Misquamicut’s production is in October to take advantage of the perfect weather. There is no admission fee for this event. • Due to the nature of the show’s humor, the recommended minimum age is 13. • The event will take place rain or shine, either outdoors or inside the Windjammer’s ballroom. • Refreshments will be available from the Windjammer. • Please bring a folding chair. • Check the website, guyfawkesusa.com for updates.
Shorecrest Celebrates Fifty Years at Misquamicut
“I’ve been looking through the old pictures for days… It’s very nostalgic. Here’s one of me at age three inside the store with my grandparents!” Holly Sisco-Bowen is sharing her family story as we chat in the store and again later that day on the phone. She is lovingly holding the box of her family history and thinking of her mom and dad.
It all started after the ‘38 hurricane. “My father, Cosmo Sisco, was a visionary and had the foresight to imagine what Misquamicut could be after the devastating hurricane. Cosmo and Christine had no money at the time and took a huge risk and opened up Dicky’s Hot Dog stand.” They actually moved an old outhouse from a Tower Hill estate to the beach and renovated it and sold hot dogs to surfers on a kerosene heater. The original store was where Wuskenau Beach is now. “Many surfers still call it Dicky’s Beach!” says Sisco-Bowen.
There were several iterations of the business as it shifted along with the times and the addresses on Atlantic Avenue and the changes and growth of their family. Later they expanded and had a beer garden and Neptune Room. The bar was huge and that was not common in the mid ‘40s. They later again moved down the stretch closer to where the Hotel Maria is now and had Sisco’s General Store but in ‘52 a storm hit and then they rebuilt again.
Eventually, they didn’t want a seasonal store anymore so Holly’s Dad built and ran the Shorecrest Store where it stands now at 57 Shore Road. “I was three when it was built,” she explains. “Later when I was pregnant with my first daughter I didn’t want to miss anything–Morgan is 26 now–so I brought her with me. I would bring both my girls here, Adrian too,” she says with so much happiness. “It is great to keep the family together. It’s a LOT of work, but worth it!”
Over the years cousins and kids and friends and family have worked at the year-round store. And the customers are some of their favorite memories. “We have a little wall in the store with pictures of our dear customers we love who we have lost, like a memorial. Our customers mean the world to us. We can set the calendar to them! We know when one family walks in it is the first week of July and then another that it is August!” She remarks on how the kids of their customers have grown up married and now come with their own kids.
All this summer they will be celebrating the golden 50th anniversary of a family beach legacy. No doubt they already are a part of your memories at Misquamicut, so be sure to pop by, pick up what you need be a part of the hard-earned celebration.
Celebrating 25 Years in Westerly
Two Little Fish is many things: A beachside clam shack. A roadside Drive-in. An entrepreneurial survivor of recession, pandemic, Superstorm Sandy, relocation from a year-round business model near the heart of town since 1997 to a seasonal platform at Misquamicut Beach since 2012. TLF is an employer with deep roots in the community and, in keeping with the heartfelt businesses in our beloved town, truly cares about their customers and their Crew.
The little blue building with the tipped “t” in their logo is a summer tradition for many, yet concerned enough for the future to be plastic-free for a healthy sea. Famous for fried clams, lobster rolls–hot or cold, the classic fish and chips, and more. (You’ll love the homemade slaw!) This family venture welcomes you and toasts “Best Fishes” to all their dear customers for the best summer yet!
There aren’t many places in the U.S. where you can spend a day at the beach and a night at the movies while barely packing up your beach chairs and coolers, and that’s only one of the things that makes the Misquamicut Drive-In Theater — celebrating its 10th anniversary this year — a unique and special place. In the 1950s there were more than 4,000 drive-in movie theaters in the U.S., but by the last decade that number had dwindled to around 300, with most killed off by a combination of changing tastes, expanded home movie viewing options, and increased land costs. Few traditional drive-ins ever occupied a prime piece of near-beachfront property, either, so the Misquamicut Business Association was fighting several strong headwinds when leaders decided in 2011 to turn the former Neptune Beach Club property on Atlantic Avenue into a seasonal drive-in showing beach classics like Jaws and family friendly films like Jurassic Park and The Goonies.
“It started out makeshift, with a couple of cargo containers and a small screen and a projector and DVD player mounted on the back of a Jeep,” recalls MBA president Caswell Cooke. Later, the sound system was upgraded to FM radio along with improved projection equipment and a big, permanent screen. Movie nights steadily increased over the years, from just Thursdays, to Thursdays and Fridays, to five nights a week and — during the first summer of COVID-19 in 2022 — seven nights a week.
“With all the drive-ins that closed up this was one of the few to open,” says Chris Walsh, a local video producer who compiled the vintage preview reel shown before each movie at the drive-in. “Then in 2022 the drive-in became the perfect thing for people to do.”
“The drive-in has a real retro feel, and I’m a retro guy,” says Cooke, who is quick to give credit to his fellow MBA members, the theater’s enthusiastic young staff members, and partners like the United Theater and the South County Tourism Council for contributing to the program’s decade-long run.
An estimated 100,000 people have seen a movie or — starting last season — attended a concert or other event at the beachside drive-in over the years. Community surveys help guide what goes up on the marquee: Jaws is the perennial favorite, with multiple showings most seasons, and even the sequel Jaws 2 gets some drive-in love. “People like to see them on the big screen,” says Cooke. Eighties movies like Dirty Dancing, ET, and Back to the Future are also popular, and the drive-in goes the extra mile to create a festive atmosphere. A DeLorean “time machine” rolled into the lot for Back to the Future along with actor JJ Cohen, who played a member of Biff Tannen’s gang. The RKO Army performed an interactive live show for a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And of course the movies are preceded by old-school commercials touting the treats at the concession stand and movie previews. “Some people enjoy the coming attractions as much as the movie,” says Walsh. For a showing of Eddie and the Cruisers, local musical legend John Cafferty — who along with his Beaver Brown Band provided the soundtrack for the film — made a special appearance.
John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band also were one of the first bands to play on the new performance stage at the drive-in; others included Roomful of Blues, the Boston-based Adam Ezra Group and Peter Noone, the former singer for British Invasion band Herman’s Hermits. Other events added during the COVID-19 pandemic included fundraisers and the graduation ceremony for Westerly High School seniors. “Especially for a community that thrives off of summer for revenues the drive-in was a bright light out of the darkness,” says Avery Moody, a four-year employee, actor, and avid movie fan who started out working the concession stand and now helps manage the drive-in. Playing the bars of Misquamicut in the 1970s “was kind of a jumping-off point for us, because a lot of out-of-staters came there in the summer and it opened a lot of doors,” recalls Cafferty, who added: “Drive-ins were a big part of my childhood, and playing at the drive-in under the stars when nothing else was really open for bands to play at last ya was pretty memorable for us. It was a beautiful night, especially for kids who never had been to a drive-in or a rock and roll show.”
The intent of opening the drive-in was to support local businesses and increase the entertainment options for people visiting Misquamicut between May and October, says Cooke, but the theater has unexpectedly become an attraction in its own right, with people coming from all over Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts to enjoy the nostalgia of open-air movie viewing with a sea breeze. “The beach at night is magical,” says Moody, who grew up 10 minutes from Misquamicut and now gets paid “to do what I love — watching movies on the big screen.”
MBA vice president Tim Brennan, who owns Two Little Fish next door to the drive-in, is among the local merchants who have benefited from the nightly movie crowds. “The gates open at 6 p.m., so if people don’t want the snack bar food they can go to the surrounding restaurants like Two Little Fish or the Windjammer, go to the gift shop, or walk over to the beach,” he says. “The drive-in is such a slice of Americana,” says Brennan. “Kids these days didn’t have that experience before, and they love it. We’re looking forward to doing it again this summer. The drive-in survived Superstorm Sandy and the pandemic, so I don’t see why the drive-in won’t be here to celebrate in another 10 years in Westerly.”
Don’t worry! Dusty’s of Weekapaug will still be here this year for your ice cream fix when you are at the east end of Westerly’s beaches! Peter Silva, 38, is the new owner of the classic business with the Snowman Sentinel outside.
Peter is from Westerly and his business philosophy is simple: to embrace the locals and the tourists. He owns Quonnie’s Bait & Tackle, on Route 1 in neighboring Charlestown, and two years ago he was approached to see if he was interested in owning Weekapaug Bait & Tackle. He was indeed interested, and he made it happen. Then, the Dusty’s FOR SALE sign went up and he started envisioning his plan. Pete and his team have an infectious enthusiasm and like to share joy. Dusty’s of Weekapuag will open for the season on Memorial Day Weekend and hours will be 6am-9pm weekdays (a little earlier and later on the weekends). “We will be one of the first businesses. to open each day. We will start with ice cream and homemade baked goods, and grow our offerings through the season.”
He has teamed with family and friends to make his vision come true. One key ingredient is one of his mentors and dear friend Mary Belanger, who is an esteemed retired owner of The Upper Crust bakery which was long a Westerly favorite. Another key ingredient is his Cousin Kristen Wood who is an amazing baker – and Peter is her biggest fan. Dusty’s is going to bake grab-and-go goods from scratch for beachgoers’ convenience and delight!
Pete’s expertise in fishing and his youth in Westerly RI help him know that customers want convenient bagged lunches whether for an adventure at sea on a boat or an adventure in a chair on the sand watching the boats.
“Salt ponds are rare and we are so lucky to have them here. I welcome everyone to see how unique our home is. I say to everyone, ‘Welcome! You are now a part of this!’”
When the Misquamicut Business Association (MBA) was formed more than two decades ago, its intent was to help local businesses harness the power of collective advertising.“No one business could afford to take out a full-page ad in the New York Post,” said founding MBA member and Andrea owner Rebecca Colucci. “But we could pool our resources to buy one ad that enticed people to the shorelines of Misquamicut.”
During the last 20 years, social media has changed the advertising game a lot, but that spirit of cooperation among Misquamicut businesses is as strong as ever and, in fact, growing.
“It’s cooperation,” said Charles Trefes, MBA president and owner of the Atlantic Beach Park and Windjammer. “We compete as businesses, but also cooperate with each other because to get
things done for the area, we’re stronger as a group than as individuals.”
And the real winners of all that cooperation are the people who flock to Misquamicut every year to enjoy the shoreline and surrounding town. Like stagehands who bring dazzling stories to
life on stage, the MBA works quietly behind the scenes to ensure tourists have an enticing place to visit year after year. Much of the work the MBA does likely goes unnoticed, but everyone
would notice immediately if they stopped.
“One of our big things is hiring a road crew that picks up all the trash up and down the streets
and sweeps the sidewalks,” said Caswell Cooke, MBA founding member and executive director.
They also hire crews to paint By Emily Olson
When the Misquamicut Business Association (MBA) was formed more than two decades ago, its intent was to help local businesses harness the power of collective advertising. “No one
business could afford to take out a full-page ad in the New York Post,” said founding MBA member and Andrea owner Rebecca Colucci. “But we could pool our resources to buy one ad
that enticed people to the shorelines of Misquamicut.” During the last 20 years, social media has changed the advertising game a lot, but that spirit of cooperation among Misquamicut businesses is as strong as ever and, in fact, growing.
“It’s cooperation,” said Charles Trefes, MBA president and owner of the Atlantic Beach Park and Windjammer. “We compete as businesses, but also cooperate with each other because to get
things done for the area, we’re stronger as a group than as individuals.” And the real winners of all that cooperation are the people who flock to Misquamicut every
year to enjoy the shoreline and surrounding town. Like stagehands who bring dazzling stories to life on stage, the MBA works quietly behind the scenes to ensure tourists have an enticing place
to visit year after year. Much of the work the MBA does likely goes unnoticed, but everyone would notice immediately if they stopped.
“One of our big things is hiring a road crew that picks up all the trash up and down the streets and sweeps the sidewalks,” said Caswell Cooke, MBA founding member and executive director. They also hire crews to paint provides a much-needed service for people looking for a little entertainment as they come out of winter hibernation. Greene said of the drive-in, which has experienced a recent explosion in popularity and growth, “It’s safe, it’s fun. You can pack your whole family up in the car and have a cheap night out.”
And the concept of family is an important one at Misquamicut — many of the small businesses in the area are passed down from one generation to the next. “The generation that’s running the
businesses now, we went to school together while our parents ran the businesses,” said Trefes before describing with pride his daughter’s growing interest in helping out her dad at the Windjammer.
Colucci echoes his sentiment.
“Misquamicut has always been a family-friendly beach. All the business owners are families. It’s simply engineered that way.”
Another iconic landmark and one of the best hangouts, with live music and great food on the beach, is the Colucci family’s Andrea Seaside Restaurant and Beach Bar, originally the Andrea Hotel. The 100-year-old hotel had 26 rooms and was open part-time year round hosting weddings and holiday celebrations. The hotel building was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It would have been very expensive to rebuild the old building so the family made the painful decision to demolish it and reinvent the hotel into the restaurant and bar it is today. They did save the old stone fireplace, which had so many family memories, and moved it to the patio. You can sit in front of the fire and watch the sunset over the ocean. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Rebecca Colucci spoke about her family’s history: “The Andrea first opened in 1912. It was originally two houses that were combined into one building and made into a bed and breakfast. My great grandfather, Leonard, bought the Andrea with his two sisters in 1944 after the ‘38 hurricane, and my grandfather Ralf ran it.”
After her grandfather passed away her father, Lenny, bought out his brothers and ran the business along with Rebecca and her sister Michelle.
The Colucci family found out after Sandy just how much support they had from the local community.
“It was so touching to see the large number of people who volunteered to help us, sometimes 30 a day would show up to help us dig out. Some were past employees who worked here when I was a child, it was great,” said Rebecca. “The tent we put up was a temporary fix to keep some revenue coming in while we rebuilt. We spent a lot of money on architectural plans and we have a whole beautiful hotel on paper but when we sent it out to bid it was a $10 million project. Then the business we started doing with the temporary structure was more than we ever did with the old hotel and we thought let’s rethink this.”
The two sisters continue to run the business today out of the makeshift building.
One person who had a lot to do with what Misquamicut is today is John Vacca, better known as Johnny Beachcomber. He came to Misquamicut in 1947, right after WWII, and opened a little snack bar. His specialty was the Misquamicut pepper burger and people would come from all over to get Johnny Beachcomber’s pepper burger. Because people started leaving the keys to their cottages with him so often he thought he should go into the real estate business, so Beachcomber Real Estate Agency was born. The company is now owned by his daughter, Michelle Vacca, who also happens to be the Misquamicut Fire District Moderator.
“We’ve been selling, renting, and managing real estate in Misquamicut for 73 years and helping families find the perfect beach property,” said Michelle. “My parents were married in 1954 and I was born that August. Two weeks after I was born Hurricane Carol came in and wiped out the whole beach. My father had a new wife, a new baby, and no business. Everything was gone and he had to rebuild. My father, Gerard Nardone, and Stanton Terranova Sr. got together and came up with the idea to buy property for a Misquamicut Fire District beach and that’s how the MFD got their beaches. My father was very protective of those beaches. Because of all he’d done for the Town of Westerly the town made him Beach Commissioner of Westerly. They renewed his appointment every year because of who he was. Funny thing is my father couldn’t swim and never went in the water but he loved the beach.”
Sadly the Misquamicut community recently lost Stanton Terranova Sr. who worked with John Vacca to acquire the land for the MFD beaches. Stanton was an electrician by trade but also a skilled businessman. He opened Stanton Realty in 1959 and commissioned his two sisters, Lois and Jane, and brother-in-law Laverne, to work alongside him during the formative years making Stanton Realty a true family enterprise. His entrepreneurship extended into other ventures and one of them was The Pleasant View Inn. From 1965 to 2013 he owned and operated the 112 room oceanfront resort further securing Misquamicut Beach as a summer destination.
The Fiore family owns and operates three businesses at the beach, Alfie’s Surf Shop, Alfie’s Beach Store, and the concession stand Little Mermaid’s. Erika Fiore is the third generation in the family business.
“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t working in the store. My mom said she taught me to give back change to the customers when I was three.”
Gary Fiore talked about the family business history: “The business was started by Salvatore Fiore, my grandfather, after he migrated from Italy. If you lived in Misquamicut in the 1930s you’d see a bright red 1937 Diamond T truck that he delivered fruits and vegetables with. I still have the old truck.”
Gary looked through a pile of old photographs as he described how the original store started.
“My father, Arthur Fiore, bought some property on Atlantic Avenue and started Fiore’s Market in 1946. His brother, Thomas Bates Fiore, had a market right on the corner across from the carousel in Watch Hill. They would go to Providence, buy the fruit, and load the trucks up every day. My mother worked at the store and my father went on the road. The store got completely leveled by Hurricane Carol in 1954 and they rebuilt it. The market slowly evolved into more of a retail store selling grinders, ice, postcards, and beach supplies. They had fruit and vegetables out in front. I took the business over in the 1980s when my parents retired.”
Today, Alfie’s Surf Shop sells men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel including bathing suits, Reef sandals, and beach supplies from sunscreen to surf boards. Alfie’s Beach Store carries a large variety of souvenirs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and almost anything else you would ever need at the beach.
You will find the Winnapaug Inn and the Venice Restaurant located together on Winnapaug Pond beside the Winnapaug Golf Course. Antonio and Anna DiMarco came here in the late 1960s from Italy and opened the Inn in 1988. The inn was enlarged in 1997 and they opened the Venice Restaurant next to the inn in 2000.
“It was planned as a smaller restaurant,” said Nunzio Demarco, who’s run the restaurant for the last 20 years. “Then we thought we needed two ballrooms so it went from a one-floor building to a three-floor building. We do a lot of events, corporate functions, rehearsal dinners, baby showers, wedding showers, and weddings.”
“A lot of the recipes are my mother’s, like our Bolognese sauce and our marinara sauce. My mother loves to cook and we still carry on that tradition. We have a lot of local customers that have been coming to the restaurant for generations so it’s a real family atmosphere. I grew up in the restaurant business doing a little bit of everything. I actually have an engineering degree from URI but I didn’t pursue engineering as a career. I went into the hospitality industry here in the family business and 20 years later I’m still at it.”
Just steps from Misquamicut Beach situated on five beautiful acres is The Breezeway Resort, a family owned business, that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Today, it is managed by John Bellone whose parents, Nicola and Maria Bellone, both emigrated from Italy. They ended up in Misquamicut because Maria loved the ocean. Nicola worked as a mason.
“He was driving to work one day when he saw the for sale sign on the Breezeway Motel and he went to see his friend, Stanton Terranova Sr., who had listed the property,” said John. “Stanton said to my father, ‘I’m not going to do anything until you go ask your wife. You get her permission first.’ My father asked my mother and I guess it was fine because here we are 50 years later.” In 1970, John was just nine months old when the Bellone family moved into a cottage on the property. Originally the Breezeway had 12 motel rooms but over the years the resort has expanded in size and now has 50 rooms.
In 1994 John’s mother, Maria, was walking to the beach when she saw that Dino’s Seafood House was for sale. The Bellone family bought the property, they renovated the restaurant and it became the highly regarded Maria’s Seaside Café. Maria’s Seaside Cafe has the feeling of a bustling Italian trattoria. You can choose from house made ravioli or one of Chef Rafael’s nightly seafood specials.
The Bellone family had been thinking about building a hotel, but was in no hurry, until hurricane Sandy came along. “There was five feet of sand inside the building and the whole restaurant was destroyed,” said John. “It seemed like a good opportunity to build a new restaurant and hotel. I named the new hotel, The Hotel Maria, in honor of my mother, Maria Bellone, who passed away in 2014.”
This summer the beach will again be hosting visitors for another fun filled season. There will be other challenges ahead for the family businesses at the beach in the years ahead but these people have proven they’re resilient and will continue to thrive. It’s been over 100 years since Court and Trudy built their cottage on the beach. Since then Misquamicut has developed into a vibrant residential and resort community. If Trudy could see Misquamicut today I’m sure she’d say “What a pleasant view.”
Misquamicut Beach is considered one of the finest beaches in New England, attracting thousands of people every summer for a healthy dose of sun and fun. Much of Misquamicut’s charm comes from a small group of family-owned businesses that have been passed down from generation to generation. Many of these families migrated here and all brought with them a sense of pride in hard work and a community spirit. These hard-working people helped Misquamicut become the wonderful community we know today.
The history of the beach at Misquamicut goes way back to the first Paleo-Indians that came here to fish, hence the name Misquamicut which, in the Narragansett language, means place of the red fish. With the prosperity created by the Industrial Revolution, a leisure class began to go to the beach for recreational purposes. In the 1890s, a large tent city at the junction of Benson Avenue and Atlantic Avenue sprang up. The only building on the beach was Captain James Thompson’s Fish Hut.
Court Bliven and his family, who had been staying in tents, purchased a lot in 1894 and built the first cottage called the Pioneer. While inspecting the construction of the cottage Court’s wife Trudy, impressed by the view, exclaimed, “What a pleasant view.” And so the area was named Pleasant View Beach.
As more people came to the beach to enjoy the cool ocean breezes a real estate boom began. You could buy a 50-foot by 150-foot oceanfront lot for $50. In 1908, a trolley line was built down what is today Winnapaug Road all the way to the beach. By 1920 the fledgling resort had four major hotels, more than 120 cottages, and a post office. In 1928 the US Postal Service changed the name from Pleasant View Beach to its Narragansett Indian name, Misquamicut.
One of the earliest immigrants to open a business on the beach, that still exists today, was Harry Trefes. Harry came through Ellis Island in 1905 and later settled in Westerly. In 1921, he purchased the Atlantic Beach Casino. It had been a trolley park that was built by the trolley company to attract customers. The large wooden building had a dance hall, skating rink, carousel, and 200 bathhouses on the bottom floor. Harry changed the name to the Atlantic Beach Park. During the Hurricane of 38, the original building was completely destroyed.
I sat down with 91-year-old Elias Trefes, known as Lou, who reminisced about his father.
“The 38 hurricane washed the casino out, I was there at the time. We had a cottage facing the ocean. My father, mother, and I were sitting there eating breakfast when all of a sudden we heard this giant roar. We went out to the dining room and the wind had blown the roof off. My father said ‘I think we better go to our home in town.’ I cried all night because we had left my little Boston Terrier behind in the cottage. The next morning my father and I went down to see what had happened but the National Guard would not let you go any further than Shore Road. Shore Road was where all the debris had washed up from the storm. We drove down Shore Road and amazingly on a piece of our merry-go-round roof was my little dog. He survived the hurricane riding on that piece of roof. We lost all those people down there but my little dog survived.”
“After the 38 hurricane my father and Frank Enos went up to Lawrence, Massachusetts where there were a lot of old mills that closed after the depression. My father bought one and they took it apart and brought it down here. That’s where all the steel in the Windjammer came from. That’s the building that’s there today. My brother Charlie and I co-owned the business and ran it for 60 years.”
Today, the Trefes family properties are divided between Charles and Lou’s three children. The Atlantic Beach Park is owned by Charles Trefes, son of Charles. The main building, which once housed the roller skating rink, is the Windjammer Surf Bar and the Mariner Room. The Windjammer is a sports bar and restaurant that opens directly onto an oceanfront patio. On weekends this popular landmark has live entertainment. Enjoy their delicious seafood dishes, salads, wings, and amazing burgers as well as summer cocktails. After lunch or dinner enjoy the best soft-serve ice cream on the beach at Dusty’s Dairy Bar.
Along with an arcade and kiddie rides, the Atlantic Beach Park’s main attraction is its magnificent 1915 Herschell-Spillman Carousel with Illions horses. The carousel is one of only a few hundred still surviving in the country.
“My daughter, Alliandra, is 15 and probably the youngest person in the country that can actually grease an antique carousel,” said Charles. “She’s the fourth generation and she’s waiting in the wings.”
On the bayside of Atlantic Avenue Lou Trefes’s daughter, Sally Trefes Sorenson, opened the gift shop Horse of a Different Color. It’s the largest gift, souvenir, and beach supply store in Misquamicut. Sally grew up at the beach and from the time she was 12, she worked with her father doing just about every job at the Atlantic Beach Park. She ran the skating rink concession, bathhouses, the ticket booth, was a lifeguard, and when she turned 18, she bartended at the Windjammer. Sally also managed the Windjammer from 2010 to 2017.
In 1981, when Sally turned 21, her father thought it would be nice to have a gift shop at their end of the beach. He suggested that she open one on a family-owned property across the street. Sally was able to buy out a beach gift shop that was going out of business. It’s been a successful 40-year run but instead of retiring she is taking over the Water Wizz water slide next door and opening a coffee shop and beer/wine tasting room called the Sun & Sea Beanery and Tasting Room.
Lou’s son, Harry Trefes, owns the Bayview Fun Park. Harry decided to build a family entertainment center in 1995 on Trefes family land that was just a vacant lot on the bayside of Atlantic Avenue.
“The idea was to enhance family entertainment by catering to older kids and adults while the Atlantic Beach Park across the road featured rides for younger kids.”
The center features a small beach on the bay where you can rent a kayak or just chill. They do fishing charters, have an awarding winning 18-hole mini-golf course, a Super Slide, Slick Track Go-Karts, splashing bumper boats, two multi-speed dual softball/baseball batting cages, and a four-place bungee jump.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – there are countless family ties in Misquamicut!
The iconic Sam’s Snack Bar in Misquamicut, RI is starting the next chapter in her story. Originally started by Sam Castanza and run for many years under his leadership, the torch was passed to Norm Dufresne – who ran the snack bar for many years. Meanwhile, many years later, Kurt Soukup, who happened to be 1,646 miles away, was looking to bring his culinary knowledge back to the area he grew up in.
Kurt Soukup entered the fun and exciting culinary world at the tender age of 14. The way he told the story goes like this: “We were driving by a restaurant called The Lakeside Inn in Wilbraham, MA, and I wanted to work there. I wore a three-piece suit to the interview (he was 14, mind you), and got the job.”
Kurt worked his way up from the dishwasher to manage the show, and then it was time to move on to another adventure. It was this decision that brought him together with Rupprecht Scherff, who was the owner at The Student Prince and Fort in Springfield, MA. Rupprecht became a mentor to Kurt and taught him many lessons that Kurt still carries with him to this day. The main take-away that Kurt learned was loyalty – loyalty to his staff and customers – which translates into his sense of hospitality.
Kurt soon met Kelly who became his wife and business partner, and they have owned several successful restaurants in Massachusetts and Connecticut. After discussing their culinary career, one place they always wanted to open a restaurant was in the Caribbean. Soon they were searching and found a place called Bananas located in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and purchased the local spot about eight years ago. They have been running it ever since.
Looking forward, Kurt and Kelly knew that they would like to retire back in New England and started looking to build the foundation for the next chapter in their lives. After some searching, they were able to purchase a home in Westerly and a business at the beach.
Kurt is a farm-to-table chef and he plans to bring this concept to Sam’s Snack Bar in Misquamicut. They do not plan to change the menu, as people have come to expect certain things when they go to the beach. They will keep the same hours – 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and serve breakfast and lunch seven days a week. The plan is to build a basic menu – sandwiches, wraps, etc., all made from scratch, and run numerous specials so they can test the market and let the market dictate the menu.
John Gonzales, known as Gonzo, was feeling nostalgic one night about the Westerly Drive-In that closed in 1987. He was with Misquamicut Business Association Executive Director Caswell Cooke and said: “We should have a film festival right here at the beach.” He was thinking back to when he was a teenager and would sneak friends into the movie in the trunk of his car.
“They charged by the person and the cars were big. I could fit three people in my trunk,” he recalled.
Caswell also remembered the Westerly Drive-In: “My family’s property backed up to the drive-in. I would stand out there waiting for the school bus in front of the huge dilapidated screen, and thought, it’s too bad the past is already gone before I can experience it.”
Those memories sparked the idea and the Misquamicut Drive-In was born.
Drive-in theatres are an American phenomenon and after WWII they sprang up all over the rural landscape of the country bringing Hollywood to the people. The first drive-in was patented on June 6, 1933 by Richard Hollingshead in New Jersey. He created it as a solution for people unable to comfortably fit into smaller movie theatre seats. Hoping this would appeal to families with children, Hollingshead advertised his drive-in as a place where “the whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.” Drive-in theatres reached their peak in 1951 with 4,151 nationwide.
The success of the drive-in was rooted in its reputation of being a family-friendly place. Parents were able to bring their children to the theater, often in pajamas, without having to worry about bothering other movie-goers, and were also able to spend time together without paying the expenses of babysitters. Drive-ins catered to their known audience, offering luxuries such as bottle warmers and diaper vending machines, and later miniature golf courses, swimming pools, and even motels on the land with windows facing the screens so that viewers could watch the films from their beds. During the 1950s, the greater privacy afforded to patrons gave drive-ins a reputation as immoral, and they were labeled “passion pits” in the media.
One of the largest drive-in theaters was the Johnny All-Weather Drive-In in Copiague, New York. Covering over 29 acres, it could park 2,500 vehicles. It had a full-service restaurant with seating on the roof, and a trolley system to take children and adults to a playground and a large indoor theater for bad weather or for those who wanted to watch in air-conditioned comfort. It opened in 1957 with Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, and closed in 1984. The largest screen size was 54 feet high by 120 feet wide. That’s a big screen.
But by the late 1960’s drive-in theatres started to decline in popularity. People were watching a new medium called television which you could watch from the comfort of your home. Drive-ins were seasonal and weather dependent, nobody was going to an outdoor theatre in the rain or snow. As operating costs and property taxes rose the drive-in’s profitability declined. Where there was once over 4,000 theaters nationwide now there are less than 320. Rhode Island hosted one of the first 10 drive-ins to be opened in America, the Providence Drive-In that opened in July 1937. During the peak of the drive-in’s popularity, Rhode Island had 15 drive-ins. Today just two remain the Traditional Rustic Tri-View Drive-In in North Smithfield and the Misquamicut Drive-In.
So Caswell and Gonzo made the decision to try and build a drive-in, the question was how to go about it. The Misquamicut Drive-In was a shoestring operation from the start. George Tattersall, president of the Misquamicut Business Association at the time, came up with the ingenious idea for building the supports for the screen out of 40-foot cargo containers which were also needed for storing the Fall Festival equipment. He proposed stacking them up and welding them together to support the screen.
“The problem was we had to make it removable,” said George. “We didn’t know if it was going to work and if it didn’t we could always sell the containers. It also had to be temporary otherwise you have to get all kinds of permits from the DEM.”
George built the screen out of plywood, attached it to the containers, and painted it white. They were able to get a projector and for the first couple of years projected the movies out of the back of Caswell’s jeep.
In 2010, the drive-in opened on Thursday nights. Before long, word got out and they had a hit.
“It took right off,” said Gonzo. “We showed classic cult movies. At first we had an AM radio transmitter to broadcast the sound but a lot of the newer cars didn’t have AM anymore so we had to get the speakers.”
The first year the drive-in was open only one night a week for eight weeks but now, ten years later, it’s open three nights a week
“Last year, the South County Tourism Council donated a proper projection shed and the audio comes from a low power FM transmitter that you can tune your car radio to. The drive-in gates open at 6 p.m. and the lot holds 100 cars with an overflow lot for 100 more. There are bathrooms and a concession stand that sells hot dogs, candy, popcorn, and Coca Cola products because Coke is one of our main sponsors. We do the little glass bottle Cokes and it’s fun to see kids who don’t know about glass bottles try to figure out how to pop the top off,” said Caswell. “The first hour of the show is a reel that Chris Walsh and I put together that combines famous classic commercials, like the one with Iron Eyes Cody shedding a tear about all the pollution, commercials for local businesses, and fun film clips from the fifties and sixties. Everything is nostalgia and a little bit of a history lesson. We’re trying to enable the kids to experience another era of American culture.”
Another challenge to opening the drive-in was figuring out what movies to show. Most of the few remaining drive-ins in the country show first-run movies which were too expensive for the Misquamicut Drive-In and they couldn’t compete with the twelve screen indoor cinemas close by. So they decided to just showcase classic films from the drive-in era.
Over the years they’ve found that “Jaws” was hands down the most popular film, the one that everyone loved.
“I could show ‘Jaws’ every week and sell out,” said Caswell, “because it’s a different crowd every week. We have a guy who has a place called The Living Sharks Museum and he brings a ‘Jaws’ photo booth. We have an actual DeLorean that’s made to look like the car in the movie when we do ‘Back to the Future.’ We have a whole group that brings their Jurassic Park Vehicles. We’ll have 15 of them when we show ‘Jurassic Park.’ The Ocean State Ghost Busters group comes when we show ‘Ghost Busters.’ It’s a lot of fun.”
The Misquamicut Drive-In opens at 6 p.m. 3 nights a week, previews start at 8 p.m., and the feature is at 9 p.m.
“A lot of people park then walk across the street to the beach or go eat dinner at one of the restaurants,” said Caswell. “People make a night out of it. It’s nice. You’ll see the back of an RV open and there’s a whole family. They’ve got pillows and blankets and the parents and the kids are snuggling. It’s family time. We need more of that. It’s’ also a bargain at $20 a car and it doesn’t matter how many people you cram in.”
So travel back in time to the Misquamicut Drive-In. It’s a rare, retro throwback to the golden age of cinema and a real old fashioned American blast from the past.
Dusty’s Dairy Bar is a vacation destination at Misquamicut Beach and the man behind the name and the business is a living legend. He was born with the name Willis Edgecomb so it’s kind of a funny story on how he came to be called Dusty. It all started with a girl he met at a roller dome back in his dating days. Her former boyfriend was called Dusty, and so she passed that name along to Willis. And even though he didn’t get the girl, he got the name, which stuck and he used that name for his business Dusty’s Dairy Bar that he owned for more than 40 years. Now at 97 years old, Dusty’s blue eyes sparkle when he talks about the dairy bar. It’s clear that he loves the life he has built for himself in the Westerly community. He just retired about six years ago from his dairy days and reflects upon his business he was so dedicated to and the life he created.
Dusty is a disappearing but treasured part of military history as a WWII veteran, he went into the service right after high school, as part of the Army Corps bomb disposal squad serving three years, most of it in combat duty. Private Willis Edgecomb of Limestone ME was awarded a meritorious citation plaque in serving with the 614th ordnance ammunition company for superior performance of achievement and duration in 1944.
“I guess I must have done something right, I’m damn lucky to be here,” said Dusty. “I just went on with life when I came home. I don’t talk about the war.”
After the war was over and he came back home as he put it “with five cents in my pocket” he went to work for C.B. Cottrell and Sons Co. on Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck.
“I did everything there,” said Dusty. “I worked for 55 cents an hour cleaning floors and I drove a truck, I went on the assembly floor and set up presses, and spent 17 years in production control.”
His strong work ethic and self-motivation led him to own something of his own even while still working at Cottrell.
“I could have gone to college but I made up my mind that I didn’t have an education and I had to do something,” said Dusty. He got his start in the ice cream business by leasing what was called Dairyland back in the day, located across from Providence Coal Fired Pizza on Franklin Street, and even though the small ice cream shop is no longer there, it gave Dusty his start and inspiration for his dairy bar soon to follow.
His strong entrepreneurial drive led him to open up Dusty’s Dairy Bar in 1946 at the original location of Dunn’s Corner and later he moved the business to Atlantic Avenue on Misquamicut Beach. He remembers on opening day that town officials showed up and stated his business was the start of a new project. And from then on it was business as usual for Dusty and his family. Just a couple of years in with Dusty’s he built the Blue Star Motel on Post Road. He put his wife in charge of running the motel while they moved into the house next door.
“I would leave Cottrells at 3:30 pm, go home for an hour, have dinner and then go to the dairy bar,” said Dusty. “I did that my whole life; I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Besides being dedicated to his businesses, his other passion was flying. He has a picture of himself standing next to the first plane he bought, a 1975 Bonanza F33A. He learned to fly it out of a small community WWII airport hangar in what is now Saltwater Vineyard in Stonington. He used to leave his dairy bar on a Friday night and fly his plane down to Pompano Beach, Florida in the wintertime, where his wife was, spend the weekend and be back at work on Monday.
“I just kept working,” he said. “I worked hard and I lived a pretty good life, I guess.”
Dusty grew up during a time when his solemn word and a handshake sealed a business deal and a mutual trust between community members formed a bond. His business philosophy was smart and simple; “keep it clean, be honest, and keep your word.”
He had people all over the world working for him, many young students from Europe who came for the summer and ended up working for him each season at the dairy bar.
“I liked meeting people from Europe,” he said. “When I closed, I went and visited them all, I knew all the people.”
One of his young workers recently visited him; she is 76 years old now but still remembers how nice he and his wife were to her while she worked at Dusty’s.
“It’s been a great business for me,” said Dusty.
Phil Orzell, who Dusty calls his wingman and friend, used to bring his grandchildren to Misquamicut Beach to go on the water slide and then to Dusty’s for ice cream every Sunday. Back then the boys barely came up to Dusty’s knees and now they are all over six feet tall and still have fond memories of their Dusty Dairy Bar days.
These days you can find Dusty relaxing with a glass of wine and his friend Phil down at The Andrea. He still enjoys going back to his dairy bar and meeting people there but he still won’t reveal to anyone the recipe for his famous ice cream. His favorite flavor of all his six soft serves? Pistachio and he likes a strawberry milkshake too.
Misquamicut, RI is known for many things – the beach of course, but also the restaurants, the events, the sun & fun and fishing. Coming down Weekapaug road is an adventure for the senses; the sights, the sounds, the smells. Turning right onto Atlantic Ave and heading over the Weekapaug bridge, brings you to Weekapaug Bait & Tackle.
Fishermen travel from all parts of New England to fish at the Weekapaug breachway and various beaches throughout the year. New to the local fishing scene, but not to business, is local businessman Peter Silva. Pete, as his friends call him, is the new owner of Weekapaug Bait & Tackle.
Pete is a local guy who grew up learning about clamming and fishing from his Grandfather, father and uncles. His love for the local salt ponds, whose unique ecosystems are only found here in Rhode Island, was instilled at a young age during those excursions for the local seafood bounty.
He maintains the local, family run business atmosphere by having his Uncle Mike help out with the merchandising at both locations, as-well-as being a general manager of operations for both stores. Customer service is Pete’s top priority and his knowledge about the area will have you enjoying your time in Misquamicut like a local!
Pete is now the 4th owner, and each of them have their own story. Mike Cardinal, a previous owner, has become a mentor to Pete, and also runs his custom rod & repair business at the Weekapaug location. After purchasing the business from the last owner, Tony Pocchia, who had changed the name to Misquamicut Bait & Tackle, Pete wanted to rename the store to it’s original name of Weekapaug Bait & Tackle. After meeting with Charlie Maggs, the founder of the store, Pete received his blessing to use the original name, so the next chapter can be written.
Weekapaug Bait & Tackle and her sister store, Quonnie Bait & Tackle – shout out to Gary & Abby who work at the Quonnie location – are full service bait & tackle shops. They both stock live bait, frozen bait, fishing rods, reels, all tackle needed whether fishing from a boat or land – in fresh water or salt water. Looking to check out the local rivers? They have fly-fishing rods and gear too. Misquamicut is known for her shellfish, and they carry a full line of high-quality clamming gear. To ensure you are legal, they are an approved state vendor for all required state licenses.
Weekapaug Bait & Tackle is located directly across from Dunes Park Beach and they are approved for beach parking. They sell and rent all of the sundries you will need to enjoy your time in Misquamicut – renting boogie boards, chairs, umbrellas; and selling all beach supplies and apparel.
This article originally ran last year at this time, and it is still relevant today. The drive-in will start on May 15 under strict guidelines from the Governor’s office. They sold out both showings – May 15th and 16th – and more dates are being scheduled. As more information comes in, we’ll get it out to you.
Misquamicut is a fantastic place. Not only does it have world-class beaches, a fun nightlife scene and delicious seafood, but it has one of the only two remaining drive-in movie theaters in the entire state! So whether it’s a new experience for you or it reminds you of days gone by, consider yourself fortunate to be able to experience the joys of a drive-in theater.
Today, nearly ten years after it’s inception, the old-school experience on the pond-side of Wuskenau Beach is more popular than ever. Last year, Saturday nights were added to the lineup to accommodate even more theater-goers. This year, due to popular demand the same movie will be showing the entire weekend. And because it’s all about providing the experience that the audience wants, the 2020 summer line-up reflects the results of a survey that the MBA sent out to more than 400 people over the winter.
In the survey, they included a whole range of movies that are brand new, older and everything in between and these are the movies that came out on top, he said.
“So this summer, the lineup includes everything from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Jaws to Grease to Ghostbusters.”
It’s fun to provide a unique experience that’s been mostly phased out of 21st-century life, Misquamicut Business Association Executive Director Caswell Cooke said. Every year, there are attendees who’ve never been to a drive-in before and have no clue what to do upon arriving. There’s a whole generation that, depending on where they live or grew up, doesn’t know what a drive-in is and have never experienced it.
“We’re bringing something back that was cool way back when,” he said. “And it’s great because now it’s a common frame of reference for these kids so they can talk to their grandparents or parents about how they went to the drive-in.”
The initial idea for a drive-in in Misquamicut came about in 2010. George Tattersall, former president of the MBA, had the idea to stack some SeaLand cargo containers up and weld them together for the screen to be on.
Since it all started, they’ve had the projector running out of the back of Cooke’s car and running the wires from there. This year, thanks to the generosity of the South County Tourism Council, the main sponsor for the theater, they now have a projection shed. Now they can lock up the equipment in there and don’t have to set it up and take it down every week as they’ve done in the past.
So what is it that keeps people coming back to the Misquamicut Drive-In each summer? It’s a fun, truly unique experience that’s quite hard to come by these days. And well, at least in Misquamicut, the setting is pretty quintessential, which helps to drive interest. Add to it the retro 1970s and 80s commercials and previews are shown at the beginning you’ve got yourself a night that’ll bring back old memories as you create new memories.
Grab your friends, family and loved ones and head to the drive-in this spring and summer. At $15 a vehicle, it’s an experience that can’t be beat.
The 2020 season begins May 15, and the drive-in is sold out both nights – the 15th and the 16th. More dates are being scheduled as they navigate COVID-19 and social distancing.
If you have lived in or been a visitor of the Misquamicut Beach area in the past few years you are part of history in the making. Maybe you enjoyed the Thursday night drive-in flicks with a date, or spent the day at Misquamicut beach with your friends and let the sunburn cool off with a walk up and down Atlantic avenue stopping for a drink and some clam strips at one of the local restaurants or you looked forward all year to the opening day of Dusty’s Dairy Bar each season.
Misquamicut Beach is one of Rhode Island’s premier vacation hotspots and over the past 20 years, it has evolved into a generation of creating memories for tourists, residents, and businesses. The Misquamicut Business Association (MBA) is an important part of the evolution of change and growth for this special area and this year celebrates 20 years strong. This year, the association looks back and reflects on its success in the last 20 years and how they will make strides into the next 20 years.
Caswell Cooke, Executive Director and former President of the MBA had no idea he would still be kicking around the beach after helping build the MBA 20 years ago. He remembers a version of the MBA in the 1980s before his time with just a few businesses at the beach as members, 1993 being the last time it existed. As a young 25-year-old back then, and a new business owner at Misquamicut Beach, he saw many of the bars closing. His business partner, Lenny, brought the idea to fruition that with all the visitors coming to Misquamicut they needed to have more choices for people to enjoy visiting and eating and that they should bring their businesses together to attract more tourists. This idea led to a letter that was sent out to other business owners who were invited to a meeting. To Caswell’s pleasant surprise, the business owners showed up and elected him president of the board in 2000 to bring the MBA back to life.
“I am definitely proud of what we created and our high percentage of members,” said Caswell. “It’s been 20 years of generating memories and growing up.”
In the first year of the revitalized MBA, the group wanted to get their footing and start with a project that would be effective in changing the image of the beach to show their value to the community. So they cleaned up the beach! Caswell fondly remembers the first guy they hired to pick up beach trash who used his own truck and went to Home Depot to pick up supplies.
The now popular Misquamicut Drive-In started one night a week with a lone projector out of the back of Caswell’s jeep. The MBA magazine was also a big accomplishment and started with then Westerly Sun Photographer Danny Highland showing them a spread of pictures and commenting that they should do a publication of some sort.
“We have no fancy office and have never been about a large staff,” said Caswell. “We are out there doing our thing and getting it done.”
Tim Brennan, the current vice president of the MBA board and owner of Two Little Fish, was a newcomer to the business group but remembers the community rallying together when Superstorm Sandy hit the close-knit Misquamicut Beach community in 2012. He recalls how they all worked as a team to clean up the beach after the disaster. The MBA coordinated with local volunteer groups, other organizations, and the Ocean Chamber of Commerce to set up checkpoints and even issued volunteer gear and tools. All members went to work helping homeowners throw out damaged furniture, rebuild decks and docks, and remove sand. He remembers there being at least eight feet of sand around every business, and the national guard came along with the local police to help rebuild the beach.
“We coordinated with other restaurants to feed volunteers, my place had four walls still remaining, so people picked up donated food and ate at my restaurant,” said Tim. “It was a great response by the community to rally around the beach, and to this day I see those customers that visit my restaurant and remember how they helped me out.”
A big part of their mission all these years has been cleaning the beach and they have come a long way from that one lone guy picking up trash to employing a dedicated team of people to keep the area clean all year round.
“When people come to visit we don’t want the neighbors to have a trashy area,” said Caswell. “We don’t let trash hit the ground here.”
They have worked with the state over the last few years and built a great relationship with Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee who has been very supportive of their efforts and accomplishments as it relates to keeping Misquamicut clean and building tourism in the area.
Another key to the success of the MBA and their longevity is their self-promotion. With more than 105,000 Facebook followers, they have utilized their talents and rode the social media wave.
Former President of the MBA George Tattersall also had a positive impact on the self-sustaining group, helping them think outside the Misquamicut Beach box to host SpringFest and FallFest, which now take place annually.
“The whole idea of the MBA is to drive business to Misquamicut and to support our members,” said George.
Growing up in Westerly, George opened a music center business in Mystic when he was in his late 20s and later started a business in Misquamicut leasing batting cages and go-karts.
“We would just open for the summer and never really did much marketing, it was all weather dependent and small businesses couldn’t afford a marketing campaign,” said George.
He got involved in the MBA and took some of the business ideas he had learned from his days in Mystic.
“We decided what we were going to do was not going to cost MBA members anything, and we ended up doing the festivals twice a year to get us rolling and create an income so the MBA could sustain itself,” he said.
Rebecca Green, who owns Cold Stone Creamery in Westerly has been an associate board member of the MBA since 2009 and also agrees with George on the importance of business networking and promoting the whole town through the different events and fundraisers.
“I love to see the memories and family traditions people share with us about Misquamicut and why they vacation here,” said Rebecca.
And who doesn’t love a souvenir map of the beach? George got that idea going from the Beachcomber rental cottages that would give them to rental visitors so they could find their way from the rental office to their cottage. He brought the idea back to the MBA and they worked with a graphic design company to create a colorful cartoon map so visitors that vacation here can navigate the entire beach area and the map even points them in the right direction to go to Block Island and some of the other area hotspots. The map was later blown up and added to the pavilion at the state beach.
From its grassroots beginnings, the MBA has grown from a budget of $4,000 to $5,000 with just a few members to present-day having an operating budget of $400,000 and being 175 members strong.
What is the vision for the MBA for the next 20 years?
“We want to advocate for better infrastructure here along the beach,” said Caswell.
They are working with the state and the town of Westerly to not only fix the roads and drainage problems but also put in a bike/pedestrian nature path along Atlantic Avenue. The path would feature lighting for those biking and walking back from the beach at night, as well as informative signage on marine life and birds. This signage will also emphasize the beauty of the salt pond, which gets overlooked and is another added natural feature of Misquamicut. They also are working with the state on adding a season pass lane for cars coming into the beach parking lot and online season ticket passes.
“We are advocates for the good of the whole beach,” said Caswell.
Westerly has a reputation for being a summer destination, but the truth is that there’s actually plenty to do even when there’s a bit of a chill in the air, like warming up beside a bonfire for a rousing celebration of Guy Fawkes Day right at the beach.
For those who may not know, here’s a mini-history lesson for you. There was once a conspiracy, known as the Gunpowder Plot, to blow up the House of Lords in England in the hopes of killing its members and King James in 1605 led in part by Guy Fawkes, who wanted to protest against Protestant control of the country. Following this botched attempt on November 5, Fawkes was captured, tried, and executed and a day of national thanksgiving in England was declared.
This holiday has been celebrated annually ever since with parades and fireworks, meant to represent the explosives that failed to detonate as part of the plot. You may recognize the popular rhyme “Remember, remember the fifth of November,” an English folk verse that references the fateful day and popularized again in recent years by the film V for Vendetta.
Having the celebration come across the pond to Westerly was brought on by two factors. First, current Misquamicut Business Association Executive Director Caswell Cooke had spent a semester in England in 1995, working for a member of the British parliament as an intern, and then a year later attended a bonfire at his friend Tro Cottrell’s house in North Stonington.
“He was wearing a kilt and had brought in a bagpiper and I was just like ‘What are you doing?’” he laughed. “And then he reminded me it was Guy Fawkes Day and it kind of took off from there, so the next year we headed down to the Andrea and lit a bonfire of our own.”
Selections from a play, which covers the trial and execution, are traditionally read out during the celebration in England and became an essential part of the celebration at the Andrea as well.
“Chris, Caswell, Matt and I are all fans of British humor, so we decided to augment the play with a few Monty Python skits, and then play around with the rest of the script, like how Chris always plays King James as a character inspired by Rodney Dangerfield,” laughed Ryan Zamanek, who typically plays the Archbishop of Canterbury. “We usually stick to our usual roles but sometimes we switch it up, like in 2008, when the Apprentice was so popular, John Flemming took on the role of King James as Donald Trump,” Dipaola added.
Another year, Caswell had the idea to have the performances be inspired by Joe Cocker’s iconic slurred speech. All performances skew towards PG-13 humor, but families are welcome to use their best judgment. In fact, many members of the younger generation of performers grew up attending the event as children, so the experience is deeply connected to their roots.
The first performance took place in 1997 before the MBA even existed and its future members were just thinking of ways to extend the season on their own, so that first year was very informal and impromptu in most ways. “A lot of it was improvised and the costumes were pretty thrown together, and that first year we only had a crowd of 15,” script co-writer Zamanek shared. “It was just a bunch of us getting together from the old high school days and having a good time, really.”
Over 20 years later and it’s now an official MBA event and the audience has grown from barely more than a dozen to almost 500.
“Caswell and I work year-round to write fresh new scripts, and we’ve been able to bring in some exciting people to sing and perform, including magicians and illusionists and even Denny Lane, former member of the Moody Blues and Wings,” Zamanek said.
The costumes have improved, too, with a vibrant and varied stock inherited from the Chorus of Westerly’s production of 12th Night, which allow the performers to really lean into their roles as kings, bishops, and knights in shining armor. The one exception to the costume upgrades is the king’s crown, which has always been and will always be supplied by Burger King. “We thought about making it more dignified, but that was quickly vetoed,” Zamanek explained.
The bonfire and performance will take place on Saturday, October 19, at 6:30 p.m. and this year marks the first time the event will be hosted at the Windjammer. The show is free, with donations requested to help benefit the MBA.