Signs of Hope in South County

As Southern Rhode Island prepares for summer, we find hope everywhere


“Hope we have as an anchor of the soul.”

It was this biblical phrase that inspired our state flag: The word “hope” next to an anchor. In the age of coronavirus and national lockdowns, that sentiment has never been more meaningful. Today, the winter doldrums have melted away, and just as the ground has thawed and the air has warmed, South County is opening up again, preparing itself for its most dynamic season.

This summer will be very different, of course. The crowds will be thinner, by design. Beaches will open, but with frustrating restrictions. Masks will be worn. Entire festivals won’t take place, and some of our favorite venues won’t open at all.

But everywhere you look, there are signs of hope, little acts of kindness, grassroots efforts, and ideas so ingenious you wonder why nobody ever thought of them before. Many of these hopeful signs will persist, long after beaches have opened and Phase 2 of the state’s reopening has begun.

As our staff at SO Rhode Island have watched and waited, these are just some of the South County stories that caught our eyes – rays of sunshine in a challenging time, symbols that, no matter what happens in the coming year, hope will prevail.


Everyday Folks Sew Masks

You can easily find the South County Masketeers on Facebook, a public group dedicated to sewing together masks. What’s astonishing is that the group counts nearly 600 members, and at press time had fashioned more than 10,000 masks. These handmade accoutrements have been distributed all over the state – and they make up just one of countless examples of locals putting their quarantine time to good use. They aren’t the only ones putting their sartorial skills to work, of course; South County is full of volunteer mask-makers. But the Masketeers are easy to join, and they definitely picked a great name. 


Distillery Makes Hand Sanitizer

Distilleries have been unlikely heroes of the pandemic because the process for making liquor is similar to making antibacterial gels. When bottles of Purell vanished from shelves in March, North Kingstown-based Java Skin Care teamed up with Sons of Liberty Spirits Co. in South Kingstown to create a brand-new hand sanitizer. Talk about a can-do spirit! 


Local Winery Builds Shields

This year hasn’t been a good one for the wine business, and Wickford-based Gooseneck Vineyards has struggled to reach customers. But that hasn’t stopped owners Liana Buonanno and Paul Fede from staying active. Not only has Gooseneck donated 2,000 bottles of wine to area restaurants – to give away free with curbside pickup – but Fede has also personally constructed transparent shields for local cashiers.


Taking in RI Sunshine

Picking your own flowers at Wicked Tulips has become a Rhode Island rite of spring – and many were devastated to hear that the flower farm had to cancel its first event in their new location after relocating to Exeter. In response, Elizabeth Almeida of North Kingstown asked locals to send photos of themselves so she could superimpose the shot on a background of blossoms. Almeida partly started in memory of her late mother, who loved flowers, but also to donate half of the proceeds to Wicked Tulips. The farm itself got plucky and offered virtual tours and curbside pick-ups during bloom time.


Virtual Shopping in Westerly

As retailers struggled to bring in customers, the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce tried a radical tactic: They offered “virtual tours” of local shops via Facebook Live. Proprietors guided viewers around their shops, and items could be purchased by phone or website. The same way scores of sit-down restaurants quickly focused on takeout, myriad businesses have used virtual commerce to make ends meet. The Chamber followed this model by hosting a virtual art show in late May. Nearly every small business in South County now has a website for ordering products or food, but for future virtual tours, check out the Chamber’s social media. 


Now Playing: The Misquamicut Drive-In

The drive-in movie theater is one of the great icons of mid-century nostalgia – and it’s practically designed for the pandemic environment: You can watch a blockbuster in a group, but from the safety of your sealed, air-conditioned vehicle. Fans poured into the Misquamicut Drive-In in May to watch the Rhody favorite, Jaws, and thanks to the cinema’s thoughtful precautions, more films are scheduled for this month (along with expanded parking): The Neverending Story (June 12), Rocky Horror Picture Show (June 13), Jumanji: The Next Level (June 19), and Yesterday (June 26). 


Art Online and Outdoors in Jamestown

For many of us, the lockdown prompted us to brush up on old pastimes or try out new skills. Video tutorials come in many forms, including art classes from the Jamestown Art Center. Any child or adult can participate in these online workshops from local artists; you can practice such diverse creative pursuits as drawing, photography, and stone carving. And to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Jamestown Arts Center plans to host its Outdoor Arts Experience, a (socially distanced) open-air showcase of art installations. 


Ballard’s is Back!

All spring long, fans of Block Island held their breath. Would the island open up to tourists? Would local businesses be allowed to welcome visitors from the mainland? And then we got the news: Ballard’s Island Beach Resort would open June 12. As every Block Island regular knows, Ballard’s is a lynchpin of the hospitality scene, and the return of its hotel, restaurant, and concert stage bodes well for New Shoreham – and for us. As always, spend your time responsibly. 


Everybody Loves Lobster

There is nothing more New England than a fresh, locally caught lobster delivered to your front door. That’s exactly what Narragansett Bay Lobsters decided to offer – and the South Kingstown fish market will continue the service into the summer. The company offers a variety of fish and shellfish, as well, and it’s just one example of the many local food purveyors who now provide delivery or curbside pickup. 


Local Markets to Table

South County is largely rural and a great place to retire – which is great under normal circumstances, but nightmarish for seniors in need of pantry items. Belmont Market in South Kingstown conscripted an army of volunteers, with the help of the South County YMCA, to deliver groceries across the region (and even to Block Island), saving hundreds of customers the hard and risky trip. Belmont was among many local businesses reaching out to homebound customers, including Pat’s Pastured farm in East Greenwich, which has delivered for numerous local growers. 


The Return of Sit-Down Dining

Eating outside on a warm day is one of the trademarks of life in South County. Local restaurateurs were biting their nails all spring, organizing curbside pickup and adding online order forms to their websites. When outdoor dining was again permitted in late May, everyone exhaled a sigh of relief – the reservations started pouring in. Many eateries already had expansive verandahs and patios (or their own stretch of shoreline, like George’s of Galilee); others are creating them out of yards and parking lots. You’ll still have to bring your mask and stay six feet away from other diners, but it’s a small price to pay for scrumptious local fare on an actual plate.


Finding Our Way Back

Late May, South County Tourism Council released an upbeat, might we say "so Rhode Island" video: Aerial views of our favorite beaches and hotel getaways, shots of summer essentials like lobster rolls and cold beer, beach towels and sunsets. This is the kick-off of their #FindYourWayBack campaign to welcome visitors back and showcase the vast outdoors, from dining to hiking and biking. While most of the footage was shot pre-Coronavirus, we're reminded that we will once more be with our toes in the sand, cocktails in hand, living our best life by the water – together.