Westerly’s restaurants, bars, and other sellers of beverages and prepared meals reported taxable sales of $59.2 million during the town’s extended tourism season last year, an increase of 7.2% compared with the same period in 2018.
The figures, from the Rhode Island Department of Revenue, are for May through September, months that typically account for about 60% of all such sales in Westerly during the calendar year.
The 1% local meal and beverage tax is collected by the state and goes to the municipality where the businesses are located. It is a direct measure of the economy and produced $990,459 for the Town of Westerly in fiscal 2019, which ended in June — a gain of nearly $60,000 from the year before.
Although June through August is the prime tourism and vacation season, business activity reflected in the tax collections noticeably accelerates in May and drop offs in October. In 2019, May’s meal / beverage tax revenue of $86,456 was $41,642 higher than the collection in April. In October, the taxes amounted to $64,973, compared with $93,441 in September — a decline of 30% and consistent with earlier year-over-year data. (There are wider swings in the April-to-May figures.)
For the core summer months, yearly variations go hand-in-hand with the weather, especially on beach weekends. Looking back 10 years, this past August was a banner year for Westerly businesses, with meal / beverage collections amounting to $167,588. That was the highest monthly total for the town in the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ listings dating to 2010.
The highest tax collection for July was $153,062 in July 2018. In the past 10 years, July has been the busiest month six times. August produced more revenue for the town last year and in 2017, 2014, and 2010.
Westerly's ranking among Rhode Island municipalities corresponds with the season. In August, the town ranked fifth in meal / beverage taxes, behind Providence ($510,422), Newport, Warwick, and Cranston. By October, Westerly was 11th, one step below East Greenwich, a smaller town with almost a thousand dollars more in meal / beverage taxes.