ROCKPORT — The tourism business is a little like a baseball season: all optimism in the spring, and only the reality of won-loss numbers in autumn finally provide an assessment of success.

Bearskin Neck is just part of this town's tourist scene, but it often serves as a barometer of the business with new stores opening and dozens of merchants arriving.

This spring almost all stores on the Neck are full, And while few merchants would brag that they hit it out of the park in terms of May sales, many resilient retailers on Bearskin Neck seems seem to like their chances this season.

"We had a good weekend with the Motif No. 1 Day and the following Sunday," said Leonard Desilets, who runs The Fudgery in the Tuna Wharf section. "Most stores down here are full, and we're expecting a good amount of traffic this summer."

Scott Lucas, who is entering his 10th year of running Top Dog, a restaurant and catering operation, said, "It's early, but it's starting off better than last year."

Close to 60 shops, restaurants and guest rentals line the rocky promontory, according to officials of the Chamber of Commerce.

As in past years, new shops are joining the old in the four-month dash to financial reward. On Monday, Wendy Monahan was putting up shelves and unpacking merchandise in an effort to get ready for Memorial Day Weekend.

"This is my first year, and I hope to be ready for the weekend," the Rockport resident said. "The store will be Seastar, and it will offer gifts and souvenirs and some selections like little girls' dresses and crafts.

"I chose Rockport for the store because the quaintness and appeal of the town."

Jarryth Skeen, who operates the Rockport T-Shirt Shop, says he's finally running his own operation.

"I've worked in other stores, and in many businesses in town," said Skeen. "This year, I bought the inventory and I'm ready for the summer.

"If the sun comes out," he said, "I think we will do fine, especially in July and August."

A new restaurant, the Atlantic Pizza Co., will greet visitors as they enter the peninsula (2 Old Harbor Road).

"The restaurant is very different from the gallery that was there but not very active in recent years," said Peter Webber, who heads the Rockport division of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce.

"They've put a lot of work into the interior, and they've opened up the back so there are views of the old harbor," Webber said.

He noted that the Oasis Gallery is also new, offering fine photography and photo tours.

"There are always more changes on Bearskin Neck than the other tourist areas in town," Webber said, "and right now I would say we're ahead of last year in terms of filling up the retail space."

Webber said that high gas prices might actually help Rockport this summer.

"We're an hour away from a very large population area, and people might want to stay closer to home," he said.

"The bookings for overnight accommodations have been strong," he said, "and everyone I've talked to is looking for a very good July and August."

One merchant who downsized to keep her expenses in check is Pam Wasserman, who runs Good Dog Gallery.

"I have a smaller place but I am paying a fifth of the rent," said Wasserman, who said she sat out last season after running the store for a half-dozen years.

"We actually had good traffic on the Motif No. 1 Day, and if the weather gets better I think it could be a good year," she said.

Wasserman recently put a small dispenser in front of her storefront (with approval of the Board of Selectman) that dispenses an "organic liver nugget for your dog" with the drop of a quarter.

"We've collected a lot of coins," she said, "and the proceeds go to Cape Ann Animal Aid. I'm pleased with the response."

Dyke Hendrickson can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or dhendrickson@gloucestertimes.com.

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