From Rhode Island Monthly – October 19, 2018 (Photo: RI Monthly/Jason Evans)
A SHORE THING: WESTERLY’S TRANSFORMATION
By Bob Curley / RI Monthly
WESTERLY — Chuck Royce began investing in vacant properties and local businesses a decade ago. Now Westerly is a thriving destination, both in town and by the sea.
Communities are defined by more than zip codes, and communal harmony can be especially hard to achieve in a town where half the residents roll down the shutters and depart for warmer shores once summer ends. Locals and summer residents may cross paths at the beaches, but otherwise tend to stay in their own orbits.
In the past, Westerly has been divided between the “shoreline community” of summer visitors to Watch Hill and Weekapaug and the year-round residents who traditionally support the shops and restaurants downtown year-round.
Relative to Newport, Watch Hill hasn’t changed much since its emergence as an oceanfront playground for wealthy families from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey; it’s still a quiet, affluent community where the biggest thrills come from the Flying Horse Carousel — a throwback to the simpler pleasures of the nineteenth century that still sends kids spinning each summer. Outside its seaside enclaves, Westerly’s population has historically been blue-collar, including generations of immigrants who originally came to work in the mills along the Pawcatuck River and in the local granite quarries.
For the past decade, however, an alliance between a core of dedicated community leaders and a modest but driven emissary from the Maryland coast has rubbed away some of the margins between Westerly’s permanent and transient communities. Together, they transformed the downtown into a place the twain go to meet, eat and enrich themselves: physically, mentally and culturally.