Business grills Tisbury selectman candidates
Bacon, sausage and eggs underwent a grilling, as did the two candidates for Tisbury selectman at the Tisbury Business Association's (TBA) annual breakfast meeting at the Black Dog Tavern on Tuesday morning.
Incumbent selectman Tom Pachico and his challenger, Jeff Kristal, took turns fielding questions from their peers in the business community, passing a microphone back and forth as they stood together in front of the breakfast buffet.
Mr. Kristal owns and manages the Crocker House Inn in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Pachico operates his own business, Pachico Septic Inspections, in addition to his job as Tisbury's health agent.
Given that some TBA members initiated a proposal to allow beer and wine in Vineyard Haven restaurants a few years ago, it came as no surprise the group wanted to know where both candidates stand on the issue. Tisbury voters will address the beer and wine question on the April 15 election ballot.
As an inn owner, Mr. Kristal said he has had many guests head to Oak Bluffs to dine and shop when they find out Tisbury is a dry town. Approving beer and wine sales "would bring an economic boon to the business community, absolutely," Mr. Kristal said.
Mr. Pachico, however, said although he has grappled with the pros and cons, he won't make his decision until he's in the voting booth. He disagreed that beer and wine sales would help other businesses downtown, unless they extend their hours. "Main Street's a ghost town at six o'clock," he said.
Nancy Neil, the owner of the Outrageous clothing store, disagreed. "I think beer and wine sales would help everyone," she said. "When I owned a store in Edgartown, even though it was closed at night, people who window-shopped after having dinner and drinks would come back and buy something the next day."
EduComp owner Pat Gregory asked both candidates to describe what they considered the two or three biggest issues facing the town and the business community. Both men mentioned affordable housing. Mr. Kristal also pointed to the town's recent municipal needs assessment study and the critical decisions that must be made over the next 10 years. Mr. Pachico said that zoning is an issue that may need to be addressed, because the level of "red tape" makes many projects, including affordable housing, difficult.
Along the same lines, TBA secretary Susan Goldstein, co-owner of the Mansion House, asked what issues each candidate would champion. Mr. Kristal mentioned the town's shift of additional tax to the commercial, industrial, and personal property classifications as one issue he would like to address. He suggested coming up with a formula for setting the rates, perhaps for multiple years, to avoid the yearly debate.
"The biggest problem facing us is declining revenues and increasing prices," Mr. Pachico said. It will be a battle to get a new town hall and emergency services facility, he added, because the problem is how to pay for them.
Several business owners expressed frustration about signage in Vineyard Haven. With parking so limited downtown, Susan Goldstein said the TBA had requested, at a selectmen's meeting last year, better signage to direct Island visitors to the Park and Ride lot, but nothing came of it.
Mr. Pachico told her it would help if employees of downtown businesses would park at the Park and Ride instead taking up spaces downtown.
"Is that where the town hall and Board of Health employees park?" Ms. Goldstein countered. Mr. Pachico told her that wasn't the issue, because town employees do not park on Main Street. He also chided the business community for not taking a proactive role in getting signs made themselves, including one he said they offered to put up near the Steamship Authority terminal to direct visitors to Main Street.
Mr. Kristal told Ms. Goldstein he remembered the TBA's proposal for new signage, adding, "I was against it - I'm signed to death." Rather than more signs, Mr. Kristal suggested the town should do a better job identifying where parking is available. He did agree, however, that the town needs a sign to point people to downtown Vineyard Haven.
Citing a study by the Martha's Vineyard Commission that showed that the number of businesses has dropped in Tisbury, Pat Gregory of EduComp asked the two candidates whether they are concerned and what they could do as selectmen.
Mr. Pachico said the town's zoning regulations are antiquated and that some of the zoning should be eased up to allow more business opportunities, particularly in the waterfront district. However, he said, Tisbury has a history of business turnover that he expects will continue.
Mr. Kristal said the business community should "think outside the box" in trying to attract new businesses downtown that will support their own. Since serving as TBA president about four years ago, Mr. Kristal said he has continued his efforts to promote business in the town, such as attending a cruise ship convention in Miami at his own expense to encourage port calls in Vineyard Haven.
Both candidates encouraged the business community to come up with ideas and communicate them to the selectmen.
Tisbury selectmen Denys Wortman and Tristan Israel also attended the breakfast.
In a brief business session, TBA President Jon Nelson, owner and manager of Bunch of Grapes bookstore, reminded all of the selectmen to choose their words carefully when representing the town on public television, because their remarks, particularly about Tisbury businesses operating year-round, can negatively affect people's perceptions.
"To tell people that nothing is open on Main Street, that everything is too expensive, and that they can't afford anything downtown is very insulting to those of us in the business community," Mr. Nelson said.
He also took the opportunity to share the news that he and his family have plans to relocate and have put their home on the market. "My family's needs have outgrown the borders of this lovely Island," Mr. Nelson said.
The bookstore is not for sale at this time, he added. If his home sells and his family has to relocate before arrangements have been made for its management, Mr. Nelson said that he will come back and run the bookstore until everything is in place.
In the meantime, he will continue to serve as TBA president. Other officers include vice president Leslie Hewson, treasurer Ann Hunt, and directors Garry Metters, Vasska Fondren, and Brooke Ditchfield.