Editorial : A fine line
Reactions to the destruction, in the July 4 fire, of Café Moxie and the crippling damage to its neighbor, the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, have been confined to a narrow range, between absolutely expected and modestly surprising. Most of all, these reactions describe the community's virtual map, as fashioned by its residents in their minds' eyes, apart from the layers of building, zoning, and development rules and plans.
First, the hearts of Islanders generally, and of Tisbury residents in particular, go out to Austin Racine and Katrina Yekel, who had only just begun to operate a restaurant business in the Moxie building, as it has come to be known; to Paul Currier, the owner of the restaurant property; and to the Nelson family, owners of the bookstore that has become such a landmark on Tisbury's Main Street, and in a figurative sense on the main street of the Vineyard community.
Then, there was the brave, skilled work of Tisbury firefighters, their colleagues from departments in the other down-Island towns, the police and EMS, all of whom earned the admiration and gratitude of not only the business owners and operators but of the onlookers, Islanders or no. It was a horrifying scene, one that threatened nearby businesses and residences, and the taming of it by these emergency volunteers, helped by generous, unasked neighbors, inspires awe and gratitude, as well as a sense of confidence in the Vineyard municipal community.
Next, as the discussion at the Tisbury selectmen's emergency meeting of July 7 reveals, grave concern focused on the effect that the loss of these two businesses and the predictable delays and challenges in rebuilding them may have on the business community from one end of Main Street to the other. The Bunch of Grapes has become, in the minds of many Islanders and visitors, a happy, hospitable, dependable stopping place, open every day and late into the evening. It's a benchmark retail establishment, illustrating the way the business centers of small communities are found, influenced, and developed by the neighbors and customers who patronize them, making the business into what its patrons want and need it to be. Such retailers as Bunch of Grapes become the focus of resident interest and dependence, just as spectacular land- and seascapes can. Across from the movie house, another business benchmark now back in operation after a painful hiatus, the bookstore was where you'd gather with friends just before and sometimes after the film. Buying a book or a card was part of the experience, but having the bookstore to go to was the heart of it. And, Café Moxie, similarly, was part of the center-of-town experience. One waited at the bookstore for a table at the restaurant, then, perhaps, hurried through the meal while worrying that the line at the box office across the street would grow longer. At Christmas, it was lunch at Café Moxie and eggnog and cookies afterward at the bookstore, before getting on with the shopping.
Without this pair of anchors, business owners and operators, as well as the shaken selectmen, appeared on Saturday to recognize the fragile nature of economic life downtown in Tisbury. After all, for the business people and their employees, including those connected to Bunch of Grapes and Café Moxie, the year is all about these two busiest months. The absence of these two key business anchors may endanger the business prospects of many nearby retailers and, doing so, damage the fortunes of their employees, as well as their suppliers of goods and services. The timing could not be worse, in the business lives of Tisbury merchants, for a catastrophe such as occurred on July 4.
All the signals, sent Saturday by the town selectmen and business neighbors of the two ruined establishments, plus the successful street fair Tuesday in Tisbury, point comfortingly to a sharp recognition of all this and a determination to get quickly and determinedly about the work of filling a crippling hole burned into the fabric of Main Street.