Despite several vacant storefronts along Main Street, Tisbury commerce gained ground this summer. Several new businesses opened, adding variety to the mix, and familiar and established shops expanded services and completed renovations.
In conversations with The Times, retail and restaurant owners and employees around Vineyard Haven said this summer’s business climate seems better than in 2009, which suffered through rainy June weather and a dismal economy.
Finding a new niche
For some Tisbury business owners, the solution to a slow business climate was to find a new space, or products.
One door closed and another one opened for MV Heart Boutique owner Rob’n Mussell. Success in finding a new retail niche to fill prompted her to move from Main Street to a bigger space on Union Street.
In January, Ms. Mussell considered closing her shop, which features her MV heart jewelry line, and teen and women’s clothing and accessories. As a last-ditch effort, she expanded her inventory with some women’s lingerie and jump-started Valentine’s Day sales with a pre-holiday party for men. That formula proved successful, as did subsequent lingerie parties for women.
With her revamped business thriving, and her lease up on July 1, she took advantage of an offer from property owner Les Leland to rent a vacant store he owns on Union Street behind Leslie’s pharmacy. The new space provides Ms. Mussell two floors, with junior fashions upstairs and women’s clothing and intimate apparel downstairs, with a large space for lingerie parties.
Finding the right retail niche also worked for Diego Avancini. He moved into space at Island Star, a mini-convenience store on Beach Road owned by his father Jose Ferreira.
Mr. Avancini rented the front half of the store and opened Island Star Chef and Uniform Apparel, where he caters to people employed in the hospitality business.
He knew from his own restaurant experience that long hours makes it difficult to find and buy new uniforms, especially on the Island. Catalog orders took too long.
“Now people can stop by on their way to work,” Mr. Avancini said. “On the first day we opened in June, people liked it and were excited.”
He plans to expand his business next summer.
This summer a number of new storefronts sprouted on Main Street.
In July, Elio Santos opened the Stop and Buy in MV in the location Ms. Mussell vacated. Open seven days a week, his store offers snacks and sundries including clothing, swimwear, underwear, and health and beauty aids.
Two Main Street additions are transplants. Owner Emma Kilei moved her store, Citrine, from West Tisbury in April. The shop features jewelry and a jewelry-making station, art, clothing, and toys.
Trader Jack’s, a novelty tee-shirt store was formerly on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. With the rent going up, store manager Jane Davis said, owner Erick Anderson decided it was time to downsize and in late May moved his business to Vineyard Haven.
“We don’t know what to expect in Vineyard Haven yet, because it’s a different clientele and different business climate,” Ms. Davis said. “We’ll see what happens. What catches someone’s eye in Oak Bluffs might not be the same here.”
It may be artist Richard Lee’s reverse paintings on glass that capture some shoppers’ attention. He recently turned a small green house across from the former Che’s Lounge into a gallery where he can showcase some of his larger pieces, such as antique cabinets with reverse paintings on the glass doors.
Waterside Market owners Stephen and Susan Bowen opened a new gift shop, Vineyard Kinda Life, next door to their restaurant on Main Street. The shop’s signature clothing items feature an emblem comprised of three maritime signal flags representing the letters VKL.
Eats and treats
Changes also means no one has to shop on an empty stomach in Tisbury.
New owners Anthony and Sylvia Cappelli reopened the MV Bagel Authority at the head of Main Street around Memorial Day weekend. They sell fresh bagels made daily, and plan to develop a wholesale business from their year-round shop.
Banking on a delicious alternative to ice cream, on July 1 owner Leslie Sterns dished up Tisberry, a frozen yogurt shop located around the corner from Riley’s Reads, a bookstore that caters to kids. Employees Chelsea Kurtz and Marion le Coguic tout the store’s many frozen yogurt choices as healthy, good-tasting treats.
Bob and Paola Fuller launched the MV Deli and Take Out on July 3, next door to their store Menemsha Blues, adjacent to the Tisbury Police Department and a stone’s throw from the SSA car line. Open daily from 11 am to 7 pm, the deli offers a variety of sandwiches and salads, along with a salad bar. Customers can eat outside at picnic tables.
Further up State Road, The Little House Café opened July 25 across from the Tisbury Farmers’ Market. Open every day for breakfast and lunch, the year-round restaurant offers an array of menu choices and daily specials of an international variety, from middle-Eastern to North African to Mexican dishes. Takeout is available.
The café is co-owned by two couples, Jenik and Hocine Khelalfa, and Steve and Merrick Carreiro.
“This has taken a lot of teamwork,” Mr. Khelalfa said last week. “We’re all very tired right now, but in September, we may start serving dinners.”
The beer and wine difference
After Tisbury voters’ approved beer and wine restaurant service in April, some restaurant owners expanded their menus and installed waitservice in order to be eligible for a license.
Although the Waterside Market on Main Street formerly operated with counter service for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Bowens started up a new dinner service on July 15. The restaurant closes at 4 pm and reopens at 5:30 pm for dinner with waitservice on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
The Blue Canoe on Beach Road, also owned by the Bowens, is licensed to sell beer and wine and is open for lunch and dinner. The Black Dog Café on State Road now has a waitstaff that serves beer and wine with meals.
You can get a beer with a sub at Rocco’s Italian Style Family Restaurant in Tisbury Marketplace, but it will mean ordering through a waitress.
Shell Station makeover
The Shell Station underwent an extensive makeover this summer. While gas pumps were being replaced out front, the service station offered discounted gas for “customer inconvenience” at pumps around back.
Owner Ralph Packer said five old underground storage tanks were removed and four new double-walled tanks with computerized sensors installed. Three new fuel dispensers replaced two old ones. Diesel fuel is available at the front of the station, and a separate tank was recently put in for bio-diesel, Mr. Packer said.
The summer timing was the unfortunate result of a lengthy process that Mr. Packer started months ago, to file the paperwork, obtain permits and approvals, and comply with rules and regulations. Although inconvenient, Mr. Packer said he didn’t want to put the project off.
“We did very well, and we did sell gasoline and diesel fuel at the back while the work was underway,” Mr. Packer said. The project started on June 1 and the station was up and running with full service around July 9.
Promising but empty
Despite the bright summer, empty storefronts remain.
The bare frame of Café Moxie on Main Street two years after it was destroyed by fire on July 4, 2008 is a disappointing sight for past patrons.
Café owner Paul Currier said delays in the insurance claims process put off reconstruction for a year. Mike Ryan of Island Wood Works, who co-owns the property with Mr. Currier, started the building effort again last fall. It came to a halt in November over the proximity of power lines next to the newly added second floor of the café.
In a recent phone call Mr. Currier said NSTAR had adjusted the placement of a transformer behind the Bunch of Grapes bookstore and things are moving along, but slowly.
The Hall Family owns several of Main Street’s vacant properties. These include the space formerly occupied by the Etherington Fine Art Gallery, Bowl and Board, and Che’s Lounge.
After 37 years in business, the Bowl and Board closed in February, due to declining sales, co-owner Maria Metters said. EcoMV, which researches, tests, and sells biodegradable, non-toxic products, had sublet part of the building. When Bowl and Board closed, EcoMV relocated its headquarters, offices, and a showroom to the Mansion House.
Also citing financial difficulties, owner PJ Woodford closed Che’s Lounge over Memorial Day weekend. Two businesses operating in the building’s loft closed as well, Vineyard Alternative Heating owned by Sharon Strimling, and a dressmaking business owned by Chrysal Parrot, Mr. Woodford’s wife and partner.
Ms. Parrot relocated her dressmaking studio, L’Atelier, to her home.
In a recent phone call, Benjamin Hall Jr. said his family has been diligently trying to fill the vacancies.
“We’re working very hard and showing places on a relatively frequent basis,” Mr. Hall said. “We accepted exceedingly low offers to fill spaces for the summer, and even at that, people evaporated, like they had lessees’ remorse.”
Mr. Hall said Tisbury’s decision to allow beer and wine has created a huge interest from restaurateurs in coming to Vineyard Haven. One potential tenant wanted to put in a 150-seat family style restaurant in the Bowl and Board space.
“There are so many wonderful chefs that expressed an interest in our empty locations,” Mr. Hall said.
However, Tisbury’s sewer flow restrictions prevent his family from leasing their Vineyard Haven properties to restaurants, which would require more flow, he added.
In the meantime, Mr. Hall said renovations and improvements are being made at the Murray’s building and the Capawock Theatre, where attendance has been at its worst. “On Demand and Netflix are killing us,” Mr. Hall said.
On Beach Road near Five Corners, a lot owned by Ernie Boch Jr. and his family remains vacant (see related article). Tisbury selectman chairman Jeff Kristal said recently that discussions about the property between Mr. Boch and the selectmen remain ongoing.
Times intern Jenna Bernstein also contributed to the reporting in this story.