Tisbury businesses ponder impact of Bramhall & Dunn closing

Business leaders along Main Street in Tisbury reflect a mixture of concern and optimism. — File photo by Susan Safford

Several Vineyard Haven business owners reacted with a mixture of sadness and a little apprehension to the news that Bramhall and Dunn, one of Main Street’s long-time anchor stores, will close by the end of the year.

Owner Emily Bramhall announced the news in a letter sent November 7 to customers and her fellow Main Street business owners. She said that after 28 years in retail she was ready for the next chapter in her life.

Building owner Sandy Ray said this week he only recently learned of Ms. Bramhall’s decision and does not have a new tenant lined up yet. “Since Emily had her store there for so many years, my goal is to find someone who will be there long-term,” he said.

What lies ahead

Bunch of Grapes bookstore owner Dawn Braasch said although she is thrilled that Ms. Bramhall is happy about moving on, she was heartbroken when she heard the news.

“The store’s closing is leaving a huge hole on Main Street, which doesn’t need another hole,” she said. “It has hit us all very hard, given that we’ve all had a tough year. The more stores there are, the more chance we have to attract business. Any time one goes out, no matter what the reason, it affects us all.”

Ms. Braasch said it has been an unusually slow fall. “In October, we were doing January’s numbers. And that’s frightening since the numbers were already down when I bought the store.”

Although Bunch of Grapes is open until 6 pm, Ms. Braasch said by 5, most of the other Main Street stores are closed.

“Vineyard Haven becomes a ghost town very quickly,” she said. “I think we need to attract more restaurants. People want to go someplace to have dinner and then shop.”

Kerry Quinlan-Potter opened The Collection, which sells women’s shoes, clothing, and accessories, last May at the corner of Main and Union Streets.

She described Bramhall & Dunn’s closing as “pretty traumatic for the business owners in Vineyard Haven.”

After signing a three-year lease, Ms. Quinlan-Potter is uneasy about a drop-off in customers this month and the prospect of an even quieter winter season ahead.

“It’s one thing to be in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown where it shuts down, period, in the winter, and another thing to be in Vineyard Haven where it’s supposed to be a year-round town and there’s no business,” she said. “I’m sort of on the cusp right now on whether I should close half the week, or do I offer consistency by staying open? I can’t do that if I have to pay someone to come in when I go to pick my daughter up when she gets out of school, and then no customers come in.”

Over 33 years, Le Grenier Restaurant owner Jean Dupon said he has seen many Main Street businesses come and go, and is sorry to see another store close.

“I’m definitely very apprehensive, as far as winter is concerned,” he said. Although he closed his restaurant for a few months last winter to save money, that’s not an option this year. Le Grenier must remain open under the town’s rules for establishments with a year-round beer and wine license.

On the plus side

Despite the pessimism that some business owners are feeling, Tisbury selectman and Crocker House Inn co-owner Jeff Kristal looks on the bright side.

“It’s tough to open a business, period, and twice as hard on the Vineyard,” Mr. Kristal said. “But we have a lot of positive things happening in Tisbury; Stina Sayre moved her design business to a great location on Main Street, Blissed-Out [Organic Juice and Smoothie Bar] opened, Stop and Shop is talking about expanding, Sam Dunn and Richard Paradise have plans for a movie theater at Tisbury Marketplace, to name a few.”

Susie Goldstein, co-owner of the Mansion House, is also optimistic and realistic. “Bramhall and Dunn has been a wonderful neighbor,” Ms. Goldstein said. “But we certainly understand that streets have an ebb and a flow, and that things grow and change. We welcome the growth Main Street has, and we welcome the changes.”

Ms. Goldstein is getting ready for some changes herself, with plans to convert retail, conference, and office space on the first floor of the Mansion House into eight new guest rooms. Last week the Martha’s Vineyard Commission signed off on the project and agreed it would not require a formal review. The next step is approval by town boards.

Mr. Dupon also is moving forward with plans to open a patisserie next spring on the first floor under Le Grenier. In addition to some pastries, of course, he plans to serve breakfast, lunch, and a light dinner.

“In another two weeks I should have the building permit and will start work downstairs,” Mr. Dupon said. “People stop me to ask about it, and they’re excited.”

On another positive note, Café Moxie owner Mike Ryan said last week he would reopen the popular eatery in its new building soon. A fire destroyed its predecessor on July 4, 2008. Mr. Ryan has hired Willy Wannamaker as the new chef.

In the meantime, several Main Street properties owned by the Hall family remain vacant, including the building once occupied by the Bowl and Board and the former location of the Green Room, now relocated and doing well at 71 Main Street.

“I was very sad to see Bramhall and Dunn make the decision to close, but all things have their season, and renewal and rejuvenation are good things,” Benjamin Hall said in a phone conversation with The Times on Saturday.

Although he had no news about new tenants, Mr. Hall said, “We are showing the properties and are on the phone about them almost every day. We are guardedly optimistic that something will happen soon.”

What do people want?

As president of the Tisbury Business Association (TBA), Ms. Braasch said she recently sent out membership letters with goals for the future, asking business owners to get involved.

“Part of it is we have to change people’s perception of us as a business community; their perception is we’re all over-priced,” Ms. Braasch said. “Some of the stores have high dollar things, but there are those of us who don’t. I’m in a fixed price business. I can’t compete with Amazon. They can sell books as a loss-leader, but books are all I do.”

Ms. Braasch said she is trying to figure out how the TBA can find out what people think of local businesses and change negative mindsets.

“We would love to invite people to email us and tell us, if we are to continue to be a year-round town, what kind of stores do you want to be open? What kind of stores do you need that could stay here year-round?”

Ms. Quinlan-Potter said she would also welcome public opinion.

“I would give anything to hear from local people, to find out what they want,” she said. “I created a store that I felt was missing on the Island, but that has to be followed up with other people doing their part. Island businesses are dependent on local people to help keep them going.”