The signs are indeed worrisome


Three observations published this week, all lead in the same direction.

Karla Araujo, writing about the planned closing of Edgartown Books, reports that Ann LeBreton, owner for a decade with her husband of the store, described business activity in summer as “mayhem.” But, winters in Edgartown were another story.

“We’ve lost all the guts of town,” Ms. LeBreton told Ms. Araujo. “It’s a trend. Nationally, online retail sales were up this past Christmas. Retail is changing.”

Dawn Braasch, owner of the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven, says part of her job these days is to explain the implications of their choices to her customers.

“Helping people understand that when they use my brick-and-mortar store to do research for what books they want to buy,” Ms. Braasch said, “and then go home and buy from Amazon means that my store will go away and they’ll soon have no place to go look at books.”

Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, and David Vigneault, executive director Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCRHA), told Times writer Jack Shea that the affordable housing issue has changed. Now, Mr. Shea writes, “the problem is not a lack of demand for housing, but the reduced earning capacity and debt loads that lead to the inability of residents to pay the rent or to qualify for a mortgage to buy a house. They [Mr. Jordi and Mr. Vigneault] cite three years of economic grinding that has worn away incomes and raised credit card and other debt levels for many working Islanders.”

“More affordable housing has been created here in the past decade than has ever existed here, but people are struggling,” Mr. Jordi told Mr. Shea. “Their margins are gone. The people we’re seeing work hard, have multiple jobs. They are raising their kids here and looking to retire here. The stereotype profile simply doesn’t exist.”

There is a glut of Martha’s Vineyard property for sale today, more than twice the inventory that has been common in the past, both in good economies and bad.

Annual sales volume is below what it was as long ago as 1989.

That should be good for those searching for shelter they can afford. But, of course, there are other forces at work. Sellers can keep prices high, discouraging those with modest budgets. Financing is cheap but difficult to get. Economic outlooks are everywhere iffy. Most business or economic projections are more than half hopefulness.

The signals, as evidenced by the observations set out above, suggest that the Vineyard economy is contracting, small business success is under pressure from competition, small and shrinking markets, and the changing business environment beyond our shores.

One likely outcome is a transition from the lively and successful business community we’ve come to enjoy to a community with fewer stable year-round businesses, more summer high-margin business, fewer solid year-round jobs, and exhausted business centers unappealing except in the high season.

Before good jobs, before affordable housing, before lively and thriving Main Streets, there must be healthy businesses and an encouraging environment in which they can grow.