To the Editor:
Owning and running a business on Martha’s Vineyard these last few years has been particularly challenging. We’ve always had a unique ebb and flow to our commerce. That’s a given. But this deep recession has thrown more than a few businesses into a hole from which they may never fully emerge. If there’s something to be gained, perhaps it’s drawn greater attention to the fragility of our Island economy.
That’s why to me, if there’s a proposal that helps local business out without negatively impacting the community, it should have our support. And to me, the proposal in West Tisbury to allow restaurants serving more than 50 people to sell beer and wine seems both reasonable and fair.
For one thing, it doesn’t really change the reality of liquor being served in the two in‑town restaurants — State Road and Lambert’s Cove Inn. It’s now a B.Y.O.B. proposition, and that means hard liquor as well. And I might add, since many of us are in some form of the hospitality business here, no one but we Islanders knows what the heck B.Y.O.B. actually means.
Allowing the town to control the sale of beer and wine also gives the selectmen greater control over how these restaurants conduct themselves with a license in hand. Because beer and wine can only be sold with food orders, I don’t see how anyone could envision a bar‑like scenario in such rural settings. It certainly hasn’t changed the quiet of Vineyard Haven’s Main Street, after nine at night.
While I am not a voter in town, I have been a Circuit Avenue neighbor of Jackson and Mary Kenworth who, before State Road, owned and ran two restaurants literally right next door and across the street from our family business. In all of their restaurants, I’ve been struck by the high level of integrity they bring to their work and the level of comfort and accommodation they bring to their customers.
Neither Lambert’s Cove Inn nor State Road are new operations in town. There’s a track record with both sets of owners and the availability of a fine dining experience up‑Island is something that many of us up‑Islanders appreciate.
And when we have people like Mary and Jackson of State Road and Scott Jones and Kell Hicklin of Lambert’s Cove Inn, who have been terrific owners and caretakers, awarding them a beer and wine license seems like a no brainer. If the ability to sell beer and wine gives them a leg up, then I say, why not? It’s not easy running any business here and any additional advantage, however small, does make a big difference over the course of year.
Both State Road and the Lambert’s Cove Inn are in the hospitality business, and for most people, there’s an assumption that that includes the ability to buy a drink with their dinner. I think that assumption is growing among our seasonal guests who no longer come to an Island with only two “wet” towns, but now confront the confusion of just two “dry” towns.
I guess I take the philosophical, long view on an issue like this. I believe we did yeoman’s work when we staved off suburbanization, whether that was keeping chain stores and fast food off our shores, or adjusting zoning to stop mass development. Most of that effort took place 20 and 30 years ago, and it left an Island in place that we all cherish, one with open space and, most months, plenty of elbow room.
But there was a trade off — and that’s a very short high season. An eight‑ to twelve-week season makes it difficult for anyone trying to earn a living doing business here, whether that’s retail, construction, restaurant, general hospitality or the service industries. Those of us in business accept that reality, and that’s because we’re here for the same reasons everyone else is — the sense of community and the natural beauty that’s breathtaking 12 months a year, even if our profit lines can’t possibly keep pace.
Edgartown and Oak Bluffs began serving alcohol immediately after the end of prohibition. And for many years, the rule of thumb was to require restaurant and bar operators to prove themselves before requesting a license to serve. Now, sometimes that was fair and logical, and sometimes — I don’t think I’m shocking anyone here — it was pure politics.
Still, it seems to me that’s exactly what we have in West Tisbury: quality establishments, dedicated to their customers, both local and visiting, who have proven themselves. I urge my friends in West Tisbury to vote yes on Question 2, April 12 and allow these fine businesspeople the opportunity they deserve.