While the Island has grown in its breadth of shopping venues, it is still held strong by the many pillars that have been here for 50 years or more. Here are some well-known Island staples, along with stories of their longevity.
The oldest known store that I could find is Alley’s General Store on State Road in West Tisbury’s town center. Alley’s was established in 1858 by Nathan Mayhew and at its inception was called SM Company, named after its founder. According to John Alley, “It thrived for several years in its original location, across the street from where it now sits, and was small, 30 feet long by 15 feet wide, in comparison to its current buildings which is made of an original building that was built along with a house that was moved and attached to it to make the current store.”
Mr. Alley is a wealth of information about Alley’s lore as his father had worked there since 1920 and became its proprietor in 1949, along with becoming its namesake, though according to Mr. Alley, “My father renamed it Albion Alley Co. after himself as all the Mayhews had passed on, despite the fact that it shortly took on its nickname Alley’s.”
From there it descended to John and his siblings, then went through a couple of more owners before landing with the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, who now operate the current Alley’s General Store, Dealers of Almost Everything (according to their sign).
Following Alley’s in longevity is Brickman’s, located just past the corner of Main Street and State Road in Vineyard Haven. Brickman’s was first opened in 1913 as a cobbler shop and has evolved into a year-round go-to store for footwear, sporting goods, clothing, and toys for the entire family. Speaking of family, it is the oldest Island store that is still owned and operated by the originating family.
The year 1913 was a big one for Vineyard Haven as just down Main Street Mardells Gifts & Jewelry was originally opened that year by founder Charles M. Vincent. He ran it as a general store that included tobacco products and candy and he later turned it over to his son of the same name, who ran it until he sold it to current owner Robert Clark in 1973.
Manager Gary Sylvia shared why he thinks they have been so successful all these years: “First I would have to say it is because of our two employees, Brenda Duart and Karen Murphy. They have a great sense of humor and get along with everyone.
“Other reasons include that we are a Hallmark cards store, we offer souvenirs for visitors, watch batteries for everyone, and are well known for carrying items others don’t. We have a lot of little things that keep people coming back and as we are open year-round people know we are always here for them. Further, we tend to go with the times in regards to what we offer.”
Family has also been an important factor when it comes to Phillips Hardware on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Since its inception by John Phillips in 1928, it has been owned and operated by three generations of Phillipses, from the then 22-year-old entrepreneur John, to his son, Robert, and now to Robert’s daughters, Susan Phillips along with sister Donna Phillips Leon. While the scope of items has changed somewhat over the years, the family’s drive to provide excellence in service to the Island has never wavered. One example of change is the sisters’ conversion of the room that used to house carpet, linoleum, vinyl, and wallpaper into the very popular Rosebud party store.
Not to be outdone in the hardware department, while being masters in building supplies, are the longtime venues of Hinckley & Sons and E.C. Cottle Inc. Building Materials. Located on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, Hinckley’s has been in business for 84 years. There are two locations for Cottle’s, the original on Lambert’s Cove Road in West Tisbury and its younger sister on West Tisbury-Edgartown Road in Edgartown. It has been owned and operated by three generations of Cottles since 1959.
Up-Island, the Aquinnah Cliffs shops offer more than 150 years of combined experience, and all of it has been kept in the family. Sisters Carla Giles Cuch and Berta Giles Welch took over the operation of Stony Creek Gift Shop, which has been in existence for 65 years, from their mother. Stony Creek is well known for its Native American Jewelry and wampum pieces along with an eclectic array of gifts. The third Giles sister, Adriana Ignacio, took over the On the Cliffs shop from her aunt, Cecile Vanderhoop, in 1990. Ms. Vanderhoop originally opened in the 1940s with just a table and umbrella, though now Ms. Ignacio has grown it into a fine collection of clothing, bags, and sandals that offers a colorful array for all shoppers. Longevity also runs in the other shops at the Cliffs, from the Vanderhoop’s Aquinnah Shop to Marth Vanderhoop Lee’s Hatmarcha Gifts and the Howwasswee Trading Post.
In Menemsha, Roberta Morgan’s Harbor Craft Shop has been displaying beautiful shell mirrors, souvenirs, jewelry and more.
From full service, to hardware, and clothing to gifts, we finish our sampling with groceries. Reliable Market, located between Kennebec Avenue and Circuit Avenue, was established in 1947 by Armando and Irene Pacheco and is currently owned/operated by their son, Bob Pacheco, his wife, Donna, and their children, Jen and Eddie. This Island staple offers a wonderful meat department run by butcher/owner Bob Pacheco and is an outlet for Island favorites such as Rickard’s Bakery, Eileen Blake Pies, and A Savory Pie Company, along with everything else you would expect to find in a grocery store. A fun fact about Reliable is that when they originally opened there were five other grocery stores on the same street, and slowly over the years they all closed, leaving Reliable as the lone standard bearer.
Other stores worth mentioning, though some have moved locations, are Cronig’s (formerly on Main Street in Vineyard Haven), Leslie’s, Mosher Photo, and SBS in Tisbury, Mary’s Linen Store and The Corner Store in Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown Hardware and the drugstore at the corner of Main and Water streets in Edgartown, now The Edgartown Paper Store. Can you think of others? Comment on mvtimes.com.