Transplanted Island businesses bloom in new locations

Midnight Farm relocated to Main Street, Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

It is not unusual for established Island business owners to move to a new location. For some it’s a matter of choice, in keeping with a goal to expand or downsize. For others, there is no choice involved at all, such as when a lease expires or property changes hands. Recently The Times talked to a sampling of some who have made the leap. As it turns out, they all said they are glad they did.

For Edgartown Hardware owners John and Pat Montes and Vineyard Electronics owners Linda and Don Sibley, relocating their long-established stores fulfilled a goal to expand their businesses. For Bunch of Grapes bookstore owner Dawn Braasch and Island Entertainment owner Anne Evasick, moving resulted in downsizing. And for Midnight Farm owner Tamara Weiss, the loss of a lease meant finding a new space, and quickly.

Edgartown Hardware

Two years ago the Montes moved their store on lower Main Street, Edgartown, its location for 64 years, to a new location out of downtown and about a half-mile away to 61 West Tisbury Road across the street from the Edgartown School. The building they bought formerly housed the Old Colony Chevrolet and Jeep dealership.

“This move for us has been the greatest thing that’s ever happened,” Mr. Montes told The Times in a phone conversation last week. “What’s different is that because we’re in a larger facility we can handle a lot more merchandise than what we used to. And because of that, we’ve doubled our business in two years. It’s amazing. I just can’t hardly believe it.”

When asked if the store had a good Christmas season, Mr. Montes said all of the seasons have been good. “There have not been any bad to report, and how many businesses can say that?” he said.

The new facility has 7,000 square feet of retail display, more than double the space in the former downtown location.

“It’s much more accessible for parking and easier for our customers to get in and out, so it has made a big difference,” Mr. Montes said. “Plus, when they come there, there’s a very good chance that they’re going to find what they’re looking for, because we do have a lot of merchandise.”

Mr. Montes said finding the right location was the key factor in making the move.

“For a long time I had been looking at either opening a second location or moving my existing location to the right spot, and what better spot than I’m in,” he said. “So the timing of it just worked, that’s all.”

Although the economy was struggling two years ago, Mr. Montes said that did not stop the couple from making the investment, once they found the right location. “Our minds were made up, and once you do that, you’ve got to find a way to make it work, and it did,” he said.

Since the building sat empty for at least five years, Mr. Montes said it took a lot of money to remodel the interior and purchase new equipment, shelving, and everything else. “But it was well worth it and I’m very happy about it,” he added.

With a bigger store and more business, the Montes have been able to hire four more employees during the summer months and two additional full-time employees during the winter months.

Bunch of Grapes

Bunch of Grapes bookstore owner Dawn Braasch also speaks in positive terms about her decision to relocate, although her goal was to downsize, not expand. More than seven months ago, on May 25, she moved the store from its 40-year Main Street location in Vineyard Haven across the street into the building formerly occupied by the Bowl and Board store.

When Ms. Braasch announced her plans to move last spring, she said her decision to downsize was prompted by financial considerations. The bookstore had 5,000 square feet over two floors, compared to the former Bowl and Board building’s 3,300 square feet on one floor. Ms. Braasch said that the new space would be less expensive to lease and staff.

In August Ms. Braasch told The Times that the move resulted in a winning combination, with sales up and rent payments down by half.

“It continues to be the best decision I could have made,” she wrote in an email to The Times last week when asked for an update. “Response has been overwhelmingly positive and sales continue to do okay.”

Following the bookstore’s physical move last spring, in mid-December its inventory took a technological leap. Although Ms. Braasch did not change the range of books Bunch of Grapes offered when she made the move to the smaller store space, she added e-books, e-readers and e-reading accessories by Kobo to the mix.

Kobo has more than 10 million registered users worldwide, according to a press release from Ms. Braasch at that time. Through Kobo, she said Bunch of Grapes customers would have the opportunity to purchase e-books from an extensive catalog of titles while supporting their local bookstore at the same time.

“E-books and e-readers will never be our bread and butter, and it seems counter-intuitive to me to offer the very thing that could potentially put small independent booksellers like me out of business,” Ms. Braasch said in her email to The Times. “But I wanted to be able to offer the best customer service I could and that meant offering the book in whatever format my customers wanted. I’m happy to report that we sold a few, but not that many, and we had a great Christmas selling physical books, which is really what we do best.”

Radio Shack

Vineyard Electronics owners Linda and Donald Sibley also moved their business right across the street. With their lease due to end, Ms. Sibley said they found themselves at a crossroads last year. Should they stay at their location of 30 years at 365 State Road in Tisbury, or use the opportunity to move to a bigger space? They decided last April to purchase from David Dutton Sr. the building across the street at 426 State Road, formerly leased by the Vineyard Home Center.

“For us, it was partly controlling our own destiny,” Ms. Sibley said. “Here was a building just sitting over there for sale. Yet, really, we were perfectly happy where we were when we first made the decision to move. But it just seemed like taking on this building and remaking it was an interesting challenge.”

The Sibleys had the building renovated in stages to include two retail spaces up front, including the Vineyard Electronics store, which is a Radio Shack franchise, warehouse spaces in back, and two three-bedroom apartments upstairs.

Ms. Sibley said a lot of work went into the project, and it took longer than they thought it would due to some unanticipated elements. For example, the need for a new fire sprinkler system in the building led to the discovery that the town water main was inadequate. The Sibleys ended up paying to install a new 12-inch water main from their property to High Point Lane.

As a result, the store’s move was delayed into June during the busy summer season, which made for a difficult transition.

“A lot of stuff came across the street so quickly that we got quite disorganized,” Ms. Sibley said. “So it took awhile, but we’re completely moved in and feel like we’ve been here forever now.” All that remains is finishing the parking lot and adding some gutters.

Having more space has been a big plus, especially at Christmas, she said.

“We didn’t really have a significantly bigger inventory than we did before but we could accommodate it a lot better,” Ms. Sibley said.

When asked if the new location has resulted in more customer traffic, Ms. Sibley said, “I would say that overall through the summer it was about the same as the year before, but Christmas was busier.”

Ms. Sibley said the building’s space is all occupied and things are settling down. “I don’t think people are still finding us, but I do, even now, occasionally get the person that shows up and says I went to the old place and you were gone,” Ms. Sibley said with a laugh. “And this is year-round Islanders.”

The two affordable apartments upstairs are rented and the back warehouse is in use for storage. Martha’s Vineyard Screenprinting owner Rick Mello Jr. rented the middle retail unit behind Vineyard Electronics.

Island Entertainment

Anne Evasick decided to follow her long-time neighbor across the street and relocated her video store, Island Entertainment, next door to Vineyard Electronics.

“We started out on Union Street in Vineyard Haven,” Ms. Evasick told The Times in a phone call last week. “We figured out we had been across the street for 23 years and on Union Street for two or three. It’s somewhat of a feeling of going full circle. We started in a small space, expanded, and came back to a smaller place.”

Ms. Evasick said she and the staff have adapted to the smaller space and it works fine.

“We took the VHS display cases off the front racks, because we don’t rent a lot of those,” she said. “We have upstairs storage space, so we put them there. If you come in and want VHS, you can just give us the title and we’ll be happy to run upstairs and get it. It made a lot more room on the floor.”

Ms. Evasick said the store had a good Christmas season in its new location and other than one or two frantic calls, people did not seem to have trouble finding it.

“It’s all a giant work in progress,” she said. “Since it may be next summer before everything is in place, we probably won’t have our grand reopening until Memorial Day weekend.”

Midnight Farm

Last September Midnight Farm owner Tamara Weiss received notice that her store would have to vacate the space she leased for 18 years at the back of the Stop and Shop building in Vineyard Haven. In the spring of 2011, the supermarket company had announced plans to expand the store.

Midnight Farm, a well-known Island boutique opened by Ms. Weiss with several partners, including Carly Simon, moved about a block away to the Bunch of Grapes bookstore’s former location at 44 Main Street and reopened on September 29.

“I had no idea how it was going to work, and it just did,” Ms. Weiss said in a phone call with The Times last week. “We moved extremely quickly, in just a couple of days, to set up and paint and get the lighting and all that, and we’re still tweaking. In fact, we just got our new sign up, which I’m very happy with.”

Although she was a little concerned about how having two floors instead of one would work, in terms of customer flow, Ms. Weiss said it has turned out great and has allowed her the opportunity to expand her inventory of men’s clothing upstairs.

Even better, she added, customer traffic has increased at the new location.

“I’ve heard people say that they’ve come in for the first time, who have lived here for years, who just never made it to Midnight Farm where it was,” Ms. Weiss said. “So that’s what I want to hear. That’s great. If I’m going to make this move, I’d love to greet and meet new customers and new friends.”

With the store on Main Street instead of off the beaten path, she said she and the staff have enjoyed being more involved in downtown events. The only negative aspect of the new space, Ms. Weiss said, is that she misses having lots of windows in which to create displays.

“We really sold well through the fall and Christmas season, much more than I anticipated,” Ms. Weiss said. She plans to hold book signings, poetry readings, musical events, trunk shows and other events over the spring and summer. New merchandise will start arriving soon, she added, and as always, she wants to keep things changing and the inventory fresh.

“Change is a scary thing, but it just turned out to be for the best,” Ms. Weiss said. “I think we’re all really happy here. My staff is happy here, I’m happy here, and it seems like my customers really are happy here, and that’s most important to me. So it was just a great transition, and we’re really looking forward to the spring and summer season to see if it will be worth it, after all of that.”