Judy Hartford and her husband, Thad Harshbarger, moved to the Vineyard in 2001 after raising their two children on Long Island. Both are psychotherapists with private practices on the Island, and Ms. Hartford also runs Bananas Clothing, recently closing the Vineyard Haven location to concentrate on her flagship store on State Road in West Tisbury. Before Bananas, the couple owned the Vineyard Lights gallery on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs for four years.
What’s happening at Bananas right now?
We just this fall launched a men’s line with brands like Timberland and CP Shades, very simple Island-friendly clothes for men. In the kitchen, home goods and candles and soaps. We offer a range of styles for women; we try to fit all bodies. We’re artsy, we’re funky, we’re about layering, we’re about being comfortable with your own look, being comfortable in your skin.
What has it been like starting and running your own business on the Vineyard?
I was starting with no information when we opened Vineyard Lights in 2001 in Oak Bluffs. I had never done retail before in my life. We didn’t know anything about doing business, but people trusted us because we were sincere and, I think, because we were older. I have learned a huge amount. I have gotten more comfortable with the designers I buy from. I try to listen to what people want. It has been really a joy.
How did a fine art and craft gallery become a clothing boutique?
I come from an artistic family. My father was an artist, my brother is a concert pianist. So I come from the arts, but they tell me that I always, from the time I was two years old, loved clothing. Clothing is art. Clothing is a personal expression. It’s a clothing store with some beautiful artwork as part of what we do. The upstairs is rented to artists including Gabriella Camilleri, our “artist-in-residence,” who designs clothing and also works in the store.
What do you remember about your first day of business?
The very first sale: I wrote it up and looked at the cash register and said “Now what do I do?” I didn’t know how to ring it up. I didn’t know anything about the trade shows in New York.
What was your best day?
We’ve had a bunch of great days. At the gallery, we had a fabulous, gigantic abstract art piece that cost $7,000 or $8,000, I don’t remember. We had to build a crate for it, and my husband and the artist had to wheel it down to the ferry — I think they had to bring it over and get it met on the other side. It was a huge sale, so that was thrilling for us to make that kind of money. And just the whole amateur operation of putting this thing together, none of us really knowing what we were doing and then learning as we went along, wheeling this thing down Circuit Avenue.
What keeps you going when it’s summer and you’re working all the time?
I am fortunate in that I have a huge amount of energy. I like to work, I love this store and it’s always challenging and interesting to me being in the store. I have a great staff who have been with me for years and years. We have a very, very loyal customer base. I would say that 80 to 90 percent of the people who come to the store, we know them by name and they know us by name, and we offer a very personal shopping experience, which nurtures in two directions. It nurtures the customer, and it nurtures us, because there is a genuine warmth that has developed over these many years. It is really wonderful. And that keeps us going.
How do you relax in your spare time?
I go to the gym two days a week to a fabulous class. I walk in the nice weather whenever I can. My husband I are hooked on some TV series that we just adore. We go to dinner, we have friends over to dinner — nothing fancy. And we go off-Island a fair amount because we have nine grandchildren. They’re spread around, so we have a lot of visiting that we need to do.
What advice would you give a new business starting on Martha’s Vineyard?
Do what you love. Make sure that you’ve got good help and you treat them well, which I think is enormously important. And trust yourself, which is kind of how we did it.
Where did the name Bananas come from?
When we started off (at the Fiddlehead farm stand location a decade ago), the name was Yes, We Have No Bananas. It’s an old song from the 1920s. I have the sheet music framed in the store. Then it was Bananas Gallery, now it’s Bananas Clothing. Everybody knows it as Bananas.
Bananas Clothing, 697 State Road, West Tisbury. 508-696-5939; bananasgallery.com; facebook.com/Bananasgallery.
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