When Vineyarders have needed a tool, maybe a log splitter or a floor sander, impact driver or a floor nailer, or even a cement mixer, Tilton Rentall has been the place to find it, for the past 40 years. Sandra Lippens has run Tilton Rentall and Tilton Tent and Party Rentals at the corner of Barnes Road and Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road for more than 30 of those years.
Ms. Lippens, known as Sandy to most, is a hands-on owner who usually answers the phone or meets customers at their cars when they drive in to pick up a tool. One day last week Ms. Lippens, looking nowhere near her 74 years, leaned down and grabbed one side of a cement mixer she was renting to a 200 pound, 6-foot-tall man who grabbed the other side. Her knees were bent, her back acceptably vertical. The two lifted the mixer into a pickup truck. She didn’t break a sweat.
She keeps her inventory in her head. She will quickly answer any question about whatever tool anyone might request. She knows the condition of the tools, how to use them, and how to repair many of the hundreds of tools she keeps on hand.
On the tent and party rental side of the business, she provides everything a party might need, from tents to chairs, tables and table cloths, dishes and cutlery, and also will help customers plan parties. She will, if asked, suggest venues, caterers, and is adept at helping customers navigate the sometimes tricky ways of the Vineyard.
Tilton Rentall was started by M. Thurston “Tebby” Tilton in 1974 who began renting equipment he had used in his construction business along with a few things he had built himself, such a log cutter with an unprotected blade that measured more than two feet in diameter.
In 1980, Ms. Lippens moved to the Vineyard from Worcester where she’d worked for a printing company for 20 years, to begin a job as a massage therapist. Soon, she began helping Mr. Tilton. “I loved my work as a therapist and I met a lot of Vineyarders and learned my way around making house calls,” she said.
“When I first came to help Tebby, there was no party business and we didn’t have many tools,” she said. “The number of tools we had would almost fill one column on a sheet of paper. Most of the tools had MT Development Corporation painted on them, Tebby’s business name. He was an Island builder who built the first few homes in Sea Glen before he quit building to rent out his tools and go fishing for scallops and conch.
“I started to advertise – that was new concept – and people would call and ask for things. ‘I need a…do you have a…’ And Tebby and I would sit down and decide if we could afford to buy the tools people would ask for, if we didn’t have them.
“I used to tell people if you want me to get something, have six of your friends call and I’ll see if I can get it in here. I have always tried to satisfy the needs of the community.
“It became clear to me early on that if I were to be a part of this community I had to respect those people who were earning a living. I don’t want to be in competition with people who have certain tools, especially big equipment. I used to say ‘if you ride on it or tow it behind I do not have it.’” She does have a couple of cement mixers that are tow-behinds, but other than that the rule stands. “I don’t want to be in competition with the landscapers or the builders.
“I am more tuned to the homeowner, but I have pumps and generators and many small tools that big construction companies need one more of, or only need occasionally or when something breaks down. Our company has participated in building most of what you see on this Island in one way or another.”
She said it was at some point during her first year at Tilton’s that an Edgartown family wanted to know if she had what was needed for a wedding. “We didn’t have anything,” Ms. Lippens said. “I went out and bought everything they needed for their wedding. They wanted a yellow and white-striped tent. I bought a yellow and white striped tent. That was the start of the party rental side of Tilton’s. Everyone up-Island wanted white tents. Now we have white tents.”
She said the tent and party rental part of the business is now more than 50 percent of the business: “We try to provide a full range of assistance to groups and people putting on parties.”
A car drove in and a woman said she needed a lawn mower. Ms. Lippens found a lawn mower, explained the basics. Told her how to start it and helped her load it into her car.
“I really hope that people consider Tilton Rentall to be a part of the community,” she said.