As of Dec. 31, the Our Island Club discount card will no longer be accepted at Cronig’s markets or Healthy Additions, but that doesn’t mean the 20 percent discount offered on groceries is going away.
In a conversation with The Times Monday, Steve Bernier, the owner of Cronig’s three stores, said he plans to offer a discount without charging a fee. For the month of February, he plans to increase the discount to 30 percent to help the Island’s workers, he said.
Mr. Bernier said he faced a barrage of questions from customers over the weekend after Our Island Club sent an email newsletter to cardholders announcing that Cronig’s was discontinuing its participation in the discount card.
“We have been informed by Steve Bernier that Cronig’s Markets and Healthy Additions will be withdrawing as a member business of Our Island Club, effective Jan. 1, 2018,” the newsletter states. “As one of our charter member businesses, we are disappointed by Mr. Bernier’s decision.”
Mr. Bernier said he decided to go out on his own because he saw the discount card straying from its mission to help the Island’s workers. People with second homes on Martha’s Vineyard, wealthy patrons with trust funds, have been receiving discount cards, he said.
“People who don’t need it, have it,” Mr. Bernier said. “That comes out of my hide.”
Meanwhile, some Island workers who can’t vote in elections were turned away by the discount card, he said.
Kennia Moraes, a manager at the up-Island Cronig’s, said she had one woman, a nurse who works on the Island, who paid full price at the store. “I feel bad for customers like her who don’t have the card,” she said.
Mr. Bernier, who had several of his managers meet with The Times, said those are the type of people who should have the discount.
Our Island Club was established 12 years ago to provide discounts to year-round Island residents and individuals employed on the Island more than six months out of the year. Annual memberships range in price from $39 for senior citizens to $99 for a family membership. Some of the membership fee goes to Island charities, with $675,000 donated to date, according to the newsletter.
In return, members save on average $1,000 per year at gas stations, restaurants, markets, and retail outlets, according to the club’s website.
“Our Island Club is more than any one member or business, it is the synthesis of community, charity, commerce, and consumer savings,” the newsletter states. “Our pledge to you is that we will continue building Our Island Club, making it even stronger in the future. We are committed to help make Martha’s Vineyard affordable for those who work here, and for qualified retirees and residents.”
There will be no card, no photo IDs for the Cronig’s discount program, but customers who receive the discount will have an account number and a PIN, he said. They can’t own more than one home and they can’t have a trust fund, Mr. Bernier said.
Anyone who gets the discount and is found to have a second home or a trust fund will be shut off from the discount, he said.
There are exceptions to the rules and Mr. Bernier said he is willing to talk to individuals about their circumstances. For example, one long-time Vineyarder has a cabin in the woods of Vermont, he said. That’s not the same as someone who owns a condo in Vail that he rents out 45 weeks a year for big money, he said.
Asked how customers would be vetted, Mr. Bernier said they’ll police themselves. “It’s a small Island, everyone knows everyone,” he said. “The vetting will come from a beautiful place of us working with, relating to, and talking with each other.”
Mr. Bernier said he knows his decision will rub some customers the wrong way. “I’ve already been threatened by rich people that they’re going to shop elsewhere,” he said. “So I should have to buy their business and have you shop here?”
Editor’s note: Story was updated to include comments from Mr. Bernier about his discount program.