Forget Me Not memories, as antique shop closes
The sign out front at 496 State Road in West Tisbury reads, "Antique Store Closing."
For many Islanders who purchased cherished pieces at Forget Me Not Antiques over the past 13 years, the store's name sums up their sentiments as a local favorite prepares to close on October 31.
"A lot of customers are really disappointed," said storeowner Mike Smith, whose late wife Judy set up shop in 1995. He found out last January that his lease would not be renewed.
The Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank, formed in 2007 by the merger of the Dukes County Savings Bank and Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank, bought the store building and land. The bank plans to expand its West Tisbury branch next door by building a new two-story 3,500-square-foot office building to house the brokerage and trust divisions.
Although Mr. Smith kept running Forget Me Not Antiques after his wife died in 2000, he said he does not plan to reopen in a new location. "I'm not as sad as the customers are," he said. "I have other businesses - this has been a hobby more than anything else."
During an interview a few weeks ago, Mr. Smith recalled that the store was the fulfillment of a dream for his late wife, who always wanted an antique shop. They met in 1983 when she was living in Minneapolis and he was living and working in Winnipeg. They bought a house in Lambert's Cove, and Ms. Smith moved to Martha's Vineyard in 1991.
Mr. Smith worked for the National Hockey League (NHL) as a general manager for different teams. "Periodically I would be out of work, so I would just pack up and come here, and it became our full-time home," Mr. Smith said.
Opening Forget Me Not Antiques in 1995 was a new venture for Ms. Smith, who at first leased only half the building. Her original inventory, found while on a trip with her husband, all came from Seattle.
"We used to go to Seattle every year, and one time I walked by this antiques dealer and I went in and saw this European pine," Mr. Smith explained. "I went back and said to Judy, you've got to come and take a look at this. So she bought a couple of pieces from him, and the next year when we went out there, she asked him if he would supply the inventory when she opened up a shop."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
As the value of the Euro went up and people's tastes became more eclectic, his wife expanded her collection - and leased more store space - to include furniture from all over the world, Mr. Smith said.
He describes Forget Me Not as "a kind of up-Island, West Tisbury rural business," with a laid-back attitude. "We had a take-home, try-out, easygoing style," he said.
"Judy's philosophy, as someone who had been a single working parent, was to make antiques affordable for people," Mr. Smith added. "Some young people would come in and buy one or two pieces a year, and over the years, they were able to collect a houseful of antiques."
Like any Island business, the challenge of owning and running an antique store has been its seasonal nature, Mr. Smith said, dependent on good sales from mid-May to mid-October. Forget Me Not Antiques stayed open year-round, but only on weekends from December through April.
Most of the sales were local and the furniture went to houses on Martha's Vineyard. Mr. Smith said making deliveries was one of his favorite duties because he saw parts of Martha's Vineyard that many people never see.
Although he is ready to get out of the antiques business, Mr. Smith said he would miss the buying part. "I never ever bought anything while Judy was running the shop - I'd go with her, but it was her shop, and she bought everything," he said.
He discovered he has a good eye for collectibles, which inspired him to add something new over the last few years.
In 2005 Mr. Smith offered to host an exhibit of 93 stone sculptures hand-carved by the Shona, Zimbabwe's largest tribe, collected by Joan Merry of West Tisbury and her husband, Don Lyons, The Martha's Vineyard Times sports editor, while traveling in Africa. At Mr. Smith's suggestion, they bought back more than 100 pieces from a trip the next year to sell at the store.
Since then, Forget Me Not Antiques has showcased the sculptures, many in an eye-catching garden display. Ms. Merry also runs the Gossamer Gallery inside, which features sculptures and jewelry from Zimbabwe, as well. She plans to relocate to a gallery in Chilmark owned by Chris Murphy, where his father, the painter Stan Murphy, used to exhibit his works.
Another big attraction at the store, although not for sale, is Charlie. "He's a cat from the streets of Chicago that won the Martha's Vineyard lottery," Mr. Smith says of his seven-year-old black-and-white feline. Charlie is clearly in charge, but graciously coexists with Kingsley, a golden retriever, when employee Carolyn Minner brings him to work.
Mr. Smith said Forget Me Not Antiques will be open from 10 am to 5 pm every day until October 31. In addition to running the antique store and a consulting business that deals with the NHL, Mr. Smith is working with a partner on opening an Internet business in the United Kingdom. He plans to remain on Martha's Vineyard, however, where he met his fiancé, Phoebe Cole.
The fate of the antique store building remains in question. Originally a private residence, it has undergone several transformations through the years, from apartments to a lawnmower shop, a small store owned by Brickman's, and two antique stores.
On October 2 the Martha's Vineyard Commission completed a public hearing of the Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank's proposal for a new building and will make a decision on its approval on Oct. 23. Although bank officials hoped to move the antique store building to the back of the lot and use it for two affordable housing units for employees, town zoning bylaws will not allow it. The bank's offer to donate the building to the Island Housing Trust also was rejected as unfeasible, due to the difficulty of moving it off-site.