New Vineyard Haven retailers brave the economy
Flying in the face of economic hard times, a handful of entrepreneurs will put a new face on Main Street retailing in Vineyard Haven this summer, including a new Trader Fred's fashion store and another store that will only sell cupcakes.
Veteran retailers such as Trader Fred's Fred Mascolo and new entrepreneur, Ezra Sherman, who will offer cupcakes as SweetE's, say helpful landlords and the state of the economy work in their favor.
In addition, they say the reopening of fire damaged Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Cafe Moxie will add momentum to Main Street business.
"We could not have done this five years ago; the rent would have been prohibitive," said Mr. Sherman, an Island native who will open his cupcake store next month in a storefront across from The Mansion House at 18 Main Street. Mr. Sherman said he has a one-year lease with option to renew.
"This is a perfect time for us. We do well in a down economy," Mr. Mascolo said of his 30-year tenure as proprietor of Trader Fred's discount store at the triangle in Edgartown. He will occupy the 2,200 square foot space vacated by In the Pink. The original Trader Fred's will remain in place, he said.
Vineyard Haven Trader Fred's will be larger than the Edgartown store and will focus on fashion apparel and footwear, rather than the omnibus inventory at the original store, Mr. Mascolo said. "I've always wanted to do apparel. We will feature 20 or 12 brands rather than two or three in Edgartown. This is the time. Our business was made for a tough economy."
Conversations with the retailers indicate that their enterprises will create 12 to 15 additional jobs, and both say if the demand is there, they will be year-round businesses.
Landlords Les Leland and Larry Levine confirm they are working on affordable terms with retail tenants. "I'd say rents are down 10 to 20 percent on Main Street, and we are offering one-year leases with options rather than the traditional three-year leases," Mr. Levine said.
Mr. Leland called his relationship with tenants "a partnership." He is offering relief from rent or lease terms to encourage success for new businesses. "I've always tried to operate that way, and I'm getting as much interest in a down economy as in a good one," he said.
Krista Marinelli, who has recently renovated the former Vineyard Gourmet shop next to the Dukes County Savings Bank space, is cautious but optimistic. Ms. Marinelli opened last week to good reviews, she says, featuring Main Street's only salad bar. "Sure I'm a little bit scared of the economy, but we support each other," she said. "Things have been working out. We'll be OK."
Mr. Sherman thinks a straightforward menu of cupcakes and milk or coffee is a good antidote to the economically beleaguered economy. "Cupcakes are comfortable and familiar," he said. "Everyone has associations with them, perhaps something from childhood or a recipe. Cupcakes are the great American dessert."
While he acknowledges that consumers may be more cautious this year, Mr. Sherman adds, "Everyone can afford four or five bucks for a cupcake and a glass of milk."
Mr. Sherman plans a vanilla cupcake with "generous" vanilla and chocolate butter frosting adorned with various toppings. "We'll offer daily specials - carrot, red velvet, key lime - and believe me, everybody's recommending their favorite," he said.
While a few empty storefronts remain, Mr. Sherman sees a different, updated face to Main Street retailing. "Look at the new businesses like Che's Lounge, the Devil's Dictionary, Jellyfish, Mix," he said. "I see a lot of young people in Vineyard Haven willing to take a chance they couldn't have afforded a couple of years ago. It's a chance to work for yourself, and if we create an equation that works in tough times, it'll work in good times."
Mr. Mascolo agrees. "The secret is constantly adjusting your business to conditions," he said.