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Oak Bluffs

Marguerite Cook is the captain of the Good Ship Lollipop on Circuit Ave in Oak Bluffs. — photo by Gwyn McAllister

Every other week, Gwyn McAllister visits with an Island merchant, and asks them how they got here, why they do what they do, and the ups and downs of their job.

The weeks before Valentine’s Day are a great time to wander around a candy shop, reliving sweet, confectionate memories from your past. The Good Ship Lollipop on Circuit Ave in Oak Bluffs offers another boost to childhood memories with its large selection of retro candy – everything from licorice pipes, Mary Janes and Teaberry gum to Necco wafers, Bit-o-Honey, Pixie Sticks, Mary Janes and so much more.

In addition, owner Marguerite Cook dips her own chocolate – over 100 varieties including chocolate pops in every imaginable shape – and also offers dozens of organic, vegan, gluten free and sugar free varieties from Divine Treasures in Connecticut. The packed to the rafters shop also carries stuffed animals, toys and puzzles, infant toys, souvenirs, holiday decorations and even a small collection of rocks and minerals in one corner.

We spoke to Ms. Cook, a native of Braintree and the former tax collector in Oak Bluffs, recently about her history with the Vineyard and the shop and found out that, among other things, the business was inspired, not surprisingly, by a lollipop; dipping chocolates is a passion as much as a business for Ms. Cook (I’d still want to do it even if it wasn’t a job) and, believe it or not, selling candy has more in common with tax collecting than you might think possible.

How did you get to the Vineyard?

“I first came in 1968. I had two very good friends who lived in my neighborhood who both got jobs at the MV Hospital. I came to help them get set up in a house here. I walked up one side of Circuit Ave and the other and got a job as an accountant. Then I got a job working on a fundraising campaign for the hospital.”

At the end of 1969 Ms. Cook left the Island to get married to her husband David Cook, an Island native who was entering the military. Their first daughter was born while he was away in the army. Upon returning, Mr. Cook got a job with the Post Office on the Vineyard and Ms. Cook worked variously at the old laundromat and the Corner Store. In 1980 she starting working for the town of Oak Bluffs, a career she pursued until 2003, working variously as treasurer and then tax collector

What motivated you to start your business?

Ms. Cook had been retired from the town for a few years looking for something else to do. It was a picture of her mother that Ms. Cook discovered while closing up her parent’s home that inspired her to open a candy shop. “In the picture, my mother is holding a baby doll and a big swirly lollipop.” That image, combined with comments from former business associates hat there was no where to buy candy in the neighborhood that gave her the idea to open the shop.

How did you get your start?

“I started out in Vineyard Haven, next to Calico Sue as an old fashioned candy store. I carried some toys and souvenirs. I was there for one summer, then moved into a slot they had cordoned off in the laundromat and stayed there until the end of that summer. Mr. Stacy, who owned Hilliard’s, came to me and asked if I wanted to move my candy store to where to the old Hilliard’s was. The deal came with a temporary loan of the kettles and Brenda Mastromonaco [a Hilliard family member] to teach me how to make chocolates. She still works for me to this day. She taught me everything I know about making chocolates.”

What’s so special about your job?

“I absolutely love it. It doesn’t matter who comes in the door, they walk out with a smile on their face. It’s just a wonderful experience. I get lot of kids from a few months to 102. It’s wonderful because even people who haven’t been in the store, when they come in for the first time they are amazed. They’re a kid in a candy store. They start naming off all the different candies they had when they were kids.”

What’s the most challenging thing about running a business on the Vineyard?

“Getting your product in. My chocolate is flown in from Pennsylvania. It comes in a day or a day and a half. We go through a lot of chocolate. But being here it’s sometimes hard for people to get things to us in a timely fashion.”

What makes owning a business on the Vineyard special?

“Some people who come in have never been to the Vineyard before. They’re really surprised to see a candy store here. The kids who come each summer can’t wait to come back to the store. It’s a destination for the kids. People let me know in advance that they’re grandkids are coming. Everybody has stories.”

Any particularly memorable days?

“A woman named Mary Fisher was celebrating her 100th birthday in Windemere. She used to make chocolates when she was a little girl in Edgartown. They asked her what she wanted to do for her 100th and she said she wanted to dip chocolates. Brenda [Mastromonaco ] and I went over with a tempering kettle, some marshmallows and pieces of mint and let her dip chocolates. She said, ‘With my hands so crooked I don’t know if I can dip them.’ I told her, ‘We use utensils now and you should be able to.’ She had the best time dipping chocolates. Four other residents asked if they could also dip. One woman was blind and another had Parkinson’s. We helped them and we all laughed a lot. By the time we were through we had enough to feed all the hospital staff — from acute care to accounting — and all the staff and residents in Windemere.”

Any interesting customers?

“The granddaughter of the man who invented Turkish Taffy came in and saw the candy. It had disappeared [from distribution] for approximately 35 years. Her grandfather hadn’t copyrighted it. She was shocked when she saw it. She didn’t know that it had come back.”

What’s your favorite off Island trip?

“My husband and I go and pick up a lot of the candy ourselves. We make a trip every few weeks in the summer. We go first to Bridgewater to get salt water taffy, ribbon candy and sponge candy at a little shop there. It’s a wonderful place to go and watch them make the taffy. From there we go to New Hampshire and back down to Lowell, East Boston, Cambridge and a few others. I do love to go but my husband usually does it now.”

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?

“I like to help people. As much as people say, ‘You were a tax collector? How could you do that?’ — I loved my job because I was able to help people. If they didn’t have what they needed, they went on a payment plan. If you work with people that way, they leave happy. People sometimes come into the store and say, ‘I know you. You helped my grandmother.’”

Which is your favorite Island town?

“I have to say Oak Bluffs because when I first moved to the Vineyard it was just so much fun to be here. It was called the honky tonk town then and it still is today. It’s always hopping. Its always moving.”

Anything you dream about doing in life?

“The last thing on my bucket list is to go to Italy. My family is Italian. Most of my brothers and sister’s have gone.”

What is your motto?

“Life is short so you have to enjoy it while you can.”

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— File Photo by Susan Safford

A draft report by the engineering firm hired to evaluate soggy areas of Ocean Park concludes that while several wastewater treatment beds under the park are failing, “there is a strong likelihood” that the majority of the problem is from irrigation and storm-water runoff.

Oak Bluffs was ordered to do an engineering study in a notice of non-compliance, issued last September by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The Hyannis environmental engineering firm Stearns & Wheler conducted the study.

For several years, mushy ground and sometimes standing water have interfered with use of the public park in the month of August. Testing determined that some of the water was treated effluent from the town’s wastewater treatment plant, which pumps treated wastewater into leaching beds under the park.

“It’s a combination of everything, wastewater, irrigation, and storm water,” said wastewater plant manager Joe Alosso.

According to the report, four test excavations conducted on December 15 determined that many factors contribute to the ponding of water in the lowest part of Ocean Park.

Engineers said changes to irrigation, aeration, and turf management would reduce the ponding. They said removing some sprinkler heads in the affected area, and installing a rain sensor, so the sprinklers won’t turn on during a rain, would help.

Mr. Alosso has long contended that too much water is used to irrigate Ocean Park in the summer months. He said the irrigation system is turned on, rain or shine, for five days per week in August, dumping 186,400 gallons of water on the park. By contrast, he said the typical family home uses about 75,000 gallons of water for all uses, during an entire year.

“I have never said that the ponding in Ocean Park is from irrigation,” said Mr. Alosso. “But I do maintain that the inability of the treated wastewater to percolate down through the ground is affected by the amount of irrigation water and rain water that is applied to the site. The site needs recovery time for all this water to move down through the sand.”

Engineers determined that topsoil in some areas of the park is too thick and compacted to provide good drainage.

“There’s way too much topsoil, it’s not getting any oxygen into the sand and the soils below it,” said Mr. Alosso. “For the leaching beds to work properly you have to have some oxygen getting down in there. It’s upwards of a foot of topsoil in some places.”

Engineers also suggest that installation of underground irrigation pipes, electrical conduits, and other infrastructure may have the unintended effect of channeling drainage water to lower parts of the park. When trenches were excavated for the pipes, they may have created aerated soil that provides a path of least resistance for the water to drain. When the water reaches more compacted areas, it puddles on the surface. Another part of the problem may be a clogged catch basin. Engineers documented one catch basin in the lower part of the park full of water to within four inches of the surface. Other nearby catch basins were empty.

The engineers found that a leaching bed between the grandstand and Sea View Avenue was draining the effluent at a rate “significantly” less than it was designed to do. Engineers found large amounts of biological material (biomat) clogging the leaching fields. Biomat is a general term for living organisms that grow in a rich nitrogen environment. The excavation of the bed confirmed data from monitors that measured drainage over several months. On the basis of those findings, the engineer recommended shutting down four leaching beds located between the grandstand and Sea View Avenue. Flow to those beds has already been stopped. The report concludes that four more beds in the area generally surrounding the small concrete pond may have to be disconnected in the near future, because soil and biomat conditions are similar to the poorly functioning bed.

“We’ll talk about different options,” said Mr. Alosso. Among the options is permanent shutdown of leaching beds, or refurbishing them with new drainage material. “Fortunately it looks like it’s one section of the park. The other areas looked okay.”

The engineers concluded that even if the beds are shut down, the rest of the leaching field has the capacity to absorb all of the town’s wastewater. There are a total of 28 beds under the park.

Mr. Alosso said the town would continue work on an alternative site for leaching fields. The town is evaluating land known as the Leonardo property, located near the wastewater plant, which is located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and County Road. “We need to do something,” said Mr. Alosso. “I still think additional capacity is the good long-term answer.”

Copies of the engineering report were distributed to selectmen, park commissioners, and wastewater district commissioners. Mr. Alosso asked for comments from the public officials, which will be submitted to the engineering firm. “They will make any adjustments they think are warranted based on the comments, and then we’ll send it off to the state.”

The state will use the engineering report to determine the best way to solve the problems.

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Oak Bluffs selectmen learned Tuesday that their town now expects to fall $336,607 short of its revenue projections at the end of the current fiscal year, on June 30, this year.

In their first meeting of the New Year, facing head-on a municipal byproduct of the national economic downturn, the selectmen got the sobering report from Paul Manzi, Oak Bluffs finance director and treasurer. Selectmen Ron D’Orio, chairman of the board, had asked Mr. Manzi to deliver the news.

Having passed the halfway mark in the 2009 fiscal year, Mr. D’Orio said he asked Mr. Manzi to provide the numbers because he thought it wise to be proactive.

“I do not want to be here in May with too short a time to make up $336,000,” Mr. D’Orio said. He said the town would need to look at the numbers now and make appropriate adjustments in the budget to deal with the shortfall.

One possibility may be savings from the budgets of town departments, including the highway and tax collector departments, which have not filled several vacant positions.

During the short discussion that followed Mr. Manzi’s report, selectman Roger Wey, who is also Council on Aging director, suggested across-the-board department cuts. He said the most important consideration was to keep employees.

Selectman Kerry Scott said there are some department budgets that cannot be cut. She offered the town clerk’s department as an example.

The selectmen agreed that in concert with the finance committee, they would begin the search for savings or revenue increases when they meet next.

After the meeting, Mr. Manzi told The Martha’s Vineyard Times one option to generate revenue might be an auction sale of town-owned properties or foreclosed properties.

Local receipts lag

About this time last year, town leaders and department heads began the annual process of putting together the town operating budget they would present to voters at the spring annual town meeting.

Referring to the revenue projections made at the time, Michael Dutton, town administrator, told selectmen Tuesday night, “Those were conservative estimates, but they were not conservative enough.”

Despite signs of a slowdown in the economy, no one anticipated the financial meltdown that would occur in the fall. Mr. Manzi’s estimate is based on expected shortfalls in three of the town’s primary local sources of revenue.

He said motor vehicle excise taxes are expected to fall $93,050 short of a budgeted $674,827. The reason, he said, is that people are not buying cars.

Revenue from licenses and permits is expected to fall $157,782 short of a budgeted $409,418, due to a decline in building activity.

And it is estimated the $155,537 the town expected to receive in investment income will be off by $85,775, due to a drop in interest rates.

The estimated $336,607 shortfall does not reflect cuts in state aid. Mr. Manzi does not anticipate a major hit in FY 09, but in FY 10, the town will likely see cuts, he said.

To be on the conservative side, next year’s budget will be built around an expected 10-percent cut in state aid, or approximately $170,000, Mr. Manzi explained.

Other business

Selectmen moved briskly through an agenda that included several appointments and a public hearing designed to qualify the town for significant federal money that would allow a qualified homeowner to seek a zero-percent, deferred-payment, forgivable loan to rehabilitate his or her house.

Selectmen reappointed Robert Huss to the Steamship Authority port council and named M. Casey Sharpe, a lawyer and former town administrator, to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Selectmen approved a one-day beer and wine permit for a potluck inaugural event at the Dreamland building, sponsored by the Oak Bluffs Association, and they approved the dates for four popular road races: Memorial Day race, May 24; NAACP race, Sept. 12; Columbus Day race, Oct. 11; and Thanksgiving Day race, Nov. 26.