Tisbury Main Street businesses say change is good

The Bunch of Grapes bookstore moved across Main Street to smaller quarters in the former Bowl and Board building, along with its trademark clock that reminds passersby that it's "Time to Read." — Photo by Ralph Stewart

As spring changed to summer, so did Tisbury’s Main Street business lineup. In addition to new stores that opened, a few moved or expanded their operations. This week The Times checked in with some of them to see how those changes are working out.

Bunch of Grapes Bookstore owner Dawn Braasch provided one of the business community’s biggest surprises on May 25 when she moved the store from its 40-year Main Street location across the street into the building formerly occupied by the Bowl and Board store. “It’s the best thing I could have done,” Ms. Braasch told The Times in a phone conversation this week.

Ms. Braasch bought the bookstore business from owner Jon Nelson and signed a long-term lease with building owner Anne Nelson, Mr. Nelson’s mother, in October 2008. When she announced her plans to move last spring, Ms. Braasch said her decision to downsize was prompted by financial considerations. The Bowl and Board building has 3,300 square feet, on one floor, compared to 5,000 square feet over two floors in the former bookstore.

“Our sales are way up, so it’s just really exciting,” Ms. Braasch said. “Who knows what the future holds, but our summer so far has been great. Just the whole feel here; not only is it a bonus to have increased sales on actually less square footage at half the rent, but all the way around it just feels better here. It proved to be a good move.”

Ms. Braasch said customers have responded very positively to the look and feel of the new store. “I often hear it feels more ‘Vineyardy,’ because the other store was so narrow and dark,” she said. One decorative element that is appreciated as a carryover from the old bookstore space, however, is the big clock that stood out front. It was also moved and installed across the street.

“The hard surprise for us has been keeping books on the shelves,” Ms. Braasch said. “And that’s not a bad problem to have. So it’s good news, all the way around.”

Juliska, a new look in a familiar space

The sight of a new store, Juliska, at 23 Main Street, where the Bramhall & Dunn store operated for 28 years, has also been an adjustment for many Islanders and seasonal visitors. But they can still find a familiar face there, since former Bramhall & Dunn store manager Robert Cropp is Juliska’s new manager.

The shop specializes in tableware and home goods. Juliska’s two main product lines are mouth-blown glass made in the Czech Republic and ceramic tableware made in Portugal. The store also carries pressed glass items, linens, flatware, pillows, throws, jewelry, accessories and cookbooks. The second floor is an outlet for retired items and overstocks sold at deeply discounted prices.

Mr. Cropp said the Juliska’s owners David and Capucine Gooding are happy with their decision to open their second store in Vineyard Haven over Memorial Day weekend. Their flagship store is located in Stamford, Conn.

“June was not the most exciting, but July was extraordinarily good,” Mr. Cropp said. “It’s been going very well, and I think everyone’s very pleased.”

This summer, Juliska affiliated with Island organizations such as the FARM Institute’s Meals in the Meadow and the Vineyard Arts Project to help with their fundraising. “We look forward to doing more of that this fall and winter,” Mr. Cropp said. “We’re also looking forward to fall events planned at the store, such as a wine and cheese party that features the store’s merchandise.

“I think it’s been sort of a particular challenge on Main Street this summer, that people came in, especially in June, and asked where did the Bunch of Grapes go,” he said with a laugh. “Vineyarders like to have things the way they’ve been. There’s an initial shock value they have to get used to. But I think the changes on Main Street have been very positive, and it’s nice to see some new life here.”

La Cave complements Le Grenier

Two months ago Le Grenier owner and chef Jean Dupon expanded his business with the addition of a new French-style bistro, La Cave du Grenier, on the first floor under his restaurant at 96 Main Street. Chef James McDonough, the chef at the Beach Plum Inn for 16 years, is at the helm at La Cave. The café offers breakfast, lunch, and a light dinner seven days a week, and it has a beer and wine license.

“La Cave is doing well and has been really well received,” Mr. Dupon said. “It’s like teaching a little baby how to walk, meaning that we’re still working out a few kinks. But the staff is pulling together.”

Among the “kinks” when the café opened was his discovery that half of the new kitchen equipment he bought was defective and did not work.

“Overall, I’m very happy,” Mr. Dupon said of his new setup, adding that the new café has not detracted from his Le Grenier business. “It’s different from upstairs; it’s more casual,” he explained. “So I don’t feel that I’m competing with myself. I think it worked out okay.”

Mr. Dupon said he is considering closing the upstairs restaurant space after Columbus Day and operating Le Grenier in the café space. He would offer breakfast and lunch at La Cave, and serve Le Grenier-style dinners there at night. “During the off-season, that would save on having to operate two restaurant spaces,” he said.

Burrito bonanzaAt the other end of Main Street, La Choza owner Seth Gambino and his staff are making made-to-order burritos as fast as they can. Mr. Gambino opened La Choza last February at the corner of Main Street and Beach Road in the old Advest Building. Modeled on a chain of similar restaurants he operated in the Berkshires, menu items at La Choza, which translates to “The Shack,” start at a base price of $4 for a burrito filled with rice and beans. Add-ons are 25 to 75 cents each.

“Things are going good; I couldn’t be happier,” Mr. Gambino said. “It’s been nice to see some of the local trade still coming in, because I know sometimes locals stop going downtown in the summer.”

La Choza currently serves lunch and dinner. Mr. Gambino said he would like to add breakfast at some point, maybe in the fall, but does not have the staff to do it yet. “My gift back to the Island for helping me through the summer will be some breakfast burritos and frittatas.”

Mr. Gambino said as long as the lights are on and the grill is still hot, he keeps his business hours flexible to accommodate customers. “We’ve been staying open till 9 pm, and I encourage people to knock on the door if they see the lights on,” he said. “I’ve served until 10:30 before. We keep the door open if we see customers and we try to serve as late as we can.”

Since the burrito operation is so labor-intensive, Mr. Gambino is a bit apprehensive about the last week of August, knowing that some of his staff is leaving the week before, around August 23.

“It will be nice to catch a breather pretty soon,” he said. “I’m one-hundred percent appreciative of all of our summer business, but it will be nice to slow down a little here in the fall.”

Aquanaut takes off

Among new businesses in Vineyard Haven is AquaNaut, which owner Rubin Cronig opened at 76 Main Street in April. The shop features watches made by Vineyard Time, one of two watch-making companies he owns, as well as knives, both utilitarian and collectible, and scrimshaw-decorated accessories for men and women.

The store is a new experience for Mr. Cronig, given that most of his business is wholesale. He said he decided to open AquaNaut as an Island venue for Vineyard Time, and also for scrimshaw, to keep alive the memory of his good friend and business associate Tom DeMont, who died last December.

Mr. DeMont, a scrimshaw artist and owner of the now closed Edgartown Scrimshaw Gallery, carried Mr. Cronig’s watches in the gallery and made scrimshaw watch dials for him.

“This has definitely been a big shift, not so much in terms of what we’re doing, but it’s a different feel, dealing direct and stocking the store and still trying to stock all our other accounts,” Mr. Cronig said of his new shop. “So having a sort of headquarters store is a very different thing. But it’s been going really well. We have some awesome customers coming in who are really, really supportive, so that’s been fantastic.”

Mr. Cronig said running a retail business has been a big adjustment for him. “It’s been weird for me, because I’m so used to just looking at figures,” he said. “Not dealing with oh, it’s rainy, so there are more people. Oh, it’s a beach day, so there are less. There is some very different fluctuation. And obviously I knew about all those things, but it’s different when the amount of money you take in is actually about that. So it’s interesting managing both sides of the coin.”

Mr. Cronig said he is happy with his Vineyard Haven location, in terms of shopper traffic. “It’s interesting, because we’re a little bit of both a walk-in store and a destination store, because we have a pretty big following for our watches and because there aren’t really any other stores that do what we do,” he said. “I think Main Street Vineyard Haven is perfect. It was a little bit of a gamble, but it has turned out to be really good. Customers from the West Chop and Edgartown communities have been very supportive. And it’s the collectors that make or break this business.”

Mr. Cronig said one of the disappointments he has is that people look in the window and assume they can’t afford the merchandise because everything looks high-end. However, he prides himself on offering items in a wide range of prices. He also orders new merchandise every week and rotates the inventory to keep the store interesting.

“I figure having a store that can pay its own bills year one, that’s a good start,” Mr. Cronig said. “The key for me is that we’ll definitely reopen next year, so that’s a good sign.”