Four years later, Tisbury business is back


Welcome back, Café Moxie. The tiny bistro’s reincarnation is the latest change in Vineyard Haven’s Main Street business profile. It caps four years of turmoil, destruction, despair, and revival that has transformed the look of the town’s business heart and, indeed, the center of gravity of the entire community.

The Bunch of Grapes’s business-minded move to the former Bowl and Board space from its home of half a century across the street is among the most prominent moves in the business revivification — kind of a cornerstone. Owned by the Nelson family and artfully remodeled years ago by the DeSorcy Company, the bookstore’s former home was damaged but not destroyed in the July 4, 2008 fire that gutted Moxie. Now, it’s the new, vastly more prominent home of Midnight Farm, which moved from its more retiring site near the Stop and Shop, which in turn will soon rehab and upgrade its entire Beach Street establishment.

Do you get my drift? This chain of business events, and others that have, prospectively, altered the fortunes of both longtime and fresh business players in the Main Street dance — too many really to mention in this brief space — is evidence of economic optimism, ambition, striving, and shrewd merchandising. It’s what business does to strengthen and grow. It’s a miracle of humdrum proportions.

This economic roundelay springs from the pit of a national financial catastrophe, on which the fire — a local catastrophe — doubled down. Whether the one was necessary for the other to happen is for the gifted — certainly not columnists — to say. If you had a scientific computer model intended to predict the course of business life on Vineyard Haven’s Main Street between 2005 and 2012, I hold that your model would have failed you, the way models do. I have in mind investment models — remember the quants — and climate models. Oh, and don’t forget business models — think Solyndra, or MySpace.

What certainly helped to drive this refreshment of the business nexus of the Vineyard’s year-round port is an encouraging attitude toward business among recent town leadership and a diminishment of the generalized hostility toward business among town voters, the latter evidenced by the approval of beer/wine sales in town restaurants. Indeed, Moxie awaits its own beer/wine license, the occasion for a real lift-off moment for the new business. There has also been a press for business-friendly changes in town government and its practices, led determinedly, openly, and bluntly by selectman Jeff Kristal. Mr. Kristal has pressed relentlessly for changes that have made Tisbury town government more efficient and improved the climate for business. In service of this goal, he has pushed hard.

Mr. Kristal comes to mind because I owe him a revision of criticism I made in May over his remarks about the four-year-long travail that has concluded with Café Moxie reopening. In his drive to strengthen business activity on Main Street and to see downtown refashion itself, Mr. Kristal grew irritated over the pace of the Moxie revival, which has been troubled and very slow.

As Janet Hefler wrote in a May 2 news article [Tisbury selectman takes shot at Cafe Moxie progress], “Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal seized on the normally routine department report by building and zoning inspector Ken Barwick at last week’s selectmen’s meeting to lob harsh criticism at Café Moxie. Mr. Kristal accused the owner of foot-dragging in the reconstruction of the long vacant Main Street restaurant.

“‘I see Café Moxie opened up this morning,’ Mr. Kristal said, sarcasm evident in his tone …” Ms. Hefler wrote.

In an editorial in the same edition, writing in the unsigned column across the way, I scolded Mr. Kristal for the tone of those remarks, directed at his constituents and the owner of a business in town. The headline of the editorial was “Not the way to speak to us” [May 2].

In that editorial, I also referred Mr. Kristal’s use of the word “townies” in comments on a separate issue, but that usage did not originate with the selectman and ought to have been treated differently than his remarks directed at Moxie were.

So Mr. Kristal’s license, as he sees it, when he’s doing God’s work, is “I don’t think it’s harsh criticism when I’m trying to promote business downtown” (his words). But, the view here is that, the collection of significant and hopeful economic results that Mr. Kristal may reasonably take credit for fashioning owe more to vision, determination, and persuasion than to criticism, harsh or otherwise.