CB Stark celebrates 50 years of Island charms

The Vineyard Haven jeweler has seen much change, and much remain the same, on Martha’s Vineyard.

Partners Cheryl Stark, left, and Margery Meltzer. - Sam Moore

It’s been 50 years since Cheryl Stark first came to the Vineyard — on May 28, 1966 — and what a half-century it’s been. In 1966, Woodstock was just an obscure town in either Vermont, Connecticut, or New York. Only Popeye had tattoos, and Batman was a hit only on TV.

In 1966, the Vineyard had a very hip subcultural, folky coffee house in Oak Bluffs, but Island music was still in its nestling state: James Taylor was still performing with the Flying Machine, with Islanders Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar and Zach Wiesner.

In 1966, Cheryl Stark was at the Museum School in Boston studying jewelry making. She had come via Coney Island, and a high school in Scarsdale, N.Y. She was happy enough in Boston, but was intrigued by an ad that caught her eye: The Island Craft Center on Martha’s Vineyard needed someone to teach jewelry making. The departing instructor had been drafted to fight the Vietnam War. Martha’s Vineyard at the time was known as a haven for young people looking for an escape from Establishment America.

Cheryl, only 19, responded to the ad, but qualified her answer, saying she had just one year at the Museum School, to which the hiring party said not to worry, because she knew more than the students. So Cheryl was Island-bound, and soon proved to be a pioneer, wearing denim on the Island while the rest of the nation was in miniskirts.

Last week, from her home in West Tisbury, Cheryl explained that the classes she was hired to teach ran only from 9 to noon, leaving her time to make her own jewelry. Soon, she had a jewelry-making stall with some friends at the end of Union Street in Vineyard Haven. In 1969, she went solo in a garage on Water Street, where the Black Dog Tavern would open a few years later. Cheryl actually did some of the shingling on the aspiring breakfast joint, which opened on New Year’s Day 1971, but when she set up shop, little else was there. It was the sort of place where friends stopped to chat while she worked at her bench. In a 2011 story in the MV Times to commemorate CB Stark’s 45th anniversary, Ms. Stark said that the proximity of the Water Street shop to the ferry made it a first stop for returning friends. “You’d know everyone getting off the boat. It would be the first thing they’d do, stop in and say, ‘Hi! I’m here!’ and I’d call people and say ‘Guess who’s here?’”

In the 1980s, when Cheryl moved up to Main Street, Shirley’s Hardware was still on the street, Lillian’s dress shop was up toward the telephone company building — Educomp — but Leslie’s was still Leslie’s.

Cheryl said that the move to Main Street led to some changes. Their relationship with customers had always been a very personal one, with the retail and the jewelry-making in the same space. With the expanding business, that had to change: The retail had to be in the front of the store, and the crafting and design behind, making CB Stark more of a functioning shop than a shopping visit.

Bunches of grapes, Island of gold, and town-sign pendants and charms

The current CB Stark business was born from Cheryl’s early talent and initiative, but it is also very much a product of her partner in business and in life, Margery “Margie” Meltzer. Margie first came to the Island in 1968, via Johnstown, Pa. (she’s quick to add that she was born in Worcester), armed with a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Cincinnati.

Margie came and went, and returned full-time in 1972 to live in a barn and windmill, and care for the late Catherine Allen. Margie, who says she’s always worked with her hands, lived the free-spirit life, and even picked tomatoes for the Marinellis at their farm, which now comprises Farm Neck.

She also met Cheryl and began to make jewelry with her, and in her spare time picked up a master’s degree in Jungian psychology from Beacon College in 1983. Margie explained her relationship with Cheryl: “We did different things; come to think of it, totally opposite: I’m folky, and Cheryl is very Motown.”

Margie said she remembers the day that Cheryl burst into the house and said, “I have it: town signs! I’m going to make miniature town signs, you know, ‘Welcome to Edgartown,’ and make them out of gold.”

In the Times story five years ago, reporter Gwyn McAllister wrote: “CB Stark is probably best known for their charms and other memento pieces that celebrate the Vineyard, and many Islanders … valued their favorite items for the memories and milestones that they represent as much as for the look and craftsmanship. Linda Unczur of Oak Bluffs, for example, still wears a bracelet from CB Stark’s first year of operation in 1966. She actually remembers the day that she bought it.

“‘The store was in a garage across from the root beer stand that was where the Chinese restaurant is now,’ Ms. Unczur said [referring to the Water Street shop]. ‘My mother was having a root beer with her sister, and I remember buying it with one of my first paychecks.’ She hasn’t taken it off since. ‘The bracelet has always meant so much to me,’ Ms. Unczur said. “It has never broken. It was just put together nicely.’ Talking about that long-ago purchase, she recalled the Vineyard of the 1960s. ‘It was quieter. It belonged more to Islanders. There was less traffic and fewer people. It was a very simple life.’”

Cheryl and Margie have been on the Island for the No Jets movement, the effort to block the Island Airport expansion for the new-fangled aircraft; they were here for the intense No Nukes rally, which reached every dot and corner of the Vineyard. In their 50 years in business, they’ve created more than 500 original designs. They’ve seen their business thrive, adding a second store on Main Street in Edgartown, and say they are now selling jewelry — the Island classics they’ve become known for, along with traditional engagement and wedding rings — to grandchildren of the store’s original customers.

CB Stark — Cheryl, Margie, manager Sarah York, and a dozen top-flight, loyal, and happy employees — has gracefully grown into its golden year with gold, silver, and stones adorning every third person on the Island, and a fleet of loyal clients wearing Vineyard charms around the globe.