Tony's Market turns 140

Back row from left, Simone Williams, Nordia Carty, and DenimLace Bettencourt. Middle row from left, Shannice Watson, Nancy Gibson, Jocelyn Williams, Kelly Hill, Ellen Richardson, Dave Richardson, and Rosileia Mandelli. Front row from left, Martina Cunningham, NeideCardoso, and Isabella Reina. — Stacey Rupolo

Dave Richardson, owner of Tony’s Market, has an unusual background for a store owner. After graduating from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he worked for a Boston law firm for 12 years, eventually becoming managing partner. “I loved the legal profession for awhile, and then I felt like I wasn’t doing anything new or interesting,” says Dave. “I felt like my clients were having more fun and more adventure than I was.” Dave went on to open a little store in Norwell that sold meat and cold cuts. After marrying his wife, Ellen, the couple moved to Vermont and fixed up an old bed and breakfast with a restaurant, and ran that for about five years. From there the Richardsons moved to Rhode Island, where Dave served as business manager for a private school, but he found that job unfulfilling. In 1991 the couple moved full-time to the Vineyard, occupying a little cottage in Oak Bluffs which they had built in 1976. “I looked around for a restaurant to run, but when I found out that Tony’s was for sale, I decided that a store was less seasonal and a great business for me and Ellen, who’s been an invaluable business partner,” says Dave. “I think I can honestly say that this is my favorite job.”

What does Tony’s stock?
A lot more than a convenience store, but of course less than a supermarket — a lot of groceries plus beer and wine, salads and soups from our deli. We carry dairy, produce, standard and gourmet grocery items, frozen foods, snacks, cold drinks, cold meats, specialty cheeses, desserts, fresh salads, sandwiches, entrées to go, fresh bakery items, ice, magazines, and health and beauty products, to name a few. We have a very popular self-serve coffee and tea service.

What makes Tony’s unique?
Tony’s is the Island’s only grocery store that also offers beer and wine. It’s a one-stop shopping option. And we’re open every day of the year except for Christmas Day.

How many employees do you have?
About 16 off-season, and double that in the summer. We also have an extraordinary management team, with Kelly Hill as vice president and store manager; Nancy Gibson, assistant manager; Lea Mandelli, who orders and stocks so much of the store; and Nordia Carty, the deli manager. They do an amazing job! Ellen and I are very lucky to have them with us, along with a very fine team of full- and part-time Island employees throughout the store.

Who’s Tony?
That is Tony Veira, who bought the store in 1945, started Little League baseball on the Island, and ran Tony’s for about 20 years before handing the business down to his daughter and son-in-law Gerry and Bill Correllus. They sold it to Ellen and me in 1992.

How long has this location been a market?
Since 1877. Tim Swift started the store in one room of his house. It was called Tim’s. In 1926 he sold it to a man named Otto from Switzerland, who then sold the business to Tony in 1945. It’s been a family-owned business throughout its history. This year we’re celebrating the 140-year anniversary.

How has the store changed physically?
Originally it was just one room — 250 square feet in the front of a small house. When Tony bought the business, he expanded it to the whole front of the house, but it was still just a 500 square-foot space — the area that now houses the deli. In 1992 we connected the house with a storage building and garage behind the store, to create the current 3,000-square-foot space, and we also added the parking lot, which has space for about 20 cars.

What might people be surprised to find that you carry? I understand you have a very extensive wine selection.
Yes. That is thanks to Kelly. We carry hundreds of imported sparkling and still wines from America and all over the world. Our selection ranges from the popular two-for-$10 choices to mid- and upper-price fine wines. You can always find something special to bring to a dinner party or enjoy at home. And all of our beer and wines are competitively priced.

What do you find special about Martha’s Vineyard?
I love the Island. It reminds me of what was the best of American life back in the ’50s. There’s a calmness and a relaxed pace, at least most of the year. It’s easy to make and maintain connections with people. Commercially, I love that we don’t have big box stores. Local businesses are the type that I remember growing up. You can get to know your customers and provide more personal service.

What do you do in your spare time?
I’ve enjoyed tennis and sailing for more than 50 years. Ellen and I now have a small diesel cruiser which we take on trips, often with her little Yorkie. I also enjoyed being a town moderator for six years off-Island and 12 years in Oak Bluffs. We both love anything we get to do with our five grandsons.

What are you going to do for the 140th anniversary?
We’re going to celebrate on April 4. We’ll have free coffee and cake all day for our valued customers and new friends. This will be a good opportunity for folks to check out our historic photos that are hanging up just beyond the ice cream freezer. I’ve always been very interested in the history of the building, the store, and the neighborhood, and will be happy to share with all of our friends on the 4th.