Off the beaten track

Airport Marketplace offers a new shopping experience.

From left, Mark Venette, owner of Black Sheep Mercantile, Tyler Gibson, manager of the Fish House, and Brion McGroarty, owner of MV Wine and Spirits, — Gabrielle Mannino

For me the “aha” moment came about a month ago when I pulled into the parking lot of MV Wine and Spirits and took a look around and thought, “Where did all this come from?” In front of me was the liquor store, which had been there for a few years, but to the left, arcing around the parking lot, were the Black Sheep Mercantile and the Fish House, a retail fish market. According to Brion McGroarty, owner of MV Wine and Spirits, the group of stores is now known as the Airport Marketplace. “It’s become a bit of a destination,” said McGroarty.

From 2013 to 2016, McGroarty was a minority partner in the Flatbread Co., which ran a restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Flatbread Pizza, Outerland, Nectar’s, and the Hot Tin Roof. In 2016 Flatbread wanted to divest itself of the property, so sold its interest to McGroarty.

In September 2016, McGroarty divided the old Hot Tin Roof space in half, and operated a restaurant and bar called the Tin Hanger out of half the space for about a year and a half. One reason McGroarty wanted to open up the restaurant was that he didn’t want it to look like he had a liquor store attached to an empty building.

Meanwhile, other businesses on the Island were expressing an interest in setting up an operation in the space. Mark Venette, owner of the Black Sheep in Edgartown, approached McGroarty about setting up a kitchen in the space to handle overflow from his Edgartown store, and for catering gigs. McGroarty’s concern was that he wanted any business there to have a retail storefront facing out onto the parking lot. Mark agreed to put a retail component in, and the commercial kitchen is located in the back. Black Sheep offers prepared foods, cheeses, baked goods, and some gift items. There are tables outdoors, but no table service.

Al Gale began talking to McGroarty about 3½ years ago about the possibility of using some space for his successful seafood wholesaling business, the Menemsha Fish House, which was running out of room on the docks in Menemsha. The Menemsha Fish House buys from some 300 local fishermen, and supplies seafood to over 50 restaurants on the Island.

But in the back of his mind, Gale was thinking that it might be a logical extension for his business to open up a retail fish market as well. Gale’s days were stretched pretty thin, so the fish store idea continued to stay on the back burner until he hired a new office manager, Shane Gibson, and she mentioned that if Gale were interested in opening up a retail location, her husband, Tyler Gibson, might be interested in helping out.

Gale and Gibson were old surfing buddies, and after some discussion, they struck a deal: Al would handle the wholesale end of the business, and Tyler would handle the retail.

And so with that, the third piece of the puzzle fell into place. This spring, MV Wine and Spirits, the Fish House, and Black Sheep Mercantile joined together as the Airport Marketplace. “It seemed like with all these three locations in the same place, it could be a pretty symbiotic relationship,” said McGroarty. “In fact, it seems to be working, and seems to be making people happy.”

I was curious to know what the proprietors thought about the location of the Airport Marketplace, which at first glance seems to be out in the middle of nowhere. In the case of McGroarty, it was simple: He had a pre-existing package store in Edgartown, and he knew he wanted to get out of the downtown area. And the Flatbread property was literally the only parcel of land where he could transfer his liquor license. But as he would find, the liquor store soon became a destination in its own right.

Al Gale was a bit on the fence when it came to the location, but as he said, “Any Islander knows that you don’t want to go into town with traffic and parking.” He even conducted his own private traffic study. “I went out on West Tisbury Road by the airport and sat in my truck one afternoon, and counted cars. This was in October, and I was blown away by the numbers. In about four hours I counted around 800 cars.”

He also noticed that every time he stopped by MV Wine and Spirits, there were cars there. “It was a happening place,” he said.

Mark Venette thinks the airport is the perfect location. While he doesn’t get the downtown Edgartown business — they go to his downtown store — he draws business from just about everywhere else. “It’s a crossroads,” Venette says. “We’re getting about 80 percent new customers. We even get people from Chappy who come out to go to the dump.”

Venette says that you wouldn’t believe all the people who stop by and say they live “right across the street”: My first reaction was, What are they talking about? Until I realized all the communities off West Tisbury Road: Deep Bottom Pond, Scrubby Neck, Long Point … there are hundreds of homes back in these places.”

“So it seems as though Airport Marketplace is off to a good start,” I said to McGroarty. “Would you think about adding another storefront?”

He laughed. “I’ll leave that to my kids after I retire. It’s not that easy.”