Paying it forward at Alley’s

‘Buy a friend a cup of joe’ at the general store.

Alley's General Store has a new incentive allowing customers to “pay it forward” for another customer’s coffee. — Lexi Pline

The holiday spirit is in the air at Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury this Christmas — the first Christmas since the pre–Civil War staple underwent a “refurbish, refresher, and minor reorganization” to increase floor space and customer flow.

With the improved feng shui comes a renewed commitment to community activism and involvement. Initiatives include a partnership with the Chilmark Fire Department to sell that organization’s coveted swag.

“It’s a win-win,” explains longtime Alley’s customer Alan Porter, who is also part of the volunteer squad. “We were selling the T shirts and sweatshirts at the firehouse and in Menemsha, and then I thought, Why not make them available at Alley’s as well? People can come in and buy a shirt, and also something from the store. Everybody comes out happy.”

Christmas trees courtesy of the Legion Pumpers are also on sale at the five-and-dime, which was built in 1858 and still retains an old-world charm complete with penny candy, ornaments, a grocery section, vintage mailboxes where people still receive U.S. Postal Service deliveries, newspapers, and more.

Along with the more standard community service fare, however, the old general store has a new idea that is suffusing the season with a pay-it-forward mentality. Katie Jordan, who was appointed manager of the local landmark in March after a 13-year stint at retailer Lilly Pulitzer, came up with the idea.

“I just thought, Coffee is such a big part of our business”; a wall of multiflavored caffeine choices sits beneath festive wreaths. “What if you could buy a cup for someone else, we put it on a chalkboard, and then when that person comes in, it’s waiting for them?”


“The chalkboard” started with a few scattered and scrawled names, but has now become the focus of up-Island cheer (and one-cupsmanship) with names and organizations the likes of “USCG” (United States Coast Guard,) “EMT,” “Jennie,” and “Mike H” adorning the sign in the window. “Pay It Forward” and “Buy a Friend a Cup of Joe” are stenciled in white calligraphy but some customers have been inclined to go above and beyond the call of duty.

West Tisbury Police Chief Matt Mincone recently gifted the “next 20 customers in line” 20 straight cups of jovial java. A “Secret Santa” then bought the chief a coffee card, which he promptly donated to local charity.

“Chief Mincone and I thought it would be a great way on a gloomy Monday, along with the time of year, to try to unite our community with a smile,” explains West Tisbury Police Officer Brad Cortez of the reindeer games.

Proceeds from Porter’s Chilmark Fire Department merchandise go to scholarships for local high school students who might not be able to afford off-Island college education costs, as well as hometown festivals and community outreach causes. Alley’s General Store is part of the M.V. Preservation Trust, an Island-based nonprofit that owns and maintains 20 historic properties. 

“By the way,” adds fireman Porter, “I’m looking for a few wooden ladders for some local nonprofit projects, if anybody might have any?”

If you’re looking to pay it forward — either with coffee or with wooden rungs — stop by the general store and spend a few minutes on the porch. You never know, your name might be up on the board, and you’ll have a free hot drink to keep you company. 

Alley’s General Store, 1045 State Road, West Tisbury.