Looking for nonstop fun and excitement? Then go to the new Tilton’s Market at the Union Street Mall in Vineyard Haven when the UPS delivery van shows up.
The man in brown looked startled last Monday morning as Kathleen and Tania Tilton whooped and hollered at his appearance, and as they opened cartons of teas and coffees and exotic foods to further stock their new specialty food boutique around the corner from Riley’s Reads.
The happy Tilton sisters have created an affordable environment of top-quality food sights, smells and brand names and they have leavened their store with joy. In fact the only somber expression in the store may be in a photograph of great-grandfather Owen H. Tilton, a whaling captain who moved the family and the business to Vineyard Haven from Chilmark in 1884. Certainly their father, Bob Holland, looks content in a photo taken of him as a soda jerk at the former Yates Drug Store in Vineyard Haven in 1947.
“We may have been open for only a week but we’ve been gathering ideas for years,” said Kathleen, pushing a pumpkin cheesecake caramel on a willing visitor.
“We’re going to be open all year,” she said, “because the Island needs more community places to gather in the winter,” Tania finished.
Told that they have an uncanny ability to finish each others’ sentences and to answer in unison, the sisters answered in unison: “Yeah, people have said that.”
Tilton’s Market offers 14 varieties of imported cheeses with more on the way; produce from Morning Glory Farm; fresh breads; more than 90 pounds of chocolate (more is on the way); several brands of coffee, cocoa and loose and bagged teas from around the world. English and Irish teas coexist harmoniously, side by side on the shelves.
Part of the fun at Tilton’s is to browse the whimsical brand names, colorful packaging and collector tins of seasonings, and spices and the offbeat colors and shapes of the food products.
Visitors chuckle at Mary’s Gone Crackers, an English cracker mix, Sticky Finger potato chips and scone mixes, Fowl Stuff chicken seasoning and an array of pastas and sprinkles shaped like horses, sharks, gorillas. “Kids love those,” Kathleen said.
Tilton’s Market aromas are warm and familiar. Bob and Jennifer McMahon happened to wander in, Bob commenting “Mmm, smells like home.” He then was delighted to see that longtime friends were in charge.
“I’d describe this as an Island version of Stonewall Kitchen,” he said, comparing Tilton’s Market with a popular New England retail and online group of gourmet stores. The McMahons are former Island residents— he founded television channel 58, now MVTV. Now they divide their year between North Andover and a house in Harthaven. The Tiltons are continually scouring the Internet and visitors’ minds for ideas. “We ordered an unusual seasoning for a local chef last week and had it in overnight,” Tania said.
“And several of these cheeses are special orders from customers,” Kathleen said. While Kathleen’s husband, Laurence Clancy, put finishing touches on a large wooden outdoor sign, a chalk board outside featuring Ugly Mug coffee, the aroma of freshly-baked Sticky Finger fruit scones drew a pilgrimage of customers, including Suzy, a village cat, who vainly sought admittance.
Kathleen is a former elder care specialist at Long Hill in Edgartown. She and her husband are parents of Ainsley, 17, and Susannah, 15, students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
Tania spent 17 years as a kindergarten and special needs educator at the Tisbury School. She and her husband Tim Stobie, a Tisbury police officer, have four sons: Jared, an aviation major at Bridgewater State College, Darren, 17, Noah, 13 and Kyle, 11. Darren is a senior at the high school. Noah and Kyle attend the Tisbury School.
Islanders are nothing if not pragmatic, and Tiltons have had nearly 350 years on the Island to hone their skills. Their inventory mix and pricing provide options for the elegant and the budget-minded. In fact, it is difficult to find anything priced over $20.
“We have planned for keeping our store affordable to year-round Islanders,” Tania said. For example, a $4.89 mini spice rack offers cumin, oregano, basil, garlic, thyme and onion.
One of the few Island food icons, Mr. G’s hot sauce, has a place in a sea of seasonings that includes caramelizing sugar for $3.25 in flavors such as raspberry praline. For $6.50 shoppers can stock up on a medley of peppercorns in four flavors: rose baises, Green Madagascar, White Muntock and Black Tellicherry. The market also features Italian ices and ice cream and natural ingredient juices and sodas.
The Tiltons also have prepared a grouping of hostess gifts, an idea that’s working well they said. For example, $20 will provide grateful guests with a seasoning package, scone mix and a large chocolate piece sculpted in a fall harvest theme.
“We’re just getting started. We have lots more coming and we are open to ideas,” said one — or perhaps both — of the sisters.
Halloween candy and food specialties are prominent now, and the UPS guy must be warned: Thanksgiving holiday themed inventory is on the way.
The pièce derésistance of the morning involved an engaging Island grande dame, Patricia Neal, who arrived with daughter Tessa, and after a tour of the store, popped a pumpkin cheesecake caramel in her mouth and pronounced Tilton’s Market a success.