The proprietor of the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven has confirmed that he intends to move off-Island but said any plan to sell the landmark Main street bookstore remains up in the air.
Jon Nelson Jr., who took over from his mother, Ann, as the bookstore’s chief executive officer in 2005, said this week that the business is not listed for sale.
“It’s a business, it’s always for sale, but officially it’s not listed with anyone,” Mr. Nelson told the Gazette.
Mr. Nelson told a gathering of the Tisbury Business Association early this month that he planned to sell his home and leave the Vineyard. He is president of the association.
But this week he said it was premature to discuss the future of the business.
“I do plan to leave the Island,” Mr. Nelson said, “but whether I plan to run the business from afar, I haven’t decided yet. And right now I am not listing it with anyone.
“And if I don’t sell my house, then I am not going anywhere.”
Mr. Nelson is the sole owner of the Bunch of Grapes; he took ownership of the store in 2006.
Opened in 1964 by David Hugo, the Bunch of Grapes was purchased by Jon C. Nelson (the current owner’s father) in 1975. A story published in the Gazette at the time mentioned Mr. Nelson’s wife, Ann, would be “lending a hand with the window displays.”
In fact she went on to assume ownership and became synonymous with the award-winning store and its success.
“Ann has the power to either make or break a writer’s summer,” declared the late Art Buchwald, one of several acclaimed writers who praised both store and owner during a 20th anniversary celebration in 1995. “I love Ann, especially when she puts my book in the window,” the famous humorist said.
The Bunch of Grapes has a distinguished history of doing more than just selling books. The store has hosted discussion groups and holds regular author talks. Last year, they ran a three-week bookbinding course. In 2004 a television show was launched on the Vineyard cable access channel to broadcast these events and other book news.
Despite its success, no Bunch of Grapes branches have been opened around the Island, which has enhanced the Main street store’s reputation as an independent book seller.
The Bunch of Grapes was named national bookseller of the year in a competition held by Publisher’s Weekly in 2003. Judges for the competition were impressed by all the things that can set apart a well-run independent from the Goliath chains which dominate the market today: community involvement, original marketing, staff who have an impact on operations and friendly, knowledgeable service.
In a market where hardcover book costs are high and many readers gravitate online for their purchases, the recognition was key for the Bunch of Grapes. “Of all the bookstores you could go in,” said Ms. Nelson at the time, “maybe you will come to ours because you have read about us.”
News of Mr. Nelson’s planned move comes in the same month that an Oak Bluffs independent book store is closing down.
Holly Nadler, who started Sun Porch Books in 2002, said limited revenues in book-selling informed her decision to close shop.
“I’m so tired of chasing bills and with summer looming it was too much to carry forward,” she said, “Some retailers can mark up an item 300 times — books just get 40 per cent. There’s no wiggle room.”
Underscoring the fragility of the business Ms. Nadler pointed to an incident in 2005 which effectively put her out of business for that summer. Oak Bluffs builder Gene Erez illegally tore down the Army Barracks building on Circuit avenue — a building she had planned to move into — leaving Sun Porch without a shop floor for the tourist season.
“I never really recovered from that,” Mrs. Nadler said, adding that the low margins on books made it difficult to re-grow. “I have thought maybe I should just sell plasma TVs,” she joked.
Ms. Nadler said she now plans to concentrate on her work as a freelance writer.