There is no state or federal grant money available to offset the damage wreaked by an Independence day fire which destroyed Café Moxie and decommissioned Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, according to state representative Eric T. Turkington who traveled to Vineyard Haven meet business owners and town leaders on Friday.
According to Mr. Turkington and Mark Forest, district director for Congressman William H. Delahunt, who also attended the meeting, the focus should the possibility of low interest loans provided for businesses in disasters by the State Business Association.
“No one’s just going to be giving it out,” confirmed Mr. Turkington.
For Café Moxie owner Paul Currier a loan may not be enough, if faced with the possibility of costly changes to the building structure.
“As much as I loved that building, there’s no substitute for money,” he said yesterday.
Mr. Currier, who attended Friday’s meeting, confirmed that he had been given no indication that grants would be available.
“There aren’t any silver bullets here,” he said, “it’s a hole in the ground.”
The building itself, reduced to charred remains on the Fourth of July, was built in 1890. Grandfathering laws protected owners from having to bring the building up to modern codes. Mr. Currier, a carpenter, is well aware that requirement methods and materials have changed.
“As much as I love that building,” he said, “starting over again is not a pleasant prospect. It costs a lot to build around here some people say $250 per square foot — but you’ve got to replace equipment too.”
Mr. Currier said that even minor changes, such as installing handicap access, may mean losing vital seat space.
“The devil is in the details,” he said. “I’ll tell you right now I never could afford to lose one seat. It’s taking away a percentage of the business for 10 weeks of the summer.” He added:
“If rebuilding means losing seats, I wouldn’t even dream of it. It’s too difficult. I was an owner who was there on the premises — and I know it’s not worth it.”
Friday’s meeting was also attended by the Tisbury board of selectman, Bunch of Grapes owner Jon Nelson and Sherman and Susan Goldstein, owners of the Mansion House and the Tisbury Inn which they rebuilt following a devastating fire in 2002.
Mr. Forest gave details of a Small Business Association disaster assistance loan which provides eligible businesses with 4 per cent interest loans for 20 years. Mr. Goldstein noted that several Vineyard Haven business owners took out the loans in the aftermath of the Tisbury Inn fire, claiming loss of income.
At the meeting the group established town administrator John Bugbee as the chief liaison between selectmen and officials at a state level. Mr. Forest said that Mr. Bugbee should expect to be keeping people informed daily.
Speaking yesterday Chief John Schilling of the Tisbury fire department said results from an investigation into the cause of the fire are due before the end of the week. He confirmed that the department has now completed an on-site investigation and has released the area to insurance agencies. He added that physical evidence had been collected from the site.
Meanwhile Vineyard Haven business are hoping to capitalize on the peak retail season without two anchor stores at the heart of Main street. Selectman Tristan Israel said the influence of Bunch of Grapes on Vineyard business, though ultimately incalculable, was undeniable.
“The book store is probably the number one attraction in the neighborhood,” he said. Its closure already is having a quantifiable effect on Island commerce.
At the other Island bookstore, Edgartown Books, shelves are thinly packed today after an especially busy weekend. Manager Susan Mercier was loathe to discuss an increase in business in light of her fellow merchant’s disaster but, pushed, said that the store is noticeably busier and that the phone was ringing almost constantly with book enquiries. She also confirmed that several authors previously scheduled for summer appearances in connection with Bunch of Grapes are now being handled by Edgartown Books.
“We’re in competition of course, technically, like any other business but there’s a great deal of cooperation,” she said. “Just before the fire [we were] speaking about maybe doing Island-wide book talks this fall or spring.”
Mrs. Mercier contacted Mr. Nelson to offer assistance soon after hearing news of the fire, offering up use of the store porch and cash registers for summer events
“Ann and Jon are brilliant business people and they’ll handle it well,” she said.
In another telling sign of a displaced consumer base, the Vineyard Haven thrift shop has begun after a long hiatus accepting books again albeit on a limited basis.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls looking for books since the fire,” said Dolly Campbell, a volunteer at the store. “We are now accepting good condition beach reads. We just accepted 50 hardback books.”
Between the book store and Café Moxie, which both have separate insurance policies for the building and businesses, four insurance claims have been registered.
There is no timeline for resolving the claims.
For Mr. Currier much depends on the findings of the insurance agency. He added that he might be open to the possibility of a silent partner willing to provide financial backing in the rebuild.
“We’ll see how things shake out,” he said.