The Vineyard Haven July 4 fire gutted Main street’s center of commerce in a few hours, destroying Cafe Moxie and decommissioning the Bunch of Grapes bookstore on the traditional start date of the summer retail rush.
And as the final weekend of the season begins, store owners in and around Main street Vineyard Haven are still assessing the fire’s impact on summer business and adapting for a winter without two anchor outlets.
Though many business owners report business down over previous summers, most say the possible causes are too varied to interpret accurately.
Maria Metters, owner of the Bowl and Board, a home furnishings store across the street from the Bunch of Grapes, has noticed a slight decrease in business this summer, something she puts down to a combination of a national election year, the economy, and perhaps the impact of the fire.
“We’re down slightly, evening traffic is down,” she said, “but then we’re where we thought we’d be at the beginning of the summer, before the fire. At the moment people are here anyway, they’re coming off the ferry and maybe they don’t know the bookstore is still here.”
She predicts winter will throw the loss of the stores into sharp relief.
“But it’s more a concern for fall, what’s to follow. When the other towns close down, this is the only community. The holiday season, that’s where we’ll feel it. I’m hoping we stay open,” she said.
Ms. Metters has made some adjustments to the store in recent months with one eye on the economy. “I’ve altered the theme. There’s lots more local and eco-friendly products. I want to keep it vibrant, and be part of shopping consciously with a purpose. Things that warrant spending money,” she said.
At the front of the store several tables are newly stacked with books.
“I’ve started to pick up the slack for Vineyard authors,” she said, adding that she is offering the patio at the front of the store as an alternative venue for book signing.
“I’m hoping to keep this town alive. I want Ann Nelson out there [on the patio] with her eggnog this Christmas,” she said, referring to the owner of the Bunch of Grapes building and former longtime owner of the store. Ms. Metters said her main hope is for the bookstore to reopen as soon as possible.
“Truly it’s sad. It’s a great store to browse and a draw to the Island. Hopefully it’ll be open next year but it’s devastating,” she said, “and Moxie was one of my all time favorite romantic nooks. I’m constantly directing people across the street.”
Up the street at Vineyard Gourmet owner Helen DeBlase separated the impacts of the loss of the bookstore and restaurant on her long-running year-round delicatessen.
“Moxie did not affect us — people come to us to buy sandwiches ready to go on the way to the beach and so on,” she said, “I would have to say there’s a definite effect from the bookstore. It’s a family affair — grandma takes the kids to the bookstore while the others walk around town.”
Spending more time out of the store with her young daughter, Mrs. DeBlase added she has monitored the fluctuations in summer commerce from a better vantage point.
“We’re down in numbers for sure, and on top of the economy, it’s a depressing incident,” she said of the fire. She continued: “The Murray’s building [currently vacant and for rent] is a hole in the middle of town. Thank God the cinema’s back open, it was a vortex without that. The movie theatre is a plus. Moxie and the movie theatre was a big combination. I really want to keep the early supper crowd gong through.”
She shared Mrs. Metters concern for holiday season business without the bookstore.
“I do all my Christmas shopping there. People say just go to Amazon. Uh-uh — I need to put my hands on it and read it,” she said.
Mrs. DeBlase said her store has been open year-round for 20 years.
“We’re definitely planning on being here through the winter,” she said.
Several retailers echoed the lament about the vacant building, owned by the Hall family, that formerly housed Murray’s department store.
“It’s a big blot on the building across the street,” said Peter Simon who opened a gallery and jewelry store in a joint venture with his wife, Ronni, this summer on Main street.
Beyond that the Simons, both first-time retailers, reported an excellent summer.
“I have nothing to compare it to but my own expectations,” said Mrs. Simon, who makes all the jewelry in the store, “but it easily exceeded them. I’m amazed at how well things have gone.”
She said she has sold 180 pieces of jewelry since July.
“I don’t know if it’s because we’re the new kids in town or if my jewelry is different,” she said. “It’s very wonderful.”
Mr. Simon produces an annual Martha’s Vineyard calendar featuring his photography, an enterprise directly affected by the bookstore’s closure.
“Bunch of Grapes would normally sell 1,800 calendars a year out of a print run of 7,000,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to make up the difference.”
The gallery has held a series of author evenings. Mr. Simon said that while the talks will probably be limited to the summer they will keep the store open at least part-time past Columbus Day.
Benjamin Hall said this week he had a possible renter for the building and the store will likely reopen next spring. Mr. Hall also owns and operates the Capawock cinema next door, where he said business is down — again for a plethora of possible reasons.
“The entertainment business had to do with it. Movies are dying. And maybe it’s the movies we’ve shown. Then my experience is that election years are always off — politicians start stirring things around and you hang on to your wallet,” Mr. Hall said.
The loss from the fire is palpable, he added.
“It woke things up at night. It’s peoples’ evening entertainment. Do some window shopping, going to a restaurant, taking in a movie,” he said.
But Mr. Hall, who has been doing projection duties twice a week through the summer, said the business has been hand to mouth since 1997.
“I’ve yet to take a paycheck in five years. It’s our little philanthropic project,” he said, “I’m going to try to stay open through the winter.”
Meanwhile the owners and operators of both Cafe Moxie and the Bunch of Grapes reported that they are still mired in the insurance process
“I’m actually still to receive the first dollar,” said Paul Currier, who owns the Cafe Moxie building. “Everyone says it’s really a drag and it is. I plan on rebuilding but I have no paperwork plans in place to do that.”
Jon Nelson who bought the Bunch of Grapes business from his mother in 2005, said his insurers, Beacon One, have declared the store’s stock a total loss and that he will purchase new stock of 80,000 books once building is complete.
“As soon as I can walk in the door I’ll start working,” Mr. Nelson said.
Mrs. Nelson who still owns the building, confirmed that she is in the adjusting phase with insurers, but that it is a question of when, not if she will build.
“I’d like it to be done in a day,” she said, “as soon as I know something I’ll shout from this house and you’ll be able to hear me.”