O n April 14, the residents of Tisbury will be asked to vote on the sale of beer and wine in our town. The real question that most of us are wrestling with is: how will the sale of beer and wine served with meals at Vineyard Haven restaurants change our town? To answer this honestly and fairly, we must look beyond our town boundaries and try to understand the big picture.
How and why do people come to Tisbury?
To answer the question, let’s first look at the harbor of Tisbury. Our port is the gateway to Martha’s Vineyard. It is a harbor unique in the world today. Car, freight and passenger ferries arrive daily all year from Wood’s Hole and New Bedford, with greatly increased schedules in the summer. Commercial tankers, tugs, and barges are constantly arriving and disembarking as well. Three shipyards hum with activity 12 months of the year, providing employment and skilled activities for many.
Vineyard Haven has also become a destination for hundreds of sail and power yachts which bring their families to experience this incredibly peaceful refuge, historically linked to our maritime past through its living traditions of boatbuilding, yacht services and marinas. Why do they come here? They come for some of the same reasons that many of us came to Vineyard Haven: because it is a different place, set apart from the mainstream. It is a community of independent characters and original thinkers with visionary goals.
So how will the sale of beer and wine impact our community and waterfront? When the summer floodgates open, Tisbury is the most vulnerable of all Island towns. The availability of beer and wine will attract new crowds to Tisbury by land and by sea. It will dilute our quality of life by bringing noise, harbor patrol problems, safety issues for kids in town, enforcement and associated costs. Take a look at other Vineyard ports that serve alcohol, where the atmosphere is totally out of character with our family-welcoming style, quiet residential streets, historic district, and peaceful anchorage. The disruptions brought on by selling beer and wine in our town will not be offset by the questionable benefits for a few restaurants.
The year-round vitality and prosperity of Tisbury is not dependent on alcohol sales. Thankfully, we have a deeper well to draw from. During the recent past there have been a few bumps in the road called Main street. Main Street suffered after the Tisbury Inn burned down and the year or more of construction dampened our commerce. The movie theatre closed for renovation and another year passed without this key source of entertainment. After the new Mansion House and renovated theatre opened, Cafe Moxie burned to the ground and the renowned Bunch of Grapes Bookstore next door was heavily damaged.
All these businesses have reopened except Café Moxie, which will open next year. Why? Because Tisbury has an excellent business climate where committed long-term players will succeed. Conversely, those here for the quick buck will soon be gone. The diversity of Main street is the source of its special appeal and it deserves even more encourag ement. For us to truly support our business community, we must focus on solving the real issues: parking, high taxes, pedestrian accessibility, ferry traffic, creative family and youth activities, etc. Looking beyond Main street, we have an engaged and prosperous commercial district on State Road an d a thriving maritime and mixed-use district along Beach Road. Why not bring fresh, creative thinking to the challenges mentioned above and work together on innovative planning and mutually satisfying results?
We don’t need to try to be like everyone else, nor do we need to be all things to all people. Let’s not let the sale of beer and wine undermine our independent spirit and alter the unique character of our town forever.
Fellow citizens of Tisbury, please stand up for our town and preserve it as we know and love it.
Nat Benjamin lives in Vineyard Haven and is co-owner of the Gannon and Benjamin boatyard.