Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
At what point in our history must a grocery store become so large? The Tisbury Stop & Shop debate seems to be settling on two positions, one of which I believe is misconstrued and unfortunately working to benefit this misguided plan. That is, some people, like me, who support the principle of rebuilding the mishmash of ramshackle properties, affectionately referred to as the Gateway to the Island, are being called supportive of the proposed Stop & Shop rebuild. In fact, Stop & Shop submitted a collection of signatures to the MVC of individuals who “want a new Stop & Shop,” as being representative of supporters of this proposal. Let me be clear: I, like so many other opponents of this plan, would like to see a new Stop & Shop and revitalized Water street. But there is a world of a difference between supporting a new Stop & Shop and supporting this specific proposal.
This proposal is trying to shoehorn a big-box store of immense proportions onto an incredibly undersized property (and beyond, actually). The proposed building is as large as the public parking lot itself, larger than any grocery store we have on the Island, and of similar size to any number of off-Island suburban monoliths like Costco or T.J. Maxx. Would I like to see the integration of the current grocery store with that awkward underground dry-goods space, and the former Midnight Farm space? Perhaps. Heck, add in the square footage of the former T-shirt store and Golden Dragon, if you must. But also destroy or move a house, occupy all open space, remove the town’s public bathrooms, have the audacity to further request the use of additional town property, add an underground parking garage, shut off Norton Road to the harbor, and lift the roofline to the outer ionosphere? How about the proposed single elevator to service second-level shopping? Ever been to Logan Airport or the Cambridge Whole Foods? Are you kidding? (As an aside, why does Stop & Shop illustrate every proposed cornice and plinth, but omit the large propane tanks it would like to plop down on town property? While they are at it, let’s see a view of a family walking in front of the tractor-trailer hovering over the main entrance, or a rendering of the building from the sidewalk, rather than the distant down-the-road view. It looks okay when you’re not up close and personal. Kind of like Walmart, I suppose.
Furthermore, much of the discussion is distracted by conversation about various “architectural” accoutrements consistent with the town’s Greek revival heritage. Any number or style of shingled dormers is simply lipstick on a pig. The fundamentals are all out of whack, beginning with size and proportion. Supporters say it’s similar size to Cronig’s. The proposed Stop & Shop is actually bigger, yet few people point out that Cronig’s is on two acres, with ample parking, surrounded by similarly sparsely developed lots. The same can be said of the Edgartown Stop & Shop.
I frequently hear excuses for why the plan is the way it is, but all practical, aesthetic and existential issues could be addressed with one key ingredient totally absent from this plan: humility. I am reminded of a couple central tenants in system design: form follows function, and less is more. If corporate Stop & Shop would scale back their ambitions to a size more appropriate to our Island and town, the conversations would have a very different tenor, and we would be discussing terrific opportunities for enhancing the waterfront shopping experience. If, by some logic, they believe their business objectives can only be achieved with a mega-store of this magnitude, perhaps an alternative location would be more suitable.
This Island is an extraordinary resource. MVC: Please do not approve this proposal. It erodes the essence of Martha’s Vineyard. Stop & Shop: You have a remarkable property and opportunity. Please go back to the drawing board and put forth a responsible plan.
Daniel Braunstein and Diane DiCicco, Vineyard Haven