Bookstore owner Jon C. Nelson Jr. said he will rebuild.
“Absolutely. I am committed to rebuilding the Bunch of Grapes,” said Mr. Nelson on Sunday afternoon.
That commitment was one of the few certainties Mr. Nelson had two days after the Fourth of July fire that heavily damaged the landmark Vineyard Haven bookstore.
Mr. Nelson spoke from Austin Texas, 2,000 miles away, where he was settling his family in a new home and trying to gather information about smoke, water and fire damage to the store before returning to the Island yesterday afternoon to begin rebuilding his business.
Mr. Nelson, who owns the business, and his mother Ann Nelson, who owns the building, will wait for the results of insurance inspections, slated to begin tomorrow, that will assess damage to the building and its contents.
“The most important thing is that no one got hurt. Now it’s the process of life. I’ve got to get the house here settled enough so my kids have a place to sleep tonight,” Mr. Nelson said Sunday while waiting for a Clarence A. Barnes moving van to arrive with household belongings from his West Tisbury home which he recently sold.
“We will build it back but that’s about all I can say at this point. Everything else is on hold until we can get an insurance adjuster in there and tell us what’s going on,” he said. Mr. Nelson said he was confident that his business interruption insurance coverage would provide some coverage.
“Obviously, I am not carrying my policy around with me and though our staff attempted to get the information from discs from company computers on Friday, they were unable to find them in the limited time they were able to be in the building,” he said, adding the holiday weekend made it difficult to reach his insurance carrier.
Earlier this year, Mr. Nelson had responded to reports that he intended to sell the business or operate it from afar.
On Sunday he said firmly that the business will continue.
“The Vineyard needs Bunch of Grapes,” he said, adding that a permanent future site would depend on his mother’s decision about rebuilding the Main street site. “With the events of this week, I just don’t know it that’s an option right now,” he said.
Mr. Nelson said he had enlisted the help of Jeff Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association to attend a meeting of selectmen yesterday as a voice for the Bunch of Grapes in his absence. Mr. Fischer, a Chilmark resident, is also a former Bunch of Grapes employee.
“I am happy to do this for Jon. The Bunch of Grapes is very important to this community. I know that as professional in the business and as a former employee,” Mr. Fischer said.
Mr. Nelson said he was grateful for “the outpouring of help and support we’ve received from Islanders and customers since Friday.”
The well-known Island penchant for rallying around a crisis was apparent all weekend. “It’s always been a refuge for me,” said Louisa Gould, who owns a gallery a few doors away and offered to host artist book signings in her gallery if the bookstore needed it.
“I remember as a little kid, coming in and just getting lost in the books, No one shooed me away,” said Jillian Wright, owner of The Devil’s Dictionary up the block. Ms. Wright provided a respite for bookstore employees on Friday afternoon in her air-conditioned rear lounge.
Doug Ullman, a bookseller at Bunch of Grapes, sat slumped on a stool in The Devil’s Dictionary late Friday afternoon. “When I saw the store this morning, I just couldn’t believe it. This place where I spend so much of my life — gone. I am willing to do whatever it takes [to rebuild],” he said.
Bunch of Grapes was founded in 1964 by David Hugo. Purchased by the late Jon C. Nelson in 1975, the store achieved national recognition under the ownership of Ann Nelson, who took over the bookstore following their divorce and ran the business for 35 years. Bunch of Grapes won the national bookseller of the year award in 2002 as the nation’s best independently owned bookstore, and has consistently been ranked in the top 20 booksellers in the country. Jon Nelson Jr. took ownership of the business in 2005.