Too Quiet Downtown

Walking down Main street Vineyard Haven, you can still smell the smoke. It’s in a single spot directly in front of the Bunch of Grapes bookstore and before the site of Cafe Moxie, just a whiff of the charred smell that lingers long after a fire. It is an olfactory trigger that brings memories of Independence Day, when the restaurant burned to the ground and the bookstore was ruined nearly beyond recognition.

Today, nearly two months later and on the eve of Labor Day weekend, the bookstore remains dark, its windows streaked with dirt, a hand-written sign taped to the glass that promises “We’ll be back!” Cafe Moxie is of course completely gone, and the tiny corner lot on Main and Centre streets that the cafe once occupied is boarded off by a high plywood wall that runs out to the street. There is no sidewalk here, no yellow bench where people once sat outside on the pleasant streetscape waiting for their dinner table. The plywood barrier is decorated with sentimental graffiti and mementos — including a primitive sand painting with shells and a handwritten note on the bottom of its frame that says: “Sorry for your loss.”

All around this scene Main street bustles with business as usual, but the two boarded up buildings in the heart of the town stand as a painful reminder of the fire and of a summer spent missing two key businesses: an anchor bookstore and a thriving restaurant.

Many unknowns and question marks remain. Bunch of Grapes owner Jon Nelson has said repeatedly that he plans to rebuild the bookstore, although there has been an eerie silence since the fire, no doubt due to the fact that insurance claims and new building plans take time to process. This is behind-the-scenes work for any private business. The same is true for Paul Currier, the owner of Cafe Moxie who lost his building. Mr. Currier had leased to Austin Racine and Katrina Yekel who were running Cafe Moxie in their first summer as restaurant owners. Their plans are also unknown.

Vineyard Haven has always been the year-round town, the place to go not only in June and August but also in November, January and March for a good book and a new sweater to chase away the winter blues, when other Island towns are mostly shuttered and silent.

Will this winter be different? No one knows. But as autumn arrives, the sound of hammers and saws would be welcome on Main street Vineyard Haven, along with the smell of fresh lumber.