Concerns are growing that repairs to the seriously fire-damaged Bunch of Grapes Bookstore could be frustrated by the fact that the neighboring Café Moxie — where the fire began — still has not been fully demolished.
At last week’s meeting of the Tisbury selectmen, Jeff Kristal raised his concerns and those of the Bunch of Grapes building owner Ann Nelson that inactivity on the Moxie site could delay the planned spring reopening of the Bunch of Grapes.
After some debate, fellow selectmen Tristan Israel and Denys Wortman agreed to Mr. Kristal’s proposal to write to the owner of the Moxie building, Paul Currier, urging him to step up efforts to clear the site, in the interests of the bookstore and the wider town business community. The letter, which has now been sent under the signature of town administrator John Bugbee, speaks of the “critical importance” to get both businesses up and running as quickly as possible.
“My understanding is that the reconstruction of former Bunch of Grapes building cannot proceed without the complete tear-down of the rear portion of the Café Moxie,” the letter says. It goes on to point out that the inaction on the Moxie site is not only potentially damaging to the future of the Bunch of Grapes, but to other businesses which rely upon them to draw people to town.
“Consequently, the longer these businesses remain out of commission the more the downtown business district will suffer,” the letter says. “Therefore I would respectfully request that you use all resources at your disposal to devise a plan to take down the remainder of the structure on your property.”
The letter also offers the help of the town in any way feasible. Mr. Kristal’s suggestion that a letter be sent initially brought some resistance from Mr. Wortman. He said he had spoken to Mr. Currier and believed he was doing what he could, but that he was hostage to negotiations involving his bank and insurance company. Mr. Wortman noted the town was committed to helping both businesses affected by the disastrous Fourth of July fire, not one at the expense of the other.
Mr. Israel, however, said a demand for action from the town might actually give Mr. Currier more leverage with his bank and insurers. In the end, all three voted to send the letter. Speaking late last week, Mr. Kristal again stressed the urgent need for action. “Ann [Nelson] needs to be able to get the place weather tight to get the reconstruction going. She needs the store to be open for next spring and we need to see significant progress this winter,” he said.
Yesterday, Mr. Currier said he had yet to see the letter from the town, but was glad for any support in his efforts to get the money flowing and work begun on the site.
“But it’s every man for himself in these situations and everybody has their interests. I have mine, and the bank does too. It’s really now in the realm of lawyers and adjustors and banks,” he said. He said he been advised not to talk about details, but wanted people to understand he was not “dragging my feet for no reason.
“It really does all wait for money to be released. It can’t happen by itself, so the more letters the better. Maybe it will see some pressure put on them. But I doubt it,” he said. He could give no firm timetable for any further work on the Moxie site, beyond that he would like to start in January.
The owner of the Bunch of Grapes building, Ann Nelson, expressed frustration at the lack of progress on the Moxie site and its impact on her reconstruction plans. She said she too is still negotiating a settlement with insurers following the fire, yet she had begun work on the building.
“I am moving forward because I care about the townspeople and I would love to have a bookstore back in there,” she said, adding: “I am doing everything within my power. I sincerely hope that the town fathers support me so that I can put my store back in shape.”
In other business last week, selectmen endorsed 11 articles on the warrant for the Sept. 30 town meeting and agreed to a public forum to be held tonight at 7 p.m. at the Tisbury School to further discuss the most contentious items on the agenda — those dealing with a proposed new emergency services site across the road from the school.
Among various reports, selectmen heard one from Deborah Medders on plans to put a large mural on the side of the Stop & Shop supermarket off Water street. Ms. Medders said a committee overseeing the project had sought expressions of interest in designing the mural from Island artists, and had received nine by the August 31 deadline including six designs.
The designs will now be put on public view at the Vineyard Haven Library through September, and also will be displayed at town meeting, with selectmen to make the final choice of design.
The six entries so far, she said, are “as diverse as the Island.” A stipend of $1,000 will go to the winner, and actual production of the mural panels will be done by high school art students. The total cost of the project, including installation of the 48-foot-by-10-foot mural, is expected to be about $15,000. Ms. Medders said the cost includes in-kind donations of time and skill, fund-raising contributions and possibly a grant from the Martha’s Vineyard Permanent Endowment Fund. It is planned to be finished before Memorial Day next year.