One hundred and fifty years is a long time, but like a beautiful woman who ages gracefully, Alley’s General Store is hardly showing her age. She’s still the same venerable institution in the heart of West Tisbury, the one that deals in almost everything, from sheetrock screws to plastic sand pails, from fresh apples to The New York Times, from videos to hot coffee. And the front porch at Alley’s is still the best place to sit and watch the world go by — or perhaps meet a friend on the way up-Island or down-Island
It’s reassuring to know that there is still a general store that is open all year long.
But things have not always been so certain at Alley’s.
In the early Nineteeen Nineties the store was in trouble. Owner Howard Ulfelder, a benevolent businessman who had instituted such community favorites as sundaes on Wednesday nights, could not make a go of it.
“There are few if any breaks for the small store owner,” warned former owner Charles Parton in a history of the store.
Was Alley’s destined to change — or worse, close?
Enter the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, which stepped in to buy the store after an unsettling period of uncertainty and division in the Vineyard community in general and West Tisbury in particular about the future of Alley’s.
“Alley’s is about the human comedy in microcosm,” wrote Susanna Ulfelder in a letter to the editor of the Gazette during the crisis. “It is about twelve-year-old boys with their first jobs, learning to collate newspapers. It is about bake sales and baskets full of puppies or kittens. It’s about the bulletin board on the front porch and the fish stories by the coffee pot. It’s where lonely people drop in to pick up the mail or a paper or a muffin but mainly to feel the warmth and life that is there.” She concluded: “It is not timbers or porches or rocking chairs that make Alley’s the special place it is — it is the people who give life to the place. Life at its best and worst; happiest and saddest.”
On Sunday Alley’s will be the scene of life at its happiest, when the preservation trust hosts a community cookout at the beautiful old store to celebrate its one hundred and fiftieth birthday.
Many thanks to the trust for having the foresight and the stick-to-itiveness to keep Alleys going in good times and in bad.
And Happy Birthday to Alley’s. Here’s to another century and a half of dealing in almost everything.