The first Tisbury art stroll got off to a quiet start on Friday night, but no matter, the tide in this port town is changing. Dawn Braasch, owner of the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and now president of the Tisbury Business Association, is on a mission to revitalize downtown Vineyard Haven.
And the art stroll was a good way to kick off her campaign. “It just felt like there was life again in Vineyard Haven. It was lovely,” she said.
Cars streamed through town all evening, the sidewalks filled up with visitors and Islanders alike taking in live music, munching on jerk chicken and clutching their pearls at the thought of being in Vineyard Haven after 5 p.m.
Ms. Braasch, who hopes the stroll will become a Friday night staple in Vineyard Haven, said on Saturday morning that she was pleased with the first event, although she would have liked more participation. “There were a lot of stores that were closed, which is really disappointing,” she said. “But, you know, those people don’t have any right then to complain about a bad economy if they’re not willing to try new things in an effort to boost sales . . . to me, you don’t know until you try. I have to think that it was a good beginning.”
She said the stroll may take some time to catch on with the shopping, strolling public. “I don’t want it to be street fair-like, where we put out our discount stuff,” she said, adding: “This is the time of year we make our money. I’m not sure it should be the time of year we’re offering discounts.”
The Friday night extended hours for shops are aimed at increasing foot traffic downtown in the evenings, which in turn should encourage restaurants, Ms. Braasch said. “A big thing on my list of what I’d like to see is more restaurants downtown,” she said. Zephrus and Le Grenier already top the list of Main street restaurants, with Café Moxie soon to reopen. “I think we’ll never be an evening destination until we get more restaurants to choose from,” Ms. Braasch said. “We have fantastic restaurants, but we don’t have a great selection of restaurants, at least downtown.”
But Ms. Braasch does not stop there. As the leader of the town business association she is also keenly interested in tackling one of the thorniest problems for down-Island main street business districts: uneven commercial rent schemes. “We’ve got some great landlords downtown, that’s the truth of it,” Ms. Braasch said, continuing: “We have some very good landlords in this town, but we have some who don’t care about the condition of their properties and don’t care about whether they rent or not, so are charging rents that are not reasonable in today’s market.” She and the Tisbury Business Association are trying to work out some kind of incentive program for landlords.
Of course the Vineyard Haven business district is not just Main street. “The other thing that I would like to see as president of the Tisbury Business Association is to make the TBA a meaningful organization for more than just Main street businesses,” Ms. Braasch said. “I feel like we represent very well our little stretch of Main street . . . [but] there’s a lot of business in Vineyard Haven. Vineyard Haven is a year-round town.”
And as the only year-round port town, Ms. Braasch said she wants to see Vineyard Haven in particular attract year-round businesses, not just those who pop up in summer and disappear in winter.
She also wants to revamp the business association’s Web site to make it more useful as a resource for business owners in town.
“Oh, we have grand plans,” Ms. Braasch laughed. “We have a lot to work on.”