In its almost 60-year run, the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore has seen its fair share of challenges. A fixture on Main street in Vineyard Haven since it opened in 1964, the store has battled everything from a complete shift in the industry toward big box stores and online retailing, to the original building burning down in 2008, to trying to stay afloat during the Covid pandemic.

But this week the bookstore with nine lives entered a new chapter. On Wednesday, longtime general manager Molly Coogan and her husband Brendan Coogan purchased the business from Dawn Braasch, who has owned the store since 2008.

Ms. Coogan, 46, has worked at the bookstore since 2013, and said she is mindful of its place in the recent history of the Island. She has been a customer since she was a young girl and began working there soon after her family moved to the Vineyard full-time.

“My father has been coming to the Island for over 60 years and coming to the bookstore as long as it’s been open” Ms. Coogan said. “There’s actually a photo of him as a boy, sitting under a linden tree with the book he purchased.”

Dawn Braasch (left) has owned the store since 2008. — Ray Ewing

Ms. Coogan’s husband, Brendan, also grew up coming to the Vineyard in the summer, and now teaches crafts and sculpture at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The couple’s two sons, ages 13 and 16, attend the Oak Bluffs School and regional high school, respectively.

Ms. Coogan said the family had always dreamed of living on the Island full-time, and when Brendan got a job at the regional high school, they jumped at the opportunity. After moving to the Island, Ms. Coogan found a job at Bunch of Grapes as its events coordinator, the position Ms. Braasch also held before purchasing the store. Ms. Coogan quickly rose through the ranks to become general manager, overseeing the store’s book selection.

“Dawn has been an incredible mentor through all of this,” Ms. Coogan said.

Before joining Bunch of Grapes, Ms. Coogan worked on the other end of the book business in the publishing industry, then became an editor at the Clark Institute assisting museum curation. In between, she also worked stints at Morning Glory Farm.

“I’ve been here long enough to know what people like,” Ms. Coogan said with a laugh. “Dawn had given me a lot of freedom as the book-buyer, so I don’t see big changes [in our selection.]”

Although Ms. Coogan’s career has taken her down many paths, the common thread, she said, has always been language.

“Words have always been my profession,” she said. “When I first moved here, I was always hoping to get back into the muck of letters.”

"Words have always been my profession," Ms. Coogan said. — Ray Ewing

Ms. Coogan is typically a fan of literary fiction, although she also loves narrative nonfiction, graphic novels and art books. She’s currently looking forward to the newest Barbara Kingsolver novel, Demon Copperhead, which is an adaptation of David Copperfield set in Appalachia. Although an avid reader, Ms. Coogan is sympathetic to those who might not read as much they’d like.

“It’s all about practice,” she said. “Reading begets more reading . . . our job and our thrill is to have someone come in who might not read very much and have them leave with a book they’re excited about in their hands.”

The last time the bookstore changed ownership in 2008, when it was located across the street, a fire at the neighboring Café Moxie destroyed the store’s interior. It took over 50 firefighters an entire day to contain the inferno, shutting down Vineyard Haven at the peak of July Fourth weekend. The overall structure was saved, but Bunch of Grapes could not reopen in full for many more months. The bookstore’s closing triggered a mourning period for the Island’s literary community, with the likes of late historian David McCullough, author Judy Blume, and New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis all paying their respects.

“If there should be no Bunch of Grapes, where would Vineyard Haven’s Main street be?” Mr. McCullough said at the time.

Those were the circumstances that led Ms. Braasch to purchase the bookstore, after helming several other successful businesses on the Island. Her first order of business was to reopen in temporary quarters on Church street while the original building sustained repairs. The store then moved around Vineyard Haven several times, crossing the street, heading up the block, trying to find the right mix of location and size and as the industry changed. The most recent move to its current location at 23 Main street took place in 2017.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the bookstore closed for the summer of 2020, a significant blow for a seasonal business. After some hesitation, Ms. Braasch turned to the community for financial support, Ms. Coogan said.

“It’s always hard to ask for help, but we hoped that people would understand and appreciate the value of having an independent bookstore in the community” Ms. Coogan said. “We ended up exceeding the amount we expected in the first two days.”

Ms. Coogan estimated the online fundraiser brought in about $60,000 in total. “We had donations of several thousand dollars and we had people who gave $5,” she said. “It allowed us to get through the summer.”

Although Ms. Braasch is retiring to spend more time with her seven grandchildren, she will continue to advise Ms. Coogan in a transitional role until she is up to speed on the business side, Ms. Coogan said.

Ms. Braasch paid well-wishes in a recent post on Facebook: “I often worried about who would buy the bookstore when it was time to retire, and whether they would love it as much as I have,” Ms. Braasch wrote. “Thankfully, I found that person in Molly.”

Ms. Coogan said she does not foresee many changes but does look to expand the store’s gift selection to include more stickers and pins, items that tend to appeal to younger customers. She added that she isn’t on BookTok, the subset of TikTok for book enthusiasts, but she said she will be keeping an ear to the ground to stay ahead of trends.

“You never know what might become popular on there,” she said. “It’s really random, it could be a book that’s been out for five years that’s suddenly flying off the shelves.”

Although bookselling has its ups and downs year to year, Ms. Coogan said she is optimistic about the future.

“There’s been a great embracing of shopping locally in the past few years and I hope that will continue” she said. “Some days I feel pretty pessimistic, other days I’m more hopeful.”

As for the long-portended death of the independent bookstore, Ms. Coogan doesn’t buy into that either.

“They’ve been saying that for the past 15 years and new bookstores open every day.”