Business Landscape Shifts in Larger Towns

By JONATHAN BURKE

Now is always a good time to market a quality product, say a number of Island entrepreneurs opening new businesses this summer.

"Our idea ... was to kind of seize the moment," said Frank Pellegrino, opening a Mexican restaurant where Lawry's seafood restaurant used to be in Edgartown.

He said that he and partner Denise Page didn't want uncertain economic times to deter them from taking the lease to a valuable piece of property: Not many businesses come with parking lots attached, he said.

Similarly, he and Ms. Page moved to purchase the popular Quarterdeck restaurant on the Edgartown Wharf: "Because that became available," said Mr. Pellegrino.

For Mr. Pellegrino, thinking too much about market conditions is like trying to time the stock market.

"It's really more a question of finding a business that's worthwhile to pursue, and than pursuing when it becomes available. It's less trying to be a market timer and more trying to establish a well-run, well-conceived business opportunity," he said.

Robin Rushnell, member manager at the Island Chamber of Commerce, and Ernie Weiss, a volunteer with SCORE, which advises small businesses, agree.

"A few years ago you could basically open your doors and the visitors would flock. Now, you can't rest on your laurels. You have to be creative in tough economic times and you have to think out of the box," Ms. Rushnell said.

Mr. Weiss said, "It's tough to do business on Martha's Vineyard. It's a seasonal business climate.... You have to know exactly what you're doing. You have to be a good businessman. You have to know your numbers."

According to Ms. Rushnell, 22 new businesses have joined the chamber this spring (March 1 to April 23), compared to 14 for the same period last year.

With that and other movement in retail outlets, Islanders will be seeing some changes in the weeks ahead:

* Bowl and Board, a home and accessory store in Vineyard Haven, is opening an Edgartown store this year. "It's an untapped market," said Gary Medders, who operates Bowl and Board with his wife Maria.

Mr. Medders said the brick walls and high ceilings of In The Woods, the Main street location they are taking over, was perfect for Bowl and Board.

The Edgartown branch will have more furniture than the store in Vineyard Haven; they hope to be open by Memorial Day weekend.

* Five retail outlets are opening within the footprint of the Mansion House on Vineyard Haven Main street, some time in June.

Carolyn Warren will open Scout, a women's clothing and accessories store, there. Ms Warren said she took advantage of the opportunity presented by the Mansion House rebuild: "I live in Vineyard Haven and I think it's a great year-round community... the most creative, diverse spot on the Island."

Also coming to the Mansion House are Narcissus, a women's active wear store; Nocci, a flower shop; Triple Fire gallery, specializing in hand-fired ceramics and woven goods; and Chartreuse, a home store.

Sherman Goldstein, who is rebuilding the Mansion House with his wife Susie, said they hope to take in guests July 4 weekend. They will also reopen Zephrus restaurant and a rebuilt health club with a full service spa, sometime in mid-June.

* Edgartown Books on Edgartown Main street, is taking the place of Bickerton and Ripley. David LeBreton bought and renamed the store, moving to 44 Main next to the park. "It's basically the same staff, new location," said Sharon Duran, manager.

* And up by the new Stop and Shop (which premieres its Edgartown location this weekend after a week's closure in which construction crews worked long hours to prepare for the re-opening; the Vineyard Haven location is closing for this week), the Clarion Hotel gets a new restaurant. Tony Saccoccia, opening The Grill on Main, said he liked running a business in a small community because of the personal nature of the business dealings.

* The owners of Sweet Life Cafe on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs are opening a more casual venue, Slice of Life, across the street. "I have faith," said Mary Kenworth. She and husband Jackson had been looking for a property to open a more casual venue for three years.

"Slice of Life is going to be a deli market cafe. It will be open from 7 in the morning to 9 at night. In the morning, it will be fresh baked goods, homemade granola, coffee, cappuccinos, that kind of fare. Noon and night, it will be salads and sandwiches. Soups. Some smaller entrees," said Ms. Kenworth.

"We bought the building and we're doing extensive renovations. I think it's the right time. The real estate market didn't drop. But there was a little bit of room there to get a little better deal on the purchase."

For Islanders looking to start a business, there are a number of agencies to help. In addition to SCORE, there is the Southeastern Economic Development corporation (SEED).

Bill Brazil, a business assistance officer with SEED, is holding a workshop on the Island Monday.

"The workshop is for people who are interested in starting a business. This will enable them to prepare a business plan and understand all of the components of starting a business," said Mr. Brazil. For information on the workshop, call Christine Flynn at the Martha's Vineyard Commission, 508-693-3453.

SCORE holds a free, annual eight-week business course at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, and offers free individual consulting services. Mr. Weiss, a retired executive from a manufacturing plant, is one of seven Island SCORE consultants. For more information: 508-696-9687.