It's Preseason: What's in Store? Around Island, a Retailer Shift

By NIS KILDEGAARD

You need a scorecard to keep track of the preseason business shuffle in downtown Vineyard Haven.

Elaine Barse, who purchased the Le Roux clothing and shoe stores from Ray Rourke last September, has consolidated them into the former clothing shop next door to the Compass Bank building and has moved her Green Room skateboard and surfboard shop into the roomy basement, closing her shop on Spring street. Susan Pacheco will be moving her vintage jewelry shop up from the Amelia Bloomers shop at Spring and Main and into one of the shop spaces formerly occupied by the Green Room. Jane Chandler will be moving her Beach House shop from Cromwell Lane and will take the entire space of the Amelia Bloomers shop, which is closing.

A diagram of these moves would make a trick football play look simple, but in fact this is just a small part of the changes playing out as downtown Tisbury prepares for the summer season of 2004.

On Main street in Tisbury on a sunny morning this week, the sound of saws and the smell of new paint were everywhere. Merchants tend to work the longest and hardest hours when they're moving and renovating, because they know they won't start making money again until their doors open to customers.

On Peter Cronig's block of shops across from Leslie's Pharmacy, Anne Downing is moving her gifts and housewares shop, Off Main, to the corner of Church and Main, across from Rainy Day, which gives her twice the space she had two doors up the street for the last two years. Ms. Downing, who plans to open in early April, is going into her sixth summer with the shop - it opened in 1999 on a Tisbury side street, and she's kept the Off Main name even though its only meaning now is historical.

Standing among piles of half-unpacked boxes and admiring a newly finished floor, Ms. Downing said, "We've got a lot of new stuff, and we're a little more visible than before. I think it should be a fun season."

Across Church street at Rainy Day, business partners Heather Kochin and Amelia Heddens are celebrating the first anniversary of their purchase of this Main street landmark from longtime owners Ann Milstein and Frank Piccone.

Ms. Kochin said she called on every available member of her family recently for a marathon renovation of the shop, which has reopened with 250 square feet of added retail space as well as improved circulation for customers. Rainy Day has expanded its bath and body section, she said, as well as its nautical items and gifts for children and men.

Across from Rainy Day at the corner of Union and Main streets, Stacey Korn and her staff were working hard amid the smell of fresh paint, preparing her new shop, named hello (that's right, no capital H), for an opening this weekend.

Said Ms. Korn, "We've got a lot of quirky stuff. It's like a mini-department store that has this whole funky thing going on. I used to design greeting cards, and I did a lot of traveling. And I realized there just wasn't a store on the Vineyard that had these really eclectic, cool gifts. This stuff is a little more edgy, contemporary - like in the children's department, we have these museum-quality Tinkertoys that you can make these gorgeous sculptures out of."

Among the "edgy" items at hello are see-through radios made from twisted wires and recycled soda cans, papier-maché Easter rabbit heads on sticks and drinking glasses with an odd, swooping shape that might make a drinker feel he's had one too many before the first sip.

There's much more than this going on in downtown Tisbury. Here are a few more details gleaned this week:

* Edgartown National Bank has closed its little Main street office, next door to C.B. Stark Jewelers, and is referring customers to its posh new branch on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

* At the head of Main street, opposite the Mansion House, Jay and Robin Fuchs plan to open their first Vineyard retail venture before Memorial Day. From the corner shop in the Brickman's building, they'll be carrying the NuSpört line of spa and resort wear. The couple already has shops in Naples and Palm Beach, Fla., and in Harbor Springs, Mich.

* In the little courtyard known by its denizens as Pushcart Square, Emily Milstein has taken over the former Offshore Salvage shop space that was operated for years by Peter Lombardi and John DiMestico, who moved this winter to Maine. She plans to open her new shop, called Mix - "because," she said, "it's a combination of vintage goods and new goods," by the first of May or perhaps a little earlier.

* Around the corner from Main street in the historic Luce House is Morning Stars, a gift shop which opened last Thanksgiving and is heading into its first summer. Jennifer Ganong, the proprietor, said she carries whimsical fare, from books and jewelry to crystals, chimes and candles. In the same whimsical vein, she reported that her husband, David Ganong, is opening a dentistry office in the back of the 1759 house next week, and plans to call it "The Luce Tooth."

* Further up Beach Road, the Net Result has been undergoing an ambitious expansion and renovation. The retail fish market is set to open April 1.

* On State Road, in the former Coca-Coca bottling building, two experienced furniture sales veterans plan to open their new venture, Island Home Furnishings, between April 15 and May 1. Karen Francis said that she and her husband, Robert, have logged more than 40 years with Vineyard Decorators between the two of them, and she has been their buyer for many years. They plan to offer a full, one-stop home furnishing store in the 3,500 square feet of space, Mrs. Francis said; the location also has 4,000 square feet of warehouse storage.

Merchants in Tisbury are looking forward to a better year after having survived the inconvenience of a major Main street restoration project. "Last year was hell," Mr. Cronig said, noting that all the digging involved with new sewer and water lines kept customers away. "But it had to be done - it was a hundred years old. Eventually, we'll have a better town for it."

In Chilmark, the business headlines this spring include the opening of the Chilmark Store under the management of its new owners, William and Stephanie Rossi. Mr. Rossi, meeting with the Chilmark selectmen last week, said the opening date has been set for Friday, April 2; to a question from selectman Warren Doty, he said the hot coffee will be ready daily at 6:30 a.m.

On the Menemsha waterfront, Stanley Larsen is negotiating for the purchase of the Poole's Fish business, which he said last week he hopes to open by the end of April as a retail fish market and a wholesale operation serving Island fishermen.

Also up-Island, in the other shop space formerly operated as Offshore Salvage on State Road in West Tisbury, a new group of business associates is opening the Yes We Have No Bananas Gallery. Judith Hartford and her husband, Thad Harshbarger, are partnering with Ellen Wolfe (owner of Once in a Blue Moon in Edgartown) and Bob Pearlman, who has an extensive collection of African artifacts, in the new shop, slated to open in early May. "It will be a very eclectic gallery," Ms. Hartford said.

At the little commercial center atop the Gay Head Cliffs in Aquinnah, Gordon and Donna Perry have built a new take-out shop which they have named The Dreamcatcher. The spot where their new shop stands used to be Shindigs, run by David Alton. And nearby, Luther and Anne Madison have reconfigured the take-out window at their restaurant, The Aquinnah Shop; they've also improved the handicap access on the building's south side. Also in a project approved by the town, wiring at the cliffs shops is being run underground instead of overhead.

The Edgartown Art Gallery, after 32 years selling fine art from a single location on South Summer street, is opening a branch in the Colonial Inn complex on North Water street. Proprietor Tim Conover said, "We're going to sell all our prints over there, and keep all our originals in this gallery. Basically, it's a second location for us."

The shop space into which the Edgartown Art Gallery is moving used to be occupied by Good Dog Goods, which is moving into another space in the same Colonial Inn complex.

Kerry Scott, owner of the Good Dog Goods shops in Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven and Edgartown, said her new Edgartown space at 11 Winter street has more room, a great location and a porch: "As a girl from Oak Bluffs, I love the porch culture," she added.

The first Good Dog Goods store - selling "things for people who love dogs, and things for people who love people who love dogs" - opened four years ago in Oak Bluffs. Ms. Scott added the Edgartown shop the next summer, and the Tisbury shop the summer after that. Her Oak Bluffs store, the original, is still the flagship and is open year-round; the Edgartown and Tisbury shops are set to open around Easter.

The space at 11 Winter street was formerly the Stuart Collection; Ms. Scott said its owners have their main store in Westport and plan to concentrate on that.

On the commercial fringes of Edgartown, proprietor Mike Barnes has doubled the size of his Aboveground Records store by purchasing and expanding into the space formerly used seasonally by the Triangle Bike Shop.

That's a bit of a leap of faith in a business selling music CDs, which is struggling in many quarters. But Mr. Barnes said this week that his sales only continue to grow.

"We're selling more interesting music - for the more knowledgeable buyer," he said. "Probably 50 per cent of the stuff we sell now is from the independent labels."

One of the biggest draws at Aboveground Records now is its selection of used CDs, which brings heavy traffic from customers interested in seeing what's been traded in lately. "We have about 1,500 used CDs on the shelves now," Mr. Barnes said.

Looking ahead, Mr. Barnes said he plans to install listening stations at Aboveground Records - "so we can turn people on to more good stuff."

Next door to Aboveground Records, the Dippin' Donuts shop in Edgartown - and its counterpart at the Woodland Gardens Center in Vineyard Haven - will soon have new owners.

Michael and Donna Diaz, owners of Humphreys Bakery, are in the process of buying both businesses; closing is set for the end of March. Mr. Diaz said this week that both shops will keep the Dippin' Donuts name, and that he hopes also to be able to offer fare from the traditional Humphreys menu.

As for the downtown Edgartown branch of Humphreys, Mr. Diaz said his customers needn't worry: He recently signed a 15-year lease on the Winter street shop, which he said has been doing a solid business.

Susan Pacheco, whose Vintage Jewelry shop in Vineyard Haven's Spring street should be opening early this April, said this week that she also hopes her shop in Edgartown will be ready to open in early May. She lost her space in the so-called "yellow house" at the corner of Main and Summer streets in Edgartown when its owners began a restoration project there; since last year, she's been sharing a space in the Bowl and Board building across the street since last year. "That was just real community service that they let me move in there for awhile," Ms. Pacheco said. "Everyone kind of took me in - it really kept me afloat."

Her Edgartown jewelry shop will soon be in a small, entirely new building on South Summer street, just behind the yellow house, which remains a work in progress.

In other Edgartown business news, Island Pet and Garden Supply, which has operated for many years under the name of SBS on State Road in Vineyard Haven, is moving to a new home - the former Old Colony auto dealership on Edgartown-West Tisbury road.

Ralph M. Packer, the owner of SBS since 1971, said his State Road store will stay open with his daughter and son in law, Elizabeth and Jeff Thompson, as proprietors. "We'll stay with the traditional farm and feed emphasis at our State Road store," Mr. Packer said, "more on the agricultural side, while the store in Edgartown will be more on the pet and garden side. Although we'll still carry our lines of pet food."

In Oak Bluffs, Valentine Estabrook plans to make her first-ever venture into retailing with the May 27 opening of her shop, Abode, at 42 Circuit avenue, next door to DaRosa's.

The concept for Abode, according to Mrs. Estabrook, whose family moved to the Vineyard last July, is somewhere between a retail store and an art gallery. "It's going to be a combination of things," she said, "and I'm going to try to give it a feeling of casual elegance." She plans to present vintage "reclaimed" furniture together with reproductions of English and Irish country furniture, as well as original art, decorative art, wearable art and gift items. "I do hope to have artists in residence at Abode," Mrs. Estabrook said. "I have three that I've lined up for the summer."

In the former Argonauta building, a ways up Circuit avenue, Donna Domanoski plans to open her new shop, Island Illuminations, in time for Memorial Day. Downstairs from the offices of photographers Alison Shaw and Betsy Corsiglia, Ms. Domanoski will have 1,000 square feet of space to sell her unique gel candles with Island-themed images embedded inside. "I should have a sign up outside soon," Ms. Domanoski said this week.