Cafe Moxie, the Tisbury restaurant destroyed by fire on July 4, 2008, seems sure to remain closed for a third summer season, its owner says.
Paul Currier said he now saw no way the rebuilding could be completed before the anniversary of the blaze, which also severely damaged the adjoining Bunch of Grapes bookstore, “and if you can’t open by July 4, you’ve pretty much missed the season.”
The latest setback to the reconstruction relates to the power supply. The new building plan adds a floor, taking it dangerously close to overhead wires, and before work can continue, those power lines will have to be moved, buried under the Centre street sidewalk
“NStar has a work order, I’m told, and are about to bury the lines. There’s no contention about it. It’s just a painfully slow process,” he said.
Since the fire, the cafe’s name has proved ironically apt. One dictionary definition of moxie is “the ability to face difficulty with determination and courage,” and the rebuilding project has certainly faced more than its share of difficulties.
First there was the fire, then problems with insurance and finance, then a problem with the alignment of the new structure, which strayed a few inches onto public land. And now the NStar delay.
“We’ve been waiting for NStar for, like six months now. You could say they’re the bad guys, but it’s like dealing with the gas company: they’re bureaucratic, but they’re dealing with something dangerous, there are protocols and they don’t cut corners,” said a resigned Mr. Currier.
“It seems crazy, but the process is like that. I’ve learned that lesson, I’ve learned that’s just the way it is and you have to roll with it.”
“So we’re waiting for NStar to do their thing, and obviously we’re going to miss another season. You’ve just got to make your peace with that and move on.”
Things could be worse.
“We don’t have any debt on the property, so we can survive it,” Mr. Currier said. “Otherwise we’d be definitely up the creek.”
He gave an assurance that a new, bigger restaurant still would rise on the site of the old one.
“The problem is that we built up. The first Moxie was a first floor thing, with an attic space. And this Moxie is three floors, which pushed us up within 10 feet of the primary power line. The new code requires you can’t build within 10 feet of the primary line,” he said.
“With old construction, you’re okay. Lots of people in town are in breach of that [10 foot rule]. But it’s not the case for new construction.
“But we plan on still doing this. It’s a matter of time, but it’s a lot of time.”
Even if NStar moved promptly to move the wires, it would still be too late for this summer season.
“The building is about three-quarters framed up, but there’s a lot left to do. A lot,” he said.
“You’d also have noise problems. Even if the town cut us a bit of slack on that stuff, you’d have to close it in real soon so the noise wasn’t too bad. It’s beyond the realms of possibility, I’m afraid.
“I think denial is part of the human condition, [and] it wouldn’t be that hard for me to pull together some of the old restaurant crew. However, it’s unrealistic to think we could open it and get anything out of it. If you can’t open by July 4, you’re pretty much missing the season. It’s just too much.”
In the meantime, Mr. Currier is eking out a living by other means. He spoke to the Gazette while en route to a shingling job.
“I do a bit of everything — a bit of carpentry, occasionally some food. You make a few bucks. It’s just what it is,” he said.
The tragedy is the restaurant site enjoys one of the prime locations on Main street.
“It’s just in such a great, great spot. It does really suck. I lost my livelihood, so the work I do now is just diddly stuff, not like running a restaurant, with employees and money in play, and everything you could imagine going on. It’s been a real culture shock to go from that to this.”
Mr. Currier’s frustration is shared by other town businesses and the Tisbury selectmen. The big 2008 fire left a hole in the middle of the main tourist strip, with both Moxie and the Bunch of Grapes non-operational for the better part of a year. Much of the damage was undone when the bookstore — considered one of the town’s anchor businesses — reopened by the first anniversary of the fire.
But sadly for Mr. Currier and the town, it now seems to be inevitable that summer visitors will again find a half-finished construction site where there used to be a popular eatery.
And then there remains one further problem: the depressed economy.
“The commercial lending environment these days is quite poor. It’s probably the worst it’s been in 30 years, and I’m not the only one saying that.
“So that will keep things interesting.
“But I hope to get it together again. What more can I say?”