It’s the quiet season now but it was hardly quiet at Bramhall & Dunn on Main street Vineyard Haven yesterday, where the phone was ringing off the hook. And there was Emily Bramhall herself answering, slightly breathless from so many calls, this time from a reporter.
“We’re a little bit crazy here today,” Ms. Bramhall exclaimed, the strains of a James Taylor song playing in the background. “We’re pricing every last thing in the store.” On Tuesday this week Ms. Bramhall, who has been in business for 28 years on Main street, sent out letters to customers and friends announcing that this year would be her last.
“It is with a mixture of anticipation, excitement and gratitude that I am writing to inform you of the conclusion of Bramhall & Dunn at the end of 2011. I have been happily leading this enterprise for the past 28 years . . . I am now eagerly looking forward to the next phases and adventures in my life, whatever they may be,” she wrote. The full text of the letter is published on the editorial page in today’s edition. Ms. Bramhall said a separate letter went out to her Main street business neighbors.
Yesterday on the telephone she paused for a few minutes to reflect on it all — her nearly three decades on Main street, beginning as a young 25-year-old, the joys and struggles of running a business on the Vineyard, and the exhilaration that comes from having a good run — and then calling it quits.
She said the decision was not made lightly, or quickly.
“This had all had been in my mind for awhile — and I really mean it when I say that I have loved the store and my customers — but I’ve thought about moving on to the next, whatever it might be, on and off for about five years,” she said. “Then for the last year I really began to get serious in my thinking . . . There was no one moment, it just sort of all came together for me. The decision was very organic.”
Ms. Bramhall, who began her Vineyard life as a summer kid in Edgartown, moved year-round to the Island as a young artist at age 17. She opened her first store in 1983, in partnership with Tharon Dunn, who owned a home store on Nantucket, in Crispin’s Landing, a collection of shops housed in what had been Holmes Hole on Main street, today the location of LeRoux at Home.
Four years later Sandy Ray bought the building that had housed Lillian’s clothing store, which had gone out of business. “I rented it from him promptly,” Ms. Bramhall recalled. “It was turquoise and pink downstairs and the upstairs had been used as Redman’s Hall [a now-defunct fraternal organization]. You couldn’t access it from the main floor, there was a separate walkway outdoors down an alley that you took to get up the stairs.”
Main street Vineyard Haven was a vastly different landscape then.
“Yates Drugstore was across the street, Issokson’s Cleaners was up a side street, David Goulart was down the street. Vineyard Dry Goods was there, Shirley’s Hardware was still on Main street, and Cronig’s . . . Cronig’s market was still on Main street, isn’t that something? That was the Main street when I started and those were my fellow businesspeople,” Ms. Bramhall said.
She began her store with an artist’s interest in, and eye for, textiles and home furnishings, but as she grew and changed, marrying and having children along the way, so did Bramhall & Dunn.
“I wanted this to be a place where you could find anything that was beautiful, but practical to live with,” she told the Gazette in an interview three years ago on the occasion of the store’s 25th anniversary. “I’ve just always bought what I’ve liked. I’m not trying to lead a curve. The things that I buy don’t go out of style.”
Yesterday she had warm words of praise for Vineyard Haven as a place to do business.
“I love this town,” Ms. Bramhall said. “I’ve loved being in Vineyard Haven. It’s definitely challenging, and especially now for everyone it’s challenging. I’ve lived through more than one recession and this one is hard. It’s also hard when they decide to rip up the streets for some paving project in September, and you wonder, why now? But it’s very real, this town, it’s steady and it’s year-round. This is where people come to shop — you see people from all over the Island in Vineyard Haven.”
Three years ago Bramhall & Dunn opened a second location in Edgartown that was a seasonal store. Ms. Bramhall said the store was a success and partly her own creative challenge to keep her business going as the economy began to stutter.
And she had nothing but praise for her employees, especially singling out her longtime employee Wendy Whipple who, among other things, is responsible for the graceful, ever-changing window displays at Bramhall & Dunn.
“My employees . . . we’re all sitting downstairs, talking politics and pricing things,” Ms. Bramhall said. “We are all going out to dinner tonight. I am so blessed, I have so many great employees, they are all really talented and creative and they’re all going to land on their feet. And of course there is Wendy — 23 years! She has done such an amazing job.”
She said she briefly considered selling the business instead of closing it, but quickly abandoned the idea. “I offered it to my employees, but they didn’t want it,” she said. “[And selling the store] just didn’t feel right for me. This is my creation, this was my vision, it’s almost like one of my children — it’s older than my children — no, it’s been a really great run and now it’s over.”
“I honestly don’t know,” Ms. Bramhall said. “I have lots of ideas but I understand and can appreciate why teachers need sabbaticals — people need some time off to recharge. That’s what I am going to do, and I am going to really try to enjoy this beautiful place where we live.”
But first there is a big sale and a celebration to manage. Tomorrow Bramhall & Dunn will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for a daylong sale and celebration. And the sale will continue — how long Ms. Bramhall is not sure, but at least until December.
“We will keep it going as long as it’s bright and cheerful and everybody’s having a good time,” she said.