The Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust formally took ownership of Alley’s General Store yesterday, ushering in the beginning of a new era for the renowned Dealers in Almost Everything in the heart of West Tisbury.
“We are pleased that Alley’s will go into the 21st century as the fine institution that it has been for 135 years,” said Howard Ulfelder, who sold the store to the trust. The closing took place yesterday morning in the offices of Reynolds, Rappaport and Kaplan in Edgartown. Afterward there was a bottle of champagne and a quiet celebration for the trust, which worked diligently throughout the summer on an ambitious capital campaign to raise the money to buy and restore Alley’s.
“Purchasing, restoring and returning Alley’s to its former position as a fine general store and the social center of the West Tisbury community may be the most important thing the preservation trust will do for all Islanders,” said trust president Teddie Ellis yesterday.
The trust announced last spring that it had signed a purchase and sale agreement with Mr. Ulfelder to buy Alley’s the general store which opened in 1858 and is the oldest continuously operating retail store on the Vineyard. Purchase prices was $300,000; it is estimated another $250,000 will be needed to renovate the building, which is badly deteriorated and has seen little or no maintenance work in many years.
“There is a point in any project when you arrive with your tool box and this is that time for us,” said Chris Scott executive director of the trust, during a brief interview following the closing yesterday.
The closing was originally planned for September, but an array of legal hitches forced postponement. Among other things, the trust had to go before the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals to clear up issues surrounding earlier permits which were granted to Mr. Ulfelder for the expansion of Alley’s. But by yesterday all the technical issues had been straightened out and the deal was signed. The preservation trust now owns Alley’s and the barn behind Alley’s, while Mr. Ulfelder will remain as the owner and manager of Back Alley’s. Ownership of the parking lot and the surrounding grounds will be held in common.
Mr. Scott praised both James Reynolds and Sarah Matthews who did the legal work on the project. “It was a complex body of work and I am very satisfied that things have been done in a manner that wills serve both parties well into the future,” he said.
Meanwhile, the capital campaign continues - to date the trust has raised about $400,000, Mr. Scott said.
The trust is expected to begin almost immediately with renovation work - plans call for reopening Alley’s under new management by next summer. Early in the new year the trust is expected to award contract bids for the renovation work; Mr. Scott said all the work will be done by Island contractors. “Our goal is to restore the structural integrity without changing the outward appearance,” he said. He also said the trust, which plans to lease the operation of the store, has an excellent field of potential operators. “I am very excited about the finalists who have emerged - all are Island-based, all are extremely experienced in retail, and all are Island couples who want to manage the store together,” he said.
Alley’s general store was founded by Nathan Mayhew in 1858. His sons Sanderson and Ulysses later took over the store and in 1916 the Mayhews sold the store to Charles Turner and Benjamin Woodaman. In 1945 Albion Alley bought the store and in 1964 Mr. Alley sold it to his three children. In 1980 Charles and Teena Parton bought it and owned it until its sale to Mr. Ulfelder in 1986.
Both Mr. Scott and Mr. Ulfelder said they are looking forward to an amicable working relationship in the years ahead. 
And now begins a new era for Alley’s. Mr. Scott as it has been - a convenience store of sorts for rural people. “It’s the marketplace, it’s as much a place to be part of the community as it is to be where you buy your eggs and butter,” he said. He added: “We plan to write a letter to all public officials in West Tisbury expressing our enthusiasm for this project and our anticipation for becoming part of the West Tisbury community. This is a wonderful way for the trust to embrace the up-Island community.”