The Aquinnah select board and shop owners at the Aquinnah Circle came together in an effort to standardize existing store leases, which expired this year and have historically varied in both language and timing.

The six shops at the Aquinnah Circle are leased by Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal members. While some of the leases are held by the Wampanoag Tribe and subletted to tribal members, others are leased to shop owners directly by the town of Aquinnah. The expired leases also had different end dates and terms. 

The board is looking to restructure the leases before they are renewed, aiming to bring a new and standardized agreement to shop owners by early 2023.

At a select board meeting Tuesday, shop owners and town officials launched into a discussion about the complicated lease structures.

“They’re pretty wonky, as we know,” said select board member Juli Vanderhoop. “It’s really a first step in getting things together.”

Shop owners discussed future options for the leases, including a structure which would have the tribe hold the shop leases and sublet to shop operators.

Select board members expressed an openness to the proposal.

“If everyone wanted to go directly to the town, that would be fine,” select board member Tom Murphy said. “If everyone wanted to go directly to the tribe, that would be fine.”

The discussion comes as the tribe has proposed to lease a majority of the land at the cliffs, town officials said, including buildings outside the shops, including the former Vanderhoop homestead and the nearby Manning property just below the lighthouse.

“The tribe wants everything at the cliffs for no rent,” town administrator Jeff Madison said, "including the cultural center, including the Manning properties.”

Mr. Madison said the proposal is a non-starter for the town, in part because it ignores the town’s legal obligations when leasing property.

Shop owners at the meeting expressed a variety of opinions regarding the leases, but all noted urgency as they eye preparations for the summer.

“We have to come together as the ‘loop group,’” said Kristina Hook. “We want to also work with the town because we understand we have no other choice — it doesn’t have to be aggressive.”

Mr. Murphy proposed a 60-day deadline for newly drafted leases, to be authored by a working group yet to be appointed.

“Now that the lease has expired is the time to address what goes on there,” Mr. Madison said.

Before the meeting’s close, members of the select board and fellow shop owners congratulated Jay Smalley and Del Araujo, respective owners of the Gay Head Store and Aquila, for successful first seasons at the cliffs. Moving forward, Mr. Murphy said he hopes to see events like last weekend’s Halloween celebration at Aquila continue throughout the holidays at the cliffs.

Noting the impact of young people on the future of Aquinnah Circle and its historical and culturally significant lands, Ms. Vanderhoop reminded the group that a tribal election is nearing.

“Young people have [done] a lot to make things better,” she said. “There is a tribal election going on.”