Main Street Campaign Begins in Edgartown
By RACHEL KOVAC
A group of Edgartown business owners have launched an ambitious campaign to revitalize the heart of downtown, from voluntary facade improvements to strolling a capella singers to the return of Christmas in Edgartown.
The push to spruce up the landscape and bring more people back into the Edgartown center comes amid concern that the town has begun to fade as a living, breathing New England village. Business owners first met in January and revived the Edgartown board of trade, which had disbanded four years ago. With 140 members, the board now meets regularly to begin taking steps toward town improvement.
"You have to get your town in order," said Margaret H. White, co-president of the board of trade and owner of the Hob Knob Inn. "You have to look a certain way before you have a party. The town has reached its all-time low. And now the effort is to improve it architecturally, improve its tenant mix and improve its customer service and attitude."
The board has created a list of things they think are vital to creating a year-round village experience that is pedestrian oriented. The list is lengthy and ranges from simple items like putting out trash receptacles and sweeping streets to a detailed plan to improve employee parking. The board is also encouraging landlords to create year-round apartments above businesses. And board members say they want businesses to think year-round and not just summer, and change inventory as the seasons change.
Improving the harborfront as a gateway to the town is another project that board members hope will be sparked by the renovation of the Navigator restaurant this fall by Gerret Conover Jr. and his partners.
But first the board of trade simply wants to improve the look of the town. Patrick Ahearn, an Edgartown architect, has created an architectural guide that shows business owners how adding shutters or painting a door can improve the look of their buildings. Mr. Ahearn hopes this will serve as a catalyst for building improvements in the heart of the village.
Some buildings are better maintained than others, Mr. Ahearn said, but the overall look of a community influences the amount of time people spend there as well as the kind of business the area can attract.
"I looked at this from an architectural perspective first," he said. "What can you do to the buildings on an individual basis? I said for very small dollars you could improve the glassing, shutters, entranceway, add French doors to open up places, or get rid of fluorescent lights."
Mr. Ahearn visited every business in the village and studied the building - how it was constructed, when it was constructed and what it was used for. Then he photographed each building, sometimes from several different angles, and created a picture book with suggestions for improvements.
For example Mr. Ahearn recommends the town hall replace the current coach light on the second floor with a copper wall mounted lantern that is larger than the current one. Also, the institutional trash receptacles should be replaced, he said.
Mr. Ahearn's booklet features over 100 storefronts and is available for viewing at the Edgartown Free Public Library, the Hob Knob Inn, the Christian Gallery and the Vineyard Gazette library.
The board of trade is also updating its web site, business owners will have access to information such as prices on shutters and where to buy period pieces.
"We want landlords to embrace the concept," Mr. Ahearn said. "This is a soft sell – a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It's a significant improvement of the architectural experience."
He said the goal is not to make all the buildings look the same. The architecture in the village is quite diverse. "We want to celebrate the richness and diversity of the architecture that is here," he said.
The improvements are intended to attract merchants and bring goods and services back to the village. Ms. White said the goal is for people to be able to walk into the village and pick up anything they might need.
"A simple sort of scenario is people who live nearby could walk into the village buy their flowers, fresh fish, a case of wine and get their cocktail napkins," she said. "You should be able to come into the village and get everything you need."
The board of trade has also begun the process of opening up parking and encouraging pedestrian traffic. Improvements are planned for the town parking lot off Dark Woods Road at the entrance to town near the Triangle, including paving, signage, benches, lighting, landscaping, rest rooms and a small visitor center. The board hopes to develop a pricing scheme or the improvements and bring it in front of voters at a special town meeting.
The parking lot is reportedly already seeing some increased use. Mark Snider, owner of the Winnetu Inn has created a reward package for Edgartown workers who park in the lot and ride the shuttle frequently. Each time a person who works in Edgartown parks in the lot and rides the shuttle he or she will receive a ticket. The ticket is handed to the employer and at the end of the season employers with the most tickets will receive gifts - everything from a weekend in Vermont to a trip to Nantucket.
"That's a major thing," Ms. White said. "Because of the congestion downtown people who want to shop can't because there are no parking spaces."
The board of trade will also take over the responsibility for town events, including the Fourth of July parade and fireworks. Plans are underway to revitalize Christmas in Edgartown, a once-popular event that has languished in recent years.
But it is not just holidays. Organizers want to work on other types of events, like hiring the Vineyard Sound a capella group to sing around town during the early evening in the summer months, and having face painting for children. Edgartown fine art dealers are already sponsoring gallery strolls and the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is an anchor event in the early fall. But the board of trade would also like to see a farmer's market, a flower stand and perhaps even sidewalk sales.
Board members say Jaws Fest was a catalyst for all of these ideas, when merchants were pleasantly surprised to see so many people in the streets enjoying different events around town, shopping and eating.
"There are a lot of things already in place," Mr. Ahearn said. "I think Jaws Fest was a great example of post-Clinton era getting the Vineyard back on the map again. You could see people having a good time. It was a good celebration of what the best of the Island could be," he added.
"We want to make Edgartown appealing to summer people, visitors and year-round residents," Ms. White said. "We have had a swell of support. We need to turn around - and starting with the kids - remind them this is a tourist destination. We are all about tourism. It's an attitude. It needs to be taught. It needs to be nurtured."