By TOM DUNLOP
It requires a little extra faith to open a new business on the Vineyard. There’s the feast-and-famine seasonality of its economy, the often ingrained shopping habits of its residents, the tendency to look to the mainland for choices and prices that the Island cannot match.
Throw in a wispy recovery from the recession, grinding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and crises in Europe, Korea and the Gulf of Mexico, and you might think twice — or even 10 times — before opening a new home decorating store on a resort Island in the spring of 2010.
But John Murphy and Helen Koch of Vineyard Haven and Scott Patterson of Edgartown already feel a measure of vindication for taking the chance. As Tracker Home Décor prepared to open in the middle of May, passersby on Pease’s Point Way in Edgartown were stepping on the brakes and doubling back to the store, peering in the big front windows and— when the front door happened to be open — coming in to buy rugs, sofas, lamps, table settings, tile and garden pieces. These, among other goods, both modern and vintage, hand-crafted and otherwise, from markets as far away as Morocco and as close by as the garage sale held last weekend at the other end of your street.
Mr. Murphy, Ms. Koch and Mr. Patterson have each lived on the Vineyard for 20 years and more, and until recently they all worked together at Vineyard Decorators, based in the complex of large retailers adjacent to the county airport. They long shared a dream to start a decorating store of their own — one that would begin a project by hunting down just the right pieces at famous trade shows or out of the way antique stores and end the job, when necessary, with expert installation.
Mr. Murphy, the designer at Tracker, moved to the Island in 1986. He worked in restaurants and cleaned houses, then took a job at Vineyard Dry Goods, a renowned store in Vineyard Haven where, he says, “I fell in love with retail. Mrs. [Ida] Levine was a huge inspiration, a fabulous retailer, and I was there for five years.” For the next four years he worked at C.B. Stark, the jeweler also based in Vineyard Haven, a job he enjoyed “but always knew that I wanted to do interiors. So I took a job with a firm in Washington, D.C.” – Joseph Paul Davis Interior Design – “for three months, and decorated a house on Nantucket, and I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. It was a quick stint but a huge education.”
Ms. Koch, who runs the Tracker office, came to the Island in 1991. She either worked at or managed three stores in Vineyard Haven: Brunelle Leather, Union Street Clothing and most recently Bramhall and Dunn, a clothing and home furnishing store. When John talks about the joy of finding just the right sconce or table for a home, whether at a show in Las Vegas or the Chilmark Flea Market, Ms. Koch adds that the satisfaction of opening Tracker comes from “just having what you like in the store. Everything we bought, we liked. And it wasn’t that we had to buy for a certain price point, or that we had to buy for a certain type of clientele. We just bought things that we liked and we thought that other people would like. And we’ve got a range of prices. It’s not all high-end. We’ve got something for everyone.”
If an artistic and rather daring new enterprise like this occasionally wants a Greek chorus or a Mort Sahl to bring it all down to earth, Tracker has found him in its third partner, Scott Patterson, who moved to the Island in 1989 and upholsters, assembles and installs whatever needs it. When Ms. Koch and Mr. Murphy marvel over the latter’s propensity always to come back to the store with some new home-furnishing delight strapped to the roof of his car, Mr. Patterson lets the wonder hang in the air a moment, then says, “I call him Fred Sanford.” During a recent shopping tour in Palm Beach, Mr. Murphy and Ms. Koch kept saying, “Oh, I could see this in a funky Chilmark house. Or in an Edgartown living room.” Mr. Patterson was with them and often found himself declaring, “I’m not seeing that in any house.”
While credit and business loans are still harder to secure than they used to be, the partners got backing for the enterprise from Kenn Karakul, a part-time Edgartown resident with whom Mr. Murphy had worked on several occasions, both at a residence in town and at a series of cottages on North Summer street.
Despite the crises flaring and gurgling up everywhere, Mr. Patterson thinks most people have weathered the financial crisis more or less all right, and he senses a pent-up desire to buy things long deferred, especially for the home. So the trio has set up shop in the old Lamplighter and Rush and Fisher Inc. antique shop on Pease’s Point Way. They don’t know what their first year will bring after a year of preparation, “but it’s very exciting,” says Mr. Murphy, “and it’s been a long time overdue. The only regret is that we didn’t do it earlier. But it’s really good.”