Welcome. Edgartown News was born from the simple fact that I have ink and Dektol in my veins and I need to write and photograph more than I need air or food, and from my love for this little town where I grew up and raised my family, the town I have left a few times but can't quite shake for good. Here you will find wanderings and musings, photographs and commentary; the people, places, and happenings - past and present - of a small island town: my home town.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Main Street, R.I.P.

Edgartown Hardware, final days downtown.
One of the best things about living two blocks from downtown Edgartown is being able to easily walk to the hardware store. On days when I'm working on projects around the house or yard, this is especially convenient. First of all, I love to walk. Second, the four-block walk gives me a chance to step away from whatever repair, renovation, or creative project I'm in the middle of and allows me to clear my mind. By the time I've reached the point where I have to go to the hardware store I've most likely run into some kind of glitch, or need for a special-sized screw that I know Jonathan Polleys will help me find, or a piece of sand paper, or a dowel, or some tool or other. The walk clears my mind, plus, there are sure to be opportunities for socializing along the way, with EPD's Neil Condlin, who directs traffic at the intersection of Main and Summer Streets and always has a smile and a kind word for me, and sometimes even a hug; or with Adnan and company at Scoops, or Bobby Carroll sitting in his car in front of Shirt Tales, or Geno, conducting business from whichever his favorite bench of the day happens to be.

And ironically, as I write, this week's tenant calls to say the toilet handle has broken, which means...yes, a walk down to the hardware store will be in order during my lunch break.

I love Edgartown Hardware. Well, I love all hardware stores, actually. Hardware stores are my favorite stores in the world. I love gadgets and tools and fasteners, and the hardware store is where you'll find them all, and then some. I've always loved working with my hands, in all media, from sewing and knitting and weaving, to carpentry, plastering, painting, and gardening, and I believe that all things are possible with the right tool (my most recent acquisition, something I've wanted for ages, is my Makita cordless 18v, 1/2" chuck drill/driver with a light. Every girl should have one of these.).

Polly Emin, waiting on a customer.
I had heard a few weeks ago that Edgartown Hardware would be moving out of town, that they were looking to move out to the former Old Colony building (which has been abandoned for several years and was becoming ghetto-esque) on the corner of Pinehurst and West Tisbury Roads. Last week, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved the move, so now it's official: they'll be leaving in January. John and Pat Montes, the owners of the hardware store, are thrilled, because they don't have enough space where they are now - every time they need to get something out of storage they have to either go upstairs or down to the cellar - and the Old Colony building will give them tons of room, both for retail space, and for storage.

I'm happy for John and Pat, really I am, but I am very sad to see this store leave town.

Edgartown Hardware is one of the original stores on Main Street - well, as far back as I go, anyway - and the last of the vital services that remains; the last of the "real" stores, a store where you'll find something useful, something necessary for living, and one of the few stores that is open during the winter, Edgartown being a virtual ghost town from December to March, a shadow of its pre-1969 self (yes, that 1969; the year of Teddy's plunge into Poche Pond, the moonwalk, and Woodstock; the year when everything - and I mean everything - changed).

The relocation of Edgartown Hardware to the outskirts of town is the completion of the exodus that was begun in 1960 when the A&P moved out to Preston Averill's lot on Upper Main Street (now Stop and Shop). The last nail in the coffin (though some would say the end was begun two years earlier by the formation of the Martha's Vineyard Regional School District - and I am one of them. Yes, share resources, get the kids together at dances and let them compete against each other at sporting events, but let's keep kids in their home towns, please. But I digress.).

The last nail, indeed.

When I was growing up in town in the fifties and sixties, Edgartown's downtown area, primarily the three blocks between the courthouse and the harbor, boasted:

four grocery stores  (A&P, Connors, First National, Mercier's - really - four grocery stores.)
two pharmacies with soda fountains (Lenny's and Pete's - with Lenny's surely being the geographic center of the universe in those days)
two liquor stores (Harborside and Al's)
two barbershops (Jordan's and Gentle's)
a 5&10 (Addie Nichols')
a clothing and shoe store (Hall's Department Store)
Edgartown Hardware (twice the size it is now)
a paper store (Irving "Are-you-going-to-buy-that-comic?!" Willoughby's)
the post office
a coffee shop
a toy and housewares store (Avery's, where my mother bought me my Ginny dolls)
the movie theater, where the little mini-park is now
town hall, with the police station and other town offices
the county courthouse
four churches
a dentist's office
two doctor's offices
a blacksmith's shop (my Uncle Orin Norton's)
a gas station/auto repair shop (Sibley's Garage)
and a fish market (Eldridge's)

(and what was that little store that Mildred Arnold ran - a little curio shop next to Jordan's barbershop where I had my first exposure to Mad Magazine and Alfred E. Neuman?)

Oh, and let's not forget the school, a mere four blocks from downtown, around the corner on the West Tisbury Road (not the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road as it has come to be called; in Edgartown it is the West Tisbury Road, in West Tisbury, the Edgartown Road). Also, there was the Edgartown Boys Club (no girls allowed except at Saturday night dances) a few blocks down School Street. 

Every single thing we needed was in those three blocks. We were contained, mostly self-sufficient, and safe. Most of us lived in town, in those big white houses that the rich summer people occupy now (and I still hang onto mine, only by the skin of my teeth). We walked everywhere we needed to go and saw each other, face to face, and often. We walked to school every day, were let out at 11:30 to walk home for the hot lunch our mothers cooked us, and walked back to school at 12:30 for the afternoon session. If any of the handful of bus kids in my class (all of about six in those days: three from Ocean Heights and three from the Great Plains) played their cards right, they'd get invited to one of our homes so they weren't held captive in the deserted classroom during the lunch hour.

 And oh, weren't those the days. We kids, unattended and barefooted all summer, had free run of the town, from "borrowing" boats on the harbor (that were always returned before they were missed by their owners), to spending all day on the town wharf fishing for cunners - quahogs from Eldridges for bait, 5 cents each - or riding Joe Conkling's launch over to the Chappy Beach Club - public, then. The fields and the woods were ours, from Waller's Farm over to Pinney's Farm, where some friend or other was bound to have a horse for the bare-back riding; or picking up a ball game in whose-ever yard was biggest and playing until it was too dark to see the ball.

If we lived in Edgartown, our doctor was in Edgartown (either Mills or Nevin); our dentist was in Edgartown (LeRoy Erickson); we bought our food in Edgartown and used Edgartown banks and insurance agents (Vose). If I came home from school and my mother said, "Get in the car, we're going to Vineyard Haven,"  she may as well have told me we're going to the moon. Vineyard Haven was a far-off, exotic place, a place we only went to once in a great while, either to Brickman's (if Hall's didn't have our shoe size), or to the big Ben Franklin 5&10 (remember those little painted turtles, not the species, but those poor things' shells had actually been painted different colors). There was none of this traipsing all over the island every day the way we do now. Edgartown was Edgartown, Vineyard Haven was Vineyard Haven, and Oak Bluffs was Oak Bluffs. As for up-island, that was where we got taken on family expeditions to Barnhouse Beach once a year.

After the A&P left town, we in-towners did still have Connors' Market, which later became Edgartown Market with its cafe and the post office in the rear - how great was that - but over the next twenty years, as property values and taxes skyrocketed, the number of folks living in town began to dwindle, as did the desire to drive into town and hunt for a parking space (nigh unto impossible in the summer). The post office's departure from what we now call post office square, out to Brandy Harrison's new Triangle retail development in the 80s was the actual death knell, however; the post office being the heart of a community.

Following the post office's move, in very short order, the area between the A&P (now Stop and Shop) and the Triangle would become home to Al's Package Store, Dukes County Savings, Granite 5&10, the Mailroom, Paul Sheehan's pharmacy, and more. At the same time, one by one, the little stores on Main Street that had once been our life-lines became ice cream, tee-shirt, and tchochke shops.

Add to this scenario the sky-rocketing real estate and summer rental market. Where we once had people renting those big white houses for the entire summer, now they could only afford to rent for one week - say what you want about the summer people; we didn't like them or socialize with them much, but we at least knew their names. For the past twenty or thirty summers, we have had a town chock full of total strangers; no eye contact whatsoever because no one expects to see anyone familiar; a population that turns over every Sunday. It's worse than being in a city. At least in Brookline, I know, or have at least a nodding acquaintance with many of the people I see on the streets. In Edgartown in the summer, it is rare to see anyone I know. As I wrote in my MV Times Edgartown Column one week, "In the winter it's a ghost town and no one's there; in the summer it's overrun with people and there's still no one there."

Many summer evenings I get the urge to wander into town for a walk, to take in the cool night air and maybe run into a friend or two along the way, somehow expecting it will be like it used to be, like old home week, with greetings of "How was your winter?" and "So good to see you," with news of the family heartily exchanged, but I always come home disappointed. I mostly don't bother anymore, and neither does anyone else, apparently.

And that's the sad thing about Edgartown Hardware's departure. That little store was the last semblance of normalcy on Main Street, the one place in town that still drew a fair number of locals onto Lower Main Street. A place where you could count on greeting and having a conversation with the local contractors, especially in the early mornings. Year-round.

Once Edgartown Hardware is gone, there will be little-to-no reason for any of us to go downtown, sorry to say. The process that was begun all those years ago will be complete, the total relinquishment of our town to the tourist trade.

Not that the death of Edgartown is John and Pat's fault - to the contrary, they deserve much credit for holding out as long as they did. I wish them well, and look forward to walking up to the new store, though it won't be the same.

In truth, the departure of Edgartown Hardware is not the death of Edgartown - Edgartown was already dead. The departure of the hardware store is not the last nail in the coffin, it's the last shovel of dirt on the grave.

Edgartown, I will miss you. R.I.P.

Pat Montes and Jonathan Polleys

John Montes keeps his hands in the business

Billy Anderson and satisfied paint customer, Nicky Huff. Billy is former owner Lauress Fisher's step-grandson. Billy also owned the store at one time.


  1. Dear S.P.
    I just loved it! Makes me want to cry. However, it will now be, for me, a very comfortable (even with my bad leg) walk to the Hardware Store!
    Honesty prompts me to say....wish when mentioning the non-town kids at lunchtime, you had said, "the Great Plains" kids and not "the Katama kids".
    luv ya ALM

  2. Your wish is my command.

    Glad you like it.

  3. As an adopted Edgartowner, during all those childhood days with you and yours, my main downtown focus was the penny candy store! Tell me that, at least, remains?

  4. Oh yes, dear C, the Candy Bazaar is still alive and well. Want me to pick you up something? A few red-hot dollars, a bag of caramel creams, or how about some squirrel nut bars?

    (I think I just described the penny candy of my youth, not yours)

  5. Great discussion of the Edgartown that used to be. As a summer (mid June to mid-September) resident from 1938 until 1969 (just a week or so each year after 1954), I got to know and love all the spots you mentioned -- you did leave out Brickman's competition in Vineyard haven: the Dry Goods - to which we'd go once or twice in a summer when we rented a car for a day during the war gas rationing years. Of course, cars were not needed - the train ran to Woods Hole, where the old Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket of the Steamship Authority would bring us to Oak Bluffs -- and which also went to New Bedford. I suppose you are right about 1969 - my last year - as being the great watershed. Thanks.

  6. We rented Pat Brown's house on Summer Street every summer from 1962-69 and loved Edgartown largely because of the town's being everything you described. I can still smell the particular odor that Willoughby's store had from time to time in old stores elsewhere in the country, and every time I am taken right back to my childhood in Edgartown. We visited recently and were miserable at what had become of the town, now largely a tourist trap without any of the roots that a real town needs to function. And the houses, rather than being fixed up as true historic homes, have largely been rebuilt such that they look like Disney versions of a historic town. And all the money being thrown away on lawn mowing and landscaping!! Loud, noisy, ridiculous, and wasteful.

  7. Thanks, Sara - I was reliving my childhood as I read this - it's wonderful
    Jessica S