This month, a new shop called Soft As A Grape opened on the ground floor of the Woods Hole Inn, a great expansion of shopping in Woods Hole. This is exciting news for all of Woods Hole, as well as for travelers on the Steamship Authority ferries to Martha’s Vineyard as this stylish new shop offers high quality t-shirts, sweatshirts and much more in a convenient location right on the corner of Water Street and Luscombe Avenue, just steps from the ferry terminal. Stay at the Woods Hole Inn and enjoy this Woods Hole shop!
The new space has been dramatically renovated with new hardwood floors, gorgeous wooden shelving, extensive new lighting and more. Best of all is the antique boat that dominates the entrance, filled to the brim with sparkling new shirts and insignia clothing. Want to head home with a memento of your trip to Cape Cod? Soft As A Grape is the perfect place to find something hip to share the news of your travels at home.
In addition to their line of t-shirts and clothing, the nice folks at Soft As A Grape have dedicated a space for Woods Hole Inn branded merchandise including our famous coffee mugs, handmade starfish soaps, t-shirts and more. Come into the new shop at the corner of Luscombe and Water Streets in Woods Hole and see for yourself the great energy of this new shop.
The winter is a wonderful time to visit, because you see real live Islanders, those hardy souls who choose to live year round on this gorgeous 18-mile stretch of sand and beech groves.
In terms of the look of the population, it is not much different than here in Woods Hole — more grey beards than I ever saw in LA, many people in thick work clothes, the creased faces of hardy sea-farers, boat builders, carpenters, artists and chefs — plus the former summer people who own shops or have retired from busy careers to run non-profits or serve the demands of the busy summer trade.
There is a sense of distance, even in casual conversation, and my probings about island life are often met with bemused smiles and arch grins. This cluster of small villages set three miles off the mainland seems to have some sort of secret power, and those who fall under it’s siren song are likely to never leave the place. They refer to it as the Island, and the rest of the world as America. As in, “We went to America last week on a BJ’s run.” It’s like the moat that is Vineyard Sound creates a buffer between the two worlds, a separation that inspires poetry, and peregrinations from urban areas to this secret pocket of urbanity set apart from the rest.
This is one of many reasons why a winter day trip over there is so interesting — it is like visiting a secret world. Not to mention a gorgeous one. It takes only 45 minutes to be transported there, and I highly recommend you check it out, especially in winter when you get a better chance at meeting and talking to the locals. Here are a few other images from my short sojourn.
And arriving in Vineyard Haven at last light. I do hope my next trip allows more time to explore.
This week was hot, hot like life on the proverbial tin roof, so I lit out for the open air of the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, hoping to catch a little wind on the way, and see the sights in Oak Bluffs. I have been to the Vineyard many times before, but never explored every nook and cranny of this hip little island town, so here — after an afternoon of beating the streets — are my favorite to things to do in Oak Bluffs:
1. Hunt for a Souvenir.
From Soft as a Grape to Menemsha Blues to the Black Dog, there is a t-shirt for everyone on the main strip which is called Circuit Avenue. I wandered into the Black Dog and admired their fluffy sweatshirts with the ubiquitous large retriever. Tip for shoppers: While there appears to be a Black Dog on every corner, the “outlet” store sells much of the same stuff at a discount in a small shop down by the marina called the Dockside Premium Outlet.
2. Go Upscale.
Since the Vineyard was discovered by the masses in the last decade or so (much to the chagrin of the folks who have loved it for centuries), the shopping has gone upscale, especially in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven. But even rough and tumble Oak Bluffs now has a Vineyard Vines, so don’t miss this wonderful shop painted navy and hot pink at the end of Circuit Avenue.
3. Eat an Ice Cream.
Do not leave OB without an ice cream cone. Mad Martha’s, Ben and Bill’s — doesn’t matter much which place you choose, you will be sure to leave with that blissed out, I-am-on-vacation-and-I-just consumed-three-days-worth-of sugar smile.
4. Visit the Gingerbread Cottages
Just behind Circuit Ave sits the neighborhood known as the “Gingerbread Cottages.” This incredible collection of brightly-painted Victorian summer cottages was originally a Methodist campgrounds but is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is a cherished spot for visitors and residents alike. Stroll back in time on the tiny pedestrian streets, their yards cluttered with day lillies and porches jammed with Kennedy rockers painted every color of the rainbow.
5. Grab an iced coffee.
Plenty of choice here for the quintessential frosty coffee crammed with ice. I went with decaf and lots of milk, and the cup in my hand kept me cool for several extra blocks of exploration.
6. Ride the Flying Horses.
This 100+ year old carousel is just as charming as it looks in photos. You will see it immediately as you get off the ferry in OB, and be sure to wait for a ride — it’s worth it!
7. The Beach.
Is there anything better than a beach right next to a ferry terminal? The Jersey Shore has nothing on this, with calm waters, a waterfront park and the shops a stone’s throw from the sand. Feeling ambitious? Rent a bike and ride towards Edgartown. You will come upon the “Jaws” bridge — with kids jumping off the causeway into the tidal currents below just like they did 30+ years ago in the movie.
8. Ride the ferry home to Woods Hole.
Nothing better at the end of a full day of sightseeing than flopping into an ocean-view seat for the cool ferry ride home. Watch the gulls circle above the deck and feel the southwesterly breeze on your face. Well-earned relaxation at it’s very finest.
I have been thinking quite a bit about the people who built the Woods Hole Inn back in the 1870’s. They looked out over the same harbor, probably more big ships in it than now, but for sure ferry service plying Vineyard Sound in the same brisk and predictable fashion. Like us, I imagine that they were happy with the way fall seems to never end on Cape Cod, enjoying the brisk wind that whistles up past the inn on sunny days and bemoaning the rain when it slowed them down. Only about 140 years ago, these guys worked entirely with hand-tools — the grandparents of our grandparents.
So the renovation of the top two floors of the Woods Hole Inn moves relentlessly onward. With each passing day, with every dormer rebuilt or ceiling gutted, we find clues about the people who came before us, the hardy souls who also lived here on the edge of the world.
Yesterday, a shingle was discovered. Every chance this would have been tossed without a glance, but Bruce (one of the framing crew) noticed and nabbed it before it went to the dumpster. Since we have no idea the exact year the building was built, this is a pretty huge clue — hard to imagine they would have re-shingled so soon, so I am going to guess August 11, 1887 is the completion date.
I can’t wait to show this to my new friends at the Woods Hole Museum. Other treasures emerged in the last few weeks. One is a large piece of upholstered furniture, maybe the side of a chaise someone planned to repair? I need to share this with Skinner to see if it has any “significance” then decide what the heck to do with it!
I particularly like this letter, part of it devoured by a nineteenth century mouse. From what I can make out it is a super top secret, highly confidential sales pitch from a pencil vendor offering pencils at an excellent price — The Long Pencil Company of Chicago Illinois writing to Mr. Briggs (a former owner), dated September 11, 1894. Long before email and Google Ad Words…
I love that mackerel is a specialty and my clever friend Nick made me laugh by suggesting that “Stillman was easier to deal with than Griffin.” I suspect the third floor of the inn may have been used by a wholesaler of salt-fish and he kept his labels in the attic. He may even have stored or cured fish up there, as the smell was really strong when the beams were cut out.
And so the clues leave us with more questions than answers, but they are fascinating. All of the building crew — from the plumber to the electrician to the framers — have gotten into the hunt. I will let you know if we find more, and you can come next summer to see the highlights on display in the lobby of the Inn. Here is the whole letter, in closing, in case you can make out more of it than I could. Perhaps someone more accustomed to this old style of writing could write a translation into the comments?