Change. If you were doing a crossword puzzle and the clue was “change” you could interpret the word many ways: change of clothes, change of attitude, change of looks or change of the sort that shakes things up and makes us take a second look. That’s kind of what has happened in Nantucket. Many longtime Nantucket vacationers are coming into my shop this summer and commenting on the fact that there seem to be more changes this summer than before. Stores have suddenly disappeared, restaurants have changed ownerships or changed names, menus, interior makeovers such as The Ropewalk turning into Cru and Even Keel turning into Met On Main. It wasn’t that long ago that Even Keel was the Espresso Café and before that The Sweet Shop. It’s just a matter of your reference point and when you arrived. I began to notice the changes in April when everything was coming alive in town. In fact, I stopped counting the different shops and restaurants after a dozen or so. In general, lovers of Nantucket do not like change.
When I am in Key West in the winter Jimmy Buffet’s hit album “ Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” (the biggest single being “Margaritaville”) is performed in all the nightspots and while it was a breakthrough album in 1977, it still relates to the current state of affairs on that island. If the music changed everyone would complain.
Although Buffett’s albums are not exclusively about Key West, they detail the laid back island and its pre-gentrification status as an American Casablanca…a place where no one knows your name and would not care if they did. I bring up Key West because they have similar growing problems as a tourist island and usually changes relate to solving problems. Unfortunately, change often brings more problems. Our quaint little town, for example, is becoming chicer and, for some, a little too much like other upscale resort towns. We are losing our “grit.”
In the 1970s when Buffet wrote about Key West, it was a derelict navy town looking for a direction and was filled with small bars and restaurants and singers like Buffett, who would play for bar money. Buffet’s albums surely had an effect on the changes attracting many of his followers and those seeking a place in the sun in this country, a bit different than the rest of Florida. In a way we can say the same about Nantucket in relation to the Cape. We are growing and gentrifying beyond where we thought we were gentrified to the max. However, in spite of this, the natural beauty of this island doesn’t change. The exterior of the downtown buildings and early homes doesn’t change even if the interior of the stores are sleeker. But when all is said and done, most Nantucket homeowners both year ‘round and summer residents are still attracted to the style of living here and furnishing their homes associated with the relaxed way of living that has always defined life on this island.
Change is inevitable. I’ve always described Nantucket, both in my books and when I talk about this island, as a small town with a sophisticated mentality. We know how to maintain a small town attitude with the addition of cultural advantages found in a major city. We are a close knit community and the things that attracted most of us to live here many years ago still attract us. The downtown stores and restaurants are admittedly changing to meet perceived needs. We are, after all a tourist town. We are a resort island and in order to continue to be attractive to an ever-changing environment, Nantucket is responding and keeping up with the times. It’s just that many visitors and residents here are nostalgic for the past. Each person simply defines that particular time in a different way. It all depends on when he or she discovered Nantucket. No matter when we arrived here we want Nantucket to remain as we remember it. Everyone has memories of the past and Nantucket has always represented good times, a freedom, a childlike experience of carefree days, of walking into town for an ice cream cone, of favorite restaurants and stores. We liked that it wasn’t keeping up with the times, so to speak. We wanted Nantucket to stay frozen in time, to retain its quaintness as the rest of the world became homogenous. We don’t want Nantucket to be like anywhere else on earth once we’ve decided it is our own personal Eden. However we remember it, that’s the way we want it to stay. Change is not easy to embrace. But we also like to be the best at whatever we’ve got. So maybe we are in a transition and just maybe what seems like a huge overnight island wide transformation is just the island moving up a notch and becoming, if only for two months a little fancier than it used to be. In time, we will adapt, as most people do when faced with change. Maybe, just maybe, these changes won’t be so permanent, or maybe they aren’t as monumental as it seems.