Photos by Cathryn McCann
MV Times: What’s your background?
Ellen Wolfe: Well, I have a strong fine arts background. I majored in painting and graphics at the University of New Hampshire, and then I got a master’s degree in teaching art from Wesleyan University. So I come to this business from a very different place from a lot of retailers, because my background is really art.
MVT: How did you end up on the Island?
Ellen Wolfe: I’m from the Boston area. It was a long path to the Island, but I had a small business in Brookline that was not clothing and jewelry. It was crafts with a particular focus. That business got really slow in the summertime, so I thought I’d really like to have another place to go in the summertime. So I looked at Provincetown, I looked at Newport, and here. I came here and I had a real estate agent show me what was available for retail space, and there was a space that was going to be open in Nevin Square, and I just took it, without too much consideration. I think it was in October of 1994. I also had her show me a house, because I knew I was going to be on the Island. I thought, ‘Well, what I should do is buy a really inexpensive house.’ So I did, I just did it. I came in March of 1995 and worked on my space, worked on my house, both of which were in dire need, and got them into shape for the 1995 season. And that was my first year. Now I’ve called the Island home for 21 years.
MVT: How have things changed over the years?
EW: When I first started this business, it was a very different store. Since my background is in art, I was primarily interested in contemporary craft, mostly from England and the United States. I had that sort of single focus for about five years. Then what I really wanted to do was add jewelry, all very contemporary, artist-made jewelry, but I couldn’t see fitting it into that location, which was way too wide open. I think jewelry needs a more intimate setting, so I rented a second space on Winter Street. For two years I had two stores. Then I realized the absurdity of having two locations. This became available, and it seemed the right setting for both jewelry and contemporary craft, which is how I started out here.
Around that time I opened another store called Bananas with a partner, Judy Hartford, who still owns Bananas. That was kind of a serendipitous store. We carried a lot of clothing, but clothing was not what I knew or what I had a real feeling for. I had to work my way into that. After we had been doing that for a couple of years, I decided to add clothing here. And I’ve since become really interested in clothing in a way that I never was before. After a while, I decided again that one store was more than enough to handle. I decided just to do this full-time.
MVT: How did you come up with the name of the store?
EW: My store in Brookline was called the Necessary Angel. The Necessary Angel is the imagination, and it came from the poet Wallace Stevens. When I moved here, I started out with that name in the first year, and then I realized that wasn’t the right name for the Vineyard. I looked hard at what other names were being used, and I saw that there were a lot of names with color. And Once in a Blue Moon sort of picks up on the idea that what I carry is unusual.
MVT: What makes what you carry unusual?
EW: It’s a mix of clothing, jewelry, and art. That alone makes it somewhat unusual. The focus is good design in all those areas. I look for original materials, especially in jewelry. I’m interested in artists working in nontraditional materials, in nontraditional ways. I carry somewhat bold jewelry. I’m interested in bold looks. My interest in the clothing is having anyone who walks through the door, no matter what age, what shape, size, walk out with the things that will make them look the best they can possibly look. I do a lot of clothes from Japan, because I think Japanese design and clothing are gorgeous. I do a lot from Germany, certainly a lot from the United States, and some from Italy.
MVT:You wrote a book (Blue In Your Hair, Green on Your Chair).
EW: I did write a book! It’s a book about a little girl who wants to make a birthday present for her father. It’s really about making things as opposed to buying things, and doing something creative. She thinks of a variety of things that she could do, but finally what she decided was what she knows best, and what she knows he likes is artwork, because since she was a little girl they visited museums together. So this little girl decides she can paint her father pictures for his birthday, and she launches this project, and it’s really about her discovering what she can do.
MVT: What would you say to sum up your experience of owning this store?
EW: This is a great place to be in business, because of the intimacies that one can develop with clients. There are year-round people, there are summer residents, there are people who come for one week every year and they always come back to the store. It really has to do with relationships.