Elaine Barse founded The Green Room in 1994, and over the years the store has become a mainstay of Vineyard Haven, a go-to place for all the right clothing and gear to live the life of Martha’s Vineyard to the fullest. Now just in time for summer, Elaine has pulled away from 71 Main Street to open an additional store a few doors down – this one entirely dedicated to footwear. Fittingly, the new store at 65 Main Street is called Green Room: The Shoe Store.
For the self-proclaimed beach girl, life as a business owner on the vineyard is all about selling what she loves, working with people she loves, and providing consistent service to her customers.
Q. Did you arrive at the vineyard after university?
A. I went to Smith College and visited the island while I was in school. I worked here in the summers, mostly in restaurants – Among the Flowers, Andrea. Then after college, I worked full time at the Vineyard Gazette. I spent a few years at the Gazette and loved it. After I left, I spent the following winter skiing and working in Killington, Vt, which I also really enjoyed. And then the following summer I fell into retail.
Q. How did this happen?
A. A friend from The Gazette knew Neal Peck, who owned a store some may remember called Peck’s Bad Boy. They were selling skateboards, surf products – stuff like that. I spoke with Neal and he asked me to be his manager for the summer. And that’s how I got into the action sports industry.
Q. How long did you do this for?
A. I worked for Neal for a few summers, had a lot of fun and learned a lot. I went to shows, learning to buy for a store, changing store displays. I learned a lot about the back end of running a store. Then he offered to sell me the business. But I was only 26 and had no money. So I returned to Killington for the winter. The following summer I worked for April and Michael Levandowski when they owned LeRoux Clothing. They taught me the importance of being consistent, from customer relationships to store presentation times. Details matter!
Q. When did you create The Green Room?
A. The following year, 1994, in a small space on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven.
Q. Fast forward 27 years. How would you describe the type of business the Green Room represents today?
A. I would rate this as a Vineyard lifestyle store. Living here all year round, you want different but nice things. You want to be outside, you want good clothes, you go to the beach, you walk in the rain, you go out to dinner. Your life is different at different times, so our slogan is “Your style, your life”. We have a pretty informal approach to the vineyard, but people can interpret this in a lot of different ways.
Q. What is selling well here?
A. It changes with the seasons, but in our store Patagonia is always number one, and I’m so grateful that I was able to collaborate with them. After that we sell a lot of Blundstones [boots], a lot of Dansko [clogs], a lot of Barbour [outerwear and clothing]. Lots and lots of denim, sweaters and swimsuits in the summer.
Q. Covid hasn’t been fun for business. How did you manage?
A. When it all started, we first reduced all our orders by 40%. Then we reassessed what was most important to the store. Obviously, the fancy dresses were gone! It really helped us refocus and build on our strengths. We revamped our website, which was a work in progress. We had always wanted a shopping element on our site, but it was never that important. Covid has made it more of a priority. Now we combine lifestyle and shopping.
Q. And with the support of the government and others, you did so.
A. Yes, this help was great as I was able to keep all of my staff all year round. While we will never recover the lost income, I think we came out of it a little stronger than we imagined. Everyone who moved here has helped us sell a lot of things that everyone wants to wear on a daily basis.
Q. In your opinion, which of your personal qualities helped you get through this situation?
A. I am fairly persistent. I am a hard worker. I really try to take care of my staff and always do our best. I try to be respectful and I am a realistic optimist, a type of person who plans for the worst, hopes for the best.
Q. So why create a separate shoe store and why now?
A. We were getting so crowded in our other space. We had stuff all over every nook and cranny. The opportunity arose to sublet the new space. We just said, okay, let’s go! What is the worst case scenario? And the worst is not really that bad, so why not?
Q. What do you hope this will bring to your business?
A. This will help us to better show our products in the main store, to showcase them and to highlight them, and give us a little more freedom of movement. Ultimately, in both stores, we would like to see our products rotate more frequently.
Also, before, we could only have two or three of each size; now we can carry four or five of each. What surprises me is the number of pairs of socks we have already sold! It’s a small thing, but we haven’t been able to showcase any socks or shoe care products before.
Q. Speaking of shoes, what’s hot this summer? And what will you wear?
A. Comfort, comfort, comfort! Teva platforms are great. Me, I love my OluKai Pehuea sneakers.
Q. What is your biggest challenge as a retailer?
A. You just need to stay engaged and stay motivated on a daily basis. This is probably one of the reasons I wanted to open the shoe store. Just to keep me challenged. How do I stay interested in what I’m doing, how do I keep my staff interested, how do I keep my clients interested? You have to keep things fresh and new.
Q. What is your greatest reward?
A. A few years ago someone said to me, “One of the luckiest things about you is that you get to choose the people you work with.” And I never thought about it! I think this is my greatest reward.
Paula Lyons is a former mainstream television reporter living in Vineyard Haven.