Vineyard buzzes less for Obamas’ second visit

Many say they’ll leave family alone

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By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / August 18, 2010

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OAK BLUFFS — Sharky’s Cantina is once again mixing its “Obamarita’’ cocktail, with tastes of the president’s favorite fruits, and the Locker Room on Circuit Avenue has restocked the “I vacationed with Obama’’ T-shirts.

But as Martha’s Vineyard prepares for the first family’s visit tomorrow — their second summer stay here since President Obama took office — the excitement that marked last summer’s arrival of the fresh-faced commander in chief seems to have ebbed like the tide.

Obama, now a tested president burdened by war and economic upheaval, may well get the peace and quiet he has been seeking as he settles in for a 10-day stay, presumably at the historic Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark where he stayed last year, local residents said.

“I have no desire to go chase him or see him,’’ said Elaine Allen, owner of the Laughing Bear clothing shop on Circuit Avenue, one of the few stores to feature a poster in its window welcoming the first family this year.

“Let him just have that R and R that he needs,’’ she said.

It was only a year ago that the president, a superstar after his historic election, rode a wave of popularity to The Rock. Islanders typically brag about a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to celebrities, but it seemed everyone wanted a glimpse of Obama playing golf or biking with his daughters.

But in the final days before his second visit, some residents say the excitement has waned along with Obama’s popularity after two years in office. Others say his poll numbers are not the issue; they just want to give the president the quiet he seeks.

“It’s not as hectic or as crazy’’ this year, said Maya Sharp, a clerk at Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, one of the locations the president visited last summer. She remembers the excitement when Secret Service agents came into the store announcing that the president would visit. No one else was allowed in the store when he came in to buy candy for his two daughters.

“It’s just a laid-back feeling now,’’ Sharp said. “It’s like ‘Wow, he’s coming — again.’ ’’

One barometer of the plunge in excitement has been the sale of Obama-themed T-shirts, which designers had been banking on after the craze of last year. Clothing labeled with the president’s name sold by the thousands, helping to salvage a tough economic year for the island.

But this year’s T-shirt sales are much less brisk, merchants say.

“Last year, Obama gave you goose bumps, but I don’t think you’re going to see that this year,’’ said Alex McCluskey, co-owner of the Locker Room, who sold more than 4,000 “I vacationed with Obama’’ T-shirts last year. But so far this year, he said, his hot item is T-shirts of former President Bush asking, “Miss me yet?’’

Residents have also noticed a drop in the number of stores with Obama posters on their front windows and homes with signs that welcome the first family.

“We’re so used to presidents coming here,’’ said Sue Tonry of Wicked Martha’s clothing and gift shop in Vineyard Haven. “He’ll be able to get some peace and quiet.’’

Of course, even with the change in vibe this year, no one could deny they would appreciate a presidential visit. A fund-raiser is being held for Governor Deval Patrick Saturday at the Edgartown home of Boston businessman Richard Friedman, and the question on the island is whether the president will show up. And like Sharp, the general store clerk, the few people who received a surprise visit last year would love a return.

Unlike President Clinton, who would make public appearances several times a day during his numerous vacations on the Vineyard, Obama made only four unannounced appearances during his stay last summer, at a restaurant, a snack bar, a deli, and at the Alley’s General Store.

“If he came here right now, this place would be mobbed,’’ said Dennis daRosa of daRosa Corp., a printing business, president of the Oak Bluffs Association. He acknowledged the Obama buzz this year has been low key, but said the tone could change once the president arrives on the island.

“The excitement has been building,’’ said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

Obama’s vacation, like last year, falls during the island’s unofficial grand finale of the season, and the first family has an open invitation to the week’s events. An annual agricultural festival kicks off tomorrow in West Tisbury. The annual Grand Illumination of the Gingerbread Cottages in Oak Bluffs occurs tonight, and Friday brings a fireworks spectacular that residents say rivals Boston’s Fourth of July festivities. First dog Bo has also been invited to a communitywide dog walk Sunday.

“Traditionally, this is the biggest week of the year on Martha’s Vineyard,’’ Gardella said, adding that the president is probably familiar with the festivities because of his past trips here. “People realize the family just needs a little downtime, and hopefully they take this time to enjoy whatever they want their vacation to be.’’

Ralph Sr. and Brenda Wright of Baltimore have been making the trip here around the same time for the past eight years and were caught up in the Obama craze last year. They bought Obama T-shirts and admit they have tapped the rumor mill to learn who is visiting where this week. They do not plan to buy new T-shirts, though.

“I have the original one; that’s all I wanted,’’ Ralph Wright said.

Milton Valencia can be reached at

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