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8.1.18

Shop Talk: Jerry Was Here

If you’ve spent any time on Chappaquiddick this summer, you may have noticed a new roadside attraction – or perhaps it’s the absence of what used to be there that’s caught your eye. This spring marked the opening of the new Jerry’s Place on Chappy, a revamped version of the old Chappy Store, which was owned and operated by legendary Chappaquiddick resident Gerald “Jerry” Jeffers until his death at age eighty-four last fall.

Alongside the store, Jeffers ran a garage, and was known for collecting – sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not – junked cars that he would store, tinker with, and use for parts. The cars, trucks, and trailers were arranged in impressive arrangements in front and behind the shop, which sits on more than twenty-five acres of land that has been in the Jeffers family for generations.

“Whenever people asked my father about the cars, he’d say, ‘That’s for my kids to deal with,’” remembered daughter Lolita Jeffers Beauboeuf, with a laugh. “So we knew it was coming one day.”

After their father’s death, Beauboeuf and her siblings received a number of inquiries and proposals from people who had ideas about the land, the garage, and the shop. But it was the proposal of Chappy resident and caterer Katie Kidder that impressed them the most.

“A store was not in my plans,” Kidder, who also owns the busy catering business The Chappy Kitchen, said when I met her at the new store a few weeks after opening day. The property was looking clean, tidy, and virtually car-free, with new benches, a new overhang, and a new sign hand-painted by Chappy resident Amy Schuster. “But the community needs this,” Kidder said. With long ferry lines and the nearest grocery store a boat ride away, Kidder knew that somebody had to step up and take over the operation, though she knew whoever did so would have big shoes to fill.

Jerry Jeffers at the old Chappy Store.
Vineyard Gazette Archives

“Jerry was like the mayor of Chappy,” Kidder said, and the shop was more than just a shop; it was a de facto community center. In addition to the garage and store – which carried an unpredictable assortment of goods ranging from mayonnaise to car oil – Jeffers had also run a gas station, UPS drop-off site, and storage facility for any-thing from kayaks to propane tanks.

As soon as the lease was signed, Kidder and the Jeffers family began working together to clean up the property. First order of business: the cars. Jeffers’s longtime friend John Leite, of JWL Transport and M.V. Auto Salvage in Oak Bluffs, and many others made trip after trip, hauling and crushing tractors, trucks, and piles of cars from the lot. Once the grounds were cleared, Kidder reached out to her neighbors on Chappaquiddick asking for help.

“I sent an email to about fifty people,” Kidder remembered. “Landscapers, artists, fifth-generation Chappaquiddickers, farmers, ferry drivers.” The email said that she was planning a voluntary cleanup weekend for May 5 and 6. She never could have imagined the response she received. “We had between thirty-five and fifty people show up,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. We didn’t even need the second day.”

Kidder provided a catered breakfast and lunch for the hard-working crew. Peo-ple came with dump trucks, landscaping equipment, and buckets of paint. Plumbers Charlie Day and Kidder’s father Mike redid the well, while landscapers Kevin Peters and Working Earth Farm donated wood chips and gravel. Where junked cars once stood now sit clusters of picnic tables, encouraging people to linger with their lunches outside.

Growing up on a farm in Keene, New Hampshire, Kidder has always been drawn to the way that food and community are intertwined. Busy raising five children with her husband Tom Kent in Connecticut, it wasn’t until Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 that she had the idea to turn her love of cooking into a full-time job. “We didn’t have power for days,” Kidder remembered. “I just started cooking for people.” With a roll-up generator plugged into her garage, she made meals for family and friends, anyone who was without electricity or the means to cook for themselves.

In 2015, with most of her kids away at school, Kidder and Kent relocated full time to Chappaquiddick and she opened The Chappy Kitchen. Specializing in beach picnics and to-go dinners, The Chappy Kitchen features farm-fresh produce and seafood, and has quickly become a beloved option for seasonal Chappy visitors and year-round residents alike.

“Katie’s a visionary,” Beauboeuf said. “She’s a real go-getter. And her food is delicious, of course.”

Though it’s her name on the lease, Kidder insists that the store – which now carries a selection of Chappy Kitchen takeaway items, as well as locally sourced goods like New Lane Sundries jam and vegetables from nearby Slip Away Farm – really belongs to the people of Chappaquiddick. “People keep asking me how I want things,” she said, of the many friends and neighbors offering to donate services or goods. “I just say, ‘How do you want them?’ This isn’t my store. It’s a community store.”

But it will be hard to forget that it once belonged to someone else. Naming the shop was a no-brainer for Kidder. “It’s Jerry’s Place,” she said with a shrug. “That’s what it is.”

Jeffers’s daughter agreed. On her first visit to the shop after its makeover, she was pleased to see so many familiar faces pulling in on cars or bikes to sit at the new picnic tables and chat. “I saw people I hadn’t seen since my childhood,” said Beauboeuf. “People were just stopping by. It was a nice tribute to my father.”