Club Benefits for Year-Rounders

When I first moved to Martha’s Vineyard, I mentioned to a friend that the cost of living is exorbitant, and that contrary to the perception of the Island as a playground for the wealthy, many people here struggle to make ends meet. This is why every car, truck, and SUV in the ferry line in Woods Hole is filled to capacity with bags, boxes, and piles of stuff. He joked that year-rounders should get an ID card that conferred discounts. I replied that I had one, the “Our Island Club” card.

The concept of Our Island Club is simple: For $109, year-round Vineyard families get an annual membership that affords discounts (typically 10 to 20 percent) at more than two hundred businesses. Individual memberships are $89, and seniors get a $30 break. The discounts apply to everything from necessities, such as fuel at Island Propane and groceries at Cronig’s Market, to diversions such as fishing aboard the Skipper in Oak Bluffs or reduced-price specials at Linda Jean’s Restaurant in Oak Bluffs.

Geoff Rose, one of the club’s founders in 2005, says the goal “was to help residents who struggle with the high cost of living, food, home heating, and essential services.” But since the club began “it’s taken on a larger meaning; it’s not just a club that has helped people save money.”

The larger meaning, according to Geoff, is that “the program helps to build community through buying and charity.” The club operates almost exclusively on member dues, and 20 percent of that goes directly to one of 175 Island charities. The club has donated more than $160,000 since its inception (including $31,000 in 2010) and it has given away more than a hundred free memberships to needy Island families.

So it’s a good deal for members and charities, but it’s also a good deal for the Island business community. “I’m always hearing from members, ‘We’re doing less shopping off-Island,’” Geoff says. Members “support local businesses, and what local businesses bring to the Island economy....There’s a connection to businesses that support the club.” To foster that connection, the club offers promotions, such as the Member Business Guide and mentions in its weekly e-mail, which goes out to nearly three thousand addresses. Businesses can also purchase advertising.

The growth of Our Island Club proves just what a great idea it is: In only six years, the club now boasts nearly five thousand members, roughly 40 percent of the Vineyard’s year-round adult population.

Still, Geoff doesn’t expect year-rounders to come back from America empty-handed: “For some people going to Target or Wal-mart is recreation, a form of entertainment. We can’t compete with that, but we can make shopping local an experience.”

Q&A with Heather Kochin of Rainy Day in Vineyard Haven

Q: How has participation in Our Island Club impacted your business?

A: When I want to do a special, I can send an e-mail blast to their members, so using it for promotions has been great. As for customers using the card, it changes from season to season, but it helps in the off-season, since you have to live on-Island year-round to be a member. About one in three customers use it. The departments that I offer the discount for [toys, kids’ clothing, home goods] are things for which we have competition on-Island, so it does motivate some customers.