Can Martha's Vineyard with-stand that Big Mac attack? Can Big Mac withstand Martha's Vineyard's?
Martha's Vineyard, a picturesque refuge for wildlife, famous people and vacations off the Massachusetts coast, has a Dairy Queen, a convenience market and several pizza joints, but otherwise has resisted the encroachment of neon and plastic that would turn in into a v ersion of "the honky-tonk Maryland or Delaware shore," as writer to the Vineyard Gazette put it.
But a battle to prevent McDonald's Restaurants from establishing a hamburger outpost on this remote colony has been gathering steam for several months, pittinh organized islanders against the corporation and its supporters. While some, as another letter writer said, find the prospect of Big Macs and the sort of people who would eat them as welcome as the "BUBONIC PLAGUE!" others cry "free enterprise" and hail the prospect of a low-priced family restaurant.
"The people who come to Martha's Vineyard come to find a little haven on this planet," said composer E. Y. ("Yip") Harburg, who's spent four or five months a year there for the last quarter century. "We come to get away from the industrialized life, the packaged life. We'd like to keep one virtuous spot, keep one pristine place." Harburg is a member of the No-Mac Committee, a group of 2,000 islanders and 1,000 "off-islanders" who have organized to fight McConald's Restaurants.
The latest skirmish in the battle came Tuesday night, when more than 100 No-Mac people massed outside the West Tisbury Town Hall Annex, carrying signs like "McDonald's Is Our Arch Enemy," according to a spokesman. They were there because the Board of Health was to rule on granting a "septic works" permit to convert a waterfron site that now houses a natural food store and the Chamber of Commerce in Vineyard Haven into a McDonald's restaurant. To no one's surprise, a spokesman for the No-Mac group said, the board turned it down because there is a moratorium on new sewer hookups in that area, until there is a sewer system to hook onto.
"This is just the beginning," said No-Mac spokesman Peter Barry Chowka, 29, a free-lance writer and photographer. "We've heard their representatives say they are looking for another site."
A wire service report quotes a regional real-estate representative for McDonald's, Manuel Fagundez, as saying he was still looking for a suitable site on the island. "It could be next week, it could be six months, it could be a year from now -- whenever we find a site that's suitable we'll pick up the ball again," he said. Despite repeated attempts to reach them, corporate executives of McDonald's were unavailable for comment.
Chowka and the No-Macs, backed by the Gazette and its venerable editor Henry Beetle Hough and financed by about $1,800 in contributions, have enlisted the support of such island summer notables as James Taylor and Carly Simon, John Updike, Mia Farrow, William Styron, Jules Feiffer, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Harburg and the Marths's Vineyard Garden Club.Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who bought a large chunk of property there last year, could not be reached for comment.
"They [McDonald's] did a rendering of what it would have looked like," said realtor Edward Krikorian, who was trying to arrange the sale of the waterfront site to attorney Edward Harrington. who in turn would have leased it to McDonald's "It would have looked beautiful. just like a captain's house.No golden arches, no neon signs, very tasteful."
But it isn't just the Golden Arches -- although one opponent suggested in a letter to the Gazette that McDonald's be urged to build arches 300 feet high to use as a beacon for sailors on foggy nights -- it's the whole idea .
"The consensus of the community is to reject many of the 20th century values which have homogenized the American culture..." wrote NoMac-er Stephen S. Lewenberg to the Gazette, which has run pages of letters on the McDonals's controversy in recent issues.
"I don't know if we will succeed," said Harburg. "Money is more powerful than beauty. But I think we should put up a little fight before uglification takes over."
"Poppycock," said Al Brickman, proprietor of the Martha's Vineyard Bowling Alley and coffee shop which is directly opposite the originally proposed site. "I'm very much opposed to people trying to stop free enterprise. I bet if you took a secret ballot of people who live on the island, most people would be for it [McDonald's]. We've had so many petitions passed around the last few years.... There was one to secede from Massachusetts, and another saying they didn't want the airport runway extended. The last petition was No-Nukes. The kids had nothing to do so they got all these people to go up to New Hampshire and demonstrate."
The controversy has even escalated to the point where No-Mac spokesman Chowka has charged that realtor Krikorian "assaulted" him Tuesday morning while he was leading a television team around the proposed site. Another source said that Chowka called Krikorian a "four-letter obscenity," which Chowka denies, and noted that Krikorian has a game leg. Chowka says that Krikorian grabbed him around the neck and pushed him against a car; Krikorian's friends suggest that Chowka intentionally provoked the incident for the benefit of the option to buy the $175,000 property had already run out.
At any rate, the clash is seemingly cultural as well as economic. Harrington, Brickman and Krikorian, for example, describe Chowka as a "kid" who "doesn't work," although he is a free-lance photographer who has had pictures in Rolling Stone and other "people who have an obvious financial interest in having McDonald's here."
The fight is not unfamiliar to McDonald's. Four years ago when the corporation wanted to build an outlet in Stockholm, a Communist representative on the city council charged "the hamburger culture is a danger to the working people," and attributed the expansion to "American cultural imperialism."
The prospect of a McDonald's in downtown Annapolis set off a round of demonstrations a few years ago, and similar battles have been waged in New York City neighborhoods.
Studies have questioned the nutritional value of their hamburgers and the economic value of their operation to a community. The Washington based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, for example, analyzed financial information provided by McDonald's in the Adms-Morgan community and concluded that only about 17 percent of the money the restaurant invested and earned stayed in the community -- and that was mostly in the form of wages to local employes.
But one irrefutable fact remains to console the executives at McDonald's Headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill. -- there have been over 27 BILLION HAMBURGERS SOLD.
"It's the losing fight of a few martyrs," said Yip Harburg (who wrote the lyrics to "Over the Rainbow," among other songs). "I'm a purist."