What is it like to live in Oak Bluffs?

Location, Location, Location
A gingerbread-style home in Oak Bluffs.
A gingerbread-style home in Oak Bluffs. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

If you’ve ever spent a night on the town in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, chances are you’ve heard about the island’s worst-kept secret: Back Door Donuts, the after-hours tradition of Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery. From 7 p.m. until two minutes before 1 a.m., the staff will sell you a night-ending doughnut (out the back door, of course) while they make the next day’s batch.

Rita Brown bought the business with her partner, Janice Casey, in 2001. Coming from director jobs in the nonprofit world, they were looking for a change of pace. Brown grew up in the Midwest, and they’d been living in Connecticut when they moved to the island.

“We’ve gotten to know a lot of our customers. They’re friends of ours now,’’ Brown said. “People care about each other here. People will go out of their way to have fund-raisers and rally around one another. I think Oak Bluffs is kind of the center of that on the island.’’

It’s a place that’s attracting new residents. About 300 people have moved into the small ferry town (population 4,600) since the 2010 Census. Since the old days of the fishing industry, there’s been a sizable population of people of Portuguese heritage, and the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Heritage Trail celebrates the history of Oak Bluffs as a renowned summer vacation spot for African-Americans. The bakery’s pastry chef, Raffi Jabri, was born in Jordan.

“The town is very diverse,’’ Brown said. “That’s one of the things I personally like.’’ She and her partner, she said, “are Unitarian Universalist people, and the social justice part of what we do fits well with what Oak Bluffs is like as a town.’’


Janice Casey, co-owner, Raffi Jabri, pastry chef, and Rita Brown, co-owner of Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery. —Handout



The number of tents in use at the peak popularity of the Wesleyan Grove Methodist campground. The 19th-century practice of religious camp meetings took hold in a big way on the Vineyard in a pristine grove in the future Oak Bluffs (then northern Edgartown). The campsite grew rapidly, from nine tents in 1835 to more than 500 by the 1860s, when as many as 12,000 worshipers attended each summer. By then, carpenters had begun building the iconic Martha’s Vineyard-style cottages that now dominate the grove at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association.


The number of alpaca originally purchased by Island Alpaca Company, a breeding business for producing high-quality fleece. The company, established on 19 acres in 2004, welcomes visitors and has more than 50 colorful Huacaya alpaca, according to its website.


The cost of building the Wesley Hotel, which opened in 1879. Original owner A.G. Wesley, a cook from Canada, served three years in prison after he was convicted of committing arson at the hotel in 1894. The inn, which has 95 rooms, is the last remaining grand hotel in Oak Bluffs. In 2016, after changing hands, it was renovated and rechristened Summercamp.



It’s Martha’s Vineyard, after all.

There are plenty of reasons Oak Bluffs has long been a preferred destination for the well-to-do — from the beautiful beaches and the picturesque charm of the cottages around the historic campground to the convenience of the ferry landing and the town’s central location.


Summer and winter

As with the rest of Martha’s Vineyard, year-round locals have a mixed relationship with the summer crowd; as many as 100,000 part-timers and vacationers inundate an island that has a little more than 16,000 full-time residents. As crowded as it gets in summer, the offseason can sometimes seem a bit bleak — though, for the hardy, that sense of being cut off from the mainland can help encourage the feeling of community.

 James Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames. Subscribe to our newsletter at