If you’re new to a neighborhood, a quick way to meet your neighbors is to start a building or remodeling project. They’re not always thrilled.
That wasn’t the case, though, for the owner of a restaurant/convenience store called Plum Crazy on Plum Island. The neighbors were pleased.
They were so pleased, in fact, that they came to a lunch in early March before the place opened. “We expected a few,” said owner Kurt Littlefield during a recent interview, “but 28 people showed up. They brought plants and all signed one of our orange beach bags. That bag is our good luck charm.”
Why were the neighbors so friendly?
First, a very popular convenience store/restaurant called PJ’s Variety had existed at that spot, halfway to the lighthouse, for forty years. Kurt described PJ’s as a “social hub where people were used to meeting.” It closed suddenly nearly five years ago and there was no alternative.
Second, Kurt took initiative with the neighbors. “We visited all of them,” he told me. “We wanted them comfortable with us. We asked them how late we should stay open and they suggested 9PM and we agreed.”
Third, Kurt designed the interior of Plum Crazy to give something back to the Plum Island community. “We wanted people to walk in here and say – “Wow, that’s Plum Island,” said Kurt. “That’s why you see all the murals (by Susan McCann of Peabody) including the mural of the Plum Island lighthouse on the main 30-foot ceiling.”
Probably the biggest reason for the good reception was that many Plum Islanders saw the opening of a commercial establishment by someone who actually lived on the island, like Kurt Littlefield, as a pushback against the property taking by outsiders, especially Jeanne and Julian Geiger.
Julian is the wealthy CEO of Aeropostale. His wife, Jeanne, took a fancy to Plum Island in 2003 after visiting. Ten million dollars later Jeanne owned 16 properties on the island including the only hotel. She was willing to pay top dollar and got what she went after including PJ’s. Once purchased the island favorite was abruptly boarded up.
Apparently, Jeanne Geiger’s plan was to remodel and merge all the properties she bought into a big resort on Plum Island with a similar look to each property. The New Yorker hoped to attract New Yorkers with a mini South Beach look.
Some of the work had started but Jeanne Geiger died accidentally in February of 2005. That left Julian Geiger to run things and he has not pushed hard to carry on his wife’s plans. This eventually led to the unoccupied PJ’s being offered for sale.
Kurt, who is a vice president of information technology at Fresenius in Waltham, purchased the property in June of 2008.
Trish Cram is the partner/manager at Plum Crazy. “The retail end is new to me but I’ve got 20 years in the restaurant business in management,” she told me. “The convenience part is currently open every day from 7:30AM-5PM. From Wednesday through Sunday, we’re serving breakfast and lunch until 2PM.”
“We serve traditional breakfasts and lunches,” she added. “A morning special called, ‘Two Crazy,’ which has two of everything, has been very popular. For lunch, our chicken walnut cranberry salad sandwich is awesome. We have wraps and burgers.”
Close to completion is an ice cream window where soft-serve will be available.
“When this place is fully operational we expect to be open from 6AM to 9PM during the on season and offer breakfast, lunch, dinner, and ice cream,” explained Kurt. “The off season we’ll go from 7-to-7.”
The restaurant part has a seating capacity of 44.
“I have nearly 100 applications to go through,” said Trish. “We’re still taking applications and hiring because we plan to be extremely busy.”
“Our goal was to put something together that we could be proud of and that the Plum Island community will be comfortable with,” said Kurt. “I think that we have done that.”
( This story appeared in The Town Common on April 1st. )