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Connections: Crowd Control

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 11:49

It’s a cliché around here to say, “I’ve never seen so many people in town!” but everyone agrees there really never were so many people in East Hampton than on the July Fourth weekend just past, and the days leading up to it. This was particularly so in the business district, where traffic came to a standstill not just on Newtown Lane but on Main Street and in the Reutershan parking lot. The rest of the village, from the train station to Pantigo Road, was chockablock, too.

Can it be assumed that the shops had excellent sales during this July deluge? I hope so, but am not entirely sure since the onslaught of people and cars might actually have deterred shoppers.

Most of the stores in the business district have changed names and business models over and over again in recent years, with many boutique tenants coming into town only for one season. Others have transmogrified from humble beginnings to become something rather more chichi.

White’s on Main Street, for example, has dolled up its image by adding the word “Apothecary” to its name, tossing out the old, wooden counter that used to ring the makeup department, and installing trendy gray-streaked flooring. One of the village’s oldest businesses, it was owned for many years by Brad and Betty Marmon, who were satisfied to call it a pharmacy. It still has a pharmacist, but today it is Madison Avenue sleek and carries high-tone products like La Mer and Diptyque. I am extremely glad it has remained in business, and I do still get my prescriptions filled there, but personally I am not a frequent buyer of $70 scented candles.

Over in Sag Harbor, another example of a business makeover is Sag Pizza, where Conca D’Oro used to be. I am delighted, on my grandchildren’s behalf, that we still have an old-style slice joint here in East Hampton: Fierro’s.

It might be my own preferences speaking, but I have always imagined that first-time visitors to East Hampton would expect more businesses here to be traditional — old-fashioned, in keeping with our architecture and museums. I am always relieved by the sight of the few that have withstood the test of time and trendiness.

Sam’s, the red-sauce pasta eatery on Newtown Lane, is among them. It has remained virtually unchanged since 1947 when it was opened by Sam Nasca. (I bet Sam’s was packed during the Fourth of July onslaught. It is an excellent example of a business that only gains in popularity the longer it refuses to bend to the times.)

Another business that I am always relieved to find unchanged and unglamorized is Breadzilla, in Wainscott. No one makes more delicious scones than Brad Thompson and Nancy Hollister, who own the bakery and specialty food shop. They have been baking and cooking for a loyal clientele for a long time and a while ago announced that they were ready to sell, if the right buyer came along. I am not sure I would love what changes might follow if they did sell, and I can’t help wondering, nervously, whether last weekend solidified their intention.

We also know “you can get anything you want” (to quote “Alice’s Restaurant”) at the Citarella stores in East Hampton, Bridgehampton, and South­ampton. It is true that the management of these high-end food markets does an excellent job of finding enough competent staff to keep the flow and the sales moving along at a brisk pace, even when the checkout line is backed up to the bakery department, but I have to admit it isn’t my favorite shopping experience. Being a confirmed fan of old-school everything, I rather prefer the I.G.A.

I’m not a curmudgeon, though. My number-one shop these days is quite new, having opened only a year ago: L&W Market in Bridgehampton, next door to Almond restaurant, which is owned and run by the same team. You should try their snap-pea salad and their takeout kimchi tamales. May it remain on Main Street for at least 50 years.

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