The East Hampton Chamber of Commerce, a more than 60-year-old organization, is retooling, restaffing, and, after hibernating during the Covid years, is waking up and ready to engage the business community.
Its first event will be a holiday celebration on Dec. 2, the day Santa visits Herrick Park. “We’ll have a holiday market on the lawn of Village Hall and the sales will benefit the East Hampton Food Pantry,” said Mary Waserstein, the acting executive director of the chamber, during an interview at Village Hall last week. She said gingerbread-house replicas of Mulford Farm, Village Hall, and another covered in candy, will be displayed in the coming weeks, and raffled off on Dec. 2. “It’s one way we’re trying to bring people into the village,” she said.
“The initial chamber was focused mostly on East Hampton Village,” said Barbara Layton, the president of the chamber’s board, who owned Babette’s restaurant on Newtown Lane for 27 years. Sitting next to Ms. Waserstein, she said, “We’re imagining a Greater East Hampton Chamber, that brings in
Amagansett, Springs, and Wainscott. It will be very different from what it was.”
Ms. Waserstein said another goal is to integrate new members of the community. While many who found their way here during the pandemic have since left, some chose to stay.
For example, Ms. Waserstein envisions a “welcome wagon” for new families starting in fall 2024. “We’ll be working with different real estate brokers, who are the gatekeepers. We’ll have events to connect the new people to businesses, so there’s a friendly face when you go to the supermarket. Even though the population of East Hampton has grown, it still has a small-town vibe.”
“I think people are craving connection,” she said. “A part of having an exploded chamber is having different events in different hamlets. We are all part of the same community. All those schools end up in the East Hampton High School.”
Another event she hopes to foster is a farmers market in Amagansett Square for summer 2024 on Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. “We plan to work with stores, the restaurants, so that they can run specials,” she said.
“Especially since Covid we’ve come to realize the importance of connection not only for businesses, but for residents. They’re yearning for connection, collaboration, support, and looking to empower each other. We’re trying to bring back an all-year life force which has diminished over the years.” She credits East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen’s administration with “lighting the fire” for the new chamber. “This administration loves collaboration. That’s a beautiful thing.”
“It’s important to have an active Chamber of Commerce that represents local businesses,” said Mayor Larsen. “They should be an advocate for these businesses and ensure that the village continues to have a vibrant downtown that all of our residents and visitors can enjoy. Whether it is shopping, dining, or local events in the park, it’s so important to have for our community.”
Regarding empowerment, Ms. Waserstein says part of the chamber’s goal is to be more supportive of small businesses with seminars, financial tips, and even immigration assistance. As for the big businesses, “The larger name-brand stores are slowly but surely becoming more involved in the community,” said Ms. Layton.
“Just because someone is a big corporation doesn’t mean they can’t be a good neighbor,” agreed Ms. Waserstein. “Most of the people working in those stores are local.”
As for the stores that skip town after Labor Day, leaving empty storefronts for the holidays? Ms. Waserstein said she hoped to collaborate with the Anchor Society’s “winter shops” program going forward. The Anchor Society is a nonprofit that, according to its website, is working “to establish a new community anchor business — a general store — that serves the needs of local residents and provides a community gathering spot.”
“Frankly, the train has left the station,” on the old-fashioned mom-and-pop stores, said Ms. Layton. “Rather than wondering about the past and being depressed, let’s look at what we have and how best we can make this work. We’re not going backwards. Let’s, with our hearts and minds, find the balance. We don’t want to just be a chamber on paper, we’re inviting the entire community to come to the table.”
To that end, Ms. Waserstein said she has had constructive conversations with Organizacion Latino-Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island as part of a drive to reach out to Latino business owners. “They’re pumped,” she said, and their participation will allow the chamber to engage that community as well.
Carl Irace, the secretary of the chamber’s board since 2017, said its bylaws were amended in 1961, but it’s not clear when the originals were first drawn up. The chamber was incorporated as a 501(c) organization with the state in 1966 and at its last peak, had roughly 250 members. It is funded by membership dues, activity fees (“We might sell a booth at an event to someone,” said Mr. Irace), grant money, and occasional donations. For example, recently, it received a $5,000 check from The East Hampton Village Foundation.
Its new website, greatereasthamptonchamberofcommerce.com, will soon be launched. There is a flat $350 fee for a business to join. Farmers and nonprofits enjoy a reduced rate of $195. Ms. Waserstein said any business can enroll. “You can be a small landscaping company or Gucci.”
A general meeting of the chamber will be held on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. at the Baker House 1650 on Main Street. Members, prospective members, not-for profit organizations, and interested residents are welcomed to attend.
Besides Ms. Waserstein, Mr. Irace, and Ms. Layton, the chamber’s board of directors has six other members: Alex Piccirillo, the treasurer, and Antonella Bertello, owner of the Baker House, Mark Smith, a partner in the Honest Man restaurant group, Nicole Castillo, president of the WordHampton public relations team, Robert Mangel, and Suzanne Wolfson.