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Amagansett Main Street Is in Flux

Thu, 02/16/2023 - 11:32

There’s a lot going on in the hamlet, but a critical synergy is missing

Matt Orlando of One Stop Pet Shop in Amagansett said he misses the affordable fare at the old Indian Wells Tavern and eagerly awaits new dining options for local workers like himself.
Tom Gogola

The sign outside the Stephen Talkhouse on Amagansett’s Main Street comes off as something of a taunt as it announces a concert by the Revivalists from last July 4, but it highlights the fact that Amagansett on a cold winter weekday can feel in need of a bit of a revival itself.

One dynamic that jumps out to a visitor is the lack of places to grab a quick lunch along the walkable commercial strip roughly bounded by Windmill Lane to the west and Amber Waves Farm to the east.

That will all change when the high season arrives, but what has people talking now is the news last month of the sale of the Main Street Tavern building and how a restaurant in that spot could boost morale on Main Street.

Lee Minetree of Saunders, who brokered the sale, declined to name the buyer — the property had been listed for more than $4 million — but said that in the downtown district “we do have a lot of people who want to lease. There is demand.”

“There is not a ton of retail space in any village,” said Mr. Minetree, noting that Covid 19 “caused a lot of people to take longer leases . . . it was unfortunate, but it really was good for the real estate business out here.” Thanks to Covid, for example, the tavern building now has a town-approved rear courtyard.

Mr. Minetree, who grew up in Amagansett, said that from his perspective, what’s missing in the hamlet now is a “moderately priced restaurant” similar to the former Indian Wells Tavern, which closed in 2020, reopened under new owners as Main Street Tavern, and closed again last year.

Feel like grabbing a slice at Astro’s? Not open on Mondays and Tuesdays and with limited dinner hours the rest of the week. The popular and healthful Organic Krush? Closed for the winter. Doubles in Amagansett Square only just reopened for four days a week while Wölffer Kitchen, also on the Square, reopened recently following about two weeks of renovations. The estimable Il Buco al Mare is open Wednesday through Sunday, for dinner. Amber Waves, at the far end of the walkable strip, has been open daily this winter but will close for two weeks starting on Monday, and of course there’s always Jack’s Stir Brew for coffee and a pastry.

A fair number of Amagansett businesses are open on winter weekdays, and those that are should be applauded, said Michael Cinque, who has run Amagansett Wine and Spirits for over 40 years. “Every business on Main Street is supplying something to the community. I’m open every day of the year except Christmas. . . . I think it’s really important. My staff has been with me 15 or 20 years, and if anybody’s interested, I’m hiring,” he said.

Still, interviews with Mr. Cinque and other Amagansett workers and business owners reveal a downtown in post-Covid flux, lacking the kind of synergy between restaurants and retail that might draw more off-season shoppers. A retail employee on the Main Street strip noted the tough margins for local businesses that pay between $30,000 and $50,000 a month in rent for “three hot months and nine not-so-hot months.”

That employee, like several others interviewed for this article, was reluctant to speak for attribution but helped provide a snapshot of Amagansett in the winter.

There is “zero foot traffic” on Main Street, one store manager remarked. Another retail manager said the number of eateries that closed for the winter (or part of it) had been a hot topic in the cold season. “We’ve done nothing but talk about this all winter,” this person said. “It angers a lot of us that these stores are allowed to do that.” Another said that “people come through all the time asking where they can go for lunch or get a drink in town. We send them to East Hampton.”

Emails to Amagansett Square seeking comment were not returned. A call to the phone number listed for Amagansett Square did not have an option to leave a message.

Daniel Bennett, an owner of Doubles, said that as a person who grew up on the East End, he would love to stay in business through the year, but that the particulars of the restaurant business make that a tough proposition.

Doubles, which opened last July, faces different risks than retail places do, Mr. Bennett said, listing the various fixed monthly costs that go into maintaining a restaurant — the insurance premiums, the septic bills, the gas bill, the water bill, etc. Mr. Bennett says a big “blind spot” for non-restaurateurs is a failure to realize “how much money it costs to push the ‘on’ button.”

Mr. Bennett noted by way of example (these are not his actual costs) that if he paid $10,000 a month in fixed costs and rent, but remained closed and didn’t have to pay for food or labor — he’d lose $10,000 a month. If he opened in the off-season but wasn’t able to cover the fixed costs plus the add-on costs of food and labor, he would see monthly losses approaching five times that amount.

For that reason, not opening in winter “becomes a really big no-brainer for a restaurant owner,” despite Mr. Bennett’s having “a lot of interest in staying open year round,” and a longer-term goal to try and do just that.

“There’s enough people for most of the winter who are here who would certainly support an affordable restaurant,” said Mr. Cinque, who also owns Sag Pizza and LT Burger in Sag Harbor. He recognizes the challenges of running an eatery and said that he would be happy to offer advice to any restaurant or shop owner considering coming to Amagansett.

One successful year-round “food emporium” just off Main Street is, well, One Stop Pet Shop. Matt Orlando was working during a recent weekday afternoon as a stream of customers flowed in and out of the shop. Mr. Orlando said that he, too, misses Indian Wells Tavern, a popular postwork gathering place for workers who also happen to be locals. And that Covid-era upswing? Definitely in the rearview mirror and headed west.

The pet store is located in a historic building at 136 Main Street along with a few other businesses that could be seeing changes if a proposal by 136 Main HREA holds sway with the town planning board. Under the proposed redevelopment plan, the front-facing facade of the original 1920 building would remain unchanged, while a one-story addition would enhance the number of storefronts. A second building of 7,200 square feet would be constructed on the site and feature additional storefronts along with affordable-housing units.  

Mr. Minetree said the proposed changes at 136 Main are an indicator of “good things on the horizon” in Amagansett. 

His view was not shared by all. Over at Amagansett Hardware on Main Street, the owner, Herb Kiembock, did not hold back on his dim assessment of the state of the hamlet. He scoffed at an ongoing effort by the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee to install historic streetlamps on the main drag, pointing at chipped curbing and faded parking lines that he said hadn’t been painted in years. “They should spend money on that instead of lights,” he said.

Mr. Cinque, by contrast, is an unabashed village booster, having served on its citizens advisory committee, the Amagansett Village Improvement Society, the fire department, and the board of the Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station. “I love the town, I love showing up to work every day,” he said, and whatever comes, “I’m hoping we don’t lose the beauty of our old Main Street.”

With Reporting by Carissa Katz

This story has been updated since it was first published to correct a reference to Wölffer Kitchen.

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