On a normal Monday in a normal July, the Quinipet Camp and Retreat Center on Shelter Island would be buzzing with activity. Its lodgings, spread out over 11 buildings on 25 acres, would be filled with sleepaway campers newly arrived the day before for a week of technology-free summer fun, complete with multimillion-dollar views of Peconic Bay.
Now those spectacular views are being offered for a not-so-hefty price tag to families looking for a different sort of retreat.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic forced New York sleepaway camps like Quinipet to close for the year, "we were on track to have our biggest summer ever here," said Brooke Bradley, Quinipet's executive director. "We'd have children in every nook and cranny," she said, walking around the empty Quinipet property on one of the hottest days of the summer.
For some, it would be a first exciting step into the world that summer memories are made of — campfire songs and nighttime giggles with new bunkmates, adventures on the water, and camp variety shows. There would be counselors from across the country and many more in the United States on J-1 student visas from places like England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, South Africa, and Australia.
Instead, Ms. Bradley and other Quinipet staffers are having a quieter summer than they ever could have imagined. The food service manager is working part time at a nearby hotel; another year-round staffer is working for a paddleboard rental outfit at Crescent Beach.
"We're hunkered down and just trying to weather this," said Ms. Bradley, whose camp-director cheer seemed to persist despite current circumstances.
The pandemic turned the entire operating model for a place like Quinipet on its head. Even had sleepaway camps been allowed to operate, staffing would have been impossible without the international students, and "bringing people into Shelter Island from across the country wasn't in people's best interest," Ms. Bradley said.
Owned and operated by the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church, Quinipet also hosts retreat groups throughout the year and provides a free place of respite for Methodist ministers. The ministers have continued to visit this summer, Quinipet's peace and quiet perhaps more needed than ever, but with retreat groups and campers absent, Quinipet faced a dilemma. Operating expenses haven't gone away, "and we're trying to keep our staff working," Ms. Bradley said. So Quinipet's board of directors agreed to offer select lodgings for rent to families for two weeks or more, with the Town of Shelter Island's okay.
"We're in the business to do this anyway," Ms. Bradley said, pointing out that Quinipet already has a temporary residence permit through the state.
Quinipet "friends and family" received an email last Thursday telling them that cabins and cottages would be offered for rent from July 24 through Sept. 15. "The minute that thing went out, our phones lit up like a Christmas tree," Ms. Bradley said. Originally, Quinipet was going to have Corcoran handle the larger buildings while retreat center staff handled the smaller ones, but the interest was so intense that they were all turned over to Corcoran.
"Many of the families that have children who have visited the camp over the years know the camp and still really want to be there," said Theresa Andrew of Corcoran's Shelter Island office, who is handling the listings. "Anyone who has contacted me — and there have been many requests for information — I tell them that the houses available for rent are a camp setting. The houses are nothing fancy and are very rustic," she said, but "the property is on the water, so the views are fantastic."
Prices start at $4,000 a week for multiweek rentals, and two had already been rented for the month as of Monday, according to Ms. Bradley.
Ms. Andrew said she had received more than 40 calls on the Quinipet cottages in just a few days. For inquiries on these properties, she can be contacted at 631-258-4707 or [email protected].
Renters must be residents of New York State or have been in self-quarantine for at least 14 days in the state. The cottages and cabins offered for rent all have their own kitchens, outdoor grills, fire pits, and water views. The largest of them sleep 10 to 15 people, ideal for families who have formed their own quarantine pods to weather the pandemic together.
The renters may not be Quinipet's typical summer residents, but "we're so excited to have people on our grounds," Ms. Bradley said.
"We hope families come here and really enjoy it in the way it was meant to be enjoyed," she said. "It's a magical place. It's transformative."