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Summer 2023 Had Its Ups and Downs

Thu, 09/21/2023 - 10:54

Measuring a season in traffic, real estate, doughnuts

A crowd of locals packed Main Beach at dusk for the final concert in the East Hampton Village summer music series. Rum Punch Mafia was the band.
Christine Sampson

How busy was the summer of 2023 on the South Fork? There are some interesting metrics out there. Wastewater is one: The amount treated in Sag Harbor during June, July, and August was up roughly six percent over 2022 levels. Nearly nine million gallons passed through the plant. That’s a lot of toilet flushes.

Doughnuts are another measurement. Kyle Sanderson, owner of Grindstone Donuts and Coffee in Sag Harbor, sold 64,394 from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “This was the first summer since 2020 that seemed to be untouched by Covid,” he reported. “Whether you’re talking about supply chain issues or apprehensive customers, everything seemed to be back to normal. The lobby was packed with 20 to 30 people on the weekends with nobody batting an eye. Our deliveries never missed a beat.”

Beer, too. “This summer was a fantastic first one for Kidd Squid,” said Rory McEvoy, co-owner. “We were in full swing delivering to restaurants, institutions, and cause-based events, on top of the tasting room itself. So many interesting people from all over the world came through our doors.”

On East Hampton Village beaches, Drew Smith, head lifeguard, said saves were way up. “To date we have 376 saves or rescues,” he said on Monday. “Those may not all be theatrical big rescues, but we had to enter the water, and you never know how that feels for the other person. In 2022, we had less than 150 saves all season. In 2021, we had 161, which was busy, for us, at that time.”

Many more beachgoers, too. “It was insane this year. We saw an uptick in daily parking passes sold, but also Uber dropoffs, and people showing up on e-Bikes, who didn’t need beach passes.”

Real estate agents measure the months by the number of summer rentals, which were not as much in demand as in the past. With more people opting to go abroad, and Covid-19 refugees spending less time here, anecdotal reports of a slower rental market were spot-on, said Sarah Minardi of Saunders and Associates.

“The available inventory was much larger than in previous years, when homeowners stayed put,” she said.

Michael Daly of Douglas Elliman concurred. Sales, too, were down, he said, particularly in August, which saw 60 percent fewer closings than 2021 and 20 to 25 percent fewer than 2022. “Aside from it being a very hot summer, the rental market and the sales market have both cooled off considerably,” he said, “and I’ve seen the most ‘price reduction’ emails coming through in the last month than I’ve seen in about 15 years.”

“The mainstay reaction in the post-Covid era is no one is seeing a home in the Hamptons as a ‘need’ anymore,” said Ms. Minardi. “It’s gone back to a ‘want.’ . . . Similar to pre-2020, buyers are not in a rush to purchase. They are taking their time, even when they see the house as a great fit.”

Mr. Daly has also noticed that there aren’t a lot of buyers under 35 years old. “Right now, the wealth is with the boomers, and they’re using it,” he said. “They’re outbidding millennials and Gen X left and right, unless the millennials and Gen X happen to be super fortunate and have great incomes.”

Fewer renters likely helped account for a drop in restaurant traffic. “What I’ve heard uniformly is that business was down this year,” said Chris Gosman, an owner of Gosman’s Dock in Montauk. “Nobody disagrees. It’s down from the last few years, certainly. . . . A good part of it I would honestly attribute to pretty awful weather we had in May and June. And we’re so weather-dependent that it’s maybe a bigger factor than it is even for everybody else.” July and August, he said, were “comparable to other years.”

Christy Cober, director of operations for Honest Man Hospitality’s five restaurants here, said they’d been “anticipating a summer closer to 2019, with some increases. It proved to hit our expectations, which was nice. There weren’t any big, big surprises per se.”

For Honest Man, the highlight of the summer was the Aug. 3 celebration of Nick and Toni’s 35th anniversary, the group’s oldest restaurant, which remains ever popular.

A couple of patrons became engaged there that night. “It was very sweet,” Ms. Cober said. “That night, so many people came through to just be there, to have a drink, to say hi. . . . The amount of warmth and love for the restaurant and its people was really heartwarming.”

In the nonprofit community, at least one summer benefit exceeded fund-raising expectations: Authors Night, a fund-raiser for the East Hampton Library. It was “our most successful event yet,” said Dennis Fabiszak, the library’s director. “Book sales, reception tickets, and dinner tickets all exceeded previous years’ high-donation totals. Authors Night 2023 grossed more than $450,000.”

An undeniable summer highlight for several hundred lucky ticket-holders was the Ed Sheeran concert at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Aug. 14. It was just one of the hallmarks of the Talkhouse’s best summer yet, said its owner, Peter Honerkamp, who credited his son, Max, with finding “an extraordinary number of up-and-coming acts that I had never heard of, that appeal to a younger demographic. Every single one of them worked.”

Normally the Talkhouse hosts eight or nine national acts in a summer. “We had 21. We had far more music, and far better music, than the club has ever had, and we had by far — by far — our best season,” Mr. Honerkamp said. “I didn’t think that was going to be possible compared to the year after Covid, but it was way ahead of the last two years.”

And then there was Jimmy Buffett, who showed up at the Talkhouse in June, just a couple of months before he died. “I didn’t even know he was coming. I walked in and he was onstage, sang three songs,” Mr. Honerkamp said. “To get to see him again, it was really special.”

In the business community, at least in some sectors, demand for services was back up.

Ari Weller, owner of Philosofit in East Hampton Village, said that “fitness studios were among the hardest hit during the pandemic. We saw a lot close, so we are grateful we made it through, for which we credit our staff. While we still offer virtual private sessions, summer of 2023 felt back to normal. In-studio demand is back up.”

And then there was traffic — which somehow seemed worse than ever.

“It really impacts businesses like mine, which rely on being able to navigate the roads to get to customers’ homes,” said Chris Malloy, owner of Malloy Pools in Sag Harbor. “We’ve had to cut the number of accounts we can manage in half due to traffic, which has driven up prices for clients. I don’t think people understand that short-term rentals are a big cause of traffic problems — these two-to-four-day renters are trying to squeeze in as many stops on the list of Instagram-worthy photos as they can.” He hopes the town can do a better job of enforcing the rental laws.

This story was reported and written by Christopher Gangemi, Christine Sampson, and Christopher Walsh

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