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Sep 13, 2011 5:08 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Sales Down Slightly, But Overall A Sunny Summer For Local Businesses

Sep 19, 2011 2:35 PM

Despite a continued unease about the world economy and a tumultuous stretch of weeks on Wall Street, warm weather and clear skies made the summer of 2011 a typically busy and lucrative one for many local businesses.

Some rainy days in August and the approach of Hurricane Irene on the penultimate weekend of the summer put a bit of an early damper on things, though, and a handful of representative business owners said that while they found activity and revenues to be down slightly from last summer overall, they were still pleased.

“We had an extraordinary summer—it was really excellent,” said Jacquie Gettling, manager of the Eileen Fisher store on Newtown Lane in East Hampton Village. “The only challenging thing was Irene. It felt like the season ended a week early.”

Despite relatively high rainfall totals for the summer, even before Irene swept past, the rain mostly came in short bursts and stayed away on the weekends, several business owners observed, helping to nurture a busy summer on the sidewalks of local villages and hamlets. Still, it was ultimately the weather that kept the lid on an otherwise surprising summer of success.

“The season was excellent, until the weather got involved,” East Hampton Chamber of Commerce Director Marina Van said. “We were very good in June and July, and it was busy through August. There was a dip when the stock market crashed—you could feel it that weekend—then it picked up again. But then the storm came. That hurt.”

Ms. Van said that the majority of businesses that belong to the Chamber of Commerce reported sales slightly behind or equal to the summer of 2010, when hopes were high for a global economic recovery.

Henry Hildreth, whose family has owned Hildreth’s Department Store in Southampton for more than 150 years, said the timing of Irene and its impact on the city might have helped ease the blow of the poor weather on the East End. Since the storm hit on a Sunday, rather than Saturday, many people came out for their weekend anyway, and some even stayed, since forecasts were calling for more serious effects around the city. Mr. Hildreth said his store actually saw a slight uptick in business from the summer of 2010.

Real estate forecasters estimated that approximately 75 to 80 percent of the properties on the market for renting in 2011 were grabbed, average for most years.

“I was sold out of beach chairs by the end of July,” Mr. Hildreth said. “My inventory is way lower than it normally is. That’s a good thing on Labor Day, but not so much in July. At one point, we ran out of so many things I took in some of my 2012 merchandise early and sold some of that already.”

Mr. Hildreth said that patio furniture and other high-end items drove the upswing in business for him.

That damage from Irene was not worse, even if some stores in East Hampton Village were left without power for nearly five days, helped businesses rebound from the doom and gloom of the storm’s approach in time for a bustling Labor Day weekend.

Ms. Van said a busy wedding schedule in June and this coming fall boosted business at local hotels, though they were hit particularly hard by the hurricane. Dorothy Capuano, who manages the Barons Cove Inn in Sag Harbor, said that almost all local hotels lost significant numbers of reservations the weekend that Irene loomed, but that a good early season and a good fall can lessen the impact of the loss.

“We were on such a roll, then, errr ... Irene,” she said.

A sunny summer can sometimes mean less-than-stellar sales on the retail-lined streets of local business districts. But the sunshine and warmth didn’t seem to curb spending this year. In Westhampton Beach, Chamber of Commerce Assistant Director Ed Kurosz said that the chamber’s farmers market saw a big jump in business this summer over last, with 1,800 to 2,000 people visiting on Saturday mornings, and he credited the nice weather with drawing more people who are less focused on going to the beach.

“We had two rainy days since April,” he said of the season’s Saturdays. “Everything seemed positive this summer. It was tremendous.”

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