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Sep 4, 2012 4:54 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

A Sunny Summer For East End Business

Sep 5, 2012 10:08 AM

The background din of financial crisis abroad, occasional reminders of forboding economic conditions at home, lingering unemployment issues and fairly high gas prices didn’t seem to do much to tamp down the fervor of visitors to the Hamptons in the summer of 2012, especially in the eastern hamlets and villages.

Sag Harbor was typically bustling, East Hampton was nearly paralyzed by traffic—a nuisance, but a sign of a busy Main Street—and Montauk? Well, Montauk became a new world unto itself among East End hamlets.

Across the rest of the East End, sentiments were that the summer was a good one, bolstered by a steady string of hot and sunny weekends and customers who seemed to be spending a bit more freely than they had the last two summers.

Sentiments of business owners were that the crowds were typically robust, if not the almost shockingly enormous ones that Montauk experienced, and that most wallets were opening up again. Some of the hesitancy to spend on lavish luxuries that had been tamped down by the economic hardships in recent years seemed to be lifting as well.

“I feel like people were spending money like they used to,” said Erin Meaney, owner of the Topiaire flower shop in Southampton. “It seemed like a summer in the 1980s, almost, that kind of excitement. Our customers were entertaining again, having dinner parties. Two years ago, having a lavish party with expensive flowers was a little gauche.”

Ms. Meaney noted that the sidewalks of Southampton Village, which haven’t been the epicenter of hustle-and-bustle in recent years, seemed to be more crowded nearly every day this year, on the many hot and sunny days that usually send most visitors running to the beach.

At the beach, however, Beth Westerhoff said her concession stand at Coopers Beach had its best summer since opening three years ago under the almost unbroken string of sunny weekends this summer.

“Last year, we lost a full week that we didn’t this year,” she said, referring to the abrupt halt to summer when a rainy weekend was followed immediately by Tropical Storm Irene blasting the area just before Labor Day, knocking out power for many for days. “This year, even [on Monday], I was more busy, compared to previous years.”

Restaurant owner David Lowenberg, who is a part owner of five different restaurants in Southampton, Sag Harbor and East Hampton, said his restaurants, new and old, had comparatively strong seasons across the board. Mr. Lowenberg said that the trend that has built in recent summers of visitors renting a house for one- and two-week stretches instead of for an entire season has actually been a boon to business during the week, he thinks, because people tend to use the rental straight through their allotted time rather than just coming out on weekends.

“I think that’s good, there’s a lot more people coming out for blocks of time,” Mr. Lowenberg, co-owner of Red Bar and Little Red in Southampton Village, Bell & Anchor in Noyac, Beacon in Sag Harbor and Fresno in East Hampton. “We had a good amount of new clientele coming to all of our restaurants—some folks who are new to the East End and some who have been coming here for years and said they just hadn’t gotten to the Beacon or wherever before.”

A Sag Harbor resident, Mr. Lowenberg said he learned quickly to simply avoid the village’s downtown because of the traffic and congestion brought on by hordes of visitors to the popular Main Street.

Hordes is how many business owners and residents described the onslaught of young vacationers who swarmed Montauk this summer—a change that many say was not a good thing for the traditionally insular and low-key community, but few could argue that it was not good for business.

“I think almost any place in Montauk, if they didn’t fare well, there was something wrong,” said Margaret Turner, the executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance.

Across the tiny hamlet, business owners talked about the changing demographic and growth in popularity of Montauk among the young New York City-centric summer weekend crowd, which exploded this year. In a hamlet whose summer crowd was largely defined by blue-collar families on week-long vacations at one of Montauk’s numerous hotels—a unique availability on the East End—the sudden rise of the weekends-only crowd was hard to miss for many businesses.

“The whole demographic has changed,” said Tom McCormack, an owner of Ronnie’s Deli, noting the shift away from family vacationers and toward young fun-loving and fashionable singles—though the shift, he said, did not seem to affect the summer bottom line. “It was good. It was different.”

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Southampton Village is still slowly dying.
By C Law (350), Water Mill on Sep 7, 12 8:33 AM
As are we alll.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Sep 7, 12 9:18 PM
... how did this happen, 27east? Last week you reported the East End clientele being rude and obnoxious, especially those last minute August visitors. What gives?
By William Rodney (556), southampton on Sep 8, 12 8:53 AM
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