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Hamptons Life

Jun 9, 2008 12:32 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Lillywhites' broad reach in world of sports reflected in museum exhibition

Jun 9, 2008 12:32 PM

The paper also cites Harry Lillywhite & Son as the place to go for racket stringing or for purchasing rackets, balls, nets, markers, presses, posts, golf balls, shafts, gloves and more. Moreover, son William, in charge of the bicycle department, was said to be formidably equipped for repairs and well stocked with high end bicycles and parts.

When Harry died, William carried on the business, and though William died when Jack Lillywhite was just six, Jack was old enough to have retained a vivid memory of his grandfather “at the store stringing tennis rackets.” Another memory is of “Al Jessup renting, selling and repairing bicycles, especially the ubiquitous three-speed Raleighs with wicker basket attached.”

The store kept a big inventory of bikes, according to Mr. Lillywhite. “It was a huge seasonal business,” he said. “For the Fourth of July parade we had bikes built for eight, six, four and two.” In his memory, it was the fire department that commandeered the bike built for eight.

And then there were the balloons. “Harry, my uncle, would blow up hundreds it seems for the fourth and sell them to the people on the sidewalk watching the parade.

Mr. Lillywhite’s father, James, and his Uncle William, known as Harry, were the next generation to take over the store when they returned from the war. Among their plans for expansion, the brothers had decided to increase their institutional sales and Jack remembers traveling with his father and uncle to all the local high schools as they set up arrangements to supply their sporting needs. They also visited some colleges and even the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, a thrill for him as a boy. The highlight of such trips, though, was the stop on the way back in Eastport or Hampton Bays or Sag Harbor to eat cherrystone clams on the half shell and wash them down with cream soda.

All that ended when Jack’s father was called back to the Air Force during the Korean War and sent to Newfoundland as the Chief of Plans for the newly organized Northeast Air Command. He made the Air Force his career after that, sold his share of the business to his brother, Harry, and left Southampton forever, except for the occasional visit.

When Harry Lillywhite died in 1996, his daughter Susan took over the business but four years later she was looking for a buyer with the energy to keep it going and the sensitivity to preserve its character. When it seemed that such a buyer might not exist and the store might have to close its doors permanently, the Stevensons appeared to save the day. The sign says Stevenson’s Toys and Games now but the Lillywhite name is etched in stone at the front door, as it is etched in the memories of countless local residents.

“Sporting Life in the Hamptons: The Lillywhite Family Collection” will open with a reception at the Southampton Historical Museum on Meetinghouse Lane on Saturday, June 14, from 4 to 6 p.m. Jack Lillywhite will give a curator’s talk on Saturday, June 21, at 2 p.m. and the exhibition will remain on view through August 30.

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