Take It Outside - 27 East


Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 1793481

Take It Outside

If there is one universal “good” from the pandemic, it’s that we modern-day humans finally started to appreciate and even need the great outdoors. The global lockdown improved air quality, allowed enough quiet for the appreciation of wildlife, and “forest bathing” became a thing that people do to calm down and get healthier mentally and physically. Practically speaking, many of the only moments that I, and my kids, got to connect with friends and loved ones happened outside.

Beginning last spring, tables lined every Main Street in the Hamptons, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who utilized them, even when huddled under a blanket in my down coat, clutching a hot cup of coffee. Economists Sam Cai and Stacey Vanek Smith explained recently on NPR that there is an economic term for our sudden acknowledgment and love of blue skies: experience good. An experience good is a good for which a buyer cannot determine the total value and total cost without actually purchasing the good (as per Philip Nelson’s economic theory).

Our Hamptons experience good is outdoor seating, which has facilitated business operations, enabled socialization and transformed the aesthetic into the much-beloved European model of café life (or outdoor pub life, in the case of the UK).

So, what took us so long?

By November 2020, there were no fewer than 50 outdoor eateries on the East End. Before that? Not many at all. Strict permit regulations, which can be a good thing, imposed irrational rules on setting up tables either on main shopping streets or adjacent patios, alleys and lots. COVID changed that with temporary measures to allow outdoor seating.

As of now, businesses will be allowed to operate outdoor dining areas in some villages annually between April 15 and November 15. Why not all year?

Hey, Southampton Town: Why not abolish the permit fee to do this? Sag Harbor: Remember that Green Initiative passed in 2007? The one that made the village more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and more outdoor-friendly in general? It was the 2008 financial crash that upended those initiatives.

The town building inspectors, currently and in the future, could be given authority over permit approval to regulate the design, layout and appearance of the dining areas, and should also work with village fire marshals on safety.

There is little reason — we now know, thanks to our experience good — that outdoor dining and seating should not be a total automatic and permanent given in our two South Fork townships. If it’s not a blizzard or nor’easter or hurricane, take it, and serve it, outside.

There’s not a single good reason for not doing this: not for businesses, not for patrons, not for the planet itself.

Erica-Lynn Huberty