Retailing is slow and owners are struggling to get their houses rented, yet a sedate season in the Hamptons just doesn’t happen.
Traffic jams, tented fundraisers, sunset parties at the wineries and milling around on the main streets of the Hamptons are always part of the scene and that’s how local businesses like it. They’re not worried by the nation’s retail malaise and tourists from abroad being shopping averse due to the strong dollar.
At midday on Sunday in the Village of East Hampton, commerce seemed centered on getting an afternoon coffee fix or ice cream cones for the kids. Starbucks and the Golden Pear Cafe had long waiting lines, outdoor dining spots were filling up, though some stores with discounts, like Scoop with its going out of business sale at 30 to 50 percent off, drew crowds.
The streets were busy, not hectic, and it was not the usual nightmare finding a parking spot. Workers at a host of stores, from Fierro’s Pizza to J. Crew, which was offering 30 percent off and also getting good traffic, conveyed the sense that commerce for the holiday weekend was already tapering off, after very strong activity Saturday and Friday. “It’s not as busy today,” acknowledged one associate at J. Crew. “It could pick up soon,” possibly after people got enough of the sun on the beach. Monday started off rainy, with spots of sunshine before more clouds moved in later in the day. By then, however, the long trek back into New York City for many had already begun.
While available retail space was widespread through last fall and winter, it’s quickly filled up with new fashion pop-ups and seasonal shops, giving retailers, hoteliers and restaurateurs optimism for the season. Among Hamptons openings:
• Jenni Kayne, 2 Main Street, Southampton
• Barry’s Bootcamp, 10 Montauk Highway, Southampton
• Lanai Collection men’s wear, 38 Jobs Lane, Southampton
• AUrate New York ethically sourced jewelry, 47 Jobs Lane, Southampton
• Tesla Motors, 50 Newton Lane, East Hampton
• Tory Sport, 47 Newtown Lane, East Hampton
• Juja Active, 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton
• Oliver Peoples, 53 Newtown Lane, East Hampton
• WearWithAll boutique/gallery, 10 Main Street, East Hampton
• Brunello Cucinelli, relocated to 55 Main Street, East Hampton
• Ethel + Row children’s boutique, 2397 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton
Just prior to Memorial Day weekend — the official kickoff for the Hamptons summer season — several told WWD they expect business to be even or better than last year’s.
“The Hamptons is one of the few communities in the world still really well positioned for retail,” said Julie Heller, the owner of the, 1,200-square-foot Cabana Southampton at 53 Jobs Lane, which carries a mix of women’s and men’s fashions and home designs. “Shopping is definitely one of the big leisure activities here. People are always walking around town and seeing what’s going on, and for a lot of people that includes shopping. So far, the mood seems really positive. We are on track and ready for another good season.”
The seasonal store mixes modern designers, such as Amo denim and Alyx ready-to-wear, with vintage designer pieces from Chanel and Halston, among others. Heller also owns the EraLuxe vintage shop in SoHo.
“To a degree, we are a little insulated,” observed Ed Dressler, general manager of London Jewelers, a mainstay in East Hampton and Southampton. “No matter what, we are going to have a season in July and August. Everyone is feeling very confident right now. I counted last month 12 empty storefronts on Main Street in East Hampton and now they are filled, mostly pop-ups. After September, they are pretty much gone. Everybody thinks it’s a three-month season here but it’s not. Memorial Day weekend is showtime. Everybody gets their stores set up and ready. After this weekend, it quiets way down like it is in the off-season, till the third week in June. That’s when kids get out of school, families come back out, and the season starts in earnest and lasts through Labor Day….We are planning for a gain, definitely.”
He cited watches from Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and jewelry from Chantecler and the London Collection created by London Jewelers as among the bestsellers so far.
“The Hamptons is somewhat insulated from the current retail malaise around the country, particularly with the summertime surge coming — and this year we’re looking forward to an uptick in the already impressive spending power here,” said Eric Feil, chief executive officer and editorial director of Dan’s Papers. “One reason is we’re going to see an increase in high-end clientele who in the past may have traveled abroad during the summer but this year, given safety concerns that come with going to Europe, have decided to spend the summer on the East End. The Dan’s Papers Memorial Day issue is a good bellwether, and our advertising was up 12 percent over last year — retailers are seeing the potential for a big year, and they want to start reaching those customers early.”
With real estate, considered a good indicator for how the summer will play out for all businesses, Feil sees a strong season but noted that in the first quarter this year, the number of sales in the Hamptons market was down about 10 percent, although the median sale price was up nearly 4 percent year over year.
“Rentals have slowed somewhat after an early push this winter, but some of that is attributable to more people opting to buy, particularly in the $1 million to $2 million range — and sales between $3.5 million and $10 million were also up compared to 2015,” he said. “The high end of the real estate market may have a bit more inventory than it would like at the moment, relative to the demand in that area. Demand here is very much linked to the financial markets, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that, but given the unique attributes of the Hamptons…overall real estate is going to have a robust summer, and everyone from restaurants to retail will be surfing the same wave.”
“It’s going to be pretty much life as usual in the Hamptons,” predicted Arnold Aronson, partner and managing director at Kurt Salmon, and a regular visitor to the region. “The well-to-do has stayed pretty well to do because the stock market and the economy have held up, with the exception of certain retail sectors. I would not expect any dynamic ups and downs. That segment of the population can be expected to be fairly steady with whatever purchasing they do during the summer. But there is another constituency, the transients, the people who go out for a week or weekend, they’re a different breed. They’re more aspirational shoppers, in some cases Millennials, and still not in a steady high income level. But those who can afford to come are certainly not going to be inhibited to what I call ‘recreational shopping.'”
“I don’t think what’s going on around the world has anything to do with the Hamptons,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail group of Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “A lot of brands feel they have to have a presence there. It’s a good laboratory for retailers because there’s more one-on-one with the customers. They get a lot of feedback out there. People are more casual, they spend more time in the shops. It’s not the rush of the city. It’s a social retail. They go into J. Crew. They hang out and then they go to the beach or the movies. It’s not like some resort in the middle of nowhere. And the Europeans love it too. The Germans. The French all love the Hamptons and Montauk has become the new chic. It’s not just bars and fishing village anymore.”
“Retail is down as a whole and the rental market isn’t as strong, but the merchandise I carry is inspirational enough so people feel motivated to buy,” said David Chines, owner of Copious Row in Sag Harbor. “The number-one thing I hear from all my shoppers is, ‘I want to have something my friends don’t have.’ My whole mantra is to cultivate and carry exclusive designers with beautiful handcrafted items, meticulously made and not distributed in mass quantities,” including fine jewelry from Delfina Delettrez and Nina Runsdorf, Shorouk “beachy” bracelets with crystals, and Hugo Matha clutches.
Regarding merchandise he sees trending in the Hamptons, Chines said, “People are really investing in quality jewelry pieces and foregoing buying another sweater. Women really love jewelry that’s lighter, dainty pieces, rings, necklaces and bracelets that are stackable. Women are having more fun with jewelry.”
Andrea Fornarola Hunsberger, founder and director of the Elements Fitness Studio, recently relocated her business to a bigger, street level location at 68 Newtown Lane in East Hampton,with an 18-foot high cathedral ceiling, next door to SoulCycle. Compared to last year, “it’s already busier. Our classes are fuller. I think it’s going to be a busy season. We have 15 to 20 per class, and three or more classes a day, depending on the day of the week and level of enrollment. We have a great client return rate. My very first client when I first opened [in 2014] still comes to the studio every weekend. It’s the one-on-one connection we have. We keep our classes smaller. We’ve built a nice community.”
“People are in town. Southampton has been happening,” said Zach Erdem, who owns several Southampton businesses, including Kozu, the Japanese restaurant; AM night club, and Hotel Ze, which are all new. “I see all kinds of people — lots of Russians, Arabs, South Americans, Europeans. I know a person from Moscow who rented a house for $800,000 a month. They come to my place for breakfast, order Cristal Champagne and have a $2,000 bill.”
Erdem noted the Hamptons’ rapid turnover of businesses, with each year bringing new stores and restaurants replacing others that disappear. There’s two main reasons for that, he believes. “It’s always about the person in charge. You personally have to take care of customer.” Then it’s about the rents. “They are really high. That is a main concern.”
Larry Scott of Lawrence Scott Events is staging the Hamptons Magazine party this weekend in Sagaponack, celebrating the Drew Barrymore cover, as well as the Southampton Hospital benefit Aug. 6. “The Hamptons are getting bigger and much more in demand. The big philanthropists, the hedge fund guys are all going out there big time,” he said.
As far as the Hamptons business climate, “I find people around election time always pull back cause they don’t know what’s going to be, but wealthy people are always going to spend money. They just may not have that extra whatever added on,” to their parties. “They’re not going to be over the top until after the election.”
At the Southampton Inn, owner Dede Gotthelf said bookings are flat with last year’s but still robust. “We did not do very well during the first quarter. Many businesses in Southampton did feel it. The pulse was much quieter. The weather was bad. Now the pulse is on par with last year.”
She says her property represents an escape from Hamptons high jinx. “We don’t offer the rowdiness and the gazillion dollar parties. We try very hard to have a consistent message and brand image, which is to be charming and efficient, and our new restaurant, Café Klyde is affordable. We don’t serve caviar.” Instead, you can a hamburger for $12 and an $18 lobster roll.