Pop-up stores are a relatively new phenomenon in the Hamptons. There’s an empty store. It’s been empty for years. Then, in early May, the workmen arrive, and on Memorial Day a big fancy store opens with great fanfare. On Labor Day, the whole thing closes, the workmen come in again, and by the end of September the last of the debris from the store has been hauled away and the building is empty again.
Now an English billionaire named Frank Franklin has proposed Little Hampton. It would be a pop-up town, complete with a wooden windmill on a village green, a Main Street, rows of stores, a town pond with ducks in it, an old cemetery with beat-up tombstones, cobblestone streets and two rows of great, leafy elms arching over the road. Franklin has not applied to a zoning board of appeals or a town board or a planning board or a building department. He has applied for a $500 event permit from two different Departments of Recreation, one in the Village of Sagaponack and one in Southampton Town.
“We were going to apply for a third, in East Hampton Town,” Charles Littlebottom, the marketing director for Little Hampton Inc., told us.
“It would have been in the field next to the Amagansett IGA between Amagansett and Napeague, but we heard that people kicked up such a fuss in East Hampton when some people planned a rock concert there last summer, we thought to keep that one as a backup. We’re sorry about that. We know everyone will want a Little Hampton. It would have none of the problems of the rock concert. But we will have our first one elsewhere, I’m sorry to say. Perhaps we could have our second one there. This summer it will only be one.”
Littlebottom explained the logic of having a pop-up village. “Our research shows there are 14 villages that comprise the Hamptons. They are all charming and they are all walkable from one end to the other, on the English model. That’s how we have villages in England—unlike in most of America, where everything is along strip malls. Our research also shows these 14 villages are tremendously successful. They are booming. Of course it’s only in the summertime. Why not take the pressure off the 14 by building a 15th?”
Littlebottom explained the importance of having the new pop-up village midway between two of the existing Hamptons. He said that’s the whole point of having villages out here—you leave one and drive to another. In the olden days you rode in a carriage the few miles from one to the other, or just hopped on a horse.
“If you have it too close to a village, then it’s simply part of that village. That’s not our concept. Little Hampton has to have its own identity. It also, of course, needs to be on the Montauk Highway.”
One location being applied for is the farm field across from the Poxabogue Golf Course, midway between Bridgehampton and East Hampton. The other is the field across from Duck Walk Vineyard, between Southampton and Water Mill. Neither of the owners of these locations, we have learned, has any idea that they are being considered.
“We thought we’d get the permits first,” Littlebottom said. “Then we would be able to let these owners compete for the project. We are prepared to pay an enormous amount of rent. In pounds, of course.”
Little Hampton, like the other villages in the Hamptons, would have its own history. It would predate Southampton Village, which, founded in 1640, is the oldest village in New York State.
“Little Hampton will have been founded in 1621. Southampton settlers came from Lynn, Massachusetts, sailing from there to North Sea. The Little Hampton settlers will have been a group of 20 disgruntled pilgrims, dissatisfied with the strict rules of pilgrimhood as put forward by the original group that landed with the Mayflower at Plymouth in 1620.
They will have come and established Little Hampton to remind them of home—there is a Littlehampton in England—just as the later residents of Southampton named their town to remind them of Southampton, England. Southampton copied Little Hampton.”
Little Hampton will feature the original meetinghouse, built of logs, which the settlers met in to endorse the charter for the village that was mailed to them by the King of England, King James I.
There will be the historic field where, from the get-go, the Little Hampton settlers cultivated and grew the beautiful lilacs that became the trademark of their village.
And there will be the sacred pond where the settlers came to meet the local Indians, the defunct tribe of Unkachunks, to purchase the land from them for a bouquet of lilacs and a pair of extremely excellent handcrafted English moccasins.
That pond, by the way, will also serve as the source of water for Little Hampton. Huge tanks of water will be buried under the pond to constantly refresh the water for the summer, and the tanks will also be the source for a wishing well with a crank and bucket that would haul up water.
“Great fun for the kiddies,” Littlebottom said. “It could also serve as a source of water in case of fire, if we needed to call in one of the local fire departments. Of course, we will have trained all our workers in forming bucket brigades at the start of the season to quench fires until the fire department arrives.
We’ll have lots of wooden buckets on hand. That’s the way they did it before fire departments.”
Little Hampton will feature modern, up-to-date stores just as Southampton and the other towns do.
“We have already contacted Tiffany, Cartier, Saks, Steve Madden, Benetton, Lamborghini, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Barnes & Noble and 100 other stores and have gotten enthusiastic interest,” Littlebottom said. “The Hamptons, if you will excuse the expression, is where it’s at.”
Officials at the Town of Southampton and the Village of Sagaponack are dumbfounded at the application they have received from Little Hampton, Inc.
“This seems to be according to our laws,” one Southampton official said ruefully. “Our lawyers are scratching their heads. Obviously this cannot go ahead. But we don’t know what we can do about it.”
“We don’t even have a Department of Recreation,” said a spokesman for the Village of Sagaponack, which was formed just eight years ago. “We are on totally new ground here.”
We asked Littlebottom what his company would do if either of these municipalities, and also subsequently East Hampton Town, turned them down for one reason or another.
“Little Hampton will go to Dubai,” he told us. “That’s already been arranged as a backup. And you’ll have to excuse me. Right now I have to attend to the feeding of the ducks. I’m sure you can hear them in the background.”