Getting Ready: The Hamptons Brace for the Arrival of Summer

Alcohol Prohibited Sign
Photo: FtLaudGirl/iStock/Thinkstock

Here are some recent news items about our community. Everybody is in hurry-up mode because summer is approaching and we need to get these things done now or never, because we were all too depressed during the cold winter to do much.

There has been a big problem at the ocean beaches in Amagansett. People from afar come down there, pay the parking fee and party and drink all day. Beer has been part of the local scene for years down there, but this is something else. It’s loud and out-of-hand. So the town has proposed a ban on alcoholic beverages during the day when lifeguards are down on Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue, the two beaches in Amagansett.

Well, not quite. At a meeting of the East Hampton Trustees at the end of March, it turned out that trustees, a separate government body in town that also regulates the beaches, had not felt themselves convinced this was the right way to go. “[The problem is] the intoxication,’ one of the trustees said, “not the alcohol itself.” There might be other ways of looking at this. At a later meeting, the Trustees indicated they might go along with it, if it were on a temporary basis.

In any case, the Town is considering passing this law, but maybe not having it in place for long. It might be withdrawn after a year or two. And there is some logic to this.

In Westhampton Beach 25 years ago, motorcycle gangs discovered that town and took to roaring up and down Main Street on Saturdays and Sundays in the summertime. It went on for years like this. But they stopped it. How?

One year, they decided to buy huge baskets of flowers and, starting on Memorial Day and all summer long, hang them from the lampposts. Sure enough, the bikers came in, saw all the flowers festooning downtown, said “we’re outta here,” and never came back. It worked.

So it might be possible that in 2015 or 2016, when the loud and obnoxious drunks go elsewhere, we can bring alcohol back onto the beaches, ready to enjoy local beach bonfires.

By they way, ever see a nighttime beach bonfire built in a giant metal container? It’s the law that they be built in containers. But I’ve never seen one either.

The residents of the Village of Quogue are proposing to have 1.1 million cubic yards of sand dredged up from the ocean floor and relocated along 2.7 miles of oceanfront beaches in that town. According to a study, the width of the beach is about 75’ less than it was in 1950. It is not nearly as much fun as it once was. And the shallower width puts the oceanfront homes in danger. Borrowing what they call “loaned” sand will solve the problem. A company has offered to do it for $14 million.

Who will pay for it? If the Village of Quogue does, or if a tax district along the ocean in that village does, I’m all for it.

This project is modeled on a similar one, approved and carried out this past winter between Flying Point Road in Southampton and Townline Road in Sagaponack. Over this 6-mile stretch, about $25 million in sand was relocated to the beach from the bottom of the ocean 100 yards or so offshore, with the cost paid for by a special tax district in the town consisting of almost exclusively oceanfront taxpayers. These taxpayers will be paying more every year for the next 10 years or so.

This makes perfect sense. The oceanfront people enjoy the ocean beaches every day; the inland people enjoy the ocean beaches only once in a while. Also, the value of the property along the ocean is very high, so those owning those properties can afford it.

Though I am for it, I’m sure there will be a Save the Mollusk group formed to oppose the project, in order to protect the poor mollusks that might get sucked up from the ocean floor and relocated along the beach without their having a personal say in this. This is America, where everyone is entitled to a voice.

The more sand we can armor the south shore with, the better, in my opinion.

East Hampton is rushing rapidly along to pass laws that would prohibit chain stores from coming into town within a mile of historic districts or within half a mile of historic places. The cause for the alarm seems to be a proposal (the permit was quickly rescinded) to place a 7-Eleven in Amagansett, adjacent to the Amagansett IGA by the post office.

Amagansett is still a small town with lots of little local shops. To inflict upon it a chain store, or a group of chain stores, bringing the name and goods of similar stores that are found in villages and towns around the country is, they think, a kind of homogenization and tragic loss of identity for what goes on here.

They are right about this, of course.

For many years, the town thought there WAS such a law on the books. They often chased away chain-store applicants by waving pieces of paper at them. But then a search of the town code revealed there never had been such laws.

Sag Harbor Village, of course, is the poster child of keeping chain stores out. How they do it, I don’t know. But they must have laws, or at least armed picketers and demonstrators at the ready to leap out and protest when one threatens, as a CVS did seven years ago near Long Wharf. It ran off.

Many towns and villages around the country don’t allow chain stores. I recall 10 years ago in San Francisco when a drug chain wanted to open a store in North Beach and came face-to-face with an enormous billboard reading WRONG-AID. They departed.

Other historic towns that so far are chain-store-free here are Westhampton Beach and Bridgehampton. They have such stores in shopping centers, but not the historic districts.

A place that long ago succumbed to high-end chain stores is downtown East Hampton. The town is lucky to have some of them—Restoration Hardware, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Elie Tahari, etc. do have their place in the world, or several places in the world. But if you need to buy a pair of cheap Hanes socks or Fruit of the Loom underpants, it’s off with you to the nearest shopping center, six miles away.

Years ago, it was all mom-and-pop stores in East Hampton, and when hard times came, such as the Recession of 2008, the stores stayed open and the owners weathered through, encouraged to do so by their loyal clientele. These days, however, in hard times, the chain stores just shut up tight. Half the town was shut down in the winter of 2009 and 2010. The village was considering putting the work of local artists in the storefront windows so things would not look so bad.

Now everybody is back, or almost everybody, but we remember that winter well, the spookiness of it and that we were on our own.

There’s an upside and downside with having chain stores. And surely one of the downsides is figuring out what town you are in amid a mass of McDonald’s. On the upside, you can get a cheeseburger Happy Meal with fries. Or without.

Hooray for the East Hampton Town Board, or whoever.

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