Exploring Americana Retro in Montauk

Whoa Nellie Retro, Montauk.
Whoa Nellie Retro, Montauk. Photo credit: Sandra Hale Schulman

Montauk has an old soul. As the farthest east you can go, “The End,” as it’s affectionately called, demands a slower pace, a backward glance.

Two unique boutique stores in Montauk pay their respects to that vibe, carefully and creatively stocking their stores with merchandise that has a history and a life.

Whoa Nellie Retro

Linda Seaton started Whoa Nellie Retro after 9/11 took away the secure feeling she had in her previous career as a corporate flight attendant. She was living in East Quogue but was in private jets to Hong Kong for Tommy Hilfiger for up to three weeks at a time.

“It was exciting but exhausting work, and after the trauma in the city I just wanted to capture some innocence I felt had been lost,” she says. “I had always loved Americana curios from fairs and circuses and antique stores, so my vision was to open a store to capture that lost childhood feeling.”

She also met her future husband John around that time. He was an architect who was looking for a change as well. Together they scoured estate sales, yard sales and other places to find unusual items.

“I’m drawn to colorful things, carnivals, Coney Island, fairs. I also like things from the 1950s, Bakelite jewelry, flags and toys. We were in Jamesport for seven years when we heard about the space on Main Street in Montauk and felt like it was a perfect next move. I use a 1920s cash register and just have the store stocked in a bit of a jumble. I like the intimacy of it, I don’t want it to feel like an organized corporate chain store.”

“The store really appeals to all ages, ”Seaton says. “I like that kids get to learn about toys from generations ago, and their parents get to relive things from their childhood. People ask lots of questions and I love to teach them.”

Melet Mercantile

Bob Melet started an antiques store when he was in his 20s and was soon working for Ralph Lauren as Vintage Buyer for the RL Label. Melet struck out on his own in 2003. He has a showroom in Manhattan and has had a seasonal Montauk outpost in an industrial area of “The End” since 2009. It’s in a gritty area of the town, but the location only adds to the intrigue.

Fittingly beach-centric, the high-ceilinged warehouse space offers a wildly eccentric mix of art, vintage photography, antiques, carpets, tablecloth and towel textiles, Native American jewelry and a delicious selection of vintage clothing. Melet even sells vintage motorcycles and bicycles.

“Melet Mercantile represents my life’s work as a traveler and collector,” he says. “I’m a fourth-generation vendor of fashion, spending every day of the past 25 years honing my experience as a curator of vintage and antiques. Four times a year, after months of traveling the world and collecting, we completely re-imagine the showroom and present new concepts. Because it evolves each season, the showroom serves as a consistently reliable resource for design inspiration.”

Melet attracts a  diverse professional clintele, looking for unique items. “Melet Mercantile was founded in 2003 on the notion that New York City needed a resource where designers, art directors, editors, stylists or anyone in search of something different and inspiring could discover the most rare and unique things in the world—simply by picking up the phone and heading downtown to our store,” he says.

“Now they can also see the items in the place where they spend the summer.”

Whoa Nellie Retro, 770 Montauk Highway, Montauk. Open daily 10:30 to 7:30. 631-668-2626, whoaNellieRetro.com.

Melet Mercantile, 102 Industrial Road, Montauk. Open daily 11-7, through October. 631-668-9080, meletmercantile.com.

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