In the last few months a new word has entered the conversations between the citizenry and the Town officials. The word is “gateway.”
Everyone agrees that our downtown villages on the East End are sacrosanct. They should remain as they always have been—old New England villages born in the 17th century with churches, town greens, village ponds, beautiful wooden windmills, cedar shingle saltboxes and broad main streets overarched by beautiful trees.
But now there are the “gateways.” And these are not like any gateways we have had before. In the old days, Woods Lane approaching the Town Pond would be the gateway to East Hampton. The Shinnecock Indian reservation would be the gateway to Southampton. Second House would be the gateway to Montauk. Linda Scott’s “Stargazer” sculpture would be the gateway to the whole area known as the Hamptons.
All this made perfect sense. The kids, sitting in the backseat, would shout, passing one of these markers, “Hey dad, we’re almost here.” And we were.
By the new definition, anything that lies between a village and another village is a gateway to whichever one you are headed toward. Since between our villages the Montauk Highway has become a long strip mall of stores, banks, restaurants, delis, shopping centers and walk-in medical facilities often three miles long, this gives the citizenry the ability to object to almost anything, and say that it is a “gateway” to wherever it is that is next.
For example, The Southampton Press last week ran the headline GATEWAY TO BE SCALED BACK, and it refers to the new proposed shopping center across the street from the longtime, large shopping center that features T.J. Maxx, Kmart, King Kullen, Staples and Payless Shoes less than a mile to the west of downtown Bridgehampton. The planned new shopping center, in its latest configuration, is slightly smaller than it was in an earlier configuration since, apparently, it now has to take on the mantle of being a “gateway” to Bridgehampton. This is a very heavy responsibility.
I recall that people let up a howl last year when the new HomeGoods store opened on the site of a former Ford dealership with its front wall very close to the road. It was horrible, they said. A catastrophe. Was this what we wanted as the “gateway” to East Hampton? The Town Councilmen must have been flabbergasted to consider that something along a stretch of strip malls and three miles from Town Pond was the “gateway.”
I’ve also heard the new proposed shopping mall in Tuckahoe referred to as a “gateway.” Gateway to the Suburban Auto Service? Gateway to P.C. Richard & Son? It goes on and on.
I have two favorite “gateway” stories from years ago. Back then, we had big billboards throughout the Hamptons, and as you came down the hill to enter Water Mill there was one that read ENTERING WATER MILL. SLOW DOWN AND ENJOY IT. We had no traffic problem in Water Mill then. The problem was people speeding.
My other favorite gateway was a sign on the right side of the road as you headed north on the Bridgehampton–Sag Harbor Turnpike. There had been a pretty long stretch of woods before you got there. And then there was this wooden sign by the side of the road. It was eight feet high and had a crossbar on which was written SAG HARBOR. Under it, during the summer season, was a sign swinging on hooks that read VISIT OUR WHALING MUSEUM. But in the winter, the VISIT OUR WHALING MUSEUM sign was gone, and replacing it was another sign with one word on it. It said CLOSED.
Ah yes, the gateway to Sag Harbor. And the whole town is closed.