Dan Rattiner's Stories

Hamptons Suburbia Museum Offers Something New in Southampton

The drive-thru museum brings joy to those who want a suburban experience.

Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Southampton keep all the old historic homes and windmills from days gone by carefully maintained and protected from development. In Southampton, you will find the original Halsey House, built in 1683, on South Main Street, the Pelletreau Silversmith studio on Main Street.

The whole downtown of Sag Harbor, including the Custom House, is originally from the 18th century, with Whaling Museum and American Hotel dating back to the 19th century. East Hampton has the old Home Sweet Home saltbox from the 1700s, along with the Hook Mill, Gardiner Mill and the Pantigo Mill. Indeed, these villages are actually Old New England villages. At least East Hampton and Southampton are. They were settled by New Englanders and have town greens, town ponds and old cemeteries. Sag Harbor’s centerpiece is Long Wharf, originally built for the whaling ships here around 1770. All three villages feature a magnificent white Presbyterian church amidst a flock of churches and synagogues in and around Main Street.

Occasionally, executives come from a chain such as Hooters or Taco Bell, hoping to open a store in these parts. They knock on the door of the planning departments. It gets them nowhere. They are turned away, never to return. Laws are in place to make it impossible for a Wendy’s or a KFC or any other drive-through establishment to open up in the middle of downtown, and if the laws aren’t strong enough, there is social pressure applied.

You know, a local person can get tired of looking at all this old stuff every day, the hay barns and outhouses of those long-ago days gone by. But I can tell you that visitors from afar, especially from Manhattan, love what they see as this quaint counterpoint to all the skyscrapers and traffic in the big city.

Quite a few people also come from suburban Long Island to these parts, and they sometimes can miss what they have back home. It is for those people that the largest of our Old English village communities, Southampton, has set aside a new and unique “historic” two miles of drive-throughs, fast-food and chain-store establishments to create a living, interactive museum that the general public can enjoy.

Through a series of grants and tax incentives, the area has already been blessed with what is today a “starter pack” of retail establishments typical of the businesses of that place. Many more are expected to follow. Imagine. You can get to enjoy a suburban shopping experience typical of the last half of the 20th century without having to drive 50 miles to get to one.

The assemblage had its official grand opening as the Hampton Suburbia Museum just last week. At noon on Wednesday, local officials using a hedge cutter sliced through the red-white-and-blue ribbon. The centerpiece of it, where the ribbon-cutting took place, was under the traffic light that regulates traffic flow at the intersection of County Road 39 on the east and west and North Sea Road on the north and south. Hereby is a review.

The traffic intersection is unlike any in the Hamptons or anywhere else on the East End. It is a full 10 lanes wide as it flows and slows approaching the traffic light there to await instructions on how to proceed. Coming eastward (toward the sunrise), the road widens as it approaches the traffic light to allow for not only the two main drive-along lanes, but also a left-turn lane that allows you to turn onto North Sea Road when the green arrow tells you to turn to the left; three straight-along lanes; and a right-turn lane, marked “no right turn on red”—which will require you to come to a stop to observe the traffic light, probably holding you up for a full five minutes as that computerized traffic-control device handles the full eight different traffic flows coming and going there.

From this vantage point, you can observe to your left the “anchor” tenants of the museum already in place and open to the public. On the north side of this intersection is the Meineke, the Cumberland Farms Station and mini-mart, and the Burger King, and on the south side the Dunkin’ Donuts and the elder care facility, the BP Station and the beverage distributor. Going forward through the intersection and looking south, you will get to see Southampton Tire Center and McDonald’s, across the street the 7-Eleven, Twin Forks Pest Control and Snow White Laundromat, then further on a storage rental building and the legendary Southampton Car Wash.

There is nothing else like the Hampton Suburbia Museum in the Hamptons. If you crave a little dash of suburbia during your busy day, the cost to enjoy this outdoor museum is nothing. It’s absolutely free. The merchants offer their wares at reasonable prices, and if you go at the right time there is often a sale on.

Meanwhile, at the light, there is usually a long line of motorists in cars, their engines idling, waiting for the light to change in their carefully selected lanes, anxious to enjoy this unique assemblage of suburban icons unmatched anywhere else in the Hamptons, finally, at long last, officially open to the public as a tourist site.

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