The bucolic, tree lined streets of East Hampton Village are so admired that it regularly appears on travel superlative lists. The Hamptons is certainly blessed with natural beauty; however, when it comes down to it, admirers have the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society (LVIS) of East Hampton to thank for a great deal of the village’s charm.
The LVIS began in 1895, a quarter of a century before the village was incorporated, with 21 members raising money to have the windswept and dusty sidewalks and streets of the area watered down. As the group has grown in size and diversity of expertise, they’ve put on a fashion show, opened a store, and this winter they look forward to a holiday music event. All of these events are in addition to their century-old annual fair. Members enjoy monthly meetings with speakers on local history, nature, as well as health and the arts. Now 300 members strong, the organization will celebrate 125 years in 2020.
The beloved LVIS Fair has been a summer staple in East Hampton since 1986 and has grown considerably over the years. It returns this Saturday, July 27, from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. at their 95 Main Street headquarters. Half of this year’s “fair pair” event organizers, Bonnie Pizzorno, speaks of the incredible work the LVIS does.
Pizzorno has been involved with the LVIS for 30 years. She joined “because it seemed like the thing to do at the time, and my sister Pam was a member.” Upon her retirement from teaching, she was able to devote more time to the LVIS. As her involvement grew, she started to work on a number of different committees at various levels of leadership. Her role as half of the “fair pair” began partially because “at the board of directors meeting nobody, was volunteering,” and Pizzorno and her sister mutually agreed, “I’ll do it if you do it.” She and her sister have now served as the “fair pair” for four years.
What began as a Friday luncheon with square dancing at Mulford Farm has grown into a can’t-miss event boasting a silent auction, carnival rides, food trucks, face painting, live music and local vendors selling toys, plants, vintage clothing and gifts. When asked what she was most excited for at the fair, the hardworking co-organizer jokes, “the end,” though more seriously, Pizzorno notes that this year’s expansion of the playland to include even more rides, a carousel and face painting was particularly exciting. The silent auction is hugely popular each year, and Pizzorno rattles off previous items like tickets to see “Billy Joel, Hamilton, the Yankees,” in addition to rounds of golf on prestigious courses.
Funding for the fair is provided by generous donations and sponsorships from local businesses and residents, and by the expansive LVIS thrift store located in the Gardiner Brown House at 95 Main Street. The Gardiner Brown House became the LVIS headquarters in 1987, saving the historic home from a period of neglect which left it poised for demolition. The store is open Tuesday–Saturday from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and offers one of the widest selections of gently-used clothing, books and furniture on the South Fork. Pizzorno has found some amazing items in the store herself, “I got some crystal candlesticks—I think they’re French—and I got my daughter some Tiffany ones.” She boasts that the store proves that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The book section is full of recent releases, cookbooks and volumes written on local culture and history. The store also offers a book on the LVIS’s history spanning three centuries, compiled by LVIS member Colleen Rando.
When asked what the group was most proud of as they near 125 years she says, “It’s very individual,” explaining that each member of the LVIS has their own passion within the group, and that everyone takes special pride in a different facet of their mission.
Though her work began in the books department of the thrift store, as a former teacher, Pizzorno finds great joy in working with the LVIS’s scholarship program. This year, nearly 60 local students applied and a total of $160,000 was awarded to deserving students. The beneficiaries of the LVIS’s scholarships have gone on to elite schools such as Tufts University, Williams College and Villanova University, to name a few. The stores operated by the LVIS, scholarships and other initiatives they spearhead offer incalculable community value, but the hallmark of the LVIS is their tree committee, dedicated to the care and maintenance of the village’s cherished elm trees. When Dutch elm disease spread across the country in the late twentieth century, the LVIS assisted in the care of the trees and installation of a new disease-resistant variety where those unsalvageable once stood. The trees which survived thanks to their help have now stood tall for over a century.
Pizzorno wants the the East End community to “come and enjoy” the LVIS Fair on Saturday, July 27. The LVIS meets monthly and those interested in membership or in volunteering can visit them at their headquarters or online for more information. If becoming a volunteer is too great a commitment for those looking to support the LVIS’s work, patronizing their thrift store and fair are excellent ways to do just that.
To learn more about the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society of East Hampton, visit lvis.org.