There’s a certain happenstance that comes most Saturdays when locals and weekenders alike find themselves on Main Street in Sag Harbor picking up lunch. They tend to wander through the rows of shops selling summer wares, flexing their purchasing powers every step of the way. It’s what drew Sunswell, a local men’s ready-to-wear brand founded by husband and wife duo Craig and Carrie O’Brien, to take over a prime location at 66 Main Street, formerly the site of Marty’s Barbershop for over 50 years.
“In early October, we connected with the landlord,” Carrie recalls. “He turned out to be an amazing guy and local business owner who was super invested in having a tenant in place that suited the vibe of Sag Harbor. He was very specific about that fact, and we spent some months getting to know one another. I think this is a special thing about our town — people who love Sag Harbor want to protect it, and it was just the right fit all around.”
With the lease signed, and fellow swimwear brand Fair Harbor brought in to collaborate on the space, plans were set for a booming summer of sales.
Enter COVID-19, leaving Main Street merchants in a sea of uncertainty, as they can no longer count on the revenue spike during the summer season, but David Brogna, vice president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and owner of In Home Sag Harbor, insists that retailers must forge on.
“The merchants of Sag Harbor are part of a scrappy legacy of the sea,” Brogna said. “Just like those who saw the village through its ups and downs from whaling through manufacturing, we are survivors who will adapt, because we love our village. While this has been a particularly hard hit for many, we are working through it and uncovering every avenue to maintain the vibrant nature of Sag Harbor’s small businesses.”
For some, like women’s accessories and ready-to-wear brand Frances Valentine, a new avenue includes the introduction of curbside pickup and home delivery of its stylish goods that range from jewelry and handbags to beautifully embroidered home textiles. Eager to please its clientele, other shops will likely follow suit.
“I would guess this is the norm while we are all required to social distance, but long-term, I don’t think so,” the company’s president, Elyce Arons, mused. “I think we will slowly ease into our enjoyable habits over the months, but having curbside pickup does provide more flexibility for customers in the future.”
For other brands without a robust online customer base, the Sag Harbor Partnership has pledged to underwrite a “Virtual Main Street” initiative, which will promote virtual offerings while some stores remain closed. Final details and a dedicated website are still in the works.
Though in what appears to be the bright side of this rapid adjustment process, merchants have never been more unified. “We’ve been calling them The Sag Harbor Retailers Zoom Sessions,” Patricia Reed, co-founder of boutique Matriark, told us of her informal digital group of about 30 fellow retailers.
“I always felt a great sense of camaraderie in Sag Harbor, but I think we are all navigating these difficult times with even more things in common. So, it makes sense to think about working as a community and help each other. I opened Matriark last year, so I had not met a few of the retailers up until now, and I think it’s true to others as well. It’s been nice to know them, even if it’s just via Zoom,” said Reed.