First Person: No More Hamptons Tumbleweed Tuesday

Southampton Inn Grounds
Southampton Inn Grounds. Photo Credit: Southampton Inn

For the first time in over 20 years, there is no “Tumbleweed Tuesday” in Southampton. The weather promises to remain swim-able. Trees and bushes are in full bloom. The “summer people” seem to be staying on the East End through the end of September and we are receiving numerous inquiries for monthly reservations through year end. Even a few for the first quarter of 2021.

This has been a rollercoaster of a tragic and surreal year. By February of 2020 the Southampton Inn ledger reflected the highest advanced reservations and deposits in our history. By the end of April into mid-May, we experienced over $2 million of cancellations for all corporate groups, International travelers, guests who would have to fly here—especially Florida, Texas, and California.

All weddings, all visitors attending special events and galas, all family reunions, golf outings, cancelled. City dwellers on lock-down. And after a frightening few weeks of trying to determine how to stay the course, retain jobs and provide lodging for community members, reservations from a mostly new group of visitors started booking quickly. Visitors from New York City and the tri-state area, more families, pets and those whose plans to travel to Europe, cruise or visit domestic fly-to destinations were instead visiting the Hamptons. And then, after experiencing it, hoping to stay.

We are now finishing the traditional “high season” months of July and August with record-breaking occupancy and revenues. But the costs have been high. Since the Southampton Inn is open year-round and had hosted medical staff brought to Long Island to assist the local hospitals with the pandemic, we had time early on to prepare for health and safety following CDC guidelines. From reconfiguring check-in with sneeze guards and ropes to removing draperies from guest rooms, to purchasing UVC Sterile-Light units to disinfect guest rooms and offices, to providing beach bags with masks and gloves, placing hand sanitizers everywhere, and removing some furniture from the lobby/library, there were countless measures taken to protect staff, guests and the community from illness.

Claude’s restaurant brand evolved into colorful picnic baskets with individually wrapped foods that were brought to various outside venues, including lawns, patios, the courtyard and garden. Even the name of the picnic baskets—”Ascot” and “Sunday in the Park with George”—were reminiscent of the olden days in the Hamptons, when outside dining was a picnic rather than “al fresco.” When Phase 4 permitted inside dining, the café and ballroom were set up to accommodate only 25% of the permitted occupancy.

Everyone seems to be happy, feeling safe and cared for, and eager to continue to visit, stay, shop, explore and enjoy the beauty of the East End. We are not taking anything for granted these days. While there is a new comfort in experiencing an extended “season” beyond Labor Day, there is so much uncertainty about a “second wave,” reinfection, school policies and availability of housing and infrastructure to accommodate all, that we are watching carefully as we move forward toward autumn. Weekend guests and overnight visitors are always welcome, but a trend seems to be that guests are asking to take 28-day stays. Packages that historically included pumpkin mazes and winery tours, moonlit kayak paddles, concerts and theater are not being promoted, but we have the clean air, magnificent beaches, bike rides, hiking and safely distanced dining in local eateries. We are hopeful that this trend will continue—as I’ve been trying to brand the “off” season in Southampton Village for the past decade.

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