A kid with an ice cream cone on Jobs Lane, a couple sitting in the sand at Coopers Beach, laughter rising from a restaurant table under the stars. The streets and shores of Southampton Village are vibrant during this autumn of unprecedented times. Although “unprecedented” may not completely apply to this moment in the village’s storied history.
“‘We’ve been through this before’ is my constant reply to the challenges of the 2020 COVID pandemic,” says Tom Edmonds, Executive Director of the Southampton History Museum. “Southampton went through many other traumas as a community with the 1938 Hurricane, 1918 Influenza Pandemic, 1816 Summer of No Sun, 1776–83 British Occupation, 1755 Earthquake, 1686 Village Fire, 1640 English Invasion, 1639 Pequot War, etc.”
And through them all, the village emerged stronger. Its rich history and cultural offerings here and now are a testament to its resilience. The summer that was, and wasn’t, has given way to a fall season presenting opportunity anew, for visitors to discover and businesses to explore.
“We’re all always looking for something new,” says Ian Duke, owner of Southampton Social Club, Union Burger Bar and Union Sushi & Steak, which opened in June and has stood as a symbol of not only how village business owners can adapt, but even take steps forward. “Any time you can get something new, something fun, any little thing like that, it makes our lives a little better.” He is even planning another venture, The Coop, which will be opening in November out of Southampton Social Club where Duke is “launching a ghost kitchen with fried chicken, roasted chicken, in a takeout and delivery environment only. We’re always looking to fill a void, to give people something to come here for.”
And arriving they have been. “Whether the weather, or COVID, or a realization that Southampton Village is a safe and easy ‘drive-to’ getaway, we are seeing many more visitors this year and a festive energy after Labor Day,” shares Dede Gothelff, owner of Southampton Inn and Claude’s Restaurant. “While there is a short-term booking window for the hotel—mostly only 7 to14 days out—it is encouraging that the days of strictly ‘seasonal’ in the Hamptons appear to be less pronounced this year.”
What has been pronounced, perhaps more than ever before, is the focus on celebrating and preserving the cultural offerings of the village. “During a time of crisis, we need the arts more than ever,” says Southampton Cultural Center (SCC) Executive Director Kirsten Lonnie. “The village’s arts district consists of the SCC, the SAC [Southampton Arts Center], SAAMEE, Southampton History Museum and Rogers Memorial Library. All of us provide outlets for creative energy and getting ‘out’ in a safe setting….There is an anxiety to get back to normal and a cohesiveness of community spirit. I see an increased demand for cultural and entertaining activities, even if they are virtual.”
“We are changed forever and will always offer electronic education programs,” adds Edmonds, adding that as much as remote experiences have become part of the new normal, there remain numerous in-person experiences and a “New England–style charm mixed with many museums, restaurants and specialty shops” by which “Southampton has become a year-round attraction for everyone.”
That has become especially true for home buyers, who have seen the local market rise on pandemic demand. “Southampton Village has done a good job of embracing commerce,” says Town & Country Real Estate CEO Judi Desiderio. “When people can visit shops, have a great meal, visit places of culture, they keep coming back.”
“It has a little bit of everything to offer, from a vibrant Main Street to beautiful Village beaches, from oceanfront estates to starter homes on leafy streets,” agrees Steven Dubb, principal of The Beechwood Organization. “And it’s only an hour and a half from New York City.”
Location, location, location. The old adage never gets old. “There are still many people who don’t want to deal with the traffic east of the Village, and now especially with the need to pop back into the city on a regular basis as they negotiate the needs of the pandemic,” says The Corcoran Group’s Gary DePersia. “And with the increased off-season population out here this year, that desire to be further west just increases.”
Signs of hope and progress in real estate are not reserved for residential only. Numerous commercial buildings in the business district have been renovated over the past year, and the work being done on the former Rogers Memorial Library will be another example of linking past and present. “That’s an architectural jewel here in the village, and it’s exciting to see what it’s going to look like after a full renovation,” says Don Sullivan, Southampton Publick House owner and Chamber of Commerce Director. “Those are things that we hope the village can build on, to attract new year-round shops and businesses.”
Indeed, year-round appeal was a goal for the village even in pre-COVID times, and a challenge many local business owners have struggled with, especially with some landlords marketing properties for seasonal “pop-ups” and fostering the notion that Southampton was just a summertime spot. Here-and-gone businesses don’t show a commitment to the community, notes Southampton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karen Connolly. “Hopefully our village officials take these challenging times as a realization that real long-term planning has to happen so that both businesses and year-round residents can further invest in our community. That has to include offering incentives for property owners to create apartments and businesses to remain open year-round.”
That is in the future. For the present, open businesses are supporting one another and offering an invitation. “There are walking and hiking paths with spectacular foliage usually reserved for northern New England. There are outdoor movies at the Southampton Arts Center, haunted happenings at the Southampton History Museum, miles of pristine ocean beaches to walk or read in the sun,” Gotthelf says. “Biking through the estate area, or driving with the windows open, offers glimpses into the magnificent old homes of the early 19th century. It’s such an easy and affordable place to experience—relax, explore, shop, dine and reboot.”