Shinnecock Voices: Rich and Steadfast History of Entrepreneurs and Professionals Alike

Harriett Crippen Brown Gumbs, aka “Princess Starleaf,” founded Shinnecock’s first trading post business on Montauk Highway in the 1950s
Harriett Crippen Brown Gumbs, aka “Princess Starleaf,” founded Shinnecock’s first trading post business on Montauk Highway in the 1950s

The idea that the Hamptons is populated solely by the affluent and wealthy is a myth. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, each day more than 50,000 pass Shinnecock Territory, most without ever knowing we Shinnecock exist.

Such is to be expected, considering Indigenous people are perhaps the most marginalized and easily dismissed population in America. However, the rich social summer scene spotlighted by the media compounds the reality of social and class divides; which we Shinnecock are forced to confront daily.

Over the last 20 years of my life, I have witnessed many grade school peers, Black and white, forced out of Southampton Town by the cost of living. In 2018, Sperling’s Best Places cited the overall cost of living in the Hamptons as 2.8 times higher than the national average — and that is before the recent inflation.

Entirely Black neighborhoods known as “The Ave” (Powell Avenue) and “The Hill” (Hillcrest Avenue) have been checker-boarded and sold to the highest bidder. The only constant here has been we Shinnecock and hardworking locals with enough business savvy and grit to navigate the seasonal influx of wealth.

Recently, the Express News Group spotlighted the “Profiles of the people and companies that make up the East End” in its free quarterly magazine publication’s spring 2022 edition, aptly named “Open for Business.” However, there seemed to be barely more than two visible people of color featured, despite the fact that Southampton Village alone has at least five BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color)-owned brick-and-mortar businesses:

Hidden Gem on Jobs Lane owned by sisters Temidra and Tanya Willock, Barber Lounge 36 on Hampton Road owned by Sebastian Diaz, and Xan-a-du on Main Street owned by Sharon Kerr, who has perhaps the oldest Black-owned business in Southampton Village, previously retailing under the store name Norahs at least 25 years ago.

Our Shinnecock Nation Vice Chairman Randy King partnered with Gym Tech to open Shinnecock Functional Fitness on Windmill Lane; and Shinnecock chef Binh Douglas, after earning the bid to run the Coopers Beach pavilion for a third consecutive summer — a rare accomplishment in its own right — cofounded Main Prospect on Prospect Street, where he proudly flies the Shinnecock flag.

But just outside of Southampton Village lies the most flashy, yet most overlooked, condensed population of BIPOC-owned businesses owners: the citizens of the Shinnecock Nation.

Following the Great Depression, when the economy finally started to pick up, several families saw opportunity in catering to the local tourism boom. Where Shinnecock Indian Outpost sits today on Montauk Highway, was once a small trading post that opened in 1950 selling Native artifacts, coffee and vending machine cigarettes.

Other Shinnecock businesses at the time included the Teepee in the Hills Gift Shop, Uncle Bob’s Candy Shop and The Kellis Rest, which was advertised locally as the “Famous Summer Resort.” Throughout the decades that followed came a dance hall, a general store, a hot dog stand snack bar, a vegetable stand and a gas station garage. Others used their land allotments to grow crops and raise farm animals for outsiders.

When Shinnecock Smoke Shop — “Long Island’s first tax free Smoke Shop” — opened its doors in 1984, it became the prototype for the current brick-and-mortar businesses that line Shinnecock’s highway today. The small trading post that was erected in 1950 was succeeded in 1984 by the Shinnecock Indian Outpost, which included tobacco products, a full-service deli and a Native gift shop. In the 2000s, the two original highway tobacco retailers were joined by six more.

In addition to Shinnecock Smoke Shop, Shinnecock’s highway businesses that focus solely on tobacco products include Eagle Feather Smoke Shop, BNB Tobacco Smoke Shop, Neepa’s Smoke Shop and Native Sons Tobacco Smoke Shop. The Shinnecock Indian Outpost transitioned to a vape store, though they still sell some small gift shop items. However, most of the large Native trading goods can be found at the Warehouse in back. The Outpost’s deli still remains but is now rivaled by the Lobster Factory nearby.

The remaining tobacco retailers have added their own diverse flair. Carla’s Kitchen and Smoke Shop offers a small selection of Native-print goods, while Stepping Stones Farmers Market and Smoke Shop sells basic grocery essentials, snack food items and fresh baked pies. Raindrop’s Quick Stop, which started as a 24-hour drive-thru convenience store, limited their hours but added a cafe that serves as an event space. Also, on the grounds, there is a small gift shop with jewelry handmade by Shinnecock Elder Ed Terry and Natural Native Hair Visions salon founded by braid artist Kristine Goree.

Landlocked behind the highway border boasts a number of business professionals that include independent lawyers, social workers, landscapers, carpenters, artists and media/music producers. Plus BW Party Rentals, owned by Shinnecock citizen Bruce Wright, and the ecotourism business Tuktu Paddle Tours, founded by Shinnecock Elder Gerrod Smith. Anyone who wants to experience Shinnecock from an Indigenous perspective can book a tour by visiting tuktupt.com.

Grand Entry at Shinnecock’s 73rd annual Labor Day Weekend Powwow in 2019
Grand Entry at Shinnecock’s 73rd annual Labor Day Weekend Powwow in 2019

Nevertheless, Shinnecock’s annual Labor Day Weekend Powwow seems to be the only time where our vibrant entrepreneurial community becomes most visible to our neighbors. Unfortunately, the recent pandemic has interrupted our Nation’s largest public platform of entrepreneurship and at the same time severely impacted the income on which many Shinnecock families depend.

Now in its 76th year — sans COVID years — our annual Shinnecock Powwow will finally return from Friday, September 2 to Monday, September 5. We proudly invite the public to come out to support some of the most talented chefs, craft makers, fashion designers and jewelry artists in Indian Country, and to celebrate Shinnecock’s rich and resilient history of entrepreneurship with traditional song, dance and food.

Dyáni Brown
Dyáni Brown

Dyáni Brown is a citizen of the Shinnecock Nation. She is a freelance writer, television and film entrepreneur, and communication and marketing specialist. To view her portfolio, visit about.me/dyanibrown.

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