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Mar 25, 2009 9:51 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Recession means busy streets on the East End

Mar 25, 2009 9:51 AM

On a recent Sunday afternoon in Water Mill, an uninterrupted stream of cars traveling westbound on Route 27 held a black Mercedes in check at the intersection with Deerfield Road for more than two minutes as it waited for its turn to slip into the processional exit.

A visitor in the car behind the sleek sedan remarked about the long wait at the terminus of such a quiet farm road and asked if it was common. In the gloaming of a summer weekend, the answer would likely be a forlorn affirmative. But at the conclusion of a mild though not especially sun-drenched weekend in early March, and amid an economic recession that by all accounts had dampened the usually fervent rush to secure a summer retreat on the East End, the traffic seemed a bit beyond the expected.

But the scene might fit the mold of a trend some East Enders have noticed in recent months: weekend warriors wintering in the Hamptons.

While summer rentals may be slow on the uptake this spring and retail sales in the area’s fine shops nearly non-existent, the streets in the eastern hamlets have been veritably bustling compared to what could be expected in the depth of winters past.

“People aren’t vacationing, so they’re using their houses out there,” said Lizzie Grubman, a Manhattan publicist who has a house in East Hampton. “They didn’t take the vacation to the Caribbean or Mexico, so maybe they’re spending more time there. Everyone has been telling me it’s been packed out there.”

Indeed, though retail shop owners across the board said in recent interviews that sales all winter have been well off from past years—to a worrisome extent in several cases—some other businesses have reported brisk traffic, even crowds, that hint at a larger-than-normal influx of part-time residents on the weekends.

While Ms. Grubman has been staying in the city this winter caring for her newborn son, many of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd’s most visible East End part-timers have been in off-season residence.

“We’ve been coming out every weekend,” said outspoken ad man Jerry Della Femina, who is a seasonal fixture on Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton. “I had a friend in Palm Beach the other day say it’s empty down there. A lot of people are not going away, and they’re saying to themselves, ‘A few bucks on gas is better than a plane ticket.’”

Staff and owners of the area’s high-end restaurants, perhaps the most reliable assessors of weekend visitation, said that they were noticeably busier in the first two months of the new year, usually a markedly quiet time, than during the same months in years past.

At Red Bar in Southampton Village, 
Annona in Westhampton, and Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton, reservation books have been brimming and parking lots thundering every weekend.

“They might be spending a little bit less than normal, but they’re here, so I guess that’s actually spending more than normal,” said Kevin Penner, executive chef at 1770 House in East Hampton.

“President’s Day weekend, the place was just jumping,” added Mr. Della Femina, owner of Della Femina restaurant in East Hampton. “You couldn’t find a parking space in town. I could barely get a seat at my own restaurant.”

At Sag Harbor’s centerpiece American Hotel, long a watering hole and eatery of the wealthy weekend visitors, signs of the slumping economy have been few, unless the crowds themselves are the harbinger. Owner Ted Conklin remarked recently that business has been exceptional on the weekends this winter, up from the winter months in years past, and he groused at numerous accounts in New York City media lustfully presaging the “death” of the glitzy and glamorous Hamptons.

“They’re so hungry to say the Hamptons are dying—we’re not dying. There’s people all over the place,” 
Mr. Conklin said. “Come by here—we’re full every weekend.”

Other signs of an unusual influx of weekend residents were scattered around amid anecdotes of crowded sidewalks and summer houses awakened early, or never put to bed for the offseason.

Beatrix Morales, who owns a house cleaning business in East Hampton, said that the owners of a large house in Georgica she cares for have used the house many times this winter, whereas they had never come out in the winter months in past years.

A young barista at the East Hampton branch of Starbucks Coffee said that the lines on the weekends this winter have been long. “It’s less than in the summer, I guess,” she said, “but it seems like a lot this year.”

Real estate brokers are reporting that the seasonal rental market has been extremely slow on the uptake, now a full month into what is traditionally the high season for visitors searching for a summer retreat. But the drop-off has been in bookings and closings, not inquiries. The people have been out and on the hunt.

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Lizzie Grubman - Per Wikipedia - 2001 SUV incident
On July 7, 2001, Grubman drove her SUV into a crowd of people outside a nightclub in the Hamptons, injuring 16 people. After being asked by security guards to remove her Mercedes from a fire lane, she backed the vehicle into the crowd and was later charged in a 26-count indictment, for felony crimes including second-degree assault, driving while intoxicated, and reckless endangerment.[9] Grubman had been facing up to eight years in prison, but ...more
By winkelby (38), westhampton on Mar 20, 09 2:36 PM
winkelby. . . get over it. . that was 8 years ago. . . people make mistakes and grow up
By prohamptons (3), East Hampton11937 on Mar 20, 09 5:18 PM
We're quoting Lizzie Grubman once again so you know that issue has come full circle! But Prohamptons is right, we all make mistakes, and let's hope Lizzie has learned from hers. And you know, I hope, that even Eliot Spitzer was back on TV this week talking about his former--and prescient--investigation of AIG. My, my...can his rehabilitation be far behind?
By Capt. Phil (64), Southampton on Mar 20, 09 7:37 PM
So ... it's not OK to call this model citizen a rich little spoiled snot?
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Mar 21, 09 5:58 AM
Good comment winkelby. :-)
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Mar 21, 09 12:31 PM
Oh, come on! She ran over people and acted like they deserved it and said as much.
Yes. Maybe she has changed. (Not!)
Don't use her as an example of someone who knows what's going on!

By kittenlegal (1), East Hampton on Mar 24, 09 10:12 PM