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Apr 27, 2010 2:32 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Village looks to liven up empty storefronts

Apr 27, 2010 2:32 PM

EAST HAMPTON VILLAGE—Members of a new committee will work to create a guideline for East Hampton Village store and commercial land owners in the next couple of weeks to suggest how they can make the growing number of empty storefronts on Main Street and Newtown Lane more inviting during the off-season.

The goal, said Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach, is to find a solution that could be put in place for next winter.

Mayor Rickenbach and the committee met for the first time on Monday morning. The committee includes representatives from the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Village Board, the business community, the Ladies Village Improvement Society and the Artists and Writers of East Hampton—a group that has proposed putting artwork in the windows of vacant stores.

The group debated whether putting up artwork would be feasible, and other ways to encourage store owners to keep their window displays lively even when their stores are vacant, rather than simply covering them with paper or leaving them completely empty.

“I think the card store is a good example of what we all agree we don’t want,” said Village Administrator Larry Cantwell, referring to the Main Street storefront of what was once Hampton Cards and Gifts. Completely void of any covering or signs in its windows, the empty store and the cleaning supplies left behind are visible to passers-by. The opposite extreme, said Kristina Klug, of Tiffany and Co., are store windows that are covered in brown paper, like the Michael Kors store, she said.

“At one point I thought, ‘Oh, doesn’t Michael Kors look nice?’” she said. “It looked like one big Michael Kors ad. But soon after that was taken down and that’s when the paper went up. I guess that was because it covered the whole window.”

The village code regulates store windows and the 4 feet of space inside the store, said Mr. Cantwell. A sign is allowed to cover up to 25 percent of the glass, but requires a permit, he said. The village does not regulate putting products in the window or anything beyond the 4-foot mark.

“The question becomes, what’s a sign and what’s not a sign?” Mr. Cantwell said. “Anything that’s a form of advertising, except product, is a sign.”

Though Mr. Cantwell said the village’s sign law is generally considered fair, Robert Rattenni, a commercial property owner, said another issue needs to be addressed. He cited the Hermes store, which created full-length window displays in the company’s signature orange that promised shoppers the store would be back in the spring. Like the original off-season display at Michael Kors, the Hermes display is against village code, but Mr. Rattenni said he preferred it to handwritten signs or brown paper.

“In Hermes’s case, it’s a well-known, internationally respected company that had a sign done professionally,” he said. “I think you need to take these on a case by case basis.”

Mr. Cantwell said part of the problem is the village cannot force store owners to create professional displays, or tell them what to put in their windows. Another element, he said, is that some of the stores close for good after one summer season, so the window would be the responsibility of the landlord.

“To what extent can we tell a landowner to cover or to not cover?” he said.

Mr. Cantwell said the village code is flexible enough to allow store owners or landlords a well-designed display, granted that it does not cover more than 25 percent of the window. He also stressed that essentially anything, including a full-length screen or artwork, would be permitted past the 4-foot mark.

“An art display that was outside of 4 feet, we wouldn’t even regulate that,” he said.

But many at the meeting still questioned whether putting artwork in the windows didn’t just create additional problems.

“How are you going to determine what is art?” asked Joan Denny, a ZBA member. “Are the landlords going to pay for it? And the lighting, will the village pay for that?”

Elena Prohaska Glinn, an art advisor and curator and a member of the Artists and Writers of East Hampton, said the idea was for herself and two other art curators to be in charge of selecting artists to be featured. She said she hoped to work closely with landlords and also to feature local artists. She said that to begin with, she wanted to institute a pilot program, and maybe change the art only once a month.

“The idea is to bring pedestrian traffic, liven things up,” Ms. Prohaska Glinn said, adding that it would also be good for landlords looking for new tenants.

Though Mayor Rickenbach said the idea of artwork installations and a committee to oversee them was “not dead,” the group favored giving landlords a broader choice in the matter, and instead will put together a list of suggestions—such as a screen or partition 4 feet in from the window and keeping products on display during the off-season.

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Here's an easy solution to empty storefronts, lower the rents.
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Apr 27, 10 3:12 PM
people get greedy and then they get nothing. The mom and pop stores from years ago are almost extinct. EH looks like Rodeo Drive. Too bad. At least Amagansett has been able to hold on to its small town charm
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 27, 10 3:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
And in Amagansett and Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton, street parking is REASONABLE ... 3 hours in Bridgehampton ... East Hampton has become the unfriendliest Hampton around. There isn't enough time to have something to eat and see a movie ... just awful.
By Nancy Q. (27), east Hampton on Apr 27, 10 4:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
I agree-lower rents might help some local families--- not only be able to shop in their own town-but allow local small business owners to provide a "needed" product.
It could help locals to add to the heritage of LI -so long forgotten. And keep business $$$ in their own town.
I cannot afford to return to EH- as much as I have wanted to for years.
I think it is time that locals -take EH back- so that maybe future generations will not feel they have no choice but to leave.
If a quick ...more
By tjgasrel (3), East Hampton on Apr 27, 10 4:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
Remember you put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig
By compushed (1), East Hampton on Apr 27, 10 9:28 PM
Come out east and enjoy Montauk. You will be pleasantly surprised.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 27, 10 10:24 PM
Another thought- How about profiling local peoples' stories who in the- past and present -contributed to the town and area?
It might be a learning lesson for all involved.
Small towns with real people are a dying breed. It isn't always about the "money". It makes me really sad to see how much change came about.
I remember small stories family owned- affordable to us who lived there.
Speed's- where you could buy a 10 cent cup of tea...Eddies' , Sams', Brothers' Four... Ma Bergman... ...more
By tjgasrel (3), East Hampton on Apr 28, 10 3:07 AM
I would certainly like to see the empty stores gone. It would be nice if East Hampton looked more like Sag Harbor. The village has no feel to it. It is half empty in the off-season and looks too much like an east coast Rodeo Drive in the summer. I avoid the village that time of year, so I don't puke from watching all the trendoids.
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Apr 29, 10 9:19 AM
1 member liked this comment
No trendoids in Montauk...real prople, real fun.....check it out!
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 29, 10 6:42 PM
montauk is a bunch of california wannabes. come to hampton bays to see what the old time hamptons was really like. and don't bother using your easthampton town sticker, we only like the southampton town stickers on our beach. feel free to launch a drum circle as well, the beach is for everyone here, not just hedge fund managers and media moguls.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Apr 29, 10 11:25 PM
By ELECTRICUTIONER (65), east islip/montauk on May 2, 10 10:15 AM
yea hampton bays. We could all go to the boardy barn to get the real flavor of hampton bays
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 30, 10 2:23 PM
Well it's better than the flavor in Springs. Or is that flavor?
By Puros (30), Hampton Bays on Apr 30, 10 5:13 PM
I believe we should urge all landlords to require that their tenants remain open for all but one month during the year, at least three days a week. The "summer season" shops are ruining our village. A better solution than thinking up ways to dress the empty storefronts.
While we cannot FORCE landlords to require this of their tenants, we could shame them into being more community-minded by asking them as a community, to think of something besides their big fat wallets. It could easily be written ...more
By P.A.B. (23), East Hampton on Apr 30, 10 6:44 PM
got an idea use the unused christmas paper to put in windows instead of that ugly plain brown paper.
By asurest (117), easthampton on May 1, 10 8:26 AM
Thank goodness for the organizations "Save Sag Harbor" and the "Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce" - who work so hard to keep our town vibrant, exciting and people friendly.
By SagHarborBob (91), Sag Harbor on May 3, 10 6:07 AM
Dennis Farina rocks!
By WHBinManhattan (47), Manhattan/Westhampton on May 3, 10 6:15 PM
And so it goes...
By Lester Ware (15), Sag Harbor on May 11, 10 10:08 AM