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Jan 27, 2016 9:27 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

C And W Mercantile, A Bridgehampton Staple, To Close Its Doors This Week

Barbara Dutton, the owner of C & W Mercantile, will close shop this Thursday. She stands in her store, but many of the items have already been sold. ALISHA STEINDECKER
Jan 27, 2016 9:39 AM

C & W Mercantile, a staple on Bridgehampton’s Main Street for anything from children’s clothing to home furnishings and linens, will close its doors for good this week.

Rewind 25 years to 1990, when Barbara Dutton first took over the business. She had spent two years as a stay-at-home mom and was ready to go back to work, but not teaching theater or being an artist in New York City as she had done previously.

Instead, she bought her favorite store, meanwhile retaining and applying her passion for art and theater.

“You create a visual and you have music and lighting and then it is like improv all day with the customers,” Ms. Dutton said on Friday. “It fulfilled a lot of the things I loved about both painting and theater because it is all so visual.”

The store was a place where customers were made to feel at home, and it remained open all year round, even during the quietest winter months.

Ms. Dutton said that was her favorite part about having the store: the interaction she had with her customers. “It is just the most amazing people that I’ve met over the years. They were just in the store every month, every week, some people every single day,” she explained.

“I think I am really going to miss being around those people on a daily basis,” she said.

Her daughter, Christina Dutton, often worked at the store. “I think the reason why the store outlasted so many others like it in the Hamptons was not just what she sold or her taste in merchandise, but her ability to adapt to any situation and always remember people,” Ms. Dutton said of her mother. “She knew their names, their kids’ names, and what their taste and style was, and people really appreciate that.”

Those relationships mattered during difficult times, Christina Dunn said. “She was smart after 9/11 and then again after the recession when people in the Hamptons were really hit hard. All these other trendy home stores with big investors and business plans were folding left and right, but she kept it all together and made it work.”

Barbara Dutton plans to keep up a presence online. “I am really going to miss having a store, but it is an interesting problem to make a website become something that has charisma,” she said. “I have a hard time not having a project.”

She continued, “I am going to concentrate on the website and join the enemy, which has taken such a big bite out of retail.”

Over the years, her daughter helped her maintain the store’s website, recognizing that it needed, as Christina Dutton said, “visibility for those long winters and off-season months.”

“You hear more and more, I bought this, I bought that, you don’t have to buy that there, you can get it online cheaper,” Barbara Dutton said of online shopping, which challenged her own brick-and-mortar business as it has done with so many others. “It is just the way it goes now,” she said.

The past 25 years have not always been easy, especially during the recession in 2008 and considering the expensive rents on the South Fork. “You can’t raise prices on your product to meet that, because they can be bought elsewhere,” she said of periodic hikes in rent.

Ms. Dutton said one reason she is ready to move on is that it’s now the children of her peers who are shopping, and they have different tastes. “It is a different sensibility of clean, and that is very appealing to me, too, but certainly that is where retailers now have to slant … to who is doing the purchasing,” she explained.

And the younger generation does a lot of online shopping. “I am kind of excited about making that [website] my form of retail,” Ms. Dutton said.

She had considered asking her landlord to renew the lease for two more years at the end of last summer, but decided to “make the jump now,” she said. After all, she had already renewed it for an extra 15 years in 2000.

“I am feeling totally like I am making the right decision,” Ms. Dutton said.

But she added, “I will miss it a lot.”

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C&W, created back in the late '70's when Bridgehampton was a Non-Hampton, was a treasure. The original owners were bold and bright, and Barbara Dutton kept it going and added her touch. But this is, behind the lines, a poignant story in that the Mom and Pop stores have vanished. The only original Main Street stores are Tutto Bene....and Thayer's... And the reason? Not so much online shopping, but in fact, exorbitant rents which make small businesses unsustainable...Lucky is the business owner who ...more
By candyw (20), wainscott on Jan 28, 16 10:49 AM
Such an important observation re: the overhead problem of trying to operate a small business. So very sad to lose these small stores with their beautiful and unique offerings. Phooey on the modern tastes and lifestyles. Thank you Barbara Dutton, we will miss you, too. All the best in your new project.
By June Bug (2680), SOUTHAMPTON on Jan 28, 16 12:51 PM
Actually as a small merchant in the area it is in fact the anemic business climate and not the rents and that's a fact!
By lursagirl (245), southampton on Jan 28, 16 9:13 PM
Actually as a small merchant in the area it is in fact the anemic business climate and not the rents and that's a fact!
By lursagirl (245), southampton on Jan 28, 16 9:14 PM
As sad as it is, I wish Barbara the best!
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Jan 28, 16 4:48 PM