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Nov 4, 2009 12:21 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Winter business vacancies in East Hampton raise concerns about corporate retailers

Nov 4, 2009 12:21 PM

Shoppers and strollers on Main Street and Newtown Lane in East Hampton have already started to notice the plain white paper that covers windows or the handwritten signs announcing new business hours that is characteristic of a resort town’s business district come winter.

But some year-round retailers in East Hampton Village said this winter would be especially interesting because the spring yielded a higher number of corporate stores than ever before.

Last month, stores such as Intermix, Hermes and Jill Stuart already closed their doors with more, including Temperley London, Brooks Brothers and La Perla, soon to follow. In fact, after the holiday shopping season is over, locals looking to shop on a given weekday might be out of luck—almost half of the stores that currently occupy space in the business district, both corporate and local, will be closed for at least a few weekdays, if not altogether, according to an informal survey.

“Business in the winter is dead, dead, dead,” said Anna Greenberg, owner of Hampton Cards and Gifts, which has been on Main Street for 10 years. “This year, it’s deader.”

Marina Van, director of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce, said an increase in corporate stores is good for the village because they tend to have the means to stay open for the winter.

“So when people staying in the hotels call the chamber to ask which stores are open, I have something to tell them,” she said.

Tommy Hilfiger, which opened this spring, J.Crew, and all the Ralph Lauren stores will stay open for the winter, though some, like Cole Haan, will close because they believe their client base is in the Hamptons only for the summer, Ms. Van said.

To Renee Fertig, a manager at Tennis East, which has been open year-round for 38 years, the “pop-up” stores, usually corporate retailers that take advantage of short-term leases in resort towns with high foot traffic, are part of the problem because they can afford the ever-increasing summer rents of local landlords but leave the town empty come winter. She said rent prices in the village were up 30 percent this year.

“Local people can’t survive it,” said Ms. Fertig. “To me, that is so not thinking of what the town looks like and this place is very much about the climate.”

Roland Eisenberg, who owned Fifi Laroo in the Circle for 10 years, is still feeling the sting of recently having to close his store. He said his situation involved disagreements with his landlord but that, in general, he believes pop-up stores are ruining the climate of the village. He said that as corporate stores, which might come to East Hampton for the reputation and not to show a profit, flood the village, they also cause rent inflation. He said in his opinion, rents get higher and landlords get less understanding as they get used to dealing with corporations.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” he said. “But I can tell you that business is declining so badly in East Hampton because landlords are dealing with pop-up stores like Hermes and Michael Kors.”

Ms. Fertig said Tennis East is lucky to have a landlord who is reasonable to local tenants. She said if it weren’t for its landlord, Tennis East probably would have had to leave East Hampton a long time ago, which she said would devastate her customers.

“We have loyal customers that depend on us,” she said. “It’s not just sales, it’s family.”

But not all corporate stores play into the negative image. Certain companies like Tiffany & Co., Coach and J.Crew have typically been open for winter. Even some stores with the pop-up label are trying to become more stable fixtures on the Main Street scene. Solstice, which closed last winter, is giving this winter a trial run, said an assistant manager; and even Malia Mills, a swimwear store, is braving the winter after a successful opening summer.

At Trina Turk, which opened in East Hampton on Memorial Day weekend, the manager of the East Hampton and New York City stores, the retail director and sales associates held a meeting a few weeks ago to decide whether to stay open for the winter. The group of women was gathered in front of the store immersed in a discussion about the store, the town and its customers.

“Well, what do we think?” Kathleen Emmons, retail director, finally asked the group.

“Yes. We’re staying open. We’ll be here,” said manager Melanie Castleman, referring to the holiday season. She added that Trina Turk would continue to get new merchandise through that time.

Ms. Emmons said the store has a year-round lease and there was an obvious wish among the store’s staff to stay open longer, but it would require more communication between retailers in the village to encourage more customers during the winter. It’s a concern Ms. Van said she also heard from members of the Chamber of Commerce at a recent Retail Committee meeting. She said the chamber has tried to promote local retailers through its website by posting coupons but that it didn’t produce significant results.

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"an increase in corporate stores is good for the village because they tend to have the means to stay open for the winter"

They don't drive up rents or displace local businesses? They have goods local want to buy? Are locals extinct yet?

Practically the entire village is a corporate franchise gift shop.
By Noah Way (450), Southampton on Nov 4, 09 8:10 PM
wasn't it just a few years ago that East Hampton was decrying that Ralph Lauren was planting itself in its town?
By Hambone (514), New York on Nov 9, 09 2:44 PM