For shop owners in downtown Hampton Bays, a stagnant Main Street that's clearly not exciting locals is doing their business no favors all. In fact, it's hurting their bottom lines.
"What we really need is a shop local campaign," said Dana Rubin, owner of Hampton Bays Wines and Spirits. He adds a dire warning: If people continue to do their shopping up-island there won't be much of a Hampton Bays Main Street left.
Alex Joseph of boutique Daughter Time agreed. "At Christmas time, everyone shops at the mall. It's horrible. ... We have to get people to shop local."
For many of the owners we spoke to, a fresh infusion of new stores would be a huge help, adding depth to a shopping district that already offers a variety of shops in its small commercial strip.
But while neighbors such as Southampton Village and Westhampton Beach have very pedestrian friendly downtowns, the infrastructure in Hampton Bays is far less inviting, owners said.
"We don't have big sidewalks so people are not coming here to walk around town," said Darren Ottati, owner of Gayle's Beauty Salon. But, he said, what Hampton Bays does have is a Main Street where you can get just about anything you need at about half the cost.
"We need to let people know about all the services that are available," said Ottati. "You can go to Southampton and spend $300 to $400 on a highlight, but come here to get the same thing for $150. This is the only affordable East End town to shop in."
To get the word out, Pattye Pece, president of the World Village Fair Trade Market, said she'd like to see business owners network more.
"We need to look at what is happening right here already. Study it, research it and find out what other places in the country are doing. We don't have to re-invent the wheel."
She suggested a campaign where shop owners could offer coupons to other area shops, which she said would show a "solidarity among biz owners," and help dispel outsider opinion that Hampton Bays is just a "pass-through town" on the way to the Hamptons.
Bringing businesses together, she said would also entice new businesses to the area, but she said she would not recommend more retail, but instead more music.
"In Austin, Texas, there is that strip where every single bar/restaurant in a row on both sides of the street are "music of every type." This draws people into that part of town, for sure. How cool could it be to have all types of cultural music places?"
Another way to bring in new shops, says Simone Scotto, of Scotto's Italian Pork Store, is for landlords to bring down their rates and spruce up existing buildings.
"There are some areas that need improvement," said Scotto, who sits on the board of the newly formed civic group, Concerned Citizens for Hampton Bays, which is actively working to spruce up Hampton Bays.
"Some landlords need to fix up their buildings so we have a Main Street that is presentable and people want to hang out, walk around and spend some time."
With that, he said landlords should lower rents and look to bring in knickknacks shops.
Tom Maloney, owner of Shinnecock Hardware agreed that specialty shops would help define Hampton Bays.
He pointed to his daughter's new shop, Hampton Art Space, which he says has been doing very well.
"We need shops that are going to bring people in," he said, suggesting that artsy-type businesses and high-class antique shops would provide Hampton Bays with an identity.
"We need to bring families back," he said.
Business owners also offered up other ideas to help improve Main Street.
Scott Jeffrey of East End Bait and Tackle said he could lure-in more business if the parking along the canal is open to tourists in the summer — currently only residents can use the parking at the North end of the canal.
Mark Schumacher, owner of Hampton Music and Arts, recommended that Main Street's speed limit be enforced to make Main Street more walkable.
"I see trucks coming down here at top speed," he said, adding that "there is no real safe place to cross in the middle of town."
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