A New Wave of Village Fashion


Rash of clothing stores set up shop in Sag Harbor By Marissa Maier Heller_bbbalsam_4280

When Dee Clarke opened her women’s fashion and accessories store D.J. Hart on Main Street in the 1970s, the accountants of Sag Harbor — there were three at the time — told her she would soon be out of business. But nearly 33 years later, Clarke has proved these financial advisers wrong. D.J. Hart (34 Main Street) is not only still open but is thriving, Clarke remarked in an interview, adding that her store even stays open until midnight in the summer months. As a veteran Main Street shopkeeper, Clarke has seen the economic tides of Main Street ebb and flow and has managed to stay ahead of the shifts. And recently Clarke, as well as many others, have witnessed a new cycle of entrepreneurial activity in the village. Over the past few months and years, fashion-oriented businesses have been mushrooming up in all corners of Sag Harbor. From Lauren G (112 Hampton Street near Sag Harbor Elementary School), to Marie Eiffel (2 Bay Street) and the countless new Main Street digs — like Collette Designer Consignment (Main Street Shopping Cove), Matta (Main Street Shopping Cove), B.b. Balsam (83 Main Street), Sean (76 Main Street), Dreaming of You (150 Main Street) and Pailletts (Main Street Shopping Cove) — a veritable apparel storm is brewing in Sag Harbor. Clarke attributes the change to many factors — from increased tourism to the local restaurants attracting a clothing-conscious clientele. Many of the new Sag Harbor business owners cited a deep appreciation for the ambiance of the village and its proven year round appeal. “I lived in Sag Harbor for over 15 years. I love Sag Harbor. It’s a great town with really interesting people,” noted Sean Cassidy, owner of Sean, a men’s clothing store on Main Street. “I [was] looking for a few years for the right spot.” Shelter Island resident Barbara Balsam, proprietress of the new avant garde clothier B.b Balsam, decided to open her fourth location in Sag Harbor on a “fluke,” she said. After spending roughly 20 years visiting the village in the winter for some sightseeing and dinners at The American Hotel, Balsam established her Sag Harbor operation at the end of August of this year. “[The village] has a ton of charm but it was like an old kind of charm and it also had a lot of sophistication. It just appealed to me and I liked the businesses in the town,” Balsam remembered of what initially drew her to set up shop in Sag Harbor. “The stores are beautiful, but I bring something else to the town.” Balsam, in addition to many of the new guard in Sag Harbor, noted the stylistic niche her store fills. She tends to stock a limited number of certain items, which are often made by an obscure brand. “I carry brands you aren’t going to find in Bloomingdales,” Balsam remarked. “My store is [like] a constantly changing art gallery and we will have a new show every month.” At her third location, Cristina Gitti, the founder and designer of Matta, brings the shoppers of Sag Harbor her take on traditional Indian silhouettes, as well as a smattering of home goods, accessories and textiles, said store manager Theresa DiScianni. While Gitti supplies her wares to other fashion stores, DiScianni added, her merchandise is all made by her own craftsmen in India instead of a third party. The result is a modern, yet authentic looking selection of pieces marked with the design thumbprint of Gitti and the flavor of India. Danielle Gisiger, owner of Pailletts, said she often hears from clients that her merchandise is very different from what is offered in the rest of the village. Featuring many one-of-a-kind or limited run pieces, Pailletts’ aesthetics are often off the beaten path like a pair of swimming trunks featuring President Obama’s mug which were popular this summer. While many store owners are quick to note the year round and lively atmosphere of Sag Harbor and the niche they fill within the village, others added that the comparatively low rents of the village also fueled their decision to open here instead of elsewhere. Sean store manager Vincent Brandi pointed out that a few years ago Cassidy had a location in East Hampton but he had to shutter it once his lease became prohibitively expensive. Of the new wave of downtown businesses, Clarke theorized, “I think it is inevitable given the enormous rents in Southampton and East Hampton.” Clarke, like many in the village, owns the building from which she operates her shop and also leases another commercial space to Flying Point Surf and Sport as well as a few apartments. “I think owner occupied buildings is important. We are people who take this very seriously. This is our livelihood. It’s not a joke,” Clarke noted. “We do not charge too much for rent for an apartment or store and therefore we have full occupancy and happy tenants.”