The grand marshal in their year’s HarborFest parade talks about life as a business owner in Sag Harbor, as the former president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and remembers her daughter Linda, who died a hero as a passenger on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to Sag Harbor and started your business Sagalund?
I came here because my husband came to work at Sag Harbor Industries. He was the vice president. That was how we arrived here. Then I started participating in the community, in the Parent Teacher Association and I participated in all local things. I wanted to make myself useful. [Daughters] Elsa was five and Linda was 10 when we came here. Then chance opened a wonderful opportunity when someone wanted to sell the business and so I bought it in 1972 or 1973 and I had it for 25 years. We named the company SagaLund – Sag for Sag Harbor and Lund for Gronlund. In the beginning it was strictly work clothes. We supplied the Bulova Watchcase Company with those green and grey and tan shirts and pants and lots of work boots for all the working people in Sag Harbor. It was that time. As we grew, we listened to the people and started to add new lines. I was very fortunate because all my friends from my buying days in New York City introduced me to people so it just grew and grew and grew. Levis, of course, was a staple. Then the Dockers came in and we added navy blazers and grey slacks – really just basics – lots of khaki pants. I did take in the Heli Hansen line of foul weather gear because that came from Norway and since my parents were born in Norway I leaned towards the kind of quality I knew I would get from there. Then we added the Dale of Norway sweaters – they are famous all over the world so I never I had to put them on sale because they sold out all the time. And that continued on until 1997.
What happened in 1997?
Linda was able to get some time off and we never had a chance to take a vacation together, so she made all the plans and we flew off to Oslo together and then up to almost the North Pole, got onto a big, big ship that stopped at all the little villages down the coast – it was like a mail or freight kind of ship, but just lovely. We had such a good time. She said to me, “You know Mom, you are lots of fun. I think we have to go on another trip.” I said, “Well, my next dream vacation is New Zealand.” She said, “Okay, let’s do it in 2002.”
Elsa came to work when she was about 13 or 14 in the store. Linda was not a retailer – it just was not her – but Elsa was wonderful, wonderful.
How has Sag Harbor changed in your time here?
Sag Harbor started to grow. When I came here in 1964 a lot of the stores were boarded up. It was really pretty hard times and then in the 1970s we had the gas shortage and inflation and everybody felt that. We had many stores open here that had to close. The good old basics are still here. There was a group that wanted to make the village welcoming, which is why we continued the Whalers Festival, which we can’t take credit for – that was [John] Steinbeck and the boys. But we devised many things to welcome people here. We had this incredible treasure chest, where you bought something and you got a coupon and your name went into the chest and then it was drawn and a key opened the chest – it was complicated. There were many, many great ideas. Dave Lee did a lot of good, Nada Barry, Jack Tagliasacchi, my goodness, great, great people And then when Barbara Schmitz came in [to the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce] and took over, I could not have been more proud of her. When I was president I made her my vice president and we was so nervous and now she has been the longest running president of chamber and has done a really great job.
How have you seen the business community change in Sag Harbor?
Obviously in my particular case, the working clothes changed dramatically. John Weitz, a great designer, wrote a beautiful article for The New York Times detailing where you could get really fine work clothes. Women started to buy work clothes, because it became “the thing,” “the style,” so I started to buy smaller sizes so the women could buy them. Watching the needs being filled now, by the very many different kind of stores that have opened, serving needs we didn’t have back then. We have seen it go from a basic working man’s town to a people’s town. I feel that I think we want to protect it. I have been all over the world and the place you come to where you feel at home, welcome, where the people are polite, that is where you want to go. And much of that feeling is why Sag Harbor has grown as it has. I think it is just beautiful. And you see other places, like Greenport, doing the same thing now. Greenport, only a few years ago, was not the most pleasant place, but has really grown into a lovely town.
What are you most proud of during your tenure as the President of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce?
I was in charge of the Santa Claus visit and we had had it at the Fire House, the American Legion, but we were able to have it at Bay Street Theatre, which I cannot say enough about. That theatre has brought an enormous amount of people and attention to Sag Harbor. It was just unbelievable, they even made a throne for Santa. They made it so lovely. We had young children serving as elves. Those ladies have now all grown up and probably have children of their own.
What do events like HarborFest mean to you? How important is it for the village?
It originated being a Whaling Festival because of John Steinbeck and that group and it was created to bring people into Sag Harbor. Certainly, we got discovered, and it has been a nice lengthening of the summer for the businesses. I think that it is unique in that we are a whaling village and we have events like whale boat races and the clam chowder contest. We even used to have pony rides in Marine Park. It makes it unique to Sag Harbor. I know Greenport has begun its own festival and they have used many of our types of events.
Do you have any special plans for HarborFest this year having been named grand marshal?
It is an honor they are bestowing on me, although I would never want to take away from Nada, Jack and Dave Lee and all the work they have down. I am not one who likes to be in the forefront. I will be eating all the soup I can.
HarborFest does coincide with the eighth anniversary of the September 11. Does that change the meaning of the weekend for you?
The day after September 11, Bryan [Boyhan, editor and publisher of The Sag Harbor Express] asked me if it would be okay to go ahead with the festival and I said okay. The fact that it is almost right near the 11th, I have had to be in Washington D.C. or Shanksville for observing that day.
I think that I always want people to remember Flight 93 because they were unique. They did not choose to let that particular plane become another missile so the next target, the White House or the Capital would be destroyed. What a different picture we would have of that day if that had happened. They took it upon themselves to try and do something about it, to try and get into the cockpit, to try and take over the plane. They were 40 unique people and when the families all meet in Shanksville we just love one another because we gave the best we had. Now we are working towards a memorial and it is pretty much on the way. We are hoping to get it completed by 09-11-11.
Sag Harbor is a genuine jewel and the comfort and care and love I have been shown here has truly made a difference in how I have been able to heal.