Sag Harbor is not a village that can be narrowly defined. Just as it can no longer be referred to as an industrial or blue-collar community, it is not solely a high-end or luxury resort destination either. Much has changed in Sag Harbor, a diverse group of community and business leaders agreed during a recent roundtable discussion in the offices of The Sag Harbor Express, held in advance of a March 7 Express Sessions event at Bay Street Theater titled “The Uncertain Future of Main Street.” But as much as there has been change, panelists — some who have lived in the village their entire lives — were in consensus that the heart and soul of Sag Harbor is still very much intact.
Which is not to say there is not a tremendous amount of work that can, and should, be done as the community strives to maintain its diversity of locally-owned businesses and its year-round population. Sag Harbor Village has seen a sharp increase in the amount of rent being charged in both its business district and residential neighborhoods and, like surrounding communities, is faced with an alarming decline in affordable, workforce housing. Our hope is that on March 7, at Bay Street Theater, the community can come together to begin a productive conversation on how the community as a whole can work together toward common goals.
While the recent loss of several beloved businesses has been painful, the reality is Sag Harbor has not lost its soul. There are still a number of residents, some with family roots going back several generations, who have dedicated themselves through volunteerism and in other ways to this village. Take a walk down Main Street and you see a village that remains vibrant and is home to more locally-owned businesses than corporate entities. To declare the village sold and the deed done is not only unproductive, it is insulting to the families and business owners who have not cashed out and remain dedicated to their hometown and place of work.
Moving forward, we believe increased communication between business owners, landlords, village, town and state government leaders and the residents and second-homeowners who drive the economic engine needs to improve. Community collaboration seems to have waned in the age of the internet and social media — mediums that have had both positive and negative impacts on Main Street — and if we are to preserve some of Sag Harbor’s old-world charm, returning to the notion of supporting your neighbor is a good place to start. Shopping local, which has become more difficult as prices rise across the board, is imperative for those with the means to do so. And for those who head to Riverhead or Amazon.com to do the bulk of their shopping, it’s important to also turn to Main Street when possible, maybe for birthday or Christmas shopping, or for those last-minute items.
Encouraging all of Sag Harbor’s stakeholders, including its commercial property owners, to consider their legacy is also important. Do we want to have a village full of empty storefronts? Do we want to have retail establishments that truly serve the community as a whole? Is the affordability of Main Street collapsing under a siege of surging commercial rent prices and if so, what can be done to reinforce that Sag Harbor’s vibrancy and draw is intrinsically linked to its uniqueness — a quality that disappears if Main Street becomes another Rodeo Drive.
How can we better serve the year-round population as Main Street businesses? And how can we better engage our youth?
One thing is certain in all of these questions — it is only in coming together and engaging as many stakeholders as possible that we can help shape this evolving Sag Harbor into something that benefits us all — long-time residents, business owners, landlords and second-homeowners included, most of whom want to see the year-round Sag Harbor they know and love not only survive but thrive.
This is not the first time, nor it will be the last, when community members feel a need to come together and have this conversation, but it’s hard not to see this moment in time as a crossroads for the future of Sag Harbor. We hope you will join us on March 7 and help continue this important dialogue.