One recent morning, an older gentleman shuffled to the front of the building at 524 Main Street in Sagaponack and, grasping the rail, hauled himself up the couple of steps to the post office door; his hands like turnips and pants the color of earth. His hips and legs ached and he looked like he could have spent more than just a little time on the back of a combine. Suspenders pulled across his girth wrapped in a flannel shirt.
Not far behind him a young woman, let’s say late 20s, appeared, tugging impatiently at a small dog, who preferred rooting around in the leaves to anything else the woman had in mind. Stylishly casual in leather boots to her knees, skinny jeans and a blousy big T-shirt — half tucked, half not — she picked the dog up in her arms and alighted the steps and disappeared into the post office.
The older man exited and, with the morning mail in his hand, let himself slowly down the few steps to the sidewalk. The young woman reappeared, her dog tugging her toward the steps and she with an armful of heavy packages. After a quick cell phone call to the house, and a pop into the shop next door for a coffee, the young woman summoned a young man who quickly arrived accompanied by the hushed whir of an electric golf cart, relieved the young woman of her packages, and off they both went their separate ways.
The Sagg General Store — or Sagg Store, or Hildreth and Company, or Pierre’s Market (as it is currently known), or any of a half-dozen names the building has been called that sits squarely in the heart of the village of Sagaponack — and its tiny post office have, for approaching a century-and-a-half, continually evolved to meet the needs of an ever-changing community. Built to serve a largely agrarian society, it started out selling coveralls and groceries, then keened toward cups of coffee, cold cuts and thick sandwiches to go, and now boasts croissants, French pastries and smoothies. Now, however, the building is for sale, which may yield yet another incarnation in the coming years.
Having been in the extended Hildreth and Thayer family for over 100 years, the landmark building that houses the Sagg General Store went on the market two weeks ago with an asking price of nearly $4 million. Located on the west side of Sagg Main Street, halfway between Montauk Highway and the ocean beach, the store, which shares the building with the local post office, has been a defacto village center since it was built in 1878.
Erected originally as a post office to serve the growing hamlet, and Chamberlain Brothers general store, which was operated by E.C. Loper and the Chamberlains, it was sold 20 years later, in 1898 to Thomas Hildreth, which began a lineage of family ownership up to today.
Shortly after the turn of the century, the building underwent its first major renovation. A porch that had been attached to the front of the building was moved to the back, and an addition was built onto the north side of the property, which now serves as the post office.
In 1918, the store’s operation was taken over by W. Leland Hildreth, who, like his Uncle Thomas, also served as postmaster. It was a time when the post office and the mercantile store shared the same space. Then, after World War II, a 23-year-old Merrall Hildreth returned from the war to work side-by-side with his father, Leland, at Hildreth and Company General Store until Leland’s death in 1970, when he took it over himself
“When I was involved it was a grocery store, and now it’s a deli, more or less,” Merrall Hildreth told The Southampton Press for a story in 2005. “When I had it, we used to deliver groceries. We’d go to a house and take an order and bring it back to them. In the summertime, we sold local produce. Otherwise, we had a fellow who went to New York to bring out supplies.”
“We used to sell a lot of tools,” he said. “We had a little hardware store, too, with nails, shovels, potato-picking baskets, paint, shoes, overalls — it was a real general store.”
By contrast, today the store is filled with the sound of French music, the wainsotted walls are hung with old photographs of the store’s owner as a child in France, and pastry cases are stuffed with tarts, breads and Napoleans.
In 1971, Merrall Hildreth, who like his predecessors served as postmaster, divided the post office and the general store into two separate rooms. It was a few years later that the gas pumps were removed from in front of the building, marking yet another change.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Hildreth sold the building to his nephew, Richard Thayer, and his wife, Karen. Mr. Thayer is the grandson of Leland Hildreth. Several people leased the store from the Thayers over the years until, in 2005, Richard and Karen took over the reins and put the building through another renovation, updating kitchen equipment and making the space more efficient for serving tradesmen who came to rely on the store for lunches.
They kept it going for about 10 years, until leasing it to Pierre’s.
“We really don’t want to be doing this, we’d love to keep it in the family,” said Karen Thayer this week about the decision to sell the building. “But we have other directions we want to go in.”
The asking price, according to agent Susan Ratcliffe of Brown Harris Stevens, is $3.995 million, and includes the building that houses the market and post office on 0.16 acres of land. The post office has a lease, paid by the federal government, on the north side of the building for the next five years, at $3,900 month, according to Ms. Ratcliffe. The new owners would not be obliged to keep the post office as a tenant after the lease is over, but, per village code, would be required to maintain it as an office use.
“I don’t see why they would get rid of the post office,” observed Ms. Ratcliffe. “With COVID, it’s a very busy place. Everyone is out here and getting their mail there.”
Since 2016, Pierre’s Market has occupied the store. The business has a lease through to 2028. And according to village code, said Mrs. Ratcliffe, little can be done to change the use there.
“It would need to remain some sort of mercantile business,” she said. “Not retail.”
On Tuesday, Mrs. Thayer acknowledged that the building, with its store and post office, was in fact the heart of Sagaponack. Even in troubled times, it remains a place to meet neighbors and share news. She recalled, back in April, when the pandemic changed the protocols for everyday life, waiting in line outside the post office to be allowed inside to get her mail.
“There was Lee Foster in front of me, and Paul Brennan behind me,” she said, noting they all had a chance to catch up while waiting for the line to move.
Mrs. Thayer reminisced about the place — “it used to have an old wood burning stove in the middle, of course” — and the memories her family keeps — “my husband can still remember as a kid reaching into the giant glass candy bowl his grandfather used to keep in the store” — and wondered about its future.
“I hope it never changes,” she said. “That’s what everyone wants.”