Main Street Roundtable: Looking to the Past with an Eye on the Future

The future of the Sag Harbor business district was discussed at a roundtable held in advance of an event at Bay Street Theater on the same subject. Rise Media photo

Most, if not all, residents of Sag Harbor and those who spend time here as second homeowners or visitors agree the character of the village — its history and traditions, its quaint but vibrant Main Street, its mom-and-pop shops and its tight-knit community — is worth saving and worth fighting for.

Sag Harbor’s downtown is admired by those near and far for its authenticity — an authenticity preserved by families that have been here for generations and celebrated by others who have come to call the village home as well. Sag Harbor is a village committed to preserving its history, its waterfront, its roots in innovation and arts and culture. Over the last 20 years, the village has also evolved into a luxury resort destination and as a result of its success, the cost of doing business in the village has risen dramatically. And so has the cost of living.

While the village maintains more locally-owned businesses than most downtowns on the South Fork, Sag Harbor has seen more than a half a dozen businesses shutter their doors in the last year and a half. It is anticipated some will re-open as year-round businesses, but others remain vacant. As the future of Sag Harbor’s business district evolves, both for better and for worse, The Express sat down with a number of community leaders to discuss common goals and how they envision the future of Main Street, Sag Harbor.

We want to start with a question we led with the last time we convened a roundtable about Main Street in 2012. We see a number of vacant storefronts on Main Street right now, and there’s been a lot of discussion about how Sag Harbor is changing, and higher end stores are coming in. What’s wrong with letting the free market determine the future of Sag Harbor? Do we have a choice?

AIDAN CORISH:There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting the free market decide, and to a large extent we do not have any other choice. Currently our commercial district zoning restricts the maximum size of a new store or restaurant, which discourages national chain stores.

BARBARA ROBERTS:It takes a village to make a village. We have survived as a vibrant 300-year-old village because stakeholders have stepped up to work together to ensure a community and village that is diverse. We must remember that some of what Sag Harbor faces as it heads into the next 10 years are systemic changes in the economy. We must recognize that brick and mortar stores and shopping centers offering items to any income group are experiencing major challenges and dislocations from the massive change in consumer habits to online shopping. We must consciously and deliberately think about what uniquely Sag Harbor should be and what it should offer in this new on-line shopping world.

The mantra in brick and mortar retail currently is to offer the consumer an experience. We must consciously identify, celebrate and protect the experience that Sag Harbor can offer. We also need a better handle on our changing demographics. We are an aging community with more year-long weekend residents and more people retiring in our community.

JESSE MATSUOKA:I don’t think we have a choice, nor do I feel that we should decide who comes into town. I think it’s more important to control who can’t come into town, like big box names. I feel that this town has gone through a lot of changes for the good and some for the bad, but it’s all in how you accept it. There’s going to be people that try to open stores that are not going to work and not going to get the support they need, but that’s life.

LISA FIELD:As far as letting the free market determine Sag Harbor’s future, that really is what will happen in the end. I believe there are steps that can and should be taken to try and ensure the stores and restaurants we love continue to thrive, but in the end, there are no guarantees.

NAT EGOSI:There is a vibrant local community with family and roots going back generations that is largely underserved. Many of us want Main Street to be relevant to our local, year-round community. Many of us want affordable restaurants that are family-minded. Many of us want merchants that live here and are part of our community. Many of us want an attractive, friendly Main Street where we know each other. Many of us want our children and grandchildren to experience what we experienced when we were children growing up here. Many of us enjoy the off-season and the sense of community. Many of us want Main Street to be more relevant to us, like it was in the past. Many of us like stores and shops with owners we know.

Unfortunately new businesses are formed in Sag Harbor without understanding fully the local customer base. By local, I mean the segment who grew up here and have deep family and roots in the community. This customer base is large, vibrant and year-round. It is intertwined in the community through its active role in volunteer organizations, school, religious institutions and their family businesses. The free market can and should determine the future, but it needs to be better educated. If investors were not raised in Sag Harbor and not working in Sag Harbor today, their understanding is skewed with their other experiences. As such, their decisions may not serve themselves well nor the community. We’ve seen too many businesses flop over the years.

We have a choice. We can look at our Main Street and see what is missing. What do we need? We can communicate our needs to attract the right business that would be welcome here. We can help connect to buyers by providing them insights on the community’s needs.

I have a tenant that owns a school for martial arts instruction. It may not have seemed like something we needed but we did. Both children and seniors from the community come to Main Street all year-round and attend. It is a good example of a business that serves the community well. In many communities, the municipality has a business development function that provides support and assistance to the type of businesses the community wants and needs. The support and assistance can include technical help on getting permits and licenses, financial assistance through loan programs and promotions.

Some of our buildings on Main Street could have been bought by locals if they knew how to do it and could see their way through it with a reasonable risk. The building on the corner of Washington and Main is an example. We’ve seen how the community can figure out how to purchase items it desires like the old Seaside Restaurant property or the movie theater. Similarly, there is no reason why a consortium of like mind private individuals couldn’t pool their resources to create a private for-profit community fund backed by loan financing that secures the future and provides a proper return on the investment. We have a choice. Looking back in Sag Harbor, that is how some of the buildings were bought and in some cases the seller retained a continuing interest in the building since they pulled out enough of the cash they wanted. That interest provided a continuation of their legacy with an ongoing financial annuity; something that also mattered to them.

EMMA WALTON HAMILTON:The problem, as I see it, is two-fold. Letting the free market determine Sag Harbor’s future means that the future is determined by those businesses with the most resources, like chains and large corporations. By extension, that means the business district will return to being largely seasonal since large corporations have no marketing or financial interest in keeping stores open off-season and can afford to close. Do we have a choice? I believe we do — we’ve seen already how effective the work of Save Sag Harbor and certain legislative decisions have been with respect to size of footprint, usage restrictions, etc. We need to continue to be vigilant at the legislative level, and also with respect to community advocacy.

THOMAS GARDELLA: We have a choice as members of the community to support the businesses we believe serve a purpose. The free market is something we can only control by where we choose to spend our money and what establishments we frequent.

In 2012, Herb Hellman, a Main Street landlord and property owner, said there needed to be a partnership between the community, municipality and landlords, with each respecting the other’s roles. Do you think we have managed that in Sag Harbor, and what might that relationship look like in 2019?

CORISH:Given the current state of main streets locally, regionally and nationally Sag Harbor Main Street is still in relatively good stead. However, we need to be vigilant and cognizant of changing trends and influences. Our cultural institutions are vital to maintaining Main Street vibrancy. A prosperous Sag Harbor commercial district is in everyone’s best interest. Jazz club anyone?

ROBERTS:Sag Harbor is seen from afar as a very vibrant and successful village. It is admired by many. Government, building owners, business owners, citizens of all ages and income levels and our not-for-profits need to be in the partnership and discussion for our village future. We have one of the best codes for protecting the physical look for our Main Street. We have some landlords with strong ties to the community and many anchor businesses that own their buildings. We have extraordinary not-for-profit groups such as Save Sag Harbor, Sag Harbor Partnership, Bay Street Theater and the Sag Harbor Cinema.   We have an active Chamber of Commerce. We have people who shop and dine in our village year round. Save Sag Harbor is sponsoring the March 7 session in the hopes that it will uncover and inspire even more partnerships between these stakeholders. The way the community came together to save the cinema certainly demonstrates our potential for collaboration and community solutions.

We should work hard to build on the work of the Sag Harbor Partnership to put together a group of locals who would be interested in purchasing the buildings on Main Street and keeping them in a rent range that could allow a diverse group of businesses to be profitable.

We need to work closer to encourage business owners who want to sell their businesses or are in difficult lease negotiations to reach out to the community for help. There are local people who are interested in and capable of investing in our village real estate and businesses, and we need to make that more transparent and possible.

MATSUOKA:We have not managed this and also have not come any closer in the last couple decades. I think I have been hearing the same argument from all sides of the coin. From the community complaining to the municipality and also from fellow landlords. I think we need to learn from other communities that have successfully created strong communication highways and listen to each other to implement, collaborate and grow as one town.

FIELD:I’m not sure if we have successfully created a partnership between the community, municipalities and landlords, but I will say that Sag Harbor is and always has been a community that comes together in difficult times. The trick is to get this community to rally before things turn bad.

EGOSI:The relationships between Sag Harbor’s community, municipality, merchants and landlords cannot be limited to a list. It is an endless list, interconnected in an organically circular manner with influences from the outside of Sag Harbor that are greater than the relationships from within. The management of these internal relationships over the years generally has been excellent. The apparent routine discourse is all part of what makes a community grow and get better. Respect is a somewhat bi-lateral perspective; however it often seems in Sag Harbor that the outside forces are not respectful of the long-standing residents. For example, developers and promoters who seek to profit from the community by leveraging their resources tend to be only respectful to the faction that will approve their agenda. Developers and promoters come in all different forms; this is where respect becomes a challenge since their resources are not on equal footing with those that are towing the line. However laws and regulations provide a balance and when the community decides they don’t; it is time to update them for the community to remain sustainable.

TRACY MITCHELL:I do think that we need a bigger business presence representing the village, with more people with business backgrounds on the board. It’s often hard to get the board to understand that we are not “fat cats” raking in money. Most businesses must make their money in July and August and try to survive the remainder of the year on breaking even if they’re lucky.

WALTON HAMILTON:I would very much like to see a partnership like Herb Hellman describes, and I don’t think we’ve managed it yet. I think it begins with effective communication between the constituencies, which we don’t currently have. For example, I have not seen many village officials or developers show up for Express Session discussions. I also think there must be some kind of agency or organization — beyond the Chamber of Commerce — that could be established to support communication between the constituents and offer resources, like best practices based on other similar communities. Vermont, for instance, has an Agency for Commerce and Community Development that appears to function in this way.

GARDELLA: I believe any business that wants to be successful should take Mr. Hellman’s advice. Respect for the community, municipality and the landlord are a good recipe. I’m not sure we have achieved Mr. Hellman’s message in 2019.

Short of rent control, should the landlords be compelled in some way to allow for affordable uses of their building? And the question is, what does affordable mean?

CORISH:The law does not allow for any influence by the village board on the rent charged by local landlords, nor should it. A healthy partnership requires that the community shop on their local main street first, second would be within our surrounding communities and finally further afield and/or on line. As for affordability, one person’s bargain is another’s breaking point.

ROBERTS:We need to make the business case to landlords that it is in their best interest to work with all the stakeholders to perpetuate a variety of businesses.    We need to work harder on identifying and clarifying a brand for Main Street, Sag Harbor; we need to do a survey and visioning event where we clearly identify the businesses that we would like to see in our community, and we need to gather the data and facts about the demographic of who really spends money here and what they spend it on and want.  Some spaces on our Main Street have turned over many times in the last few years because the businesses who came into those spaces did not clearly understand the demographic and seasonal changes for who shops in Sag Harbor. We also need to remind our citizens to shop, dine and bank locally.

We are at a crossroads and must understand that with the sale of the cinema and potential purchase of the park, we have demonstrated the buildings in Sag Harbor are worth millions. There is a certain amount of return that a building owner expects if they pay millions for a building. We possibly could start a fund to purchase buildings. We also need to do a review as we did 10 years ago on other villages best practices and new possible ideas. A paid professional village manager could help us.  In my opinion, with the current changes in retail across all categories and with our strong code to keep the size of each space small, l think that there will be an alignment of lower rents for the security of long term tenants.

Voluntary commercial rent control might work if it were tied to some income or estate tax or other government benefit. The concept of an inclusionary zoning fee charged to real estate owners who receive positive zoning change approvals could be expanded to create a fund for subsidizing critical business rents or an emergency fund. We also could do more to help our business owners become better marketers, customer service oriented and cash flow managers. Labor is a critical issue with business owners and setting up new programs for local high school job fairs and internships could also be a helpful new initiative.

MATSUOKA:I think landlords that allow rent control and affordable housing should be rewarded and supported. If the town were to carefully control its budgets to finance its own affordable housing projects, it would be hugely successful.

FIELD:I do not believe that it is at all possible or feasible to think there should be some form of rent control. Each property owner gets to make their own decision on what to do with their properties and investments. However, as a commercial property owner, it is my opinion that you are better off with a solid, reliable tenant who can afford their rent and make timely payments than holding out for the highest bidder and ending up with vacancies throughout the year. You need to understand that my point of view also comes from my desire to be a part of this community and not just an outside investor. I believe that is where the difference lies.

WALTON HAMILTON:This is certainly not my area of expertise, but I would be interested to learn more about commercial rent control, or rent stabilization in terms of its history, effectiveness, long term impact and feasibility at this stage. Obviously “affordable” is different depending on who and where you are, but there must be a baseline that could be determined relative to the costs of living and doing business in this area. And there must be research that could be undertaken to explore this further.

We don’t know Donald Zucker, who this year purchased a large piece of property on Main Street, but we do know from past history that he is willing to let his storefronts sit vacant until he gets his price. Are there ways to “encourage” landlords to keep their stores active and be more community-minded?

CORISH:Perhaps we could have an ordinance that every shopfront in the village be presented in an “active manner” with papered over windows only acceptable during renovation or redecoration. Maintaining an attractive streetscape is in everyone’s best interest and may be an area of oversight for the historic preservation and architectural review board.

ROBERTS:We should be looking at our commercial code to be sure we have enacted everything we can to encourage our diverse, small business community.  We should check if there are any new tactics for keeping luxury brands under control in a village. Could we require that spaces by decorated, open for business year round? Could we start a fund to buy our buildings? Save Sag Harbor is doing what it can to keep on top of this but have limited financial resources and volunteer time. Should we come together to do a formal review and visioning for the village’s future?

MATSUOKA:I wish. That is going to be a problem that comes with the times. We are getting more and more new landlords that are new to this area and don’t understand the community that we have here and need here. I think by creating these communication highways we can explain what works and what doesn’t in this village. It will ultimately be up to them to do what they want with their building

FIELD:I think the only way to encourage landlords to keep their stores active is to get to know who they are and invite them to participate in our community…get to know what Sag Harbor is really about.

EGOSI:A landlord fundamentally wants their storefronts filled with long-term deals and typically is willing to wait rather than sign a deal at lower rent. Landlords become community-minded when they need the community. Creating that “need” will encourage landlords to keep their stores attractive, active and beneficial for the community. Landlords tend to be caretakers; they want steady income from good tenants and property appreciation. A thriving community increases their property values. They want help and support for their initiatives, as well as recognition for their efforts. A landlord assumes huge risks and responsibilities and contributes significantly to the economy. A two-way street goes a long way.

WALTON HAMILTON: I would like to think that personal outreach — whether it be from community members, local government officials or members of organizations like Save Sag Harbor or the Sag Harbor Partnership — could be effective, if it were framed as a discussion about legacy and civic duty. But I suspect that the only effective way to encourage landlords is through their pocketbooks. I have a couple of ideas of ways to reach them from that angle. One, embark on and publish a community-wide self-study, focusing on what members of our community value most about Sag Harbor. Include statistics on impacts to Main Street when businesses close for the winter, and tangible gains to businesses who are community-minded and philanthropic. And two, explore incentives for landlords to keep stores active and be community-minded, such as tax breaks for year-round business operations, philanthropic activity, etc.

Do we agree that the consumer is who dictates what businesses succeed or fail? If that’s the case, and noting the changing demographic of Sag Harbor and the South Fork, what does that mean for businesses on Main Street?

CORISH: It is the consumer who decides, but only to a point. Shopping locally is a responsibility we all share to maintain a vibrant and relevant downtown. However many international brands are happy to run stores at a loss or break even during the summer season only, to maintain visibility in the eyes of their customers and to drive shoppers to complete their transaction online.

ROBERTS: I think we need facts about the demographic. We are an aging community and it is a myth in my opinion to think that older people who are spending more time here are any more interested in high end stores than those who have lived here for a long time. Some landlords and high end retails seem to have an attitude that if they build a luxury space, the consumers will come. We should be more aggressive to publicize the long list of high-end luxury retail operations that have attempted to do business in our village and failed.

Again we need to come together to fund proper research of who we are now, where the demographic is heading and do a proper visioning exercise to come up with a true comprehensive plan for the village and a list of the businesses our community is seeking. I personally think that if we did real research and surveys that there would be an amazing alignment of what the people who regularly shop in Sag Harbor want.

I think the demographic who regularly shops and dines in the village year round will continue to dictate the brand for Sag Harbor and which businesses will succeed. If we want the Village of Sag Harbor to survive, we must be passionate about shopping, dining and banking locally, and, most importantly, encourage our children to do the same.

MATSUOKA: With the evolution of technology, we live in very different times. People expect things faster, more efficient and hassle free. The truth is that more stores will close due to companies like Amazon and if the restaurant industry doesn’t change with the times it, too, will be left in the dust.

FIELD: I 100 percent agree that the consumer dictates which businesses will succeed or fail. Main Street businesses need consumers willing to spend money on Main Street. It’s one thing to like the look or feel of the village, but if you do not choose to spend your money in those stores and restaurants, they won’t last. If every time you need to make a purchase, and your first thought is to buy it online or in Riverhead, you are hurting the local businesses who rely on the year round population to stay open.

EGOSI: The consumer dictates where they will spend their money. In Sag Harbor, businesses need to change to adapt to the market and it’s not just demographics. Ideal is gone — why? Spitz’s appliances is gone — why? On the other hand, we’ve seen business adapt such as the pizzeria, deli and several restaurants. I could list many reasons why the demographics have changed but one example I like to consider is our school. It is so much better from years ago; this attracts families who want to raise their children in a good school. Now there are plans to convert the old St. Andrew’s elementary school into a pre-school. This will have a significant impact to continue attracting young families who want to live in a community that has this amenity. In the end, these families are a growing consumer in Sag Harbor. They are potential employees of the Main Street businesses and they are potential business owners and shop keepers of Main Street businesses. Sag Harbor’s focus on education has and will create the changing consumers that will dictate many of the businesses that succeed or fail.

WALTON HAMILTONI believe we, the consumers, bear as much responsibility as the property and business owners with respect to the success of Main Street. And that means we must make a concerted effort to shop local, whenever possible. It’s tempting to buy online, especially when we can get a better price there, and/or don’t have to venture out into the cold or navigate traffic or find parking. But it’s essential for us to be as community-minded as we expect the landlords and businesses to be. For a while we had bumper stickers available at local stores that said “Shop Local” on them – those were great reminders. Another thing that might help is if more local businesses would consider offering incentives for year-round residents to keep shopping local. Provisions does this well, with their Fruit and Nut Card, and Harbor Books was doing it with their discounts offered after 10 purchases. I would like to see more businesses and restaurants reward their year-round customers in this way.

Shoppers stroll up and down Main Street during HarborFrost. Michael Heller photo

The demographics of Sag Harbor have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. What kind of impact do you think that has had on local businesses, for better and for worse? 

CORISH: Given the changing demographics, I imagine it is more difficult to manage retail and restaurants when there is such fluctuation in the population over the weekends and holidays. It creates a challenging but predictable environment.

MATSUOKA:  For my industry I would say for the worse. We have seen a lot of families that have had all their children grow up and leave the Hamptons to go to college or have graduated and moved to other cities. This has created a gap in a working class that has supported the restaurant industry for multiple decades. The next generation of working people are still very young and not that experienced. The other part to it is that it’s no longer affordable for most younger working class people to move out here to find middle-income jobs. We have had to create our own affordable housing to support the employees that come out.

FIELD: The changing demographics of our area with more second homeowners creates the issue of less people around during the week or full time to be patronizing the local stores. On the other hand, the increase in second homeowners also bumps business on the weekends, holidays and summertime.

EGOSI: Not just demographics, much more. Businesses such as Amazon or Airbnb are significant factors. Overall, the impact has been neutral. For some, it’s been better, such as restaurants, and for others worse. Airbnb has been awful for the hotel industry and converts residential areas into business areas, taking foot traffic and money away from Main Street and Sag Harbor.

WALTON HAMILTONIt’s been 10 years since I managed a local business, so I don’t feel qualified to address this with any authority. But I do know that the combination of 9/11 and the internet brought an influx of people out here year-round, and I would imagine that would be good for local business. The problem, of course, is the ongoing lack of affordable housing and the degree to which it means young people are forced out of the area, meaning any positive impact from those events is unsustainable if we can’t solve the housing issue.

Do you see anything regretful about where Sag Harbor has gotten to at this point?

CORISH:No regrets. I believe that the village has managed it as best as it could have to date. However, I believe that our biggest challenges are ahead of us.

ROBERTS:I believe the commercial code revisions that were done 10 years ago have worked well in protecting the look of Main Street, Sag Harbor. However, occasionally boards have made decisions that do not seem to be in the spirit of the code. Citizens must be diligent in stepping up to join the village boards, attend meetings to monitor appeals and major projects and encourage our village leaders to have an open meeting process and to be strong enforcers of the code.

MATSUOKA:Definitely the increase in rental prices. I can no longer afford to rent homes to put up staff for the season. It’s gotten to the point where I need to buy homes in order to control the rent so that my staff can afford to live and work in the Hamptons.

FIELD: Sag Harbor has always been a town of change. From a thriving whaling port that changed to a factory town that changed to a top tourist destination, the residents of Sag Harbor have adapted as have the businesses. The evolution of Bay Street Theater from a factory plant to a roller rink to a nightclub to its current use as a theater is a great example of change. At one time, Sag Harbor was known as a bar town where now we are billed as a restaurant town. I don’t think I see anything regretful at this point because I still see a vibrant village with sustainable businesses.

MITCHELL: I do think we need to be aware of all members of the island — it’s a broad range of folks and the more we can draw from all groups, the better off we all will be. The issue becomes when more and more second homeowners replace full time residents. That does make it harder during the winter months, especially if they’re not coming out. But lately, since we’ve had a snow-free winter, they have still been coming which has been a great help to Main Street.

WALTON HAMILTON:I think it’s very regrettable whenever storefronts sit empty and beloved local businesses are forced out because of rent increases. Part of the problem is a vicious circle, of course. The more attractive Sag Harbor is as a place to live and do business, the more people will try to come in and take advantage of its resources.

What kind of businesses will thrive and what types will have the greatest challenges in the next five to 10 years? What is the community here? Is it different than it was 25 years ago? What is this community looking for?

CORISH: Great questions. The arts and dining will survive, local owner-operated retail will face a difficult environment. I am looking forward to our discussion and full airing of all stakeholder ideas. A vibrant mix of retail is always preferable. I am in two minds as to the ethicacy of pop-up stores.

ROBERTS:Again there are ways to do professional research and visioning to properly answer these questions. Save Sag Harbor hopes that this forum will lead to more partnerships, discussions, events and plans to answer these questions in an informed and realistic way. As I said before, I believe the people who have come into our community and are regular shoppers and diners and supporters of our cultural institutions are as disturbed by some of the trends to luxury goods and apartments as those who have been here for generations. I believe by clearly identifying, codifying and celebrating our brand that we can maintain it for generations.

MATSUOKA:  The businesses that gear goods and services towards the summer clientele will thrive. People are looking for better tasting food, easier access to it. Healthy living is a big thing in the Hamptons so gyms and physical therapists will do well. Obviously, the real estate game is strong out here. The turning of property is crazy but that is one of the reasons we do have some problems on Main Street.

FIELD:I think restaurants will continue to thrive in the next five to ten years. Unfortunately, I do think we will continue to see the closing of more retail stores. Retail is a difficult business especially for stores that do not own their building.

EGOSI:The community is looking for a Main Street that is attractive and provides a clear sense of community. There are a greater number of business owners living in Sag Harbor running their businesses at locations other than Main Street. These owners are all part of the community; whether it is a florist, landscaping company, doctor or plumber. They all form part of our circular economy. When Main Street businesses are disconnected from the rest of the business, our community starts to break down. Being convenient, relevant and friendly is essential. A Main Street catering to day-trippers, tourists and weekenders is okay so long as Main Street embraces equally the rest of the community.

WALTON HAMILTON: I would imagine the ones that will do best are those who own their own property, first and foremost. Restaurants should survive because a community experience is something you can’t get online. The same is true of businesses that offer services, and those who have a tangible connection to the community and offer something unique that isn’t readily available elsewhere.

The last question is the most important, I feel, and the only way to answer it is to embark on an expansive self-study program — and also to study other similar communities and villages, both in the United States and abroad, who have achieved sustainability with respect to what their community members value most. Speaking for myself, I live in Sag Harbor because of its unique balance of history, culture, fresh air, open space, water, charm, sophistication and beauty – within easy access of New York, and with so many wonderful local resources at one’s fingertips.

What is a mom and pop store? Have we redefined it?

CORISH: A mom and pop store would traditionally have the owners name on the fascia. These days they are to a large extent gone from our retail mix. There would appear to be a global disconnect between the rent expected for retail space and the underlying value of that space based on the value of the sales that can be made.

ROBERTS:A mom and pop store is a store that is privately owner and typically has many family members working in it and often with the hope of leaving the business to future generations.  One of our biggest opportunities…and concerns for Main Street, Sag Harbor must be that most of our key anchor stores are family owned.

As a professional who lobbies for issues concerning small business, one of my biggest concerns is that while the Federal estate tax kicks in when an estate hits about $11 million, at the NY State level, estate tax kicks in about $5.5 million. Some of the businesses and building owned by families on Main Street are now worth more than $5 million. It is very possible that if the owner of some of our anchor stores has not done good estate planning, families will have to sell the business and buildings to pay the estate taxes.  We should work together as a community to ensure that our strong family business can last for future generations.

This is a question that we particularly should raise with our elected officials at the March 7 forum.  What are they doing to ensure that estate taxes do not destroy our local family farms and businesses?

MATSUOKA: I always felt that a company that has a couple running the establishment or a multi generation that has been running the business is a mom and pop store. This can be anything from a lawyer’s office to retail store to restaurants. I don’t think it has been redefined as much as slowly diminished over time.

FIELD: Where “Mom and Pop” use to refer to a married couple running a family business, today I think it stands for a business that is owned and operated by someone who is a part of the community whether or not it’s necessarily “the family” working there.   Sag Harbor has many stores where the owner/operator lives and works and contributes to the community.  I think our town is one of the last where most of our businesses would be considered “mom and pop”

EGOSI: Mom and Pop stores are rare to find today however in Sag Harbor there are plentiful could be far more vibrant if the community fully embraced them. Like many things, it starts with families and their children. That sector is a large and important part of Sag Harbor, unfortunately the conversations in recent years have been tilted in other directions. In a village such as Sag Harbor with all its diversity, it is important the buzz stays balanced. Much has been done in that regard, but more could be done.

WALTON HAMILTON: I think of a Mom-and-Pop store as a one-of-a-kind, independently owned business, operated by a family or an individual, as opposed to a corporation.

The number of arts and cultural institutions are growing in Sag Harbor with the reinvention of the cinema and the introduction of April Gornik and Eric Fischl’s The Church. What kind of impact do you see this having on the business community and Main Street in general?

CORISH: They are almost as vital to the future success of Main Street as clean water and fresh air.

ROBERTS: Arts, cinema, theater, music, literature is a strong part of the 300-year-old brand of Sag Harbor. The cinema and The Church are institutions that can only add to our brand and experience. One concern should be the possible move of Bay Street Theater and certainly all stakeholders should be encouraging the theater to stay in some way in our community.

MATSUOKA: I feel that Sag Harbor has always been an artist village and the reason why it stays busy and is getting busier is because of the arts and cultural institutions that attract visitors and locals to enjoy and participate in town. I think the more we accept this notion that Sag Harbor is the most entertaining village in the Hamptons we will all realize that Sag Harbor is always changing and its changing in the right direction.

FIELD: Bay Street Theater has had a huge impact on the business community and Main Street. I hope that the redefined cinema will have the same effect and help business. We have been growing as an arts and cultural destination for years.

EGOSI: Probably will further push away a portion of the current residents from the business community and Main Street until these residents see benefits, if ever. I am unaware of any planning studies or hard research that assures the cross section of Sag Harbor residents will benefit from the cinema plans or The Church.  The speculation is that we need these institutions; however, who is the “we?” If the cinema provides reasonably-priced movies as entertainment for young families and their children year-round, then it will be fantastic.

MITCHELL: I believe the arts help a village. The difficulty is only in that none of the current arts organizations out here run without having to fundraise for sustainability. It’s just a fact of most artistic institutions. Ticket prices alone cannot sustain most arts organizations. That’s when we all begin to draw from the same people over and over which can become an issue. It’s a small group who really support the East End, as many do their primary giving in New York City. But again, the more arts, if sustainable, the better for all. We employ local people, provide year-round entertainment at reduced prices or even free access, and provide an outlet for artists and anyone who needs a creative outlet.

WALTON HAMILTON: The arts are good for business! According to the latest research from Americans for the Arts, for every dollar spent at an arts organization, there are another $4 spent on neighboring businesses — stores, restaurants, babysitters, etc. The arts draw people to Main Street, and promote communication, compassion and social consciousness. People will always worry about parking — they have been doing so here for decades — but in the end, the arts bring more good than ill.

GARDELLA: I think the increasing art and cultural institutions have an important impact in the community. It’s still a question on how these institutions will impact Main Street as a whole. I support the efforts of our arts and cultural institutions, but it remains to be seen who will ultimately benefit. I believe we should create an atmosphere that supports the everyday person in Sag Harbor.