As part of our research to explore the best way forward for the Sag Harbor commercial district, we turned to the community for advice. More than 300 of you responded and approximately 48 percent of those who responded are full-time residents of Sag Harbor, with 28 percent having families who have lived here for generations. We heard from 45 second homeowners and a smaller group who referred to themselves as frequent visitors to the village. It’s been said several times on the pages of this section that Sag Harbor is an aging community. Of those who responded to the survey, 75 percent were 50 years old or over, with the largest demographic in the 60-to-69 range.
WHERE IN SAG HARBOR ARE WE SHOPPING?
Several local businesses stood out in response to the question, “Which businesses do you typically visit in the Sag Harbor commercial district?” A total of 101 individual businesses were identified as places to visit. Here were the Top 10:
- Sag Harbor Variety Store
- Schiavoni’s IGA Market
- Sag Harbor Pharmacy
- The Wharf Shop
- Provisions Natural Foods Market & Café
- Emporium True Value Hardware
- Sag Town Coffee
- The Corner Bar
- Harbor Books
- Tie: D.J. Hart and Flashbacks
Featured Comment:“Not many — they’re mostly for the tourists. Who wants to pay $100 plus for a pair of jeans, or $60 for a candle? Most restaurants are ridiculously priced. Most mom-and-pop stores were run out because of outrageous rents! I would shop at the 5&10, Cove Deli for coffee and a bagel, the Legion or the Corner for drinks or even 7-Eleven for a coffee. I’ll frequent the laundromat to do my laundry. Our quaint little village that we all loved and grew up in has gone into an expensive monopoly of overpriced businesses and crazy traffic that chokes up the whole area. I will, however, say that no other area can match the beauty of Sag Harbor.”
WHERE ELSE ARE WE SHOPPING?
It’s no surprise that the people who responded to the survey picked Riverhead as the top destination to shop besides online or in Sag Harbor. While the Village of Sag Harbor has managed to keep big box stores from opening here, those stores — K-Mart, Target, Costco, T.J. Maxx, and others — remain in close driving distance. Here are the top 5 destinations outside of Sag Harbor where people are shopping.
- Bridgehampton Commons
- East Hampton
Featured Comment: “Riverhead grocery stores. Bigger savings on same products. In some cases half the price of produce and meats plus better selection. Clothing definitely at the outlet. I do think the price of the clothing stores on Main Street are appropriate as they sell higher quality clothing.”
WHAT SAG HARBOR WANTS
- It may be no coincidence that “bookstore” topped the list of what people think is missing on Main Street, with Harbor Books recently making headlines for closing its doors as a traditional bookstore and the subsequent news making its way around town that White’s Apothecary will host the bookstore until it finds a more permanent space. [Editor’s note: People may need a reminder that Canio’s Books is still alive and kicking on Main Street, albeit a bit farther away from the downtown business district than some may like to walk.
- Affordably-priced dining was the second-highest vote-getter, with dozens of people calling for “middle-priced” restaurants, “family-friendly” eateries and more accessible take-out possibilities. Multiple people also wanted Thai food and Indian food in Sag Harbor.
- What else was on people’s wish lists? A shoe store and a dry cleaner were also among the most frequent responses, as were “affordable” clothing stores for men, women, teens and children.
- People also want more things to do. Quite a few respondents pitched family entertainment centers or places for teens to hang out. And while it doesn’t fall into either one of those categories, enough people cried out for “a dive bar to replace Murf’s,” with one person saying what Sag Harbor needs is “for God’s sake, more bars.”
- It’s important to note what Sag Harbor doesn’t want. With very few exceptions, survey respondents were united against “big brands,” “food chains” and “pop-ups.”
- With a handful of people saying “it’s fine as it is” and “we need better hours from the ones that are here,” all in all, an overwhelming number of people want locally owned mom-and-pop shops to populate their village’s downtown.
THINKING BIG PICTURE
Sag Harbor’s evolution has attracted a higher-income demographic. Is this a good thing?
- Not if it means that Sag Harbor is going turn into a Hollywood set like East Hampton has become.
- Having fewer year-round residents is a problem. The higher-income demographic has put enormous pressure on preserving our old buildings and village feel because of their desire for 21st-century amenities available on larger parcels of land typically found outside of the village. Sag Harbor has been a market village which held a nice balance between filling the needs of year-round residence and attracting tourists. I fear the scale is tipping away from year-round residents.
- ..brings vitality to businesses.
- It’s good and it’s an issue — balance is always best.
- Cash flow is necessary for the locals to survive. Good or bad? Depends on who you are asking.
- No, it’s forcing the local middle class to leave.
- No, if it means we lose the moderate-to-low income demographic of young families and retirees. Retirees volunteer and support the village. Young families drive the village off-season and the parents are also volunteers supporting the community groups including fire dept., ambulance, etc. Lose those people, then we have to hire people like how it is up island.
- It is terrible. The village has lost its character and soul.
- Not for those with lower incomes. My children could not participate in many school activities because of cost, many of the restaurants are way above our budget.
- That’s the 64 million dollar question isn’t it. Everything hinges on this. There was a time that someone would buy a house, fix it up for themselves and live in it. Now every pigs ear is turned into a silk purse. What should be a $2 million home is now $6 million. Every bell and whistle and high end finish has been added. Higher income demographic will support higher priced restaurants and clothing stores. It’s a slippery slope.
How important is a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene to the Village of Sag Harbor?
- Very important. People shop before and after dining.
- Restaurants, yes. Nightlife? Not so much…
- It’s important but we need a mix. We need an affordably priced tavern where locals and workers can mix without having to pay $7 for a draft beer or $15 for a glass of wine.
- In need of community feel and affordability that has been decreasing, as with pizza place and Murf’s.
- I suppose it’s important … but God forbid we become Montauk. The code does restrict too much outdoor music and gathering I believe, but I think it’s important to have life in the village, especially off season in order to make it all viable for businesses to survive.
- Very important. Because it is pretty dead. Basically nothing to do after you eat dinner at a restaurant. Too quiet. There should be lots and lots of outside tables, fountains, street musicians. Town should be alive. Now it is dead.
- Comfortably important. I wouldn’t want it to become out of control so we don’t feel comfortable coming into town to have a meal or a drink.
- Sag Harbor has always had a vibrant nightlife. It used to be a bar town, but now it’s more of a restaurant town. I guess all of that drunken behavior is no longer socially or legally acceptable.
- Important, but not to the exclusion of the lower moderate scale restaurants. Even the Corner Bar is upscale in the season.
- It seems that the local business is partying now. Sadly, our last family restaurant with proper table service and plates and silverware left with Conca D’Oro so there’s no place to take a family for a weeknight meal. The restaurants sit empty all winter because of this.
- Important but need parking.
How important is the continued development of Sag Harbor’s community of arts and culture?
- DO NOT LOSE BAY STREET!!! VITAL.
- This is important but I do wonder when we reach a saturation point with arts and culture. It is a dead rock feature of Sag Harbor which is great but I feel strongly that we need to be incubating new businesses to have a well-rounded economic base.
- Very important. Rebuilding the cinema is going to be an incredible draw to town which trickles down to the restaurants which trickles down to the shops. Need to work on the parking though.
- Very important as long as the locals, kids and adults can afford to join in.
- Questionable if it significantly shifts the balance away from current interests of the community. Having more development of arts and culture is great as long as there is more development of other aspects so the village is balanced and stable to keep its tradition of diversity.
- Not at all. That is for the new, second home Manhattan bunch. We have enough art and culture. Who defines art and culture?
- Would like more possibility for local artist collaboration and showing of artwork without hefty price tags. Inclusion! No wealth or appearance of such needed.
- Another complicated question. I feel an arts community should develop organically. The writers and editors from Time-Life found Sag in the ‘60s and were able to afford it as it hadn’t yet gentrified. A very vibrant community developed as a result of this. Filling churches with artists isn’t a bad thing but I’m not sure how this will really develop as a self-sustaining demographic and what ultimate impact it will have on the character of the village.
- There’s enough of the “art scene,” already in the village including the expansion of the cinema project seemingly to duplicate much of Bay Street’s mission without the live theater component.
- Not important — focus on year round tween/teen demographic.
Should the free market determine the future of Sag Harbor’s business district? If not, what should?
- The Local Government should perform its duties and protect the identity of Sag Harbor.
- Absolutely not let the free-market determine the future of our business district. We need current stakeholders and people who can envision maintaining the soul of the village
- Within reason. Change is good and business is business but have to keep the flavor of the village and not sell out to big box and chains. That means the landlords have to be reasonable — a shame for stores like independent bookstores to be pushed out. Sag Harbor needs a bookstore!
- If we want to become East Hampton with Starbucks and Tiffany’s, SURE! Research how other communities maintain their unique stores and ‘free market’ – Saratoga Springs, Woodstock, Lake George…
- Competition is good for the consumer.
- Sort of….if free market participants are interested in willing to open businesses and run them within a shared community vision of a quaint and beautiful village WITHOUT chain brands, excessive neon signage, etc. But I strongly believe that Sag Harbor should prevent the village and its main streets from being invaded by chain stores. Southampton and East Hampton Village have each largely failed at this and as a result, the villages have excessive chain retail and have lost their character.
- Unfortunately, I think it has to. As much as I’d love us to float a bond and become the village landlords, I think the free market will prevail. But stronger code is crucial. We’ve made strong inroads but we have to take a very deep look at the current code and find the vulnerabilities to ensure we protect the character of the commercial district, including re- looking at height restrictions. Many two-story buildings will be rebuilt to allowable three-story buildings. Imagine what will happen when Malloy is gone…
- We all know that greed is what is ruining Sag Harbor. Landlords who do not live here raise rents leaving buildings vacant, rather than taking a loss, only to have seasonal pop-ups come in that no one can afford to shop in. Rents should be capped and landlords should be penalized and pay for buildings being empty over a period of time. Or no one can own a lease if you don’t live here full time.
- Some Free market combined with corporate responsibility to help obtain a vision of the kind of main street we want. We do not want only those who can afford the increasingly astronomical rents. Maybe we need special tax breaks or deductions or subsidies to keep the right shops and restaurants. Do not become East Hampton.
- I don’t think anyone has much choice as there is no way for government to regulate individual owners.
- I think that there should be incentives for landlords to get tenants, and if they are vacant too long then they have to lower their asking rent or face fines, not tax breaks.
- NO NO NO there should be a Downtown Development Council in place. ( best if it was 20 years ago but now is better than never) If you contact Historical Concepts ( they are based in Atlanta and have worked closely with many builders (e.g. Steven Gambrel.) restoration projects and historic preservation in Sag. They have spear headed this in other small towns like Sag Harbor in order to maintain its beauty and keep history in place as it grows and changes in a positive way. They would be extremely helpful moving forward.
Should village government spend money to support a vibrant downtown business community? Would a full-time village manager be required?
- Sorry isn’t there a chamber of commerce? Is that not THEIR job? Why spend taxpayer dollars — seriously, shopkeepers want to promote a healthy economy — get locals involved!
- Yes, village government should do its duty but I’m not certain that that requires yet another local employee.
- Village infrastructure must be able to support continuing evolution of the business community. Sewage district expansion, drainage and a parking facility in the back parking lot must be addressed. If that necessitates a Village Manager, so be it.
- Also the village government should stop discouraging local events like whalers festival and music festivals by charging for police.
- The village government has to allow things like Sag Town to allow seating in the downstairs section. It needs to stop charging enormous fees to things such as the Music Festival, which is a huge boost to the community.
- Waste of money.
- Yes it should spend money on that, but let’s not confuse spending money with necessarily meaning hiring full-time (although it might). Spend money on the mission and that may or may not be best allocated or optimized by hiring as external consultants and committees might better serve the purpose. The purpose is not to create a new role, but support a vibrant business community and it is unclear to me (although I am open minded to understanding) why the suggestion of hiring a full-time manager would necessarily support that goal.
- there should be a full time manager. Also, there should be a meaningful parking plan, including a multi-level muni garage behind Main Street.
- I certainly think efforts need to be made and funds allocated to help boost the small town values of the town. Not sure if the full time village manager would be required, yet a great idea, as long as their values aligned.
- Yes, though I’m not sure what, specifically, the village would be finding — a review of the code, of course, a long term planning study, a review of the LWRP… and please God, yes, a village manager who knows what they are doing.
- Besides, who would want that thankless job? Save the money. Eventually all of the working people will be squeezed out, and the volunteer fire department and ambulance will need to be salaried.
- A full time manager should be hired either way for the village. A manager would provide stabilized services for residents and structure for employees. It would leave the day to day running of the village out of politics.
- Well management might be a help especially as it seems this situation might be spinning out of control and we’re reacting to certain visible scenarios. A management approach might be able to handle things before they become a huge negative impact on the community at large.
- Shouldn’t the role of the mayor along with a committee of experts in business determine and support a vibrant downtown business community?
- Why? It already is vibrant. And the taxes are high enough!
- Yes but part time should be enough.
- I don’t know, but there should be some kind of planned cooperation, rather than occasionally adversarial relationship, between the village and volunteer-started nonprofits like Save Sag Harbor and the Sag Harbor Partnership.