Perils Abound Atop Sag Harbor’s Main Street

A chair remains in the forground on the roof of Emporium Hardware, but a 40-pound table was blown over an alley and onto the roof of a neighboring building.

By Douglas Feiden

There is danger high up on the rooftops of the commercial buildings on Main Street — and one fed-up Sag Harbor business owner is appealing to the village for assistance in making his aerie safe.

A handful of residential tenants who live or formerly lived in the apartments atop the Emporium Hardware store have repeatedly flouted the terms of their leases by turning the building’s roof space into a large private patio for picnics, barbecues, recreation and sun-worshipping, the owners charge.

The result has been water leaks and structural damage. And in one terrifying incident a month ago, a 40-pound wooden table was lifted into the air by a gust of wind from the north, cleared a 3-foot ledge at the rim of the Emporium Building, sailed across the breezeway to the south, and landed more than 20 feet away on the roof of neighboring building.

The flying furniture was the last straw, and on Thursday, May 12, Michael D’Angelo, who co-owns both the hardware store and the building with his brother Peter, appeared before the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review in an attempt to shutter the unauthorized play space three floors above 72 Main Street and clear up the long-standing hazards.

“There were heavy winds that day, it was dangerous, and God forbid, if that table had hit a person or those wires that run in the alley behind the coffee shop,” he said. “We could have lost everything.” He personally went up to retrieve the table, after first photographing it with his phone.

Said architectural historian Zach Studenroth, who is the historic consultant to the ARB, “An airborne picnic table.”

“It was really like a kite,” said Mr. D’Angelo, who along with his brother represents the third generation of a business that has been in the family since 1977. “It was a pretty scary scene to see that table.”

The use of commercial rooftops by residential tenants appears to fall into a regulatory gray area:
Senior village building inspector Tom Preiato said the Village Code doesn’t specifically cover unfastened rooftop furniture or regulate those items that tenants can place atop building rooftops. He said the issue would have to be researched to determine if state-level regulations might govern the positioning of such items, but that it wasn’t immediately clear.

To resolve the safety issue, the Emporium told the ARB it was proposing to remove four doors in the four top-floor residential apartments that lead out to the rooftop on the west side of the building. The doors would be replaced with windows, limiting access and barricading tenants from hauling onto the roof the kinds of heavy items they have long used to outfit the space.

“I’ve found propane grills up there over the years, and I’ve found more patio furniture than I have in my own home,” Mr. D’Angelo said. Basically, residents have taken what was supposed to be an off-limits rooftop and transformed it over the years into their own “private sunbathing hangout,” he said.

The rooftop saga began with the worst conflagration in the modern history of Sag Harbor, the Easter Sunday blaze of 1994. It destroyed the building, but did not drive the D’Angelos out of the hardware trade.

They vowed to rebuild almost immediately, and barely one year later, they reopened their doors. To this day, the cornerstone of the new building proudly proclaims its rebirth date, 1995.

In his briefing before the ARB, Mr. D’Angelo said the architect on the rebuilding project and his family evidently decided to put in doors instead of windows, which allowed the tenants the access they needed to utilize the rooftop as a patio. It was a decision that they would come to regret over time.

“Last year we had to pay a roofer $50,000 to repair all the damage that was done over some 20 years to the rooftop,” he said.

“Tenants have obstructed the drainage, they’ve damaged the foam underneath, and it has resulted in the tearing of the rubber, which has caused leaking into the retail space below. And in a hardware store, as you can imagine, a leaky roof is bad news and bad for business.”

The ARB was sold. Without debate, board members quickly gave a green light to the Emporium’s application for a Certificate of Appropriateness, which was required in order to obtain the necessary village building permits for the new windows.