By Andrew Rudansky
Pulling together all the details related to Sag Harbor’s annual HarborFest every year is a lot of work. Alan Fruitstone will certainly attest to that. Fruitstone, a member of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and owner of Harbor Pets on Bay Street, is in the midst of organizing this weekend’s HarborFest for the third year in a row.
But the finish line is now within sight. All of the hard work is coming to a head with HarborFest officially beginning on Friday, September 9 and running through Sunday. From film screenings at Bay Street Theatre and whale boat races by the windmill, to food contests, kids events and even an archeological dive at Long Wharf, there’s sure to be something for everyone.
“It feels good to be almost done,” said Fruitstone. “It gets stressful but I like the interchange with the vendors and the interchange with the people.”
Fruitstone said that HarborFest is a special event in the village because it helps Sag Harbor retain its essential “essence.”
His own business, Harbor Pets, located at 12 Bay Street, has long been a part of the village landscape and has existed in one form or another for almost 35 years. Fruitstone and his wife, Hannah Elias, bought the business from a previous owner in 2004.
Inside, customers will find a range of pet supplies to keep their furry, feathered or scaly friends fed and comfortable. But dog grooming plays a big role in Fruitstone’s business model. He said that on any given week in the summer 70 to 125 dogs come through the door for services that leave them looking their best. This accounts for 40 percent of Harbor Pets’ yearly business.
The store’s popularity among dogs and their owners is helped by the fact that Harbor Pets employs two full-time groomers who have been on the staff for several years. According to Fruitstone, this consistency in personnel is very important because it has the potential to attract repeat customers.
“This is a very personal business,” Fruitstone said. “A dog grooming shop is just like a barber shop or a hair salon … We definitely have people who ask for a specific groomer.”
He said that his customers care a great deal about their animals; and just as people develop relationships with their barber or haircutter, they also do the same for their dog’s groomer.
In addition to the grooming services, Fruitstone’s store is a fully functioning pet store that sells food, animal toys, leashes and animal accessories. Harbor Pets does not, however, sell animals, a conscious choice made by the owners.
“We feel there are so many dogs already out there that need to be adopted,” said Fruitstone, continuing that he didn’t want to indirectly contribute to the large number of unwanted dogs.
“We try to create an atmosphere at [Harbor Pets] of not being just a store but instead an experience,” he said.
Fruitstone said that being a part of the larger community and providing a personal atmosphere in the store have always been primary in his thinking.
The added work of organizing HarborFest has made Fruitstone a very busy man of late. Among his many responsibilities involve setting up the artists and artisans market, something that he introduced to HarborFest last year.
The market, comprised of individual stalls, provides local artists with the chance to showcase their wares in a public square. Fruitstone said that almost every artist at the market will come from the East End, a decision made by Fruitstone in order to keep the local identity of the festival.
HarborFest is many things to Fruitstone. It is a celebration of Sag Harbor’s history, an end of summer family day, a charitable fundraising effort for the local food pantry and a fun time meant to extend the summer season past Labor Day. Most of all it’s an effort to bring the community closer together.
The festival provides activities and vendors for any and all interest. Fruitstone said he was particularly excited about the clam shucking contest.
“That contest gets downright dirty in terms of competition,” he said with a smile.
There will also be live music, food vendors, a village wide sidewalk sale, traditional whale boat races and guided historical tours of the village.
“We are trying to do things old fashioned,” said Fruitstone, “we are trying to keep it simple.”
While there are many different ways of enjoying HarborFest, Fruitstone said that his favorite thing to do every year was grab a bowl of clam chowder on Saturday and watch the whale boat races.
“HarborFest is a tribute to the history of Sag Harbor,” he said. “The people in Sag Harbor are very different than the people in the other Hamptons … Has this village changed? Absolutely. But what has stayed the same is that people care.”