By Nathalie Friedman
Marie Eiffel, the owner of the Marie Eiffel Market on Shelter Island and who has often been referred to as “the Hamptons’ most beloved shopkeeper,” recently announced that she may have to close up shop because of hardships faced in the wake of th eCOVID-19 pandemic.
She gave her landlord six months notice that she might not be able to renew her lease. But the tight-knight Shelter Island community won’t let her go down without a fight, raising more than $140,000 so far to help out Ms. Eiffel.
Ms. Eiffel’s Shelter Island market is a cherished French-inspired destination for residents to gather, lunch, and meet the charming owner herself.
Ms. Eiffel’s market is a seasonal business, and therefore did not qualify for a federal PPP loan to ride out the coronvirus epidemic. Without the loan, Ms. Eiffel must support her marketplace without a government bailout.
During an interview, Ms. Eiffel explained the extent to which her business relies on seasonal visitors and catering services. She said she counts on the revenue generated by catering across the East End, extending all the way to Montauk. That part of her business remains at a standstill while the East End economy is shut down.
When COVID-19 epidemic broke out, Ms. Eiffel said she was traveling in India. She immediately returned to Shelter Island in order to help her community. Since many of her regular customers were requesting groceries, rather than prepared meals, Ms. Eiffel adapted her store in order to accommodate their needs.
“I emptied all of my fridge,” she said. “I started selling vegetables that were even cheaper than those at the IGA in order to meet demands. We built an online business overnight.”
For elderly customers, Ms. Eiffel even accepted orders over the phone so that they did not have to struggle with their computer, or risk going to grocery stores.
Devastated by the market’s possible closure, Ms. Eiffel’s community of friends, fans, and foodies have come together and started a GoFundMe page on her behalf – quickly earning $140,687 of their $300,000 goal, as of Tuesday evening. This goal will fulfill a bank loan enabling the business to stay afloat as it generates income over the summer.
Taylor Simon, one of Ms. Eiffel’s dedicated customers, explained, “Once I heard about her businesses troubled state, I went in two days later and suggested a GoFundMe, and three other people had already beat me to the chase.”
The people of Shelter Island sprung into immediate action.
Mr. Simon continued to describe the Marie Eiffel market as a community center, open nearly year-round, and longer than most other businesses. It is a place that local residents, working people, and weekenders all adore. The store’s layout — two long communal tables within the market, and more communal tables on an outdoor deck above the harbor — breeds an atmosphere of friendliness and conversations between friends and strangers alike.
“All the different cohorts of people include Eiffel’s as a morning ritual,” Mr. Simon said. “Instead of making coffee at your own house, you go to Marie’s.”
Marie Eiffel’s vocal and engaging staff create a true neighborhood coffee shop and gathering place that is central to many Shelter Island residents’ everyday life.
Support for Ms. Eiffel and her team has poured in, one donor claiming that “Shelter Island needs this restaurant very badly” and her team absolutely cannot succumb.
Many supporters are dedicated to saving the marketplace because of the quality of its gourmet food, and its involvement in the community. Others are aware of Ms. Eiffel’s lesser known history, and the origin of her desire to build a business on Shelter Island.
As stated on her GoFundMe page, “Marie Eiffel’s story is one of resilience.” After a devastating car accident in 2002, which resulted in two collapsed lungs, among other injuries, Ms. Eiffel was pronounced dead in the hospital.
Miraculously, she survived against all odds. Years later, after having had numerous surgeries and financial concerns, “Marie discovered Shelter Island” and “decided to make it her home.” She was still overcoming the physical and emotional repercussions of her accident when she opened her market in 2013.
Recalling her store’s early stages, Ms. Eiffel explained that she began in Sag Harbor, “practically homeless,” in a small garage nearby Cromer’s for $200 a month. After starting her own business, she explained that, “my store grew and grew and grew and eventually moved to selling food … my partner and I built it literally from scratch and we really put our heart and soul into the market, staying long hours at night. We spend more time here than anywhere else.”
The loyal customers, now companions, that Ms. Eiffel has gathered via her market are striving to keep her store alive. Their love for her gourmet food can only be amplified by their appreciation for the owner’s formidable history, and her great spirit. Upon learning about how deeply her store has affected its customers, Ms. Eiffel has said that she has stretch marks on her heart.
In astonishment she asked, “Who would think that this island would come so strongly behind me? I’m still crying.”