Sudden Influx From City Results In Temporary Business Boom

Estefany Silva, a clerk at Schiavoni's IGA in Sag Harbor, wipes down the counter after a customer checked out on Friday. Stephen J. Kotz

A week ago, Sag Harbor was its typical late-winter, somnolent self, with barely a soul on Main Street at midday.

By Thursday afternoon, as it became obvious the spread of the coronavirus was not going to be contained anytime soon, that scene had changed drastically.

Shiny Range Rovers and Audis had replaced the more plebeian Ford pickups and Toyota SUVs that typically line the streets this time of year, and crowds flocked to restaurants and stores like Schiavoni’s IGA to stock up on food essentials and, for some inexplicable reason, toilet paper.

“A lot of people I’ve never seen before have been shopping,” said the store’s manager, Josiah Schiavoni. “I guess toilet paper is now a valuable commodity — that and cartfuls of chicken.”

He added that the influx of refugees from the city was helping propel the store to “one of the best Marches we’ve had in years. It’s like a prolonged snow day.”

Behind the cheer, Mr. Schiavoni said he expected to remain open as long as supplies continued to arrive. His staff was trying to keep the store clean by wiping down checkout counters between customers. “That’s why it smells like bleach in here,” he said.
If Main Street in Sag Harbor was busy but orderly, the scene at King Kullen in Bridgehampton on Thursday was almost post-apocalyptic — with all registers open, lines stretching to the rear of the store, and customers stripping shelves of meat, bread, milk and other essentials.

The bread aisle was picked clean at the King Kullen in Bridgehampton on Friday. Although the store was still short of many items on Tuesday, many shelves had been partially restocked.

Store managers said they were not allowed to speak to the press, but on Monday, Lloyd Singer, a senior vice president with Epoch 5 Public Relations, issued a statement on King Kullen’s behalf.

“We do not know specifically when deliveries will reach our stores and what products will be available,” he said. “Replenishing our stores is a top priority.”

The situation was by and large normal on Tuesday, although staples such as bread, poultry, and dairy items like cheese and yogurt were in short supply.

For the time being, Mr. Singer added, the company is reducing hours at its King Kullen and Wild by Nature stores to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and suspending online shopping until further notice.

Similar scenes unfolded at other grocery stores, including IGAs in East Hampton and Montauk and Stop & Shop stores in East Hampton and Southampton.

Stop & Shop issued its own press release, announcing that store hours would be reduced to 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and that it was temporarily suspending pickup services and experiencing delays in its delivery services. Staff would wipe down checkout counters and other areas with disinfectant more frequently during the crisis, the company said.

There were reports early Monday that banks were being deluged by well-heeled customers trying to take out large sums of cash from ATMs or at the tellers’ kiosks.

While neither dispelling nor confirming that report, Carolyn Evert, a vice president for Northeast Regional Communications for JP Morgan Chase, which has branches in Southampton, East Hampton and Sag Harbor, said simply, “Chase does have enough cash available to meet the needs of our customers.”

Julia Levy, the chief marketing officer for BNB Bank, the former Bridgehampton National Bank, would not comment specifically as to whether there was enough cash on hand, but said the bank’s

“No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our employees and those who visit our branches.”

The surge in New Yorkers coming to the East End resulted in a surge of business for house watching services.

Amadeus Ehrhardt, the owner of Hamptons House Watching in Bridgehampton, said on Thursday, “We are definitely seeing a very early uptick, especially among our clients who have younger children.” He said he expected the trend to continue as more school closures were announced.

Mr. Ehrhardt, who is also a real estate broker, said he anticipated an increase in rentals as more and more New Yorkers abandon the city for the time being

“One of my guys was in traffic on Route 27” on Thursday, he said. “He told me the last time he had seen traffic like this was in August.”

Cynthia Capalbo, the owner of C’s Home Management Services in Noyac, which provides house watching and cleaning services, said her phone had been ringing off the hook. She said about 10 clients had called her by Saturday to let her know they were coming out from the city early. Another half dozen had informed her of their plans by Monday morning.

“These are people who typically only come out in the summer,” she said. “Many are telling me they are planning on staying two or three weeks.”

Ms. Capalbo said she was taking extra precautions now with the coronavirus here and requiring her workers to wear masks and gloves and give all surfaces extra cleaning.

Tom Grenci, who owns Montauk Home Surveillance with his wife, Lisa, said he too had seen an increase in the number of people coming out. “I ran into a dozen people who are out here from among the close to 100 clients we take care of,” he said. “I don’t think they are panicking. They are coming out, in my opinion, because they can work from home and be away from the sheer numbers in the city.”

Cheryl Heller, the owner of GeekHampton, which sells and services Apple products in Sag Harbor, said her business was booming through the weekend, as New Yorkers and others prepared to transition to working from home.

“It’s about to stop,” she said, “because there are no computers available.”

She said she anticipated the shop would be closed by the end of the week and operate on an appointment-only basis as the contagion spreads.

Hardware stores also saw an increase in sales as nervous customers bought bleach, latex gloves, masks and other cleaning supplies.

“We’ve been out of masks since mid-February, and you can’t find them anywhere,” said Pete D’Angelo, an owner of Emporium True Value in Sag Harbor, who took time out from repairing screens to talk.

Mr. D’Angelo said people seemed unnerved by the sudden onset of the emergency. “What happens if people don’t have anything to eat?” he asked. “Will they be able to ration food?”

“It’s been like the Fourth of July,” said Mike Halsey, a clerk at Herrick Hardware in Southampton. “Of course, we’re out of a lot of what people want like toilet paper, sanitizer, bottled water and that kind of stuff. But we tell them we can special-order it and when it comes in, we’ll call you and you can come pick it up. Try getting that kind of service from Amazon.”

“I’m not sure if it’s better to be out here or in the city,” said Loren Brett, the customer Mr. Halsey was waiting on. “If everybody gets sick out here, there’s not that many hospitals. I think I’m going back.”

Liquor stores also saw an increase in business. “People who normally would not be out there at this time of year are suddenly here — and you can extrapolate from that,” said Tom Phillips of White’s Liquors in Montauk.

“I’m way too busy to do this,” responded John Noonan, the owner of Herbert and Rist Wines and Liquors in Southampton, when asked for comment. “We’ve got a store full of customers.”

“People are coming in like it was an apocalyptic experience,” said Don Mendelson of Lamplighter Wines and Liquors in Southampton. “It’s like September 11.”

At the Sag Harbor Liquor Store, Heidi Tolley said business was good. “People need us now that the kids are home from school,” she joked.

But Ms. Tolley stressed that she and other staff members were not ignoring the threat of the coronavirus. “Look at my hands,” she said, holding them up. “I’ve been washing them so much they are bleeding because they are so dry.”

With reporting by staff writer Michael Wright