Endless Summer: Beach Businesses Prepare, Hope For A Season With No End Date
MONTAUK, N.Y. — Were it a normal summer, the staff at Duryea's Lobster Deck here at Long Island's eastern point would this week be starting to wrap up the season. But this is no normal year, and the restaurant isn't changing out of its summer whites just yet.
The dining deck, which was reconfigured to serve people in a socially distanced manner, is now staying open until the end of September. The ramped-up takeout menu, not previously a big part of the business, will still be running until Columbus Day — something it has never done before.
“We’re expecting to maintain steady business … We do feel people are staying out east longer than the typical season, and we’d like to be available for them,” said Emily Corso, the events and marketing director for Montauk Asset Holdings, which owns the restaurant, as well as Lulu Kitchen & Bar in Sag Harbor and a second Duryea's on the North Fork.
“It’s a combination of things — we’ve assessed the traffic is still going, we’ve been talking to regular guests and they are staying in their homes through September and talking to other local business owners that have sensed the same thing,” she said.
Labor Day is usually the unofficial close of business in Long Island’s beach towns as holidayers flood back to school and work for the fall. But this year, with workers remote, colleges online and school reopenings uncertain, everyone from restaurant owners to fitness instructors to real estate brokers are rushing to adjust businesses to try and make hay — even if the sun isn’t shining as much.
“Labor Day weekend is generally the end, and then they call it 'Tumbleweed Tuesday,' but it was busy in town," Corso said of the Hamptons this week. "It was not a normal Tumbleweed Tuesday.”
She spends the winters in Sag Harbor and is based in Montauk in the summer months.
“It’s an indication that the crowds are still here," she said. "And local business owners need it.”
Residential brokers have reported sharp increases in sales and rentals throughout the summer, and the numbers bear that out. In August, contracts signed on single-family homes continued on a “torrid upward pace” according to data from appraisal firm Miller Samuel.
Condominium sales also jumped, and listings across the board have been rising to meet the demand. For homes priced between $4M and $4.9M, sales jumped by 340% in August year-over-year. On the neighboring North Fork, contracts on single-family homes doubled last year's level.
“For years there was an oversupply problem," said Steven Dubb, who runs Beechwood Organization, one of the largest developers of residential housing on Long Island. "Too many single homes were built out east. They say, 'When your doctor is building a spec home in the Hamptons, the market is overheated.'”
He is developing “the Latch," a 20-condo development in Southampton. The plan was to wait until later this year to formally launch sales with a model to show, but with increased demand, which Dubb attributes to the effect of the coronavirus, the company began selling the homes off the plan. Half of them are now under contract, Dubb said. He believes people are pulling the trigger on purchases because it is a win-win, whether things return to normal or not.
“If you are deciding whether to buy a house out here, the worst case is you need to stay in the home because it’s not safe in the city, but if that doesn’t turn out — say there’s a vaccine in two months — you’ve still got a house in the Hamptons, that’s not the worst thing in the world,” he said. “It’s not like buying in a suburb where you wouldn’t want to live if it weren’t for COVID.”
Corcoran broker Gary DePersia, who has worked the Hamptons residential real estate scene for decades, said the spring rental season was unlike any he’d seen before.
“It was a stampede,” he said. ”From Montauk to Southampton, from North to Sag Harbor, there wasn’t one area that didn’t benefit from this.”
Multiple owners who were trying to sell homes were able to rent them out far earlier than normal, he said, and then pick up on a brisk selling season once the statewide ban on selling homes was lifted.
Nest Seekers International broker Noel Roberts said when people started “freaking out” in March and leaving the city, bidding wars over rental properties started, something he had never experienced. Though his bread and butter is luxury sales, he switched to focus on high-end rentals instead.
“From the Biebers to the Rihannas and to the billionaires and the actual princesses, we helped a lot of people secure homes this summer,” Roberts said, adding he leased out several rentals on a long-term basis.
“I showed one of my listings to a couple, they walked straight in and asked what the WiFi password was. They didn’t even look at the master bedrooms, they didn’t care about the backyard," he said. "Their main criteria was the strength of the WiFi and who will be working in what room.”
Now, he said he is gearing up for a strong fall selling season as people who were hesitant to overpay during such a tumultuous summer start to feel more comfortable inking contracts. Some buyers had “hit the pause button” according to Roberts, saying “we may be desperate, but we’re not crazy.”
Many businesses saw the writing on the wall early. Greenwich Village bar Dante started ferrying bottled cocktails out to the Hamptons mid-summer. The owner of Flatiron’s Hill Country Barbecue Market turned his East Hamptons home into a “logistics center” and allowed people to pick up food from there.
Meanwhile, posh private school Avenues: the World School announced it was forming an East Hampton campus back in June. Tuition fees run over $50K a year for the school, which is best known for its West Chelsea location.
But now that Labor Day is over, it is clear the wave is not.
“Nobody is fucking leaving,” one person in the Hamptons griped to Vanity Fair. “The town is bursting at the seams.”
An Uber driver in Montauk told Bisnow the local schools were swelling with new enrollments and claimed New Yorkers had swarmed in and snapped up the town's supply of toilet paper in the early days of lockdown.
The big numbers are a boon for fledgling businesses. Victoria Batha, a Manhattan-based Pilates instructor who runs her own business called the Pilates Snob, has set up a small studio in Montauk — and is now planning to commute to juggle her work in the city with a new venture on the island.
“There is really going to be a year-round presence. Especially in Montauk that never sees that, this is a really great opportunity,” she said, noting that she knows multiple people who have decided to stay until October, at least.
While she works to get her studio, Real Pilates Montauk, — which is going to be in a coworking location near the Montauk train station — off the ground she has been teaching outdoor classes at the nearby Hero Beach Club.
With many studios around Montauk shut for a portion of the summer, Hero Beach Club owner Jon Krasner said hotel guests were turning out in droves for the outdoor classes, which will continue to run as long as the weather holds. Krasner said he has seen a small pop in booking through September, between 10% and 20%, but thinks it is a little early to be sure if the fall season will be markedly different than years past.
Hero stays open until New Year’s every year before closing for two-and-a-half months for cleaning and repairs. The plan, at this stage, is to do the same in 2021.
Naturally, he is hoping for a jump in bookings.
“We are still a hotel — we still entertain visitors, we will see how many people are still traveling,” he said, adding that it has only been a few days since Tumbleweed Tuesday, and there are still often some lingering tourists during this week most years.
“I think more people are going back to the city than expected," he said. "[But] we have fire pits and the pool is heated.”