After Labor Day, once the house managers complete their last Goldberg’s runs and Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal finishes overseeing the military mission that is shuttling the one percent back to Manhattan via helis, stores in the Hamptons remain open. Retailers like Gucci don’t sweat the number of Jackie bags they move off-season, but every little sale matters for the independent shops. Which is why when Maryann Calendrille, the owner of Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, caught wind of Barnes & Noble’s plan to open out east, she felt “mild annoyance.”
It’s hardly as if the Hamptons has never seen a chain store. (East Hampton Village has a Chanel, a Louis Vuitton, and a Gucci within walking distance of one another.) But until now, the area’s beloved independent bookstores have somehow been spared competition.
East Hampton’s BookHampton has cultivated shoppers over its nearly half-century with an air of “Ina Garten must buy goodies for Jeffrey here.” It’s also a favorite of celebrities — last summer, Emma Roberts was spotted walking out as Bill Clinton shopped inside. Canio’s in Sag Harbor is decidedly more Grey Gardens (circa the Beales, not current owner Liz Lange), with books strewn about on shelves and plastic tables as if it’s a garage sale, whereas Southampton Books and Sag Harbor Books, both owned by Daniel Hirsch and Gregory Harris, each have neat windows and displays.
So while the owners of these independent bookshops are worried about Barnes & Noble cutting into their businesses (Calendrille feels that if the store hadn’t been in the area for the Christmas season, “we might’ve had more people”), residents are more concerned about the bookstore behemoth’s squashing the last of the area’s charm. “Barnes & Noble is a little bit like the circus has come to town,” novelist and critic Daphne Merkin says. After trekking to the store in early January, local author and Realtor Liz Carey noticed: “It doesn’t smell good, and it lingers.”
But, Carey says, all of this might be a moot point due to the store’s location. Both BookHampton and Southampton Books are short walks from Sant Ambroeus — a litmus test for prime retail (the Italians know taste). “I think there’s less discoverability for the location in Bridgehampton for Barnes & Noble,” Carey says. As Calendrille says, “It’s a quick stop to grab eggs, milk, cheese — and the latest best seller.”
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