Debi Wickliffe’s dream began in a Pepto-pink house in the middle of Sayville. Her art gallery and vintage shop, The Catbird Seat, humbly opened and remained there during most of 2016. Unfortunately, the spot was a bit removed from the Main Street scene — it was closer to a Friendly's and an Irish pub than it was to the upscale clothing shops, laid-back vintage boutiques and cozy general stores of Sayville. This impacted Wickliffe's business.
“There was really not that much good about it,” Wickliffe said of the location, remembering how often people drove by without stopping.
Earlier this summer, The Catbird Seat moved down the road to a new home in the center of the hustle and bustle of Main Street in Sayville. The gallery celebrated its official re-opening on Aug. 3. Wickliffe, 49, said business is better than ever, noting that her traffic is "three times the amount" it was in the pink house.
“It’s really about the artists,” she said. “That’s the No. 1 thing . . . In the beginning when I was over in the pink house, I was begging people, ‘Please, can I show your work?’ ”
Now, with the help of local nonprofit Wet Paints Studio Group and a couple of student interns from Sayville High School, the gallery is picking up steam and gaining attention through social media and the support of the community. Most of the art is Long Island-themed and created by artists hailing from communities throughout Nassau and Suffolk. The Catbird Seat proudly proclaims on its door, “Bring home your very own piece of Long Island.”
“[The artists] are coming from all over the place and sending me amazing images,” Wickliffe said. “And we pick and choose what we think is going to make up a great show.”
The walls of The Catbird Seat are filled with paintings, with more than one depicting the iconic Montauk Lighthouse. Handcrafted beach bags, home decor and even novels line shelves throughout the shop.
Some of the highlights in the shop include necklaces and earrings by Dune Jewelry. The company collects sand from all over the world to sprinkle into pendants and charms shaped like flip-flops, sea stars and shells. Dune Jewelry, featuring sand from Robert Moses Beach, the Hamptons and Fire Island, are currently on sale in the shop.
There’s also a line of candles called Hamptons Handpoured, created by East Quogue resident Brittany Torres. Each candle is named after a Long Island community, including Sayville, which smells of lavender, white tea and ylang ylang.
Wickliffe, who grew up in Seaford and lives in West Sayville, said she's felt nothing but support from fellow small-business owners in Sayville, especially on Main Street.
"I truly feel that there really is no competition within the stores," she said. "We’re all different. Everyone has a little bit of jewelry, we have maybe some things that are similar, but it actually works out great because if I don’t have something that somebody’s looking for, I’ll send them to Hamptons West, for example. Or next door, the general store.”
Some of the artists featured in The Catbird Seat are going to lead classes in the gallery.
“My artists are teachers,” she said. “We have a lot of them lined up and ready to go when I say, ‘OK, let’s get an oil class together.’ I have a classroom in the back that I’m so excited to get up and running. Also, we’re going to do academic classes [and] drawing class for kids . . . We have so much to offer here, and it’s all around the arts.”
Classes currently offered at The Catbird Seat include a paint-and-sip night, a two-day mosaic course, and Zentangle, which Wickliffe describes as “meditative guided doodling with a glass of wine in your hand.”
By connecting Main Street shoppers directly to the art of their neighbors, Wickliffe — a visual artist herself — is fulfilling a dream decades in the making.
“This is something that has always been in the back of my mind,” she said. “Something I’ve always wanted to do . . . But getting the guts to just say, ‘OK, let’s just do it,’ [was] scary as can be. Really scary, but worth it.”
Of course, the obvious question to ask: What is a Catbird Seat? Wickliffe said it’s a tribute to her father, who used to utter the phrase every time he had the upper hand during a game of cribbage.
“Nobody can remember it, until they remember it and they can’t forget it,” she said. “Hopefully we do have the upper hand here in this new location. I think we do.”