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Summer still key on East End as businesses expand seasons

As the crush of tourists and weekend visitors descends onto the streets and beaches of the East End, local business owners are looking for the boost they need to make it through the slow winter months.

But while summer is indispensable, businesses there are increasingly seeking to stay open year-round, as the population rises and offseason sales grow.

During the summer, East End restaurants, hotels, retailers and outdoor leisure businesses normally make the bulk of their revenue, business owners and experts say.

A stock market that continues to break records, solid employment, and confidence in the economy are giving a boost to businesses that make most of their money from Memorial Day to Labor Day, said Herman A. Berliner, an economist and dean of the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University in Hempstead.

The East End — composed of the towns of East Hampton, Southampton, Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island — is comparable to other summer attraction areas on the Northeast, such as the Jersey Shore and Cape Cod, which also offer waterfronts and beaches, Berliner said. The competition for local visitors is also becoming more fierce from places such as Freeport, Long Beach and Fire Island, he said.

But for a growing number of businesses on the East End, summer is no longer the only season.

“The summertime is definitely peak season for all of Long Island, including our iconic East End,” said Kristen Jarnagin, president and chief executive of Discover Long Island, which promotes Long Island’s $5.5 billion travel and tourism industry. “We are working to extend the season from the springtime to the fall.”

East End businesses are finding that their season now spans from Easter to Thanksgiving, sometimes after Christmas, as tourists visit outlet malls, wineries, and pumpkin, apple and Christmas tree farms.

As the population of the East End grew by nearly 11 percent from 2000 to 2015, according to census figures, businesses have been encouraged to stay open year-round.

Landlords have started to demand yearlong leases and to cut back on offering seasonal leases, said Faith Hope Consolo, chairwoman of the Manhattan-based real estate firm Douglas Elliman’s Retail Group. The retail-business vacancy rate on the East End is less than 5 percent, the lowest in five years. Rents for retail space average from $100 to $150 per square foot, she said.

“It has created a domino effect,” Consolo said. “Staying open makes the dynamic of the other shops stronger.”

For seasonal businesses, “The summer is the meat,” said Ree S. Wackett, a senior business adviser at the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University. “The extended season is the gravy.”

Hotel Indigo, Riverhead

Aliyah Miller, left, Kaila Folk from Ridge, Kristen
Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Hotel Indigo in Riverhead generates about 50 percent of its revenue during the summer, said Rob Salvatico, who owns the hotel with his father and uncle.

That’s a change: A decade ago, summer accounted for as much as 75 percent of the hotel’s revenue, Salvatico said.

The nearby Tanger Outlets Riverhead has boosted winter bookings, said Salvatico, whose family also owns the Holiday Inn Express in Riverhead.

“Just a few years back, Riverhead was a very seasonal location,” Salvatico, 44, said. “It was very Memorial Day to Labor Day, and business in the winter was almost non-existent. Most businesses closed.

Rob Salvatico, left, owner of Hotel Indigo in
Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

“But for us, that was never a possibility because our hotels are both part of a franchise, so we had to get creative and find ways to sustain ourselves in the offseason,” he said.

Salvatico’s cousin, Kristen Reyes, vice president of marketing and events at Hotel Indigo, said the hotel has forged partnerships with local breweries, wineries and community organizations to host beer fests, wine tastings and live music events to attract winter guests.

“These are all ways in which we’re telling our guests . . . ‘You can come enjoy these beautiful experiences now, when it’s less crowded and you can get a greater value than what you can usually get in the summer,’ ” Reyes said.

Stevenson’s Toys & Games, Southampton and East Hampton

Roy Stevenson, who along with his wife Polly,
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

On a cold February weekday Stevenson’s Toys & Games in Southampton and East Hampton may make $10 in sales. It’s during those cold days of winter that Roy Stevenson, 61, who owns the two East End toy stores with his wife, Polly, orders hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of toys for the summer months.

“Each year I have an anxiety attack,” Stevenson said. “In February you wonder if people are going to come back. But they always do.”

This summer Stevenson expects the stores to make about 50 percent of their annual sales in the June-to-August period. About 30 percent of the sales comes around the holidays, leaving only 20 percent to be made the rest of the year, he said.

Stevenson has owned the Southampton store since 2001, when he bought the former Lillywhite’s, a toy and bicycle store established in 1895.

Roy Stevenson, who along with his wife Polly,
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

  • During the summer months Stevenson has about 12 employees for the two stores.

“We are used to the cycle, but challenges remain,” he said. “During the winter we could probably get by with two people at each store. But if you have someone who is excellent, you don’t want to say goodbye to them after the holidays. So we keep a few people.”

While this toy retailer has its seasonal challenge, in some ways its business isn’t all that different from others in the industry.

“We can never have enough Legos,” he said.

Funcho’s Fajita Grill, Riverhead and Westhampton

Alfonso Zavala, owner of Funcho's Fajita Grill, at
Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

When Alfonso Zavala opened Funcho’s Fajita Grill in Riverhead in the spring of 2001, he got an early lesson in how seasonal the area was when he was sprucing up the space.

“I needed a box of screws and had to go all the way to Patchogue to buy it,” Zavala said. “Back then there was no Home Depot in the area, no Lowe’s, and you couldn’t find any of the smaller stores open, but what a difference from then to now. The area is just full of life.”

Zavala, 47, who got his nickname “Funcho” when his younger sister couldn’t pronounce his name, and his family own the Riverhead restaurant and opened a second Funcho’s in Westhampton in 2003.

The Riverhead restaurant stays open in the wintertime, and the one in Westhampton, a nine-mile drive away, closes.

Olivia Suarez of Lake Grove, 2, enjoys a
Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

“In Riverhead I’ve seen a tremendous increase in people coming to the restaurant in the winter months as the area has built itself up,” Zavala said. “And I also get a lot of business from county workers, the sheriff’s department and attorneys from the courts, who work year-round.”

He usually closes the Westhampton location from January to March. Up to 80 percent of revenue in Westhampton is garnered in the summer, he said.

“I feel like I have a restaurant and a half,” said Zavala, who is of Peruvian descent and has incorporated Mexican and Peruvian cuisines into his menu. “You can only hope for really great summers.”

Strong’s Marine, Mattituck

Ryan Strong, left, vice president, Jeff Strong, president
Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

The boating industry is year-round on Long Island, said Jeff Strong, 60, president of the family-owned business Strong’s Marine.

But the Mattituck-based marina, which has locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, gears up in the summer.

“We sell boats on a 12-month basis, and we do a lot of winter storing as well,” Strong said. “The big summer shift is our clients are showing up to use their products, so it’s all hands on deck to support them. This is an intense time of year.”

Strong’s Marine has a 20-boat fleet available for rent during the summer months. Daily boat rentals start at $395, while a three-day rental package starts at $995, Strong said. Its boat club, which gives members unlimited use of a mix of boats throughout the summer, costs $6,000.

Chris McKee, a waiter at Pace's Dockside Restaurant,
Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

The company’s Pace’s Dockside Restaurant, located at Strong’s Water Club on the Mattituck Inlet, is also packed during the summer months, as boats from the North Shore, Connecticut and Westchester dock in one of 135 slips there.

The company has 77 full-time and 50 part-time workers during July and August. About half of the part-timers are there only during the summer.

“With the seasonal increase of docking boats and rentals, we need the extra people,” he said.

Pandemonium Boutique, Southampton

Jacqueline DiDonato, left, and Jennifer Condos open Pandemonium
Photo Credit: Veronique Louis

Pandemonium came to Southampton on Memorial Day weekend.

That is when longtime friends Jacqueline DiDonato, 50, and Jennifer Nill Condos, 41, opened their 1,400-square-foot Pandemonium Boutique, selling women’s clothing, handbags, handmade jewelry and home goods, ranging from $50 to $200. They also give out hand-painted gift bags made by a small team of local artists.

The two opened their 2,200-square-foot Pandemonium Boutique in Babylon about 12 years ago but eyed Southampton as an expansion spot.

“Southampton was always our dream second location,” said DiDonato, who is president of the Babylon Village Chamber of Commerce. “We love the small community feeling. We wanted to be in a walkable business district.”

Jacqueline DiDonato, left, and Jennifer Condos open Pandemonium
Photo Credit: Veronique Louis

The two owners and four of their family members split their time between the stores, which are open seven days a week.

The rent for the Southampton store is more than double that of the Babylon location, DiDonato said. However, the rent in Southampton will drop in the winter months.

They plan to close the Southampton store during January, February and March to keep costs down and will depend on the cash flow from the Babylon store, DiDonato said.

“It makes more sense to close for a couple of months, so we are prepared for that,” she said.

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