Jeremy Essay, one of the owners of the Behind the Fence Gallery in Southampton, says he actually gets a kick out of people coming into the store and asking, “Who in their right mind would buy this stuff?”
Essay says that’s because after they ask the question they usually take a look around and end up buying something. He also understands that not too many shops have alligators crawling across their rooftops and flying lions keeping watch over the store with the help of 30-foot dinosaurs.
And there aren’t too many brick and mortar shops that carry about 30,000 items, or that offer for sale or rent life-size male and female pirates, cave men, and cows painted like rainbows.
Essay, 35, and his brother Lee Essay, 39, purchased the store in March of last year along with all the crazy merchandise left over from when it was Yesterday’s Treasures. After nearly 20 years of being at the site, that store became a landmark for motorists making their way to and from the Hamptons along County Route 39. They couldn’t miss the eye-popping and head-scratching statues and other items on display outside.
The new owners have kept the scene pretty much the same for passers-by, but inside the items that were packed into the 10,000-square-foot store have recently been sorted out and put into more organized groupings, and there’s a new showroom.
“Everything left in the store was sold to us,” explains Jeremy Essay, who was born and raised in Southampton and now lives in Manhattan. “The owner would not sell unless we purchased the business and all of the inventory. It was like the show ‘Hoarders.’ ”
After buying the store, Essay says the first order of business was to bring some order to the chaos by creating theme rooms such as pirates, African Buddha and baby animal pen.
“We really love when kids come in and we see how excited they get,” Jeremy Essay says. He says a lot of life-size superheroes have been added to the selection and that other new items are planned. A statue of Superman is priced at $2,000, though there are items for sale for as little as $5.
Everything in the store is for sale or rent, notes Alison Jennerich, gallery director, and there are artists both on and off-site who do custom work such as creating rainbow cows for ice cream stores.
“You will be a landmark with a T. rex in front of your place,” Essay adds. “People will stop by all day long to take pictures.”
Other new things include the expansion of online sales and social media marketing.
“We’re trying to appeal to a wider, younger audience,'' says Jennerich, 30, of East Quogue. “We want to be innovative and sell something for everyone.” She says customers range from people who want a conversation piece for their home to amusement parks that might want a new statue to be part of their landscape.
Jeremy Essay says the name of the store was changed to signal that as much as things have stayed the same, they’ve also changed.
“It’s like, ‘What’s behind your fence?' ” Essay says. “We’re trying to start fresh.”