Businesses and local officials anticipating another busy summer in the Hamptons, as the COVID-19 pandemic eases and another Memorial Day approaches, all agree on the one thing visitors heading out east should do: Plan ahead, and the farther out the better.
“Vacationers in need of a hotel room should book as soon as possible, as there is already limited availability remaining,” said Carol Covell, general manager of The 1770 House, a restaurant and inn in East Hampton.
Do likewise if you plan to grab a bite to eat.
“My recommendation would be to plan their trips knowing well in advance of when they want to come to try and figure out when they want to eat and go on these various apps [Resi or Zagat],” said Mark Smith, co-owner of Italian restaurant Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton.
According to AAA Northeast, record high gas prices are not dampening travel plans, with nearly 35 million Americans expected to hit the road during the holiday weekend, 1.5 million more than last year. Some of those travelers will be heading to the North and South forks, where local officials, businesses and event organizers are eagerly anticipating their arrival.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said a strong summer is often key for the local economy, particularly for businesses that make the bulk of their profits during the season.
“We depend on the summer season to get us through the year,” Schneiderman said. “A lot of the jobs here are seasonal. A few bad weeks could mess up people’s entire year. So it’s pretty intense from Memorial Day through Labor Day in terms of activity. Places are packed.”
Traffic comes with the season
Traffic infamously increases on the East End with the start of summer, and this season will likely be no different, according to local officials in South Fork communities.
Schneiderman said the traffic will probably be high, but he is hoping more visitors will use alternative transportation options such as trains and buses.
“People love the Hamptons,” Schneiderman said. “Will there be traffic? Yes, but hopefully people feel more comfortable taking public transportation so you’ll see more people … on buses, jitneys and trains. That helps things quite a bit.”
The Long Island Rail Road’s Hamptons-bound Cannonball, which runs Fridays at 4:06 p.m. from Penn Station to Montauk, returned on Friday for the holiday weekend, according to MTA spokeswoman Joana Flores. The Montauk summer trains will operate every weekend beginning this weekend through the first weekend of September. The LIRR recommends that travelers use the “TrainTime” app to plan trips.
Southampton Highway Superintendent Charles McArdle said the town is working on easing traffic in residential areas to help combat traffic tie-ups.
“County Road 39 and Montauk Highway, most of these are county or state roads that have most of the issues, and with the development of Waze and GPS, everyone is taking every possible road to get around the traffic, which is really causing a problem with residential communities that have become thoroughfares,” McArdle said.
The town will launch a pilot program in July to open a left turn on Shrubland Road in Southampton for passenger vehicles only, he said.
“The thinking is that if we can get Sunrise Highway and County Road 39 moving, people will stay on it if their destination is farther east and not go into these residential areas,” McArdle said.
He advised summer travelers to avoid being on the roads on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when pool, tennis and landscaping workers are usually on them heading to clients’ homes.
In a statement, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he does not expect “any significant differences between this year and last in terms of volume of visitors” at East Hampton Airport in Wainscott. The town’s plans to privatize the airport and reduce air traffic and noise were to take effect before Memorial Day, but lawsuits prompted a judge to recently issue a temporary restraining order against the town, blocking the transition.
Relaxed codes and dining customers
Schneiderman said Southampton Town will continue to relax its outdoor dining regulations for restaurants to help them stay economically viable and attract more customers.
David Loewenberg, owner of Bell & Anchor and The Beacon in Sag Harbor, as well as the East Hampton-based Fresno, said his restaurants do not have specific mask mandates in place but that seating capacities are being adhered to so customers feel comfortable and safe.
“I feel that as much as people want to throw their masks away, they don’t want to be in the mosh pit,” Loewenberg said. “They want to feel comfortable. We’ve still kept our seating capacity a little bit lower at The Bell & Anchor and over at Fresno because I think our customers appreciate that.”
Sylvia Wong, owner of The Roundtree, Amagansett boutique hotel, said asking hotels to call restaurants for reservations is also a good way for visitors to find a place to eat.
“Maybe it’s because they [restaurant staff] know us, or because of last-minute changes,” Wong said. “I just feel like we always get more when we talk to people.”
On Shelter Island, two new hotels — the Pridwin Hotel & Cottages and Chequit Hotel — are slated to open in May after two-year renovation and restoration projects, according to Justine DiGiglio, vice president of communications & partner relations for Discover Long Island, a tourism promotion agency for the Long Island region. New restaurants Léon 1909 and Eccentric Bagel are also slated to open.
DiGiglio said Shelter Island maintains its status as the “un-Hamptons, a low-key hideaway with 2,000 acres of nature preserves and the perfect combination of casual charm and exclusive seclusion — most popular with boaters, cyclists, kayakers, nature lovers and celebrities.”
Be flexible with lodging
Wendy Gordon, a spokeswoman for Baron’s Cove Hotel in Sag Harbor, said the hotel is expecting a busy summer, partly from new clientele gained during the COVID-19 pandemic who are returning for another season.
“If it’s possible to be flexible on dates — for example, midweek — that would be a wonderful time to secure a room, as holidays and weekends are generally fully booked,” Gordon said. “Make your reservations early for lodging, dining and activities.”
In Montauk, Janice Nessel, general manager of Montauk Manor, said the hotel — which offers a shuttle service that takes visitors anywhere they want to go in the village — has been busy in the weeks leading up to the summer season as visitors book reservations.
“Phones are ringing, people are booking, and it’s not as long a stay as they usually are,” Nessel said. “I think people are dollar-conscious, they don’t know what the future is going to bring, but we are getting a lot of families out here.”
When it comes to making reservations for lodging, Nessel said while apps are tempting, it is often better to simply call hotels like hers directly, as that can often save travelers money.
“Apps are nice, but sometimes you think you’re getting a deal and it’s cheaper if you call the hotel,” Nessel said. “Some of those apps add a percentage on and a commission to the hotel, and they sometimes set the rates.”
In Riverhead, Steve Shauger, director of operations at both the Hyatt Place East End and Preston House & Hotel, said people should also consider booking midweek and for multiple days, as the rates may be more favorable.
“If you’re looking, Monday through Friday is your best bet if you’re looking for savings there,” he said.
Preparing for good crowds on both forks
Two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of concerts, exhibits and art performances around the world, the South Fork looks poised to see special events return this summer, said Schneiderman, Southampton’s supervisor.
“Special events are packed. We are getting overwhelmed with requests for special events,” he said. “There’s different competitions, beach events; my schedule is filling up with events. I haven’t seen that for two years. There really haven’t been any large-scale events, and they’re all sort of coming back now.”
One will be The Palm Tree Music Festival on June 25 at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, with performances by Kygo, Disclosure, Claptone, Thomas Jack, Forester and Haywood.
Ellen Dioguardi, president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will hold its annual Arts and Crafts Fair on June 18 and 19 at Marine Park on Bay Street. In addition, local radio station WLNG has been approved for a concert series at the park beginning every Thursday night in July.
The Westhampton Beach Chamber of Commerce will hold several art shows, the first one being the Maggie Burbank art show at 10 a.m. May 28-29 on the Great Lawn on Main Street, and another being the Mary O. Fritchie Juried Fine Arts & Craft Show beginning at 10 a.m. Aug. 6-7 on the Great Lawn.
On the North Fork, the perception of safety has improved this year, and businesses and event organizers have had more time for planning events, which is helping restore tourism, according to Kristy Verity, executive director of the Riverhead Business Improvement District.
“Compared to last year, we have a lot more time for planning, and the comfort level of people has eased up as well, so we’re seeing increased numbers already earlier in the season of people coming out to enjoy events and programs,” Verity said.
In Riverhead, the “Alive on 25” free summer street festival in the downtown area offers local craft beverages and wine, live music, artists, street vendors and more. The dates are July 1, 15 and 29, and Aug. 12, with a raindate of Aug. 19.
Mattituck’s annual Strawberry Festival from June 15-19 has long been an attraction for the area, and the 67th festival on North Road is expected to draw many visitors, said Laurie Nigro, president of the Southold-based North Fork Chamber of Commerce.
Nigro said a “bit more sense of normalcy” has begun to return to the North Fork, which is contributing to businesses expecting a busy summer.
“We always get a good crowd,” Nigro said. “And we are looking forward to being able to provide the places to eat, stay and have a good time.”