An influx of new art galleries and boutiques looking to meet their customers where they are — hunkering down in their East End homes during the pandemic — has helped keep Southampton’s typically lagging Main Street occupied this fall.
Clothing retailers like Brooks Brothers and J. Crew, both of which filed for bankruptcy this year, have closed their Southampton storefronts. But where those chains struggled, other industries see opportunity.
There could be two dozen vacancies in the downtown during this time of year, said Mayor Jesse Warren. This year he only counts about six unoccupied spaces.
"We’re seeing less vacancies than ever before," said Warren, who owns two boutiques in the village. "We’ve had a relatively safe environment with low COVID numbers. I think that is definitely related to our spike in population."
One of the most noteworthy additions is international auction house Phillips, which moved into the central location at Hampton Road and Main Street in August. The building, once Southampton Town Hall, had been vacant for several months and was most recently a Pottery Barn.
"We now have a premiere auction house as one of our anchors in the village, when just nine months ago it was a very large, vacant storefront," Warren said.
Other galleries that have opened in Southampton Village include the international Hauser & Wirth and the West Village-based JHB Gallery. Art institutions like Sotheby’s auction house and Pace gallery have opened in nearby East Hampton. But that village does not have as much downtown real estate inventory and is typically not as impacted by empty storefronts as Southampton, Warren said.
Phillips opened in mid-August and is leasing the space through summer 2021, said Robert Manley, Phillips’ co-head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art.
"More and more people are buying art without seeing it in person, however, there is still no substitute for getting works in front of people," Manley said in an interview. "There is a magic that happens when you get an interested collector in front of a beautiful piece of art. It’s really hard to recreate that online."
Mixed-media artist Denis Leon is among the newcomers to jump into the village’s art scene. The event photographer by trade saw much of his business wiped out by the pandemic. He decided to open a gallery on Jobs Lane to showcase his art, which varies from colorful aerial photographs to a collage featuring an image of Rolling Stones co-founder and guitarist Keith Richards layered over a British flag made of Marlboro cigarette packs.
"I probably took the last piece of real estate back in July," Leon said. "We’ve done extremely well out there."
Leon will be in the storefront at least through November and hopes to have a part-time presence through winter. He said he plans to be back next summer, hopefully in a bigger space. Before then, he wants to open a second location in Palm Beach, Florida, this winter, and when the pandemic subsides establish a New York City location, too.
"I’m just following the crowd," Leon said.
ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES
Phillips auction house
Hauser & Wirth gallery
Denis Leon Gallery
JHB Gallery at Jetsam Studio
High-end retail store Asprey
Argento Restaurant and Cocktail bar