East Hampton is one of the few towns around where you won’t find a McDonalds or a Burger King, but that doesn’t mean chain stores haven’t been able to get a foothold.
A 7-Eleven franchise that opened in Montauk became the highest grossing 7-Eleven in the nation last year, and since then, 7-Eleven has made inroads in downtown Amagansett.
East Hampton’s planning department rescinded a building permit issued in January for the Amagansett store, saying it would need site plan review, and has since quickly drafted a series of proposed code changes that would severely limit the locations where so-called “formula businesses” can operate in town.
The town board held a hearing on the proposed changes on April 17, which received a mixed reaction from the public and business owners.
The code changes would prohibit formula stores in historic districts, within one mile of historic districts and within a half mile of historic buildings, and would limit them to central business zones in each hamlet, said Planning Director Marguerite Wolffsohn at the April 17 hearing.
These changes would effectively remove the entire business district of Amagansett from consideration for formula stores, since much of Amagansett’s business district is also a historic district, unlike downtown Wainscott or Montauk.
The code change would define a formula business as a retail sales establishment, restaurant, tavern, bar or takeout food establishment that has more than 10 stores nationwide, and that has standardized decor and uniforms, standardized menus or receives 50 of its merchandise from one distributor.
While some members of the public wondered if the code change would make it impossible for East Hampton to attract large grocers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, or if the rapidly expanding Bridgehampton National Bank’s new branches would be penalized under the new law, others, many of whom are active town Democrats, wholeheartedly welcomed the change.
Diana Walker of Amagansett suggested that formula stores only be allowed within the confines of the much-derided PSEG Long Island substation and that they remove a color she referred to as baby excrement from their color scheme. She also suggested the stores must pay their workers at least $10.10 per hour, the minimum wage currently being proposed by President Barack Obama.
“The brand is here. It’s East Hampton Town. It’s us. Not them,” she said. “We are unique. They are not.”
Bonnie Krupinski, wife of East Hampton high-end builder Ben Krupinski, described the proposed code changes as “a little draconian” and said she believed The Palm and East Hampton Grill would fall under the new definition of formula stores.
She added that most of the stores already in East Hampton Village would be considered formula stores.
“We need to look at the economic impact. You’re banning too much,” she said.
Elaine Jones of Amagansett said she thinks the law isn’t too broad, and that the chain stores already in East Hampton Village give little back to the community.
Rona Klopman of Amagansett said she owes a debt of gratitude to Amagansett Hardware owner Herb Kiembock, who gave her some goop to patch her cracked porcelain sink six years ago. The sink is still working, she said, and she’d never have gotten that kind of advice from a chain store.
Sue Avedon of East Hampton said she remembered watching the second of two hardware stores on Newtown Lane close several years ago. When she asked the owner why, she said, he told her a clothing company had made him an offer to buy his building that he couldn’t refuse.
J.B. DosSantos of East Hampton is originally from Sao Paolo, Brazil, and he remembered how, before McDonalds came to Sao Paolo, everyone used to be fit and walk around in bikinis and Speedos. Now, since McDonalds, he said, they’re too fat. He also asked why no site plan or traffic study is required for new stores.
“I’m more Bonacker than many Bonackers today,” said Mr. DosSantos, a real estate agent who has lived in East Hampton for 24 years. “I want it to stay as it is: rural.”
Theresa Cadispoti of 7-Eleven read a statement from the company that the Montauk 7-Eleven is heavily used by local workers and commercial fishermen, “people who make East Hampton tick.”
“The Town of East Hampton already has some of most restrictive zoning laws in the nation,” she said, adding that her company is flexible with store design to fit into the character of different communities. “We’re fully committed to work with the town.”
Ilissa Meyer said she wanted children ten generations from now to enjoy the same small town environment that children today enjoy.
Amagansett Wines and Spirits owner Michael Cinque said he doesn’t think people who favor the law understand the cost of doing business in East Hampton. He said he owns the building for Mary’s Marvelous, a high-end bakery and sandwich shop and he took a risk in letting the building sit empty while he waited for the perfect tenant.
“I didn’t want Starbucks. I wanted Mary,” he said. “It’s great to hear everybody talking, but no one who actually does business in these towns talks about what it costs to do business…. I love the town. I would love to be part of doing anything to help it. But give me an explanation for this.
Debra Foster agreed with Mr. Cinque, telling a story of her father, who owned a furniture store and mortuary business.
She said her father’s customers chose to go to him because they knew him and trusted him, except for the mortuary customers, who had no say in where they went when they were dead.
She pointed out that, after the Montauk 7-Eleven’s sales figures were made public, East Hampton is bound to be a place that chain stores want to open, driving out local shops.
Margaret Turner of the East Hampton Business Alliance said the new law would effectively stop any new supermarkets from opening in East Hampton.
“The business alliance is not promoting the Golden Arches or Home Depot coming to East Hampton,” she said. “But if the IGA wanted to change to a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s, this would make it impossible.”
She added that most franchises are locally owned.
“We’re not looking to encourage or welcome Walmart, but we do not want empty storefronts,” she said. “Many businesses are having difficulty staying afloat.”
Freddy Friedler, who manages Amagansett Square, said his job has been to steer the square away from formula stores, but that he believes some formula stores are better than others.
“Take a good, hard look at the way this legislation is going to be written,” he said. “People should have a voice in this. People are not understanding what this entails. Let’s not let fear decide what we’re doing…. There’s a lot entailed here. We need to make sure we have the right businesses in place.”
Amagansett attorney Tina Piette also said she thought the proposal was rushed.
“Let’s slow this down. Let’s take a real look at what’s going on here,” she said. “I would really like property owners to be able to weigh in on this.”
The board closed the public hearing but did not vote on the proposed code changes.