In the shadow of the oldest lighthouse in New York, summer in the Hamptons and Montauk once meant strawberry ice cream cones from a mom-and-pop shop, and Necco wafers and Pop Rocks from a candy store known for its fudge. For locals, an influx of new faces would wane at the onset of autumn.
By the winter, commercial areas sat speckled with darkened storefronts as vacationers retreated to New York City boroughs and beyond. Snow would blanket a softened East End landscape, tucking its year-round residents in for a season all their own.
“That dichotomy of life is kind of over,” said Jason Biondo, 47, a lifelong Montauk resident and local builder who retrofitted the lighthouse keeper’s quarters several years back.
Confronted with the pandemic, much of the summer crowd that fled from Manhattan to the Hamptons has remained, and the residential real estate swell has sparked commercial change. From health care to dining, new businesses have popped up in the Hamptons. While more health care facilities are welcome, there are mixed feelings about some of the new restaurants.
“I could probably count on one hand, the places between East Hampton, Amagansett, Montauk and Springs, that’s a really affordable place to take all your kids out to dinner where you’re not dropping 300 bucks,” Mr. Biondo said. “I’m not complaining, because I’m also reaping the benefits as a builder, right? So I’m not going to bite the hand that feeds me; but it’s impossible to ignore the elephant in the room.”
From April 2010 to April 2021, the population of the town of East Hampton, which includes the hamlet of Montauk, climbed from 21,457 to 28,385, a 32 percent increase, according to U.S. census data. In Southampton, the population rose about 22 percent, from 56,790 to 69,036, in the same time frame.
The New York Times talked to major hospitals and small business owners about their decision to follow people to the summer resort area.
N.Y.U. Langone Health Medical Associates — Bridgehampton
N.Y.U. Langone Health has a Westhampton facility in the works, after opening a 3,500-foot ambulatory care facility in Bridgehampton in May 2021.
“We really saw the opportunity out there way before the pandemic, and we thought there was a real need for quality health care on the East End of Long Island,” said Vicki Match Suna, the executive vice president and vice dean for real estate development and facilities at N.Y.U. Langone Health.
The hospital’s Bridgehampton lease, on a prominent corner along the Bridgehampton part of Montauk Highway, began in June 2019.
“Most of what’s available is small, retail kinds of spaces, which really didn’t work for us and our use; so there was limited availability and it did take some time for us to locate a site that we thought could work for our needs,” Ms. Suna said.
At the Bridgehampton facility, N.Y.U. Langone Health tried to integrate the area’s culture: Interior walls are decorated with art made by local artists. Accent pieces are made of driftwood, sea glass, and other local materials native to the beachside community.
Poppy Heart — Montauk
Tiffany LaBanca-Madarasz saw a “For Lease” sign on a Montauk storefront that for decades housed the toy store, “A Little Bit of Everything,” and took the opportunity to open a business of her own in July 2021. Poppy Heart is a shop, a cafe, a gallery, and an art studio — a one-stop shop for creativity and community and a pivot for Ms. LaBanca-Madarasz, who worked as the head of employee communications and engagement for PayPal for two years following 25 years in the communications industry.
Though she raised her two children in Manhattan, Ms. LaBanca-Madarasz said her family rented a house every summer in Montauk.
“I rented when my kids were growing, every summer, so it’s always been in the back of our minds, like, ‘This is our happy place, this is where we’ll eventually come full time,’” Ms. LaBanca-Madarasz said. “With Covid and the kids going to college, we thought, ‘let’s accelerate that plan and see if we could actually buy a home.’”
She said turning 50 gave her some new perspective. “I was really ready for something bigger, and more interesting, and entrepreneurial, and Poppy Heart was born.”
Poppy Heart provides consistency in an area accustomed to a seasonal cadence. “There really isn’t a lot to do in Montauk, particularly in the off season, and on rainy days, so I built it for Montauk,” she said. “You can paint pottery, you can paint canvases, you can play with clay, you can make jewelry.”
One section of the store is called “A Little Bit of Everything,” and sells nostalgic toys to pay homage to her predecessor.
Il Buco al Mare — Montauk
As an established restaurant owner, Donna Lennard resisted bringing Il Buco al Mare to the Hamptons for years. The right opportunity presented itself, however, when the pandemic did.
“It was definitely not in the works before then,” Ms. Lennard said of the pandemic, insisting that she still didn’t want to operate a restaurant in the same place that she owned a country house. “It was feet in the mud, intractable Donna, no way, no how am I ever going to have a restaurant where I go to relax.”
Ms. Lennard dipped her toes in first, with a summer 2020 pop-up at the Marram hotel in Montauk. She describes it as, “almost like a little kiosk, with like 80 outdoor seats on a big terrace overlooking the ocean.”
As the summer was ending, Il Buco team members told her they were happy out east. An acquaintance had offered to show Ms. Lennard a space in Amagansett more than once, and she had declined.
“We had about a dozen people working in Montauk, and they said, ‘let’s just go see the space in Amagansett,’” she said. “So we did, and everybody loved it, and we made an offer, and they rejected our offer. So I was like, phew!”
Come January, Ms. Lennard had the same acquaintances over for drinks in front of a fire. She asked who had taken the place and found out the deal had fallen through. By Memorial Day 2021, Il Buco al Mare was open for business in Amagansett.
Ms. Lennard has definitely warmed up to the new location. “From kicking and screaming, I’ve really embraced it.”
Weill Cornell Medicine — Southampton
“It’s a natural progression, I think, that in the last couple of years a lot of medical buildings have been popping up,” said Aaron Curti, the Douglas Elliman broker who leased space to Weill Cornell Medicine to open a clinic last summer.
Mr. Curti, who has lived on the East End year round for 25 years, said that as the Hamptons has transitioned into a full-time community for many of its residents, full-service medical facilities were sorely needed.
During the pandemic, he added, Weill Cornell learned that a lot of their doctors and employees also had houses in the area.
The clinic, which fills 4,000 square feet of space on the very-visible corner of Montauk Highway and Flying Point Road, was designed to promote patient and staff wellness while honoring the natural elements of the location, said Emil Martone, the organization’s director of design and construction in capital planning.
The new practice is specializing in primary care — internal and family medicine care — and reproductive medicine. Weill Cornell Medicine plans to offer additional specialties as needed, potentially including dermatology and cardiology, according to a representative for the organization.
Kissaki — Watermill
At Kissaki, a Manhattan restaurant that opened a Watermill location in June 2020, the omakase counter experience can cost about $100 per person or more. But pricing varies based on location.
“I’m sure that not every person who lives in Southampton is interested in paying $200 a person to eat out at dinner,” said Justin Marquez, the director of operations at the restaurant. “There’s probably a little bit of a push-and-pull with the locals about just what’s reasonable everyday dining.”
The need to adapt is familiar to the Kissaki team. The first Kissaki location, in Manhattan, opened in January 2020 and closed in March — “along with the rest of the city,” said Mr. Marquez. The owner and chef partner pivoted, building a successful to-go business. They decided to open a branch of Kissaki in the Hamptons for a number of reasons, including dropping rents in the area.
“By June of 2020, there were plenty of Hamptons landlords that were willing to be more flexible on price,” he said.
Kissaki, which also opened “O by Kissaki” in East Hampton in August 2021, is working on its flexibility, too.
“In order to be good partners to the local community, we are aggressively re-evaluating our price structure in order to make sure that we’re not just there for the high season and to take advantage of the tourists, but that we’re there as a good partner providing a good quality product year round,” Mr. Marquez said.