July 22, 2024

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Fashion Trends, Shopping More Joyfully

Your vacation is their busy season. What it’s like running a seasonal shop in Montauk, Fire Island

5 min read

They’ve returned — along with lazy days and delightful fireflies.

Seasonal boutiques are back in business around Long Island and they’re adding their limited-time-only something special to the summertime shopping landscape. From May to September (plus or minus a couple of months on either end), it’s game on for business owners — time for an exhilarating and highly concentrated retail cycle.

“It’s very, very intense,” says Gabrielle Long, 49. She’s eagerly anticipating her 10th season in Montauk running Summer Stock, a women’s clothing shop at Gosman’s Dock. “It stays hectic from when we open until we wrap up the season in October and close our doors until the following May.”

You really have to work 120 days straight. No time off.

— Sylma Cabrera, Pure Soul owner

NewsdayTV’s Elisa DiStefano visits Pure Soul, a seasonal shop on Shelter Island with coastal-inspired clothing, accessories and gifts.
Credit: Randee Daddona

Summer Stock has been a Montauk fixture since 1975. Long took it over in 2014. In the offseason, she stays busy. In late fall, she starts shopping for the next season and going to trade shows.

Compressing a year’s worth of commerce into about half that time presents a beat-the-clock-style challenge that can be a pressure cooker.

Summer Stock has been a Montauk fixture since 1975. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

It’s a “marathon” that requires focus and fortitude, says Sylma Cabrera, 56, who’s now in season seven at her Shelter Island “modern lifestyle boutique,” Pure Soul.

SUMMER RUSH

“You really have to work 120 days straight,” Cabrera says. “No time off. Hard, long days and long hours in order to do what you would generate for the whole year. That is a signature characteristic of running a seasonal business.”

Peggy Halverson, of Patchogue, shops for items at Summer Stock...

Peggy Halverson, of Patchogue, shops for items at Summer Stock in Montauk on May 24. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Inherent hurdles go with seasonal shops. Bad weather can cut down on traffic. Finding summer staff can be an issue. “What makes my life so much easier is that I have loyal and longtime staff, and I’m very lucky to have that,” says Long.

Seasonal shop owners agreed they must be good at saving for when the shop isn’t generating revenue. Some rely on summer earnings to last a year. Some have other ventures. “You have to be very cognizant of year-round bills even when you’re seasonal,” says Long.

Cabrera braces for and welcomes the summertime rush. She’s passionate about her shop and curating dresses, bags, shoes and gifts summer shoppers will find there. “I look forward to those 120 days. Of course, I do have to say that around day 60 or 70, I start to ask myself, ‘What am I doing?’ But I really do love it.”

The summer season is “hectic” at Summer Stock in Montauk. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Between a customer mix of 60% locals and 40% tourists, business is “so good I literally can afford to have the summer and close for the rest of the year and cover my expenses,” says Cabrera. Cabrera returns late each year to her home in Puerto Rico, where she runs her Pure Soul flagship store.

‘A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE’

In the Pines on Fire Island, the General Store, a handsome haven for men’s clothing, swimwear, accessories and fragrances, opens its doors from around late April to early October.

Late May is a marker for when the high season begins at the store, says shop manager Peter L. Brundige, a retail consultant in the off season.

“It is a captive audience. You can only get here by ferry,” Brundige says. “The closer we get to Memorial Day, the fuller the ferries get. They stay full all summer.”

For Pines resident Mike Borowski, 53, a DJ who also has a residence in New York City, General Store reopening each season is a happy harbinger of the return of sun-soaked days and dance-drenched evenings.

“The store has become part of the summer ritual,” says Borowski. “Get a cocktail, gossip on the deck, browse and shop in the store and then move inside the club to spin on the dance floor.”

In Greenport, Lido, a shop specializing in resort wear, home furnishings and host gifts, opened in 2012. It has been in its current location since 2015.

The shop is about “low-key luxury,” says owner Heidi Kelso, a music, fashion and entertainment producer who splits time between New York City and Orient. “My role isn’t in the store. I like being there when I can.”

“Our big season is spring to fall,” says Kelso. “We do try to stay open on the weekends and holidays, and there’s a website.”

Karen LeClerc owns Urban Soul, a seasonal boutique in Southampton. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

In Southampton, Karen LeClerc has already geared up for another summer season in her boutique that features, she says, “contemporary women’s clothes with a timeless feel.”

The shop launched in 1993. It is a brick-and-mortar manifestation of a childhood fashion obsession, says LeClerc, 60, who grew up in Sag Harbor and lives in Flanders.

“When I was a little girl I used to set my whole bedroom up as a little store,” she says. Her grown-up endeavor, Urban Soul, runs full-tilt April to October, and by appointment through Christmas. LeClerc uses the offseason to travel to trade shows and to recharge.

The bulk of the revenue to pay bills through the year is generated at the shop from June through September, says LeClerc. She keeps staffing low, with one employee who works Sundays, and one summer seasonal helper.

Bottom line: Summer is time to hustle.

SHOPPING, SEASONALLY

Shops are typically open seven days a week in-season.

Summer Stock — Gosman’s Dock, 484 W. Lake Dr., Montauk. 631-668-3243, summerstockmontauk.com.

Pure Soul — 183 North Ferry Rd., Shelter Island. 516-413-4136, puresoulboutique.com.

General Store — across from the Blue Whale on Harbor Walk, the Pines, Fire Island, 631-440-4517.

Urban Soul — 42 Main St., Southampton, 631-287-6320.

Lido — 132 Main St., Greenport, 631-477-2350; lidoworld.com.

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