Downtown East Hampton looks a whole lot different than it did 30 years ago. Exponentially rising rent costs, a housing crisis, plus myriad hardships and challenges brought on by COVID-19 are all responsible for the big box/big name, uber high-end line-up of businesses that seem to be the majority of inhabitants throughout the hamlet’s business district along Main Street and Newtown Lane.
For anyone feeling like they may be getting lost in the sauce, fear not! For there’s a newly revamped Chamber of Commerce in town, and it’s ready to take care of you and, potentially, your business no matter its size.
Newly formulated about six months ago, the Greater East Hampton Chamber of Commerce is presently comprised of less than a dozen board members and actively working to, among other things, bridge the gap between longstanding mom-and-pop businesses, much larger corporate entities, luxury businesses, and those who work, use and shop them. The nearly 60-year-old chamber essentially sat dormant for years, particularly during the pandemic. But now, thanks to the spearheading efforts from the chamber’s new director Mary Waserstein and president Barbara Layton, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The raw fact of all this is they’re not going anywhere,” says Layton of the big money, internationally renowned luxury businesses that have set up shop in the village. “So, the objective is to really narrow the gap with collaboration. We want to encourage a co-curated, locally driven shopping experience. It’s about creating a common ground.”
A self-described advocate for small business (Layton’s the former owner of Babette’s, a restaurant that was open on Newtown Lane for 27 years), she notes the needs of the people will hopefully be better served as a goal of the new chamber is to broaden the area represented, widening outreach to Springs, Amagansett and Wainscott. Re-ignited about six months ago, there are already 35 dues-paying members and Layton hopes to have a board of 15 members before the year is out. For a business to join, there’s an annual fee of $350. For farmers and nonprofits, it’s $195.
This past December saw the newly formed chamber successfully taking the reins on the weekend-long holiday celebrations at Herrick Park. It included Santa touching down via a helicopter, a parade, a screening at Main Street’s Regal UA movie theater, a food truck, plus the first-ever holiday market on the front law of the Village Hall. According to Layton, thousands attended.
Next month on Feb. 10, the chamber hosts “Spread the Love,” a village-wide, Valentine’s Day-inspired shopping and dining event that includes some of East Hampton’s favorite stores and eateries offering special promotions, gifts, sales and in-house events. A list of who’s participating is available here. Future events sponsored by the chamber are, according to Layton, slated to include a handful of mixers, business seminars, health and wellness seminars, a farmers market in Amagansett, a food festival in Springs, food and wine festivals and a fall festival later on in the year.
“We have an extraordinary community here with great talent,” she says. “And there are a lot of new people here since Covid. I love making a difference and we really need to figure out how to bridge the communication and how to help one another.”
Another goal of the newly formed chamber is to include other, service-oriented businesses that reach beyond the needs satisfied by local retail shops and/or restaurants, Layton says.
“The question needs to be: ‘How do you see this town? What does the quality of life look like here?’ If you feel like you need something from us, please tell us,” she says. “Change is inevitable, but we don’t want it to be about 15 people sitting behind closed doors making decisions. Connection is everything.”
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