How the Hamptons became a victim of its own success
For the last 40 years, the Hamptons has been synonymous with excess. But 2021 topped it all – from outrageous property deals like Calvin Klein’s East Hampton house selling for $85 million (originally bought for $3.6 million) to wild tales of people squatting with strangers at restaurant tables because they couldn’t find a reservation anywhere else, the combination of vast amounts of wealth and permanent migration of many since the pandemic, the Hamptons seems to be legitimately bursting at the seams.
The overcrowding is real. According to the recently released 2020 US Census Bureau, the populations of Southampton and East Hampton have skyrocketed. The population of Southampton Village grew at its fastest rate in recorded history (since 1870) with a 46.3% increase in those calling it home. East Hampton’s population grew by 40.1% and anecdotal signs of this growth include increased traffic. Don’t even try to get to a beach after 11am, even on weekdays – you simply can’t find a spot. Contractors are so scarce that no one can get anything on the books for six months and electricians frequently finish a job in Bridgehampton at 8pm and then drive an hour away to Montauk to complete another job working until 2 or 3am in the morning.
One sign the frenzy may have finally hit a peak: this summer, for the first time ever, the Hamptons has experienced a champagne shortage. This is not the only time the enclave has had trouble procuring enough booze to keep its soaked denizens happy. There was the Great Rosé Run of 2014 (likened by writer Stephanie Krikorian to ‘The oil shortage of the ’70s, except it caused more panic’) but this was the first time bubbly has even been in such high demand. One Southampton restaurateur was even forced to tell one of his clients, a Russian billionaire, to fly in his own supply. ‘He always drinks Cristal at breakfast. I had to tell him to bring his own or I’ll be serving him a $10 bottle of Prosecco instead,’ said Zach Erdem of 75 Main Street and Blu Mar.
But perhaps there is no greater sign that the Hamptons are overly congested than an examination of what’s been happening to the private beach and golf clubs. Once they were a slightly sleepy oasis of calm in the frenetic Hamptons world, but now in the post-pandemic world, even the clubs are booked out.
For instance, at the tony East Hampton Maidstone Club, members were shocked to find in May – when they tried to find a table on a Saturday night – that it would be a two-week wait.
For the 450 members (who are served by 250 members of full-time staff in the summer), this came as a complete shock. Members used to being able to turn up or make a booking on the same day are suddenly scrambling. While people once joined these clubs to rub shoulders with the scions of the Goelet, Graham and Ford families, or to enjoy two 18-hole golf courses or the 19 tennis courts, now some joined just in the hope of getting a reservation someplace quiet on a Saturday night in late August. But even that has changed with the pandemic.
The bar to entry of getting into the Maidstone was always pretty high, after an initiation fee, $10,000 per year, plus an additional $3,000 for meals, potential members also needed to get numerous letters of support and submit themselves (and their spouse) to a rigorous vetting process which lasted up to three years.
After all of that hoopla, a member might at least hope to get a spot on a busy Saturday night. (Even the champagne shortage wouldn’t have been a problem, this crowd normally sticks to Southsides or Scotch.) But in the pandemic, all bets are off and what was once a sure thing is now just as hard to rely on as anything else.
Still, September is just around the corner and with it, the great exodus back to Manhattan. But with the Delta variant still making headlines, a return to normal still seems a ways off. But it remains to be seen if the crowds will stay in the Hamptons or if they migrate down to the other favourite hotspot, Palm Beach.
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