Stores report good sales in the wake of economic meltdown

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As the U.S. economy muddles along after the market meltdown in October, Southampton business owners say they remain relatively immune to the larger economic problems.

Henry Hildreth, the 13th-generation owner of Hildreth’s department store on Main Street in Southampton Village, said that, while business fell off dramatically at the end of September and continued to remain down through October, sales began to pick up just as dramatically the first week in November.

“I call it the Obama bounce,” he said, referring to the long-awaited conclusion of the two-year-long presidential election campaign. “Things definitely changed and it’s been better ever since.”

Mr. Hildreth said that, in particular, his sales of the biggest ticket items in the store—furniture—have increased “quite a bit.”

For Kathy Temperino, the manager of London Jewelers on Main Street in Southampton, Black Friday sales this year were somewhat up over last year. She said that jewelry was selling more than watches this year, a reversal of the usual Christmas trend in her shop.

Liz Rutkowski, the owner of Illusions jewelry shop in Sag Harbor, said that business over the weekend following Thanksgiving made up for one of the worst Novembers she’s seen. Though she said that the streets of the village were packed with window shoppers over the weekend, she was cautious about predicting a solid shopping season.

“There were a lot of people around, but not many with shopping bags,” she said.

Down the street at BikeHampton, owner David Krum said, even without luring shoppers in with sales, he’d had a stellar Friday and Saturday, though sales slumped during a day-long rain on Sunday.

He said that this weekend was “a very strong start” to the Christmas shopping season.

Sarah Dougherty, the manager of BookHampton’s Sag Harbor store, said that the weekend was busy, though she “wouldn’t say it was gangbusters.” For the first time this year, BookHampton has begun a Saturday morning sale discounting everything in the store 20 percent. Ms. Dougherty said that it seems that people in Sag Harbor don’t start shopping until later in the day and have not yet begun taking advantage of the sale.

Though some shoppers expressed concern about seeing empty shelves recently at Bob’s Village Market, a small grocery store in Bridgehampton, the store’s owner, Bob Baugh, said this week that while “everyone’s getting hurt” in this economy, his store is getting by as well as the rest of them.

The cautious optimism about the economy here was echoed this week by New York State Department of Labor’s Nassau/Suffolk spokesman Gary Huth.

“October was the first month 
that Long Island lost jobs,” he said 
this week. “We’re doing better than 
the overall economy.”

Mr. Huth said that the leisure and hospitality industry, so important to the South Fork, has added jobs in Suffolk County in the past two months, as have local government, health care, and education sectors in Suffolk County. The local statistics do not, however, include the number of jobs in the building trades.

Unemployment in Southampton Town is also now at 4.6 percent, the highest rate for the month of October since 1993, though it is well below the national average of 6.5 percent. Due to the seasonal nature of the economy, the jobless rate is often as high as 6 percent in the town during the bleakest winter months. This October’s number is a marked difference from last October’s 3.2-percent unemployment rate, leading many to worry that the true depth of the economic crisis has not yet been fully felt here.

Mr. Hildreth, whose grandparents shepherded the family store through the Great Depression, said that they had passed on the survival skills they’d learned during those tough times.

“My father—he never borrowed any money from the bank. He’d just buck up and go into his personal savings to keep the store afloat. I do too,” he said. “If I can ease the pain of interest rates from the bank, I will.”

Mr. Huth said that the big question he worries about now is how much worse the economy might get.

“There’s a fair amount of uncertainty at this point,” he said. “We haven’t had the massive layoffs people have experienced elsewhere.”

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