Closure Of County Road 39 Frustrates Business Owners, Workers


The prolonged closure of County Road 39 in Southampton last Thursday morning—investigators had all four lanes shut down for nearly nine hours following the 7 a.m. fatal accident—also brought business on the East End to a screeching halt as many employees and customers could not reach their jobs or destinations to the east of the Shinnecock Canal.

Though the amount of revenue lost that day varied from company to company and person to person, most employees and employers agreed that the extended closure of the South Fork’s main artery, forcing commuters to slowly snake their way south to Montauk Highway or simply abandon their plans and head back home, essentially cost them either a day’s worth of business or a day’s worth of pay.

“Everyone always says the Hamptons has one way in and one way out,” said Stephanie Martinez, 23, of Hampton Bays who said she was three hours late to work at the Pottery Barn Kids in Southampton on July 25 due to the fatal crash. “Well, when that one way is shut down between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., things can get kind of crazy.”

While it has never done a study that focuses on how traffic affects business in the area, or how much revenue is generated each summer day among its members, Southampton Chamber of Commerce President Micah Schlendorf said it was fair to assume that the exact financial impact on a company depends on its location and the type of business involved.

And some of those located off of County Road 39, closest to the accident scene, appear to have suffered the worst.

David Wiesneski, who runs Cafe Crust along the four-lane corridor, said his shop lost about $2,500 worth of business last Thursday, despite a late dinner rush. “It was absolutely, positively dead,” he said. “I had one customer from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.—I usually have a really big morning. Then, we only had about 25 percent of our normal lunch crowd.”

Daniel Schmidt, the part-owner of Schmidt’s Market in Southampton Village, said his business suffered greatly due to the closure, noting that sales were down about 30 percent on the day. He also said that deliveries—both coming and going—were an issue all day.

“Our deliveries came in very late in the afternoon, and we were able to make our deliveries, but they took an extra five hours,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Not only did we lose money, though, but a few of our workers missed out on about four hours of work. It hurts us all.”

Those in the delivery business, as well as those who rely on deliveries, also had a frustrating day. Alice Bell, the senior vice president and brokerage manager of Sotheby’s in Southampton, said FedEx contacted them and said they would be unable to pickup or deliver packages in Southampton and locations to the east that day. A FedEx spokesman could not be reached for comment, but some other store owners and managers said they received their deliveries that day, albeit much later than expected.

But just to the east of the accident scene, the manager of Spiro’s, a Greek restaurant that sits just east of Sunrise Highway, said business that day was fairly normal.

“I’m glad too, because we only have a small summer season to make money,” said manager Shirley Martinez. “We need every good day we can get.”

Other businesses directly accessible from County Road 39 relayed experiences that fell somewhere in the middle. Workers at Goldberg’s Famous Bagels, for example, reported a slow day overall but noted that their everyday customers still found a way to get there, utilizing their rear entrance.

Other eateries, like Tidewaters restaurant just off Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, where much of the overflow traffic was redirected, said the closure of County Road 39 had next to no effect on their takings that day. “No impact, either positive or negative,” said an employee answering the phone last Thursday who only wanted to be identified as a manager.

Just down the road, Native Son’s Tobacco on the Shinnecock Reservation saw an uptick in visitors. “But visitors aren’t customers,” explained Niki Preston, an employee at the smoke shop. “We were just being nice to people coming in and saying they’ve been parked in front of our store for two hours and need to use the restroom.”

The Southampton Publick House in Southampton Village was able to open on time last Thursday despite the massive amounts of traffic, though staffers had to be creative with their job assignments for most of the day. Namely, their staff consisted of only a chef, a brewer turned bartender, and an owner turned waiter when they opened for lunch.

About three hours later, general manager Charlene Siraco and waitress Chance Karr were able to squeak through the traffic and help out. “We had a skeleton crew of staff, but we had a decent crowd,” Ms. Karr said. “A lot of locals showed up because they couldn’t leave town if they tried. It was hectic.”

Vlad Rosybal, the manager of Tutto Il Giorno, another village eatery, said they had a few reservation cancellations because patrons were either stuck in traffic or turned around. “It didn’t affect business dramatically,” he added. “It affected the nerves of our staff, who had to sit in traffic and miss an hour or so of work, more than anything.”

On the other side of the shutdown in Hampton Bays, Shawn McGibney, a partner and manager of the restaurant Cowfish, said business was hit pretty hard by the closure, noting that receipts were down about 45 percent at the end of the day. His staff was, on average, only about an hour late getting to work.

“It was rainy though,” said Mr. McGibney, whose restaurant overlooks the water and has outdoor seating. “It could’ve just been the rain driving down business, but if I had to guess, it was the lack of driving, driving down business.”

Crews at another Hampton Bays business, Pooltastic, which cleans and repairs pools across the East End, said each service team was two to three hours behind schedule last Thursday, according to office assistant Dyanne Stolze. She said the appointments they had to cancel for the day made them miss out on about $1,500.

“That money is a small price to pay when someone has lost a loved one” Ms. Stolze added. “It was a lot of inconvenience for a lot of people, but we all got to wake up the next day.”

Many workers also lost wages that day, with most arriving at their destinations several hours later than normal due to the closure.

Sarah Davis, a Hampton Bays resident who works at Michael Kors in East Hampton, said she left her house at 8 a.m. last Thursday and did not make it to the store until noon. “I literally just had my car in park, watching as time passed and money I could be making went out the window,” she said.

Furkan Akyol, a soccer coach for Colonial Sports Group, which runs soccer camps based on the East End, shared a similar experience.

“It took me three hours to get to Flying Point Field from Westhampton.” Mr. Akyol said. “I left my house at 8:20. I was three hours late to a camp that runs for four hours. So, yeah, I’d say the traffic screwed up my day pretty bad.”

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