A Step Back in Time at the Variety Store

Posted on 26 February 2009

The outside display case of the Sag Harbor Variety Store looks more like a museum than a store front. In the left hand corner stands an antique Texaco gas pump, a wooden figurine of a baseball player and an old metal sign with the words “Ebbets Field” written on it. Over to the right, two life size cut-outs of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are propped up against the window, though the figures of the stars are faded from years of sun exposure. Towards the front entrance, one finds old maps of the village and framed articles written about the store.
As customers pass through the threshold of the Variety Store, one has the sense of stepping back in time. A collection of antique tin containers, cigar boxes and old vintage posters hang on a shelf over the cash register. Reams of fabric and walls of buttons and ribbons are displayed in the back of the store, harkening back to a time when people made their own clothes. One section of the shop is devoted to yarn, which is on sale, and crocheting supplies. Another wall of the store is lined with fabric dye, paints, fake flowers for displays and greeting cards.
The Sag Harbor Variety shops remains one of the few stores on the East End where customers can satisfy a nostalgic need for crafting, but are also able to pick up household supplies, beach gear and holiday paraphernalia. Currently, the center display in the store is decked out with Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s day fare. The shelves are crammed with beaded necklaces, green tiaras, four leaf clover posters, purple and yellow feathered boas and glittery masks.
Purchasing merchandise for the holidays is Lisa Field’s favorite part of managing the Variety Store. Field’s parents, Roseann and Phil Bucking, bought the Variety store in 1970 and she grew up working in the store after school and during the summer.
“My brothers and I were always here,” said Field. “One of our first jobs was marking and stocking all of the back-to-school supplies and working the cash register.”
After Field completed college she returned home to help her parents manage the store. She helped them modernize the store operations by introducing vertical shelves and hanging merchandise, like pinatas, from the ceiling. Traditionally, items were placed in racks or on tables throughout the store and shelves were reserved for larger products like lampshades. Field also expanded the holiday section and moved it to the center aisle.
“Sometimes people come in here and say they know what holiday is coming up by what we are selling,” said Field.
As Sag Harbor transitioned into a resort and beach destination, Field adapted the merchandise by purchasing more beach supplies and Sag Harbor souvenirs. “We are not a trendy boutique,” she said. “But we do have to change with the times.”
In recent years, Field took over the role of general manager from her parents, but she always remembers their love of the Variety Store. Her mother Roseann is close to retirement age, but she still helps out in the shop from time to time. Field’s father Phil died last year, but worked in the store during the days leading up to his death. According to Field, her father loved being on Main Street and helping his customers.
“My parents never retired because they didn’t want to … My father loved talking with people and seeing the village change,” she remembered.
Phil was also responsible for putting the various antique items in the store’s front windows. Field reported her father was an avid collector and many of the old display items were things he had found in the village or had stored in his home. Other items, like the wooden statue of an Indian chief, were given to Phil as a present. He also installed the horse and fire truck ride, found outside of the store, for local children.
Although the Variety store has been in operation since 1922 – Field believes the store was originally located where Spinnakers Restaurant now stands – the shop has continued to change with the times without losing its old world charm.

Above: The St. Patrick’s Day display at the Sag Harbor Variety Store.

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