A Wharf Shop at the Heart of Sag Harbor

Posted on 12 September 2012

For nearly 45 years, The Wharf Shop has stood at the heart of Sag Harbor’s Main Street. Many things have changed since Nada Barry opened the doors in 1968, but not the philosophy of the shop.

“It’s about this community,” says Barry. “As long as we can pay our staff enough to live here, and the shop can economically survive, it’s not about the bottom line. I could have rented this place to a bank and made a lot more money. It’s not about that.”

Barry, who is a member of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and helped to create the web sitewww.sagharborkids.org, believes Sag Harbor needs a place that offers kids toys that are both educational and built to last.

“We spend quite a bit of time picking out items,” she says. “A lot of teachers come in here to supplement their curriculum. We weed through masses of books. We educate people from birth to 106.”

And it isn’t just the toys and books that make up The Wharf Shop’s business. So much of what the place offers is about the identity of Sag Harbor itself, which is one reason the store gets a major bump in business over HarborFest weekend. Barry said people come there looking to capture the essence of Sag Harbor as it was, and as it is.

“We try to have a lot of seafaring and whale-inspired merchandise for people who remember Sag Harbor as a whaling village,” says Gwen Waddington, co-owner of the store and Nada’s daughter. “We have more people coming in to buy whale pocketbooks and wallets as well as cast-iron whales and whale door knockers.”

The store also carries handcrafted wooden whales, created by longtime Wharf Shop employee Dede O’Connell. They have an extensive line of wooden replicas of familiar local landmarks, done by the Cat’s Meow, an Ohio-based company.

“We have the movie theatre, The Sag Harbor Express and we just got the windmill back,” says Waddington.  “Now on the back it acknowledges that the windmill has been named for John Ward, who helped to build it. We’re waiting for the newest, which will be Marty’s barber shop as a tribute to Marty.”

Waddington notes the bump that HarborFest is expected to bring will be particularly welcome after a summer that looked busier than it was.

“There seemed to be many more people,” says Waddington, “but they weren’t necessarily spending a lot of money. As far as people’s spending habits, I think they’ve become a lot more frugal since 2008. I think in the last two years it’s hit here more than it had before.”

At a time when people are suffering financially, Barry and Waddington know it’s important for a small Main Street business to be original and reliable.

“We just try to provide the best customer service we can and keep customers coming back when there’s a need,” says Waddington, “and to provide their special requests as well… People don’t want a generic town, and they don’t want a generic shop.”

To that end, The Wharf Shop is all about attention to the customer. This comes not just from the owners, but from all the employees. And that’s important to Barry.

“Our atmosphere is very much a family,” she says. “It’s a community unto itself. Our staff is extremely supportive and they work hard serving the customers. We are there for our staff in times of trouble and in good times, and that’s a basic philosophy.”

Barry also prides herself on educating the young people of the community in a business-sense.

“We’ve trained over 100 students for their first jobs,” she says. “We give them a groundwork of how to be good workers. We have them come back — lawyers and doctors and mothers now.”

The purpose of The Wharf Shop, according to its owners, is not to take from the community, but to add to it.

“We represent the old as well as being contemporary,” says Waddington. “We come to work to contribute to the community.”

The Wharf Shop (725-0420) is at 69A Main Street, Sag Harbor.


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