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From the People Who Brought You Sag Harbor

Posted on 26 September 2008

By Joseph Hanna

The old harbor has never looked better. That’s the truth of the matter. But the question that needs to be answered is how did it get this way? Did it just happen? No. It did not.

I must take you back with me for a few moments to a time when the Harbor, your harbor, could have gone in a different direction. We live in a sad little age in which the play of personality is minimized in our narratives. Our minders like to think of society in terms of identity blocks and systems. They do so because it creates the illusion that they can manage things. They like the feeling of control, but the truth is that our minders have a colorful little plastic steering wheel, a little rubber horn and plastic windshield wipers to amuse themselves and to make themselves feel important and none of it is attached to anything at all.

The real steering is done by individuals who do things. Doing things involve risks. One must pay attention. One must be responsible and genuinely accountable. The harbor that you see before you today is the result of choices, many choices, and some of them have been heartbreaking choices to make.

 Walk with me for a moment on the Main Street of 1964. Look toward the water. The American Hotel is a flop house. A little further on is the office of The Sag harbor Express. It is being kept alive by a single, very determined woman. Notice across the way, Allipo’s Garage. You can get car things done most of the week, but on Wednesday nights, you can also get a plate of homemade spaghetti. That’s different. See the tiny IGA market, run by the Schiavoni family. Bohacks at the other end of town is a bigger deal, but the Schiavonis will give you a smile and a good word for no extra charge. At the end of that side of the street, you can rent a little gray dory from Joe Remkus at his fishing station. If you are not lucky with your clams and lures, you can dine next door at the Seaside, a restaurant that was once a house and will later be a medical building, or you can dine up the street at Baron’s Cove (soon to be featured in a new book called “Jaws”). Grumman is manufacturing mysterious assemblies in the huge brick building that spills onto Long Wharf. Five years into an almost unthinkable future, some of those carefully wrought bits and pieces will be abandoned forever on the light blasted, wrinkly old skin of the moon. Next to Grumman is the business (pun noted) end of the village sewer system, which consists of a large pipe laid on a slight incline so that the products of our straining to void ourselves of old pleasures may be dumped in lumpy splashes, directly into the bay. 

There’s a new radio station in town called WLNG and a guy named Paul Sidney is yapping through an open window above from one of the apartments.

Look to the South. Do you see the white house with a mansard roof? My uncle owns that. He thinks it might be sold at a small profit someday. That man with the newspaper coming out of the Ideal Cash Store is a famous writer, although you wouldn’t think so to see him. The man he nods to, the one, who is pointing his tired shoes toward the Black Buoy, is an artist, but I mean a real artist who paints glorious water scenes at a time when Op Art and Andy Warhol are greedily raking in notices and wherewithal.      

Look further down Main Street, past the sleeping library. In 1964 one cannot imagine violent headlines about the library. Beyond it, you can barely make out the finest house in the village, the one with the widow’s walk. It is entirely overgrown with untrimmed vegetation. Only a small patch of fading red siding advertises that the old place is still standing. So are the two sisters who limp-step through its rotting chambers where even the shadows seem faded and worn.

Let me make a minor adjustment to the lamp house, and reset the sprockets, and … there! We have advanced 11 years. It is now 1975. That young man covered with dried spackle you see coming out of the Emporium Hardware Store bought the old American Hotel a couple of years back. He’s fixing it up. He is doing a lot of the work himself. More than one voice has intoned that he must be mad to attempt such a thing. Across the street is something I wanted to show you. That’s my store Pegleg’s. The pretty woman behind the counter is my wife and the mother of our boy. We are renting part of the old garage from Mrs. Allipo. We have painted the old oily walls white and filled the space with homemade goods, handmade furniture and fine comestibles. If you do not know what fine comestibles are, you are in the great majority of citizens of the era. In two years time, Pegleg’s will close and Provisions will open in its place. When Provisions moves to bigger quarters, it will become D J Hart.

In a few months I will take up my tools and join the work crew at the Hotel across the street. Bruce Milne and Dick Baxter are already there, and Michael Moody who the future will know as the Awning Man.

Bohack’s is gone now. A young couple from Italy are setting up a pizzeria in part of the empty supermarket. I wish them well. They live a few doors up the street from me on Howard Street. My son is the same age as their second boy, both just months old. They will grow up together. They will ride their Big Wheels down Howard Street and dream of football games.

There is something very special I want you to see. This is really the purpose for our little tour. Just past the Harbor House, and Montgomery Wards, is something unique. Everyone just calls it the Five and Dime, or the Variety. It is owned and run by a young couple named Roseanne and Phil Bucking. Their son Greg and my son will play music together in years to come. They will rock the Corner until the big windows shake. 

The Buckings’ store is a real Five and Dime. There is nothing phony about it. The store sets the tone of Main Street and will continue to do so for the next thirty years and beyond. I wanted you to meet the young couple who have decided to make a life for themselves running an anachronism. Don’t think they couldn’t have done better. They could have done anything they wished. Roseanne is beautiful and her husband is handsome, personable, hardworking and honest. Such people are always in demand and rightfully highly prized.

Pegleg’s lasted for two years. They were the freshman and sophomore years of my Fundamentals of Retailing, Methods and Opportunities education. I dropped out, but not before I got a mouthful (certainly more than a taste) of what is involved in serving a public who is rarely pleased and often rude. Here comes that damned word again. It takes love to make it work. One has to love the business, love the process and love the public while remaining fully aware of the public’s nasty little tendencies such as shop-lifting, price rage (yes even in a Five and Dime), talk-a-thonism (“Yup, me and the missus watched Gunsmoke last night. Ya see this guy comes into town and says to Kitty down at the Longbranch…”) and various overwrought consumer anxieties (“Oh!  Do you have it in red? I really need it in red. Could you look in back? I have to have it tonight. Do you know where I could find it in red? Is there anyone you could call?)   

Phil and Roseanne did a fine job, a marvelous job. I have brought people from other countries, and other cultures to Main Street and many of them get very excited when they see what the Buckings have preserved. But it’s real. It is not some scented souveniria where forced-cute and cloyingly sweet (and badly made) nostalgia tokens are snatched up by destination hounds prior to a sad finish on some rumpled yard sale blanket. It is a real store with real goods and toys! That’s where I always bought my Estes rockets, my Super Glue, my cereal bowls and plastic drink pitchers. Jan bought fabrics and patterns and needles and threads and craft supplies and Christmas lights and ornaments.

Phil is gone now at 67. His life has its beginning, its middle and now its end. My heart goes out to Roseanne and the kids. I admire them all. I know what they have dome with their time and their energy. We are all better for it.

Sag Harbor didn’t just happen. Individuals made this place what it is today. It is not a stage set or a restoration village. It is a place where life was lived just as hard and as well (or as badly) as it can be. Here’s what I would like you to do. I would like you to go to the Corner Bar, or the American Hotel. I would like you to raise a glass of your favorite beverage to the wall. I would like you to notice the wall. It is standing there because someone built it. I would like you to say, “This is for Phil, and all the people that have brought you Sag Harbor – as it is – as it was – and as it shall be. Then drink from the glass and see if you can be quiet for a moment.  

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One Response to “From the People Who Brought You Sag Harbor”

  1. VW Solex says:

    Ah yes, you remember it well. The Estes rockets were at The Ideal, Mina Finckenor was at the counter. She was the coolest, most urbane person in Sag Harbor.. still would be if she were there today. Well there was Judy Barry, who could go to The Black Buoy without knocking Andy Warhol.

    You got to the American Hotel before Dick Baxter – and spent the first week whining about how you were too good to work there. Sixteen years of schooling and they put you in the attic with a hammer. The best thing about Allipo’s garage was Mary Allipo’s odd little restaurant, the one that Pegleg’s replaced. Michael Moody was at the American Hotel because he was married to the manager, Susan Oy – who, as much as anyone, made the place a success. And you didn’t say anything about Phil’s Pontiac collection!

    The one thing that you may have hit on (other than a new use for Jerry Della Femina title)… a lot of the people who gave YOU Sag Harbor have, in one way or another, moved on to better places.


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