REALLY OLD STORES are getting fewer and fewer. But there is one survivor in Southampton I’d never heard of before I moved to Long Island last year, and it’s a doozy. It’s a real old-fashioned department store called Hildreth’s, and it’s been around since 1842. In fact, according to their website, it’s America’s oldest department store.
It’s not just the age of the place, it’s the fact that it’s never been modernized. The original wood floors and columns are there. Painted shelves line the walls, merchandise is displayed on freestanding tables, and everything is kind of a cozy jumble.
The store has evidently been added to over the years, so it sprawls illogically. You walk through the baby department to get to the lamps and rugs, for example. There’s a big yarn and sewing section at the back, and the entire 2nd floor is furniture — tasteful, beachy, traditional without being stuffy.
Beach kitsch is a specialty. Seashell motifs everywhere. Seahorses and peace signs made of driftwood. Needlepoint pillows with coral designs.
They carry expensive brands of bed linens and cookware. Hildreth’s is not a bargain-hunters’ paradise, though everything is deeply discounted right now, at the tail end of the off-season. And they do have everything. I went there recently for a lampshade, and the selection was second only to Just Shades in Manhattan.
Hildreth’s reminds me of certain shops in London. Dowdy but dignified. The service is genuinely helpful, not snooty in the least. And it smells heavenly.