Hamptons-Bashing in the New York Times


South Fork splendor

I HAVEN’T ALLOWED MYSELF A PROPER TIRADE in a long while, but last Sunday’s New York Times Real Estate section drives me to it. Did you see the top story, “The Fork Less Taken”? I read it six days late, yesterday afternoon, while lolling on the nothing-short-of-spectacular, nearly-deserted Gardiner’s Bay beach a seashell’s throw from the house I bought in March on Long Island’s “more taken” fork. While extolling the virtues of the North Fork, the article manages to bash the South Fork in every paragraph, either in reporter Robin Finn’s own words or the hackneyed quotes (“we’re the un-Hamptons,” “…the anti-Hamptons”) she has chosen.

I love the North Fork myself for its farmland and vineyards, which are in short supply here on the more developed South Fork, where I’ve lived part-time for 4+ years and now own two properties. Hey, the photo of the farmhouse in my blog header, top, that I’ve been using for ages now is quintessential North Fork. And I admit to choking on the words “the Hamptons” when I first moved out here, aware of the pretentious privilege they implied.

But really. Let’s not overstate the case, as this piece does. It starts out mildly enough, saying that the South Fork is “starting to flirt with being overbuilt, overhyped and overcrowded” — to which my immediate reaction was, “starting to flirt with”?! It’s been overbuilt since the 1980s; the region is littered with bad houses from that era. But then the cliches and misinformation begin.

“…from the perspective of the average homeowner’s portfolio, owning a home there is an inarguably lovely wish-list item.” Has Robin Finn checked sales prices for the whole South Fork lately, or just the tonier precincts? Here in Springs, where real people live, there are listings galore under 400K, and certainly under 500K.

“..the star wattage of its denizens” “a celebrity magnet” “a mash-up of movers and shakers..”

I move in different circles. I did see Alec Baldwin once at the Amagansett Farmer’s Market, wearing white socks under orthopedic sandals, and I know where Steven Spielberg lives (he probably comes once every two years), and I heard Paul McCartney has a place in Amagansett. But what about the rest of us? The piece makes it sound like every last person on the South Fork “bask(s) in conspicuous consumption.” All the artists and teachers and landscapers and builders and plumbers who send their kids to local schools and shop at the IGA go unmentioned in the piece, which seems to regard “multi-million dollar ocean frontage” as the sum and substance of the South Fork.

The North Fork is a place where “the locals are concerned and sensitive that it not turn into the next Hamptons,” says one recent home buyer. This follows the same woman’s saying that “it makes you feel good that when you buy property, there’s a 2 percent tax that goes to land preservation.” That’s the same Peconic Land Trust tax we pay on the South Fork, for the same purpose, but neither the home buyer nor the reporter seem to know that.

You can get a bay view on the North Fork for less money than here on the South Fork, which is a good thing, but the bay beaches themselves — at least the ones I’ve been to on the North Fork — don’t compare. The Town beaches in Jamesport and Greenport are lousy; the ones around Laurel/Mattituck, on the Peconic Bay, are nicer, but not nearly as nice as Maidstone, Gerard Drive, and Louse Point here in Springs. The Sound is gorgeous but rocky and not swimmer-friendly. The ocean at Orient State Park is a long drive from anywhere but Orient. (Someone please enlighten me about good North Fork beaches — I’d like to know.)

Who are the new “low-profile” citizens of the bucolic North Fork? Those interviewed for the article include a couple from Tribeca, another from DUMBO, and a Wall Street retiree. Where they go, artisanal microgreens and Icelandic sheep are sure to follow — no, they’re already there.

Of course, some of the commenters set things straight. GC of Brooklyn said it best, IMO:

I think this story came out of the archives… Back in the early 1980s, we used to rent several vacation houses for a few days each summer in the Jamesport/Laurel area so all of our cousins and extended family could get out of our sweaty Brooklyn neighborhood. At that time, I recall the area was simple, inexpensive, and as “unspoiled” as something could be on Long Island. Going out to that same spot a few years ago, I saw the exact opposite: what in 1982 were open fields and farms were now housing developments, what were gravel roads were now paved, and what were simple vacation bungalows and cottages were now outfitted as year-round homes. It was completely cluttered, expensive, and ultimately rather depressing. And, calling it the “un-Hamptons” speaks volumes to the Real Estate/NY Times need to place everything in a little box loaded up with definitions. If it’s not thoroughly ruined (read: overpriced and exclusive) by now, it will be soon.

The whole thing is just so annoying Times-ish, but even more specious than usual, like comparing the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side and finding it wanting. OK. Tirade over. What do you think? North vs. South? Game on!

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND, NORTH FORK, REAL ESTATE/INVESTING and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Hamptons-Bashing in the New York Times

  1. Julia Mack says:

    Your tirades are clear thinking, logical and fact based–The Times blew it–they should have interviewed YOU!

  2. Obviously as a Brit I can’t comment on the ‘North/South’ divide (although we do have one of those over here as well :) ) but our perception of ‘The Hamptons’ from the media, having never visited there is very much one of wealthy, privileged people, mainly so-called celebrities, indulging in alcohol and drug fueled parties – that’s the only time we ever hear of anything remotely ‘the Hamptons’.

    Of course, if the US media is anything like the UK media then we probably aren’t getting an accurate picture :)

  3. cara says:

    Well, the UK media is pretty bad ;-) but the New York Times is supposed to be a standard bearer for accuracy, and this story was just patently ridiculous. And the Hamptons, you should know, is pretty much just ordinary folks.

  4. “And the Hamptons, you should know, is pretty much just ordinary folks”

    Lol, I didn’t doubt that for a minute.

    Mud and i tend to think that the only thing a newspaper is any good for these days, is lighting the fire. Mind you the televised news programs aren’t much better. Obviously the ‘Times’ reporter had an axe to grind and probably went out of their way to find others of a like mind to interview (the BBC is very much like that over here).

  5. lula says:

    I also love both tails of the scorpion or whatever it’s supposed to be. Looked all over Long Island 10 years ago before finding my tiny cottage in Springs, where, as Cara says, there are far more options because it is the most densely populated part of East Hampton. But I preferred to be nearer to the Atlantic ocean and its beaches which are drop-dead gorgeous. 10 years later, I am still discovering the beauty and wonder of the east end.

  6. tina24hour says:

    Cara, we do have North Fork beaches we love. And you are right, they are nothing like the South Fork. But they have qualities I adore: ease of parking, lack of waves for washing toddlers out to sea, sparse attendance. Our favorite South Fork spots were Barcelona Neck in Sag Harbor for bay beauty and Sagg Main beach for ocean fun and amazing dog walks. Nothing on the North Fork compares. But we do get to swim and lounge and walk and have potluck beach parties, so I can’t complain.

  7. Ada Frumerman says:

    It is ironic that several months ago the Times had a front page real estate section article about houses on the South Fork that could be bought for under $500,000. I wonder if the writers of these articles know each other.

  8. kriserts says:

    I haven’t spent much time in the Hamptons, except last year I rented a tiny, tiny one room, unheated little cabin from a friend for 4 weekends, it was on the north side of Amaganset, I guess that was a bay I swam in, not the ocean. I tried to keep everything on the cheap side, rode my bike, etc., but the prices out there are crazy. I slapped myself every time I grew weak and shopped at that Amaganset market stand (IE, Zabar’s). Even at the IGA, there’s probably a 30% markup over even a Manhattan grocery store. I felt it was like being on the Upper East Side, everyone was out to stiff you, just because rich people live near by. So even though I had a lovely summer, I have a hard time seeing it as a place where an “ordinary” l person can get a good deal on anything.

    On the other point, I got a sense of deja vu when I read the Times article, because I know without a doubt I read the same article about 15 years ago. I think a lot of reporters are kids with no historical perspective, and that’s why those articles get recycled … it really is news to 20 year olds!

  9. cara says:

    Kristi, you’re quite right about the grocery prices – I’ve grown inured to it, tho I resent it in an ordinary supermarket. Finding normally priced food becomes a challenge in and of itself. There are some farmstands that are reasonable, but that’s only three months a year. A place like the Amagansett Farmers Market is one of the worst for prices, but it’s a singular experience, sitting out on their lovely lawn picnicking with a takeout sandwich and fresh squeezed something or other. And did you taste their bread pudding? $10 a pound, but you only need a few bites.

  10. Brian says:

    I spent summers as a kid in the North Sea Beach colony – north side of Southampton. Great bay beach, and lovely experience overall. I later rented houses as an adult in Hampton Bays and Springs. 7 years ago a bought a house in Greenport because I just couldn’t deal with the traffic on the south fork. I was born in NYC and grew up on Long Island – and can honestly say it is enough to make the south fork unpleasant more often than people want to admit. What you give up in ocean and “sandy” bay beaches, you get back in that almost everything is easier on the north side – dining, boating, golfing, farming/stands, generally getting around.

  11. cara says:

    Hi Brian, thanks for weighing in. I hear you on the bad traffic on the South Fork, but I think that’s mostly a matter of timing. I could not do it myself if I didn’t have the luxury of a super flexible schedule (i.e. no job!) and therefore the ability to avoid heavy traffic times, for the most part. If I had to come and go every weekend, I think I would lose my mind. Summer can be bad, but the rest of the year, you just drive up to where you’re going and park right in front. I can’t speak to the ease of boating or golfing, and as for dining – well, again, if you are locked into Friday and Saturday nights, trying to get a reservation in East Hampton or Montauk or Sag Harbor, forget about it. (I was born in NYC also, and grew up in Old Bethpage in Nassau County.)

  12. orient11957 says:

    I don’t think the author really knew the North Fork at all. Sure, anyone can say Hamptons have gotten quite expensive and crowded thus North Fork looks better in comparison. The NF has a lot to offer, but it’s certainly a very different animal than the south Fork. If you want a big social scene, the NF may seem too slow. If you want tons of amenities in town, the NF may not measure up. i think there are great things to be had on both forks and you have to decide what your priorities are when choosing between the two. All in I found the article disappointing. IMHO the North Fork will get more eyeballs if the Hamptons pricing continues to creep up, but I don’t think it will ever attract the jetset…

  13. cara says:

    Welcome, orient. After a holiday weekend on the South Fork, I’m almost ready for the North Fork myself. The so-called jet set is incredibly annoying – the jet set wannabes, that is. The only solution was to stay home, eat at home, and go to the nearest bay beach.

  14. Eileen says:

    That’s exactly what we did, Cara. The town of E Hampton was mobbed with wannabes! It was great to “escape” to the bay.

  15. orient11957 says:

    Interesting piece in latest Vanity Fair about the writers that settled out in Sag Harbor, East Hampton, etc way back when. Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, others. Very different scene back in 50s-70s. I was in Sag Harbor this past winter talking to some store owners and they were saying the crowds had gotten cheesier over the past few years – think Real Housewives of NJ. Only comparable issue on North Fork is the wine tasting parties at Vineyard 48 (cutchogue) are apparently pretty low rent, lotta neighbors up in arms about the limos full of drunks and late night noise.

    We just bought a place in Orient after renting a neighboring house since the 80s. We like it out there. We’ve got a lot of renovating to do on an old house and will certainly get to know the general area better. Orient has some good swimming spots on the sound and Bay, Key is if the jellies are down. Last couple years have been good on that count. Not sure if jellies are an issue in the ocean…

  16. cara says:

    There are jellyfish in the ocean at times. I remember that from when I was a kid growing up on Long Island, and you sometimes see big ones washed up on the sand. There were jellies at my local bay beach one summer out of the five I’ve been here — not for long, though. Congrats on your place in Orient, that’s swell:-) Would love to see pictures of this old house of yours! Re the writerly history of the area, yes, it’s pretty impressive, and don’t forget Steinbeck, who lived in Sag Harbor for a while.

  17. orient11957 says:

    I need to get some pictures uploaded of our before and hopefully after photos. If you want a seaside victorian project, see thecedars1883.com Recently listed by the owners and with a serious renovation could be unbelievable. It’s got a lot of original detail, louvered interior doors, eastlake fireplaces, wide plank floors, etc. It’s on the hill just east of the causeway…

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