Through the screen of trees on Pantigo Road, the steady thrum of bulldozers comes from an area that has been quiet for many years — the four-acre property that once housed the Stern’s department store.
“The building was deteriorating, and the town wanted us to demolish it,” said Alan Heller of Heller Design, the group that owns the property as an investment.
From the early 1990s until last December, the property was leased to the A&P Corporation, which had originally intended to build a 38,878-square-foot supermarket at the site.
But A&P, which is headquartered in Montvale, N.J., “rejected the lease in December 2010, and no longer has any ties to this property,” said Marcy Connor from the company’s public relations department.
Stanley Schuckman of Schuckman Realty, whose sign is prominently displayed in the field in front of the property, is also interested in the future of the parcel he represented on behalf of A&P. “The party I represented disaffirmed its lease after filing for bankruptcy several months ago,” he said. A&P filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in White Plains, N.Y., on Dec. 11 of last year.
A&P, which once occupied the Newtown Lane, East Hampton, property where Waldbaum’s — a division of the company — is now, brought a lawsuit against the town in 1996, charging that it had deliberately blocked the company from opening at the Pantigo location. The case was dropped in 2003.
The suit forced the town to take a closer look at the possible invasion of superstores, which led to a ban on new stores over 10,000 square feet, and also prompted the town in 1999 to refine its definition of superstore to include more than one building on the same parcel if “owned, operated, or controlled by a single entity, either directly or through affiliates.”
The zoning on the property was updated to limited business use, meaning that proposals for it are subject to planning board approval.
Mr. Heller said there are no plans of any kind for the property at present. Prior to Stern’s, the property was the Gertz department store. Before that, the parcel was part of the East Hampton Riding Academy, which operated for over 125 years and held yearly events including fox hunts.
Barbara Johnson, who owns the house that was the Riding Club on Cross Highway, built in 1745, said, “I used to keep my horse there as a child. The stables went from Route 27 all the way back to Further Lane.”
Ms. Johnson, as an abutting neighbor, has closely monitored the goings-on at the parcel next door. When the dilapidated buildings, including a farmhouse that was the Stern’s department store’s children’s department, were torn down this past week, she ventured a stroll over and “burst into tears.”
Over the years, nature had begun to take over the former department store. “The buildings may have been old, but they housed some vermin, with whom I was friends,” she said with a laugh. (Ms. Johnson is Ms. LeRoy’s mother-in-law.)
As to the future of the property, no one is talking, for now.