Business Was ‘Glorious’ in Montauk

“If you didn’t do well this summer then you did something wrong”
From her office at the East Deck Motel in Montauk, Alice Houseknecht has a front-row seat for the goings on at busy Ditch Plain beach, and said this summer was like none she’s seen before. Janis Hewitt

   The votes have been cast and most Montauk business owners agree that this summer was their most successful ever.
    “If you didn’t do well this summer then you did something wrong,” said Colin Wood, a manager at the Atlantic Terrace Motel, who added that the oceanfront resort was fully booked for most of the summer.
    The folks at Atlantic Terrace have stepped forward to pay for the Grucci fireworks display this year on Oct. 6 during the Montauk Chamber of Commerce’s annual fall festival. Mr. Wood said that back in 2008 when inclement weather canceled the Fourth of July fireworks, the motel was booked up when guests learned that the show was rescheduled for October.
    “It was the only weekend in fall that we were ever sold out. Fireworks are a draw,” he said. This year, the rooms at the motel are again already booked for the fall weekend.
    Ken Walles of the Oceanside Beach Resort reported that he too had a wonderful summer. Rooms were almost filled to capacity during July and full in August. “It was the best year of the 14 years that I’ve been here,” he said, adding that he continues to renovate rooms.
    The only challenge faced by Mr. Walles was that patrons’ expectations were higher than in the past. “They want the best bang for their buck,” he said.
    Foot traffic in the Montauk Chamber’s office on Main Street was great this year, said Laraine Creegan, the executive director of the chamber. Chamber officials, she said, had anticipated a busier season and added another clerk to the front office and extended their hours on Saturdays.
    In the past, the chamber was busiest on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, but this year every day brought people to the office, with most looking for rooms, restaurant recommendations, news on special events, and the best places to hike.
    The chamber-sponsored concerts on the green were well attended, as was the farmer’s market that is held on Thursday mornings. This year over 30 vendors set up shop each week, selling everything from fresh flowers to pickles, fudge, fish, and fresh bread. “It’s good for the vendors and it was good for the people,” Ms. Creegan said.
    She said the chamber’s newest endeavor, a program called Take a Kid Fishing, was a huge success and helpful in teaching about fishing so in the future they will support the local fishing fleet.
    With surfing becoming the “cool” sport, Alice Houseknecht had the best seat in the house for people-watching from her office at the East Deck Motel, on the Ditch Plain beach overlooking one of the most popular surfing spots on the South Fork. Although her rooms always fill with regulars, she said that if patrons don’t call by March to make their reservations they sometimes lose out. She is booked right through Oct. 15, the day the motel closes for the season.
    She has never seen more crowds at Ditch Plain and parking, she said, was a disaster. “I told people if you don’t get there before 11 in the morning don’t bother because you’ll never find a spot,” she said.
    “I don’t know how that many people even fit on the beach,” she added. At times Ms. Houseknecht said she felt like the Chamber of Commerce, herself, with so many visitors coming into the office asking questions about where to stay, where to eat, and where else to park.
    La Bodega opened its doors on Memorial Day weekend on the south Plaza and has been jumping every day since. Julia Prince, an owner and former East Hampton Town Councilwoman, said at times there was over an hour’s wait for a table. She took customers cellphone numbers and encouraged them to shop in nearby stores while they waited. “We were as busy as we hoped we would be,” she said.
    Now that autumn is in the air, Ms. Prince said she and her business partner have time to refine the menu and tailor their goals. They will stay open as long as they can afford to, she said, explaining that with a wall of windows, heating the place might prove tough.
    Goldberg’s Famous Bagels opened a Montauk branch in early July, and sometimes on weekends the lines were out the door and down the block. Paul Wayne, an owner, said on Tuesday that the Montauk branch was the most successful store the business had ever opened. As a result Goldberg’s will stay open year round. “It was like busloads of people. We might have to staff up for next year. We’ll cater to locals, and we hope locals support us,” he said.
    Jaime and David Piacente kind of took over the reins of Gosman’s restaurant this summer, with Mr. Piacente as head chef and Ms. Piacente handling the front of the house as floor manager. After a few kinks were worked out, the transition went well, she said, adding that her husband, faced with cooking over 1,000 dinners on a Saturday night, handled it well. “It can get crazy. It was a learning process at first,” she said.
    The mainly seafood restaurant recently started serving at wrought iron tables outside, where people usually wait and have cocktails until they are called for their table. This year, that area was the most popular dining spot and often had a 30 to 40-minute wait.
    The Harvest on Fort Pond, which is always busy, had an even busier summer this year, with sometimes a two-hour wait for an outdoor table. Its season took off the weekend of the Montauk Music Festival in mid-May. “It was a glorious summer season,” said John Erb, an owner.
    Even the local charities enjoyed financial success from the large crowds that swarmed the hamlet daily. The Montauk Playhouse Community Center reported that more people than ever attended its annual Diamond in the Rough Gala, with 420 attendees paying $250 per ticket, not to mention what was raised beyond ticket sales.
    Maureen Rutkowski, the playhouse spokesperson, said more second homeowners are getting involved with the fund-raising. Children, she said, have held a car wash, helmed a lemonade stand, and some even suggested donations to the playhouse in lieu of birthday gifts.
    “Everyone is jumping in with both feet to move us closer to building the aquatic center,” she said.
    The one place that didn’t swell with summer visitors was the Masses at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church. The Rev. Mike Rieder said that although the area around the church building always looked busy on weekends, it was from people parking their cars near the church and walking the block down to the beach. “I’m all for sun worship,” he said, “but I would like to invite more people to worship the Son of God.”