Sag Harbor: The Business Crowd Mixes It Up

By Debra Scott

   The scene was the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s May mixer, and Cindy Ward Capalbo, who runs a home and office cleaning company, was decidedly not mixing. Around the booth she shared with three other women milled a room full of real estate agents, salesmen, and business owners. She gestured to the women she was with, two of whom wore the company’s uniforms. “We’re reminiscing about the time we’ve had getting ready for Memorial Day,” she said.
    Last Thursday, on the eve of Memorial Day weekend, the last mixer of the off-season was held at Madison and Main, a Sag Harbor restaurant that recently opened in the space formerly occupied by Paradise Cafe.
    “We wanted to welcome our new member,” Kelly Connaughton, the chamber’s president, said, referring to the restaurant, where the front bar buzzed with live music and a lively crowd while chamber guests filed into a narrow room at the rear for their event.
    According to David MacMillan, the chamber’s vice president and an account executive at The Southampton Press, the group tries to hold six mixers a year, none during the summer season, when members are busy attending to visitors. He believes that the value of the mixers lies in their providing a “casual atmosphere for people to discuss business ideas and community concerns over food and drink.”
    Though the event was open to nonmembers, few if any were in attendance, and many of the attendees appeared to be well acquainted.
    “It’s a tight-knit group, but it welcomes new blood,” said Robert Rossetti, an insurance broker. Mr. Rossetti frequents all South Fork chamber events. “I’ll go anywhere clients are.”
    Cards were exchanged and food flowed in the form of tray-passed hors d’oeuvres including fritto misto, lobster shooters, and meatballs. Beer and wine were available for $5 a drink. The fee to attend the mixer was $15 for members, $18 for nonmembers.
    While most members, when questioned, said their reason for attending was to support the local business community, some admitted that self-interest also played a role. Michael Daly, a real estate broker, joined a year ago after starting at the Sag Harbor office of Sotheby’s. After that agency sponsored the chamber-produced HarborFest, Mr. Daly said, he acquired at least one new client who had seen an ad.
    A co-founder of the chamber, David Lee, his white-bearded visage a familiar face in the village, still shows up at events, though he surrendered the reins years ago. “I came to Sag Harbor in 1948,” he said, “when it was suffering from peace.” He cited the closing of local factories that manufactured widgets for the war, including the Bulova watchcase factory, which, he said, built “bomb-sight parts.”
    “Half the stores were boarded up,” Mr. Lee recalled. He ran a jewelry store in town for 20 years till the rent rose and his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. He now manages real estate, including the building that houses Ace Hardware, and is actively involved in the chamber because “I don’t like anyone screwing up what I started.”
    Bob Nikolich, a salesman, pulled out a smartphone and proceeded to demonstrate an app to Barbro Magnusson and Dean Golden, proprietors of a guest house called Harborwoods. He was hoping to sign them up to the Rewards Network, a discount app created by Gary Glase, a software developer also in attendance.    
    Mr. Golden asked, “How do people find us?”
    Mr. Nikolich explained that the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation Web site would be the portal though which viewers would be directed to merchants.
    Ms. Magnusson said she found his pitch “interesting. You never know where people are going to see something.”
    Bryan Boyhan, the publisher and editor of The Sag Harbor Express, joked that he attends chamber mixers for the “$5 glass of wine.” As a past president, he said, “No business ever gets conducted here.” Then he added, “There may be deals made that I don’t know about.”
    Mr. MacMillan circulated, selling raffle tickets for prizes such as tickets to the Bay Street Theatre and passes to the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter.
    A trio of late arrivals conjectured about how the predicted inclement weather would affect weekend business at their stores and complained about the timing of the event, which started at 5 p.m., during prime selling hours.
    Seena Stromberg, owner of Corner Closet, a designer consignment shop, expressed concern about the chamber’s promotion of the village. “Sag Harbor needs to be taken seriously as a village of diversity,” she said. “It’s about design, art, and fashion, not low-end tchotch­kes.”
    “Thank God I’m in the higher price range,” said Tulla Booth, the owner of an eponymous photography gallery on Main Street, claiming that most of her customers are in the “2 percent.”
    “We’re here to give each other the thumbs-up and keep our fingers crossed for the coming season,” Ms. Stromberg said.
    Meanwhile, Ms. Capalbo, still holding court in a booth, wasn’t worried about missing prospects. Her husband was on networking duty for the night.