The Mast-Head: The Hamptons Premium

Everyone is doing it

That’s just what it costs, or so I was told when I got through venting to someone on the Star staff this week about a plumber’s bill that I thought was highway robbery. I’d identify the plumber, but, if what the office wisdom says is true is, in fact, true, everyone is doing it.

People complain a lot about the price of gas on the South Fork. State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. even sends out reports on a regular at-the-pump survey, which indeed indicate folks here are paying a Hamptons premium. By the numbers, however, the real banditry, at least in percentage terms, lies elsewhere.

Take deli sandwiches, for example. A turkey with mayo and lettuce or a roll might punch a $9.50 hole in your wallet in Amagansett but only set you back $6 in Riverhead. Plumbing? Forget about it. The invoice for getting The Star’s upstairs toilet and small basin reinstalled to existing pipes after the floor was replaced came in at $600 for labor.

Naive, I thought the plumber had accidentally added a zero to the invoice. When I asked, however, he knocked $150 off the labor portion of the bill. Lawyers and shrinks charge hundreds an hour, but the real money seems to be getting on one’s knees with wrenches.

Not expecting honest answers from people in the trades, it is hard to figure out what is going on. The “Car Talk” guys who gave automotive advice on National Public Radio for decades used to make cracks about boat expenses and mechanics’ need to keep up with them. Chances are 50-50 it’s the same with plumbers. 

Or it could be that the labor shortage here means that firms have to pay more to keep their people from defecting to the competition. On the other hand, maybe they can just get away with it. Who knows?

Ever since Bucket’s on Newtown Lane closed some years ago, I more or less stopped going out to buy lunch. Instead, I try to stop at the North Main Street I.G.A. at least once a week for some cold cuts, lettuce, bread, and mayonnaise and mentally pocket the savings. Deli sandwiches, plumbing — who knew that they were luxury items? Then again, maybe I just need to get with the times.