Did Summer 2017 Change Everything?

East Hampton may one day look back and realize this was the summer that the internet changed everything. Just as online advertising took the strength out of many newspapers’ bottom lines and Uber cut a hole in the taxi industry, so too may the web and smartphone apps be changing the way people vacation. If so, it is likely to have long-term implications for East Hampton, where a new, highly transient resort scene appears to have had an underappreciated ripple effect.

As the high season draws to a close, it is worth taking stock. This was the summer when a national survey cited Montauk as having the highest hotel rates of any beach resort coast to coast. This was also the summer of long — and often inexplicable — traffic tie-ups that spread not just onto the known back roads but onto smaller streets. Beach parking outside the incorporated villages was too often too hard to find. Statistics on the number of emergency calls will be forthcoming, but it was clear that police and medical personnel were as busy as ever. 

And yet, despite all the people passing through, the familiar lament that business was off was heard from many retailers. Many have blamed the apparent increase in the proportion of short-term rentals. They say that people here for a weekend or even a week are hardly likely to shop for the kind of decorative items or clothes that summer-long renters would. People have to eat, so the restaurants and grocery stores have been packed, but many say there was a drop in the rate at which sundries have sold.

East Hampton Town is nearing completion of a series of so-called hamlet studies. These are detailed reviews of the various commercial clusters, such as Montauk Highway in Wainscott and Amagansett’s Main Street, and contain recommendations about how they might be changed to meet current needs. These studies may not adequately take into account the role of transient visitors and whether they are bringing unwelcome economic effects in some sectors and making transportation issues worse on the already crowded South Fork. Old assumptions about who is here, for how long, and what services they demand may no longer entirely apply.

This fall, as the hamlet plans begin to be finalized, extra care must be taken to ensure that they are accurate representations of the real conditions here in the new app-enabled world.