County, tourism officials expect East End boom — brought on by COVID-19 — to continue through fall

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Taking part of a lyric from the classic Eagles song, “Hotel California,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone quipped, “You can check in, but … we want you to stay.” 

The county executive was in Southampton on Thursday to discuss the booming tourism industry in the Hamptons and the hope that it would be extended beyond the summer.

The coronavirus pandemic this spring prompted an exodus from Manhattan, with the Twin Forks seeing many second-home owners flocking to their summer houses in March and April. 

Speaking from the poolside patio at the Capri Southampton Hotel NAIA Hamptons restaurant, Mr. Bellone reported that, with the swell of visitors continuing unabated, many had decided to extend their stays into the fall and winter. 

Capri owner Michael Pitsinos told reporters the hotel has been sold out every weekend “since Day 1” and is sold out for September and October as well. The site is having its best year of the past decade, he said. 

Residents fleeing the city came east because, “it’s a safe environment.” Mr. Pitsinos theorized. 

Kristen Jarnagin, president and CEO of the tourism promotion agency Discover Long Island, affirmed Manhattanites who came out for the summer are becoming “temporary, indefinite residents of Long Island.” 

“They might just stay all year round and we would welcome that,” she said. 

Tourism is a $6.1 billion industry on Long Island, Ms. Jarnagin said. Extending the season into the fall and winter would be a means of salvaging the losses experienced during the spring’s COVID-19 shutdown. 

Home rentals are up 98 percent, she said. When it comes to hotels, she advised, “if you want to come out, book your room right now.” 

Many businesses that typically close their doors after Labor Day are staying open longer to serve fall and winter visitors, she said. 

“I don’t think any of us want to give up on New York City,” said Jean Shafiroff, an erstwhile summer visitor, now temporarily a full-time resident. “I’m certainly not giving up my home.” 

“They might just stay all year round and we would welcome that.”

Kristen Jarnigan

Still, she said she and her family have relocated and decided to ride the pandemic out in the family’s second home. They’ve spent summers and weekends here since 1996. 

Mr. Bellone pointed out that the tourism industry has been the hardest hit due to COVID-19, particularly on the East End, where many businesses make their entire year’s livelihood from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But, the locals know the “secret,” he said, lauding the beauty of the region during the fall. 

“I know what an iconic place this is,” he said. 

The numbers of people seeking refuge on the East End in the spring was, he said, “something people weren’t necessarily prepared for.” He assured local hospitals and schools have adjusted to the increased population. 

The county executive reiterated a belief he’s held throughout the pandemic. He knew all along the pandemic was, in addition to a public health crisis, an economic crisis. The question was, could Hamptons businesses survive in a season that’s even shorter than normal?

As the days wind down to Labor Day, normally people begin to head back to New York, Mr. Bellone said. But this year, as officials continue to fight COVID-19, “many are looking to stay.”

That desire fuels opportunity for local businesses, many of which may be able to recoup their losses, the county executive predicted. Additionally, Mr. Bellone pointed out that an extended season, plus out-of-state travel restrictions, also provide opportunities for all Suffolk County residents to enjoy a “staycation,” and spend their dollars locally. 

Acknowledging the economic impact early on, the county created a Business Recovery Unit and has reached out to area businesses to help provide Personal Protective Equipment, and connect businesses with local manufacturers that make masks, gloves, and the like, “and keep the dollars in this region,” Mr. Bellone said. 

The BRU has also posted a job board to help connect employers with potential employees.

Mr. Pitsinos praised lawmakers for their support of businesses. Otherwise, he said, “the forecast for the Hamptons would be much more bleak.” Pulling an oft-voiced slogan from Governor Andrew Cuomo, he said, “We are New York tough. We are Suffolk County tough, and we’re Hamptons tough.” He said the Capri will be open for the winter for the first time this year.

Glen Vickers, president and CEO of Discover the Hamptons, said that during the fall, there’s still so much going on in the Hamptons. 

“Your commerce is needed,” he said. “We are open. We are safe.”