Is a proposed convenience store a badly needed amenity in East Hampton or the beginning of the end for the town? That’s the issue at the center of a lawsuit filed by a local homeowner to stop a gas station from adding a quick mart to the pumps at the end of his dirt road.
Journalist Jeffrey Slonim is suing the Town of East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals to stop Ali Yuzbasioglu and Sukru Ilgin, the owners of Empire Gas, from adding on a convenience store that was approved by the town in 2010.
At stake for Mr. Yuzbasioglu and Mr. Ilgin is a potentially profitable business that would provide visitors and residents of East Hampton a late-night and early morning convenience. “I think it’s good for the people — they won’t have to drive 15 miles to go and get coffee or coke,” Mr. Yuzbasioglu said, referring to the nearest Hess Station.
At stake for Mr. Slonim is the ability to leave his driveway at will, and, he contends, the town’s character. “If big chain stores and convenience stores come in, the character of the town will be changed forever. Once these things come in, they’re in,” Mr. Slonim said, noting a concern that the convenience store could be bought out by 7-Eleven or another chain.
Mr. Slonim, a regular contributor to Allure, Architectural Digest and Hamptons Magazine, cites a 1984 East Hampton town code that restricts gas stations from opening convenience stores. But the zoning board has argued that the store can be grandfathered in due to retail establishments at the site that predate the code.
With its boutiques, independent cafes and long-established restaurants, the town has managed to retain its beachy charm despite an infusion of cash and reality show contestants. Old-time spots like Nick and Tony’s, the place Nora Ephron once claimed she was “married to,” and Springs General Store, where Jackson Pollack once traded his paintings for groceries, remind residents of life before Citarella.
According to Mr. Yuzbasioglu, the store won’t affect this character. “Why should it ruin the feel of the town — selling coffee?” he said.
The traffic issues that could arise from the store are another cause of complaint from Mr. Slonim. The Hamptons are infamous for the bumper-to-bumper congestion that develops on narrow Montauk Highway, which gets particularly bad during the high season.
“It’s crazy traffic in the summer. It takes 20 minutes to get out of our driveway.” Mr. Slonim said. “Putting a convenience store there would be a terrible idea.”
But Mr. Yuzbasioglu argues that “the traffic is already there — what’s a convenience store going to do to the traffic?”
Construction on the site has not yet begun, though the owners can technically move forward despite Mr. Slonim’s suit, which landed in the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division on Tuesday. The owners, who currently operate the gas station on site, did not tell the Observer why the project hasn’t begun.
Mr. Slonim first started going to East Hampton in the 1980s when his college friend, Alexander Sandy Ewing, a member of the town’s oldest family, the Mulfords, organized a share house. The same Mr. Ewing is now representing Mr. Slonim in his case.
Sixteen years ago, Mr. Slonim and his wife, Fiona Moore, purchased their own home in East Hampton, where they and their two sons, Finbarr and Declan, spend summers and weekends in preppy splendor.
Their beach-style shingled house sits on a dirt road right off of North Main Street, a mile and a half from the beach and a short walk into town. At the head of the road lies the gas station in question. And while the pumps and cluster of buildings may appear innocuous, it is the source of what Mr. Slonim called “this drama.”
“Our neighborhood has some serious history,” said Mr. Slonim, whose property overlooks a farm that has been in the hands of the same family for hundreds of years. “It is kind of the land that time forgot back there.”
He contends that he has “tremendous support” among neighbors.
The backlash to big business is gaining power locally, particularly with the town’s new administration, which is concerned with maintaining the town’s historic charm and independent stores. This past May, the town proposed a new law to limit the opening of chain stores, particularly convenience stores and drive-thrus.
“I think its fantastic, though it might be a little reachy,” Mr. Slonim said of the proposed legislation, particularly aspects regarding convenience stores.
Character and preservation issues aside, there’s no denying that chain stores in the Hamptons do a brisk business. The 7-Eleven in Montauk, which opened in 2010, is the highest grossing in the country, grossing in the low millions annually and selling $100,000 in beer alone each month, as The Observer previously reported.
“I turn red every time I see it,” Mr. Slonim said. “They sell beer-pong supplies up to the ceiling — you don’t make millions selling Slurpees. Montauk is a mess.”