At the Wölffer Estate Vineyard, fancy cars flow through the “hands-free drive-thru”, with customers buying cases of rosé in time for the weekend.
The nearby golf driving range, horse-riding stables and cult SoulCycle spinning gym, which has shifted outdoors, are bustling. On the residential roads, freckle-faced children cycle to the beach while Hispanic gardeners prune the hedges bordering the multimillion-dollar homes.
This was last Thursday in the Hamptons, the summer destination where New York’s wealthiest fled as soon as the coronavirus struck in the cold winds of March. And here they intend to stay, past the holiday season, despite the appeals of Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, who is begging the super-rich to return to the city to help it recover after the pandemic. “They’re in their Hamptons homes … I talk to them literally every day. I say, ‘When are you coming back? I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll cook’,” he said last week.
Despite a $30 billion shortfall in the state budget, Cuomo is ignoring calls from fellow Democrats to impose a wealth tax on the uber-rich, arguing that they will abandon New York for good if their taxes are increased.
However, his pleas seemingly fell on deaf ears. The well-heeled shoppers on the Long Island shores — where during the stockpiling phase, one delicatessen rationed how much $100-a-pound lobster salad customers could buy — cite many reasons for staying put, including the chaotic reopening of schools, a surge in crime in the city, a possible resurgence of the virus and the antipathy of New York’s Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio, a long-time foe of Cuomo, who has sneered that he would not beg anyone to live in the city.
Andrew Cuomo is begging the super-rich to return to the city to help it recover after the pandemic.
The actor Alec Baldwin, who owns a Hamptons mansion, was apparently right when he claimed that his fellow evacuees viewed their home city as a “fetid petri dish”.
A property developer who deserted his Upper East Side apartment for his Hamptons property in March said: “If you want me to return, give me an environment I want to return to. Make me feel safe, make it so I can go out to lunch and the stores aren’t boarded up.”
Some voiced fears of more riots after the violence and looting that shook the city in June. “We’re looking at how de Blasio manages the situation,” said a stay-at-home mother from Manhattan. “How will they target civil unrest around election time?”
Her husband, an investment banker, recently extended the lease on their rented home in Southampton until the end of November. How much did that cost? “A lot. It’s embarrassing,” he said, cheeks blushing. “For a decent house in the summer, you’re paying $60,000 a month and upwards.”
Others pay significantly more. One Manhattan textile tycoon shelled out almost $2 million to rent an 11-bedroom mansion from March until Labor Day on September 7, the traditional end of the season.
The pop star Rihanna reportedly paid $415,000 for a month this year at a Hamptons property.
One house has just gone on the market for $52 million; the owners are moving to Florida, partly enticed by the lower taxes.
“We’re the busiest we’ve ever been in my 18 years of being here,” said Adam Miller, a property lawyer in Bridgehampton, adding that he had recently secured a $45 million oceanfront house for a New York city couple. “This idea of a second home, which was a luxury for those who could afford it, is now a necessity.”
Thanks to the city exodus, waiting lists for private schools in the Hamptons are full. Cuomo finally announced on Friday that all New York schools would be allowed to reopen after the holidays.
However, many parents will still not be tempted back. Dennis Masel, a filmmaker, pulled his eight-year-old daughter out of her city school after it vowed to continue remote learning. She will attend a private school in Bridgehampton instead.
“The crucial thing is that she gets social interaction,” Masel said. “We have a pool and two acres of land out here she can run around in,” he added. “What are we going to do, go to Brooklyn where we have a nice home, but our yard is 12 by 12 feet?”
Avenues: The World School, one of Manhattan’s most expensive schools, is opening a new campus in East Hampton, where annual fees will be $48,000. The school — where Tom Cruise’s daughter, Suri, is a pupil — also offers an in-home service, which costs $65,000 for the first child, and $45,000 for each extra one, on top of tuition fees.
“Micro-schools” and “pandemic pods”, where small groups of parents club together to hire a teacher (or two) to homeschool their children, is a hot topic in the Hamptons. “It’s all anyone’s talking about,” wailed one woman, buying fistfuls of $19 children’s masks.
“What are we going to do, go to Brooklyn where we have a nice home, but our yard is 12 by 12 feet?”
Alexandra Robinson, 32, has chosen this route for her daughter, Athena, five. “It’s going to be six kids and then they can do all the special things they typically do together, like Halloween parades and cookie decorating for the holidays,” she said, adding that the focus would be on “child-based learning”.
Robinson, a jewelry designer, is using Schoolhouse, a micro-school organizational service that launched last month. “They set it all up, screen the teacher and if something happens, they give you a new teacher,” she said. For six children having 25 hours of teaching a week, it costs $93,600 a year.
Micro-schools have triggered national outcries of elitism and critics argue that the educational gulf between the haves and have-nots will widen. Jason Calacanis, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, was lambasted after appealing on Twitter for a teacher to tutor a handful of children in his garden, promising that he would trump their current salary.
Other Hamptons’ part-timers who are able to work remotely, or not work at all, said the city was unappealing in its half-open limbo state. “Without museums, movies, bars, restaurants, being properly back online, New York really seems like a useless endeavor for the most part,” one said.
Besides, the city’s businesses have followed the money out east. Carbone, the Italian restaurant beloved of Manhattan scenesters, is now selling its $95 branzino (sea bass) and $69 veal Milanese from a temporary location in Southampton.
Bergdorf Goodman and Saks, the Fifth Avenue department stores, have started a same-day delivery service to the Hamptons. Art galleries, such as Hauser & Wirth, have opened outposts in the area.
While about 3,000 small businesses in New York City have closed for good during the coronavirus, the economy in the Hamptons is booming. “It’s been a bonanza for businesses,” said Valerie Smith, who owns the Monogram Shop in East Hampton. “The UPS guy is doing about 200 home deliveries a day. He can barely walk.”
Smith, who stocked up on Donald Trump branded plastic cups in time for the president’s fundraising rally in the Hamptons last weekend, is concerned about how many place cards she’s selling. “That tells me that people are having dinner parties which is not a good idea,” she said.
Some full-time locals believe that the summer homeowners will soon be outstaying their welcome. “Our infrastructure is on the verge of being completely overwhelmed,” said Peter Van Scoyoc, listing the heavy traffic, dire phone reception and slow internet. “We kind of tolerate it for the summer season but to have that kind of overload year-round is problematic.”
Others were blunter. “I came here for peace and tranquility not for thousands of people,” said Christina Dorn, 75. “If they weren’t so rude maybe it would be easier but the way they drive quite honestly it’s very uncivilized. They’re a different brand of people than we are here.”
Dorn, who moved to the Hamptons in 1966 but is now contemplating moving to Maine, is especially appalled by the way the “outsiders” dress. “The women look like hookers from 42nd Street, everything hanging out,” she said.