Rich People of the Hamptons

August 29th, 2021

Heidi Wald was strolling down East Hampton’s main beach one recent morning when something unusual caught her eye. “I looked down, as I’m always looking for sea glass,” said Wald, who has spent summers on the East End since she was six, “and there was a perfect crisp $50 bill on the shore. I thought, Only in the Hamptons.”

Along with random $50s strewn across the beach have come the ultra-monied themselves, who’ve flooded in in numbers many say they’ve never seen before, leaving even the rich people thinking the rich people are ruining the Hamptons. “There’s so much money now it’s nauseating,” said one woman who bought her house in Amagansett in 1991. “I’m a 1-percenter. But I bear no resemblance to these people.”

She blames the pandemic for the new crowd and Donald Trump’s tax cuts for making the wealthy even wealthier over the past four years. “Everyone with money is here,” she said. “If I weren’t here already, I wouldn’t come now. The conspicuous consumption is just gross.” After repeatedly passing by a house that belongs to “one of those hedge fund guys,” and watching him have enormous, fully-grown trees planted day after day, she said she finally stopped to ask the dozen or so workers on site about the cost. “They said they thought $50,000 to $75,000 a day,” she said. “I would suspect it’s closer to $100,000.”

Given this summer’s crushing crowds, the Amagansett homeowner said she has to “work at relaxing,” and that the town is “a different place now. It’s the age of entitlement.”

Another longtime Hamptonite, Kathryn Kellinger, said that while prices on the South Fork of Long Island are generally high, lately things have gotten ridiculous, pricing out younger people with less disposable income. Kellinger and her husband, Lee Hanson, the chef and co-owner of the famed Frenchette, first rented in the Hamptons back in 1998; they and three others each paid $1,500 for a huge Victorian on Meeting House Lane in Amagansett. “We were five late 20-something friends who rented year after year until we could buy, by Hamptons standards, a reasonably priced house of our own,” she said. “We would walk to the Talkhouse,” an Amagansett bar. “A freelance writer and young cook couldn’t do that today.”

The “level of judgment” and the astronomical costs have killed the relaxed vibe, Kellinger said. “It’s so expensive, there’s no more livability. It’s all about tablescaping and costuming,” she said. “It’s fever pitch now. The number of people, and the amount of fun they insist on having—it’s gotten more scheduled than New York City.”

One 25-year-old told me she pooled her money with about 30 friends and friends of friends to get a house in Montauk for a month. And her $3,000 contribution for housing is nothing compared to what young people are spending at clubs. “Tables are absurd,” she said. “I’ve had friends who have ended the night with $7,000 bar bills.” She said one night she spent $60 on a one-mile Uber trip home. Another has reported $600-plus rides for trips between two hamlets, blaming the price hike on increased demand from “tourists.”

The same price hike appears to be manifesting across the board; the more than $88 price tag on a lobster Cobb salad at the ultra-pricey Duryea’s in Montauk seems to have broken the spirit of those willing to drop a regular person’s mortgage payment on a single meal. No one flinches at $150,000 for a one-month rental house that isn’t even beachside, but the food is a touchy subject. One hot lunch spot in Bridgehampton left a group still hungry and a lot lighter in the wallet. “The bill was $300 for four people, and we didn’t have any alcohol,” said one woman who thinks this year’s prices are much higher than last year’s. “We had two iced teas, a frisée salad, Caesar salads with chicken, and some oysters.”

It’s hard to blame the restaurants; after costly quarantine closures, some have had to remain closed for a couple of days a week due to staff shortages. With the rising cost of groceries, many have increased prices. But it’s easy to blame those who will pay any amount for anything.

One local, who said they’ve driven roughly an hour for dramatically cheaper groceries, is worried that the new wave won’t be satisfied with simply out-spending the locals. “Would love to see some of Manhattan folks that are spending more time out East to run for public office,” read a recent post on a Hampton’s moms Facebook group. “…Homes range from 5,000,000 to 150,000,000. We are the main source of money that flows through the system out here and why shouldn’t more of us be public officials.”

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