11/22/13 10:22am

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Sandra Waldner in her framing studio on Worthy Way with a Peter Waldner original high on the wall behind her.

Sandra Waldner’s was a familiar face on Shelter Island even before she landed her job as full-time  cashier at the new Schmidt’s Market this year.

She’s been here since age five, grew up working at the Ram’s Head Inn, Gardiners Bay Country Club and the Dory, among other gigs, and graduated from Shelter Island High School.

For 20 years, she worked at the Heights post office. Then in 2006, she and her new husband Peter Waldner — the Island artist and  Reporter cartoonist — opened Wish Rock Studio, where they sold Peter’s works and those of other Islanders and where Sandra started a custom framing service.

They were so busy Sandra decided to quit the post office job — something she felt compelled to do also because her mother was ailing and so was her sister Kris, who had cancer. Her mom died just a few days before Sandra’s last scheduled day at the post office. Kris, who worked on South Ferry, died in 2010. Most of that time she lived in her own apartment at Sandra’s Greenport house.

“I was able to spend the last three years of my sister’s life with her, going to Riverhead to see doctors. We shopped, we laughed. She was just incredible,” Sandra said.

Meanwhile, all had gone well at the gallery until the crash of 2008. After that, sales took a nosedive, forcing Sandra and Peter to finally close at the end of 2010. Peter returned to house painting and Sandra found jobs as a pet watcher, aide and driver, even as demand for her framing services remained strong. But she needed something solid.

When she read in the paper that Schmidt’s would be hiring local people, she went in to apply and ran into landlord Danny Calabro, a classmate from her Shelter Island School days.

“I asked him to put in a good word for me with Dennis,” Sandra said, referring to the proprietor of Schmidt’s, “and he said ‘Oh sure.’ And I got the job.”

“I love seeing so many people” at the market — “people I haven’t seen because I’ve been down here all the time,” she said during a long talk at her framing studio on Worthy Way. “I saw more people there in my first three days on the job than I’d seen in the past three years.”

“I was so sure the gallery was the right thing for us to do,” Sandra said. “I felt it was going to work out. I had complete faith. I was so tired of being afraid.”

A conversation with Sandra reveals a warm, thoughtful and generous person, a member of the poetry group at the library (at least before work complicated her schedule) and the kind who never talks about the little things she does for people. Someone else told us that she was the one who made sure a 90-something-year-old customer got a cake on his birthday because she knew no one else would think of it.

Sandra was born in Washington, D.C. in 1954, the youngest of Kathryn Waddington’s three kids. Her brother Glenn is a former town councilman and supervisor candidate and a veteran captain at South Ferry.

Kathryn Hawkins had gone to live in Washington with three girlfriends after graduation from Shelter Island High School and met serviceman Robert Waddington there at a USO dance. He later took the family to Ohio when he got a job with the postal service near Dayton.

He and Kathryn divorced when Sandra was five. She brought the kids back to the Island to live with her mother, Mary Conrad Hawkins, and eventually went to work for the postal service herself as a clerk at the Center post office.

When she was 14, Sandra started her first of many jobs, working as a waitress and chambermaid at the Ram’s Head. She continued to work summers through school and her two-and-a-half years at SUNY Oneonta. A Regents scholar, she nevertheless needed student loans. She left because she felt as if the economy were in free-fall at the time.

“I was really affected by that,” she said. “What am I doing here, I asked myself, accruing debt with no real plan?”

Thinking maybe she’d picked up some great stories for a writing career, she went to work tending bar outside Oneonta at a place called the Evening Inn, where she learned how to play pool and eventually realized — much to the amusement of the working-class bar crowd — that she wasn’t supposed to stay open until the last patron stumbled out the door after 3 a.m.

As for good stories, “You realize when people are drunk you wind up hearing the same stories over and over,” she said.

After a trip west with a boyfriend, she wound up living with her sister Kris and Kris’s boyfriend in a no-water cabin outside Fayetteville, Arkansas working at a fast-food restaurant.

“I found out on that trip I wasn’t a pioneer woman,” Sandra said.

Back on Shelter Island, Len Bliss gave her work at his department store. Playing pool at the Pub, where La Maison Blanche is today, she met Thomas Corcoran, the son of a Heights summer family who’d been going to college in Ithaca but was finishing his degree at Southampton College.

They were married in 1979 at Union Chapel. After some false starts in businesses in Manchester, New Hampshire and Jersey City that his father had steered him into, they settled in Greenport “for the diversity,” Sandra explained.

Thomas worked as a house painter with Jim Brewer for years. Sandra had various jobs until her mother alerted her that a position was opening at the Heights post office. Sandra took the Civil Service test and got the job in 1985, the same year she had her firstborn, Christopher.

Eight years later, after their daughter Alexandra had been born and a few years after Thomas launched his own investment advisory firm, he died at age 39 following a horrible ordeal brought on by severe alcoholism.

On New Year’s Eve at the end of 1998, Sandra was throwing a “kid-friendly” buffet at her home in Greenport and asked Peter Waldner, an old friend of Tom’s, to come over because she knew he’d be alone that night. Peter’s daughter Lindsay was a close friend of Alexandra. His ex-wife Kathy had been Sandra’s best friend.

“It was a sparkling night,” Sandra said, remembering their stroll down to the First Night celebration going on in town.

When they were married in 2006, “It was a banner year,” Sandra said: they opened the gallery, bought their Worthy Way house, and their youngest kids both graduated from college. Alexandra, who went to Boston College, now lives in San Francisco, where she is a barista. Son Chris, who went to Green Mountain College in Vermont, is a captain on North Ferry.

It’s hard to work seven days a week — five at Schmidt’s and two at her studio, Sandra said. “My choices led me to where I am financially,” she added. “I can’t blame this on anybody … I would never regret the time I spent with my sister; I wouldn’t regret what I learned by opening the gallery and also what we learned about what we believe, Peter and I,” about the value of art, no matter what the market may say.

09/10/13 10:30am

 

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Jack and Camille Anglin, owners of Jack’s Marina, said like most businesses Jack’s had a slow start but business picked up as the season progressed.

Summer may not be technically over, but traffic tells a different story.

It’s also that time of year when business owners have some breathing room to cast an eye back on a season’s passing.

Is the road back from fiscal meltdown five years ago finally looking smoother? For most owners, if the road isn’t paved with gold, the footing is a lot more solid than it’s been.

Amber Williams, of the accounting firm A&A Williams, said she’s hearing summer business was “a little mixed.” It might have been better if Mother Nature had started cooperating a bit earlier in the season, she said.

Foul weather in May and June were worrisome, but in July, the sun came out and so did the tourists.

“July was wonderful,” said Chequit and Ram’s Head Inn co-owner Linda Eklund. August was “good,” she said, although her husband James complained about a week of terribly hot weather that kept a lot of people indoors. Still, they pronounced the overall summer season positive. And with 50 percent of available dates for weddings at the Ram’s Head Inn booked for 2014, they’re optimistic.

Mr. Eklund has also seen an upswing in the construction business. A partner in Reich/Eklund Construction, he said either people can finally afford to tackle the projects they put off since 2008 or have decided that the economy isn’t going to get much stronger in the near future and they’re going ahead with projects they’ve wanted to do anyway.

For Jack Kiffer at The Dory, perhaps the May/June rain put him on an even keel with other restaurants. “I’m not broke,” Mr. Kiffer said.

He did see his regulars and a lot of new customers through the summer. But he worries whether all those paying with credit cards will be able to pay their bills when they come due since he’s still hesitant about the economic recovery.

Island restaurant business, by and large, is tracking with national trends. A National Restaurant Association study showed an increase in electronic sales throughout the United States. Plus, association figures showed 46 percent of “fine dining operators” planned more capital expenditures this year, while 50 percent of family-dining restaurants were increasing sales of packaged foods for people to reheat at home.

Some other data nuggets on American dining habits: Table-service customers were more likely to be male, older, with higher income levels, while takeout customers were often younger and living in households with children.

There has also been a trend for convenience stores and grocers to expand food service offerings this year, according to the restaurant group.

That should be good news for businesses like Schmidt’s Market in the Center.

Schmidt’s may be new to Shelter Island, but has thrived in Southampton for years. Co-owner Dennis Schmidt said the summer here was “great” and he expects business will continue to thrive in the off season. “I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

At Jack’s Marine, both Camille and Mike Anglin acknowledged the slow start, but benefitted from many new Islanders who purchased property here and visits from people who, prior to Sandy, went to the Jersey Shore.

“It’s not a barn-burner,” Mr. Anglin said.

“But it’s certainly not been a bad year,” Ms. Anglin added.

One element that helped business was a reduction in costs from some of their suppliers, Mr. Anglin said. “They finally fell into line,” he said. Still, other costs such as insurance and taxes put the “squeeze” on merchants, Ms. Anglin said.

For Jack’s Marine, the diversity of the business has helped, even through the recession. People who couldn’t afford to hire contractors did more work themselves, requiring more hardware products, Mr. Anglin said.

Ivy Ladder’s Shirley Ferrer  also reported good summer business, which has spurred her to open on weekends until Christmas.

Nationally, the economic recovery is “still muddling forward,” according to the National Retail Federation. It calls 2013 economic growth “disappointing,” but said that’s mostly the result of weak growth in wages, job creation and slower business investment.

Muddling forward was how it felt to Jean Markell at Fallen Angel Antiques. She’s in the Boltax building on Route 114 and with construction there by Bridgehampton National Bank this summer, it was difficult, she said. At the same time, she’s hopeful the bank’s presence will bring more traffic. Many of her customers made the trek from Sag Harbor and the South Fork, she said. But in general, “people were holding on to their purses.”

Maggie Davis at Shelter Island Yoga and Fitness called this summer “a little out of sorts. It felt like it was over before it even got started.” She said the weather had an impact on her business and there were more outdoor classes and aquatic exercise sessions.

“In my case I think it mostly had to do with the weather — a wet cold June and a blistering July — and numerous rain cancellations for pool exercise.” She also said her business was affected by many of her clients traveling this summer so they weren’t on the Island as consistently as in past summers. Still, income was similar to last summer, Ms. Davis said.

But one owner was unequivocal about the state of his business. “Customer confidence isn’t there,” said Greg Ofrias of the Shelter Island Pharmacy.

06/17/13 8:00am

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Traffic rolling through Bridge Street last week.

Business is accelerating with the summer season for Bridge Street merchants. But a serious downside is cars and trucks speeding past with a human tragedy just waiting to happen, according to some of the business owners.

At a recent Town Board work session, Councilman Paul Shepherd said he had spoken to the merchants on Bridge Street concerned about traffic racing through at high speeds. Jack Kiffer, owner of the Dory, said he’s worried someone is going to get “clipped.” Mr. Kiffer’s seen more than a few near misses, with people having to step back quickly to the curb with cars, and especially trucks, barreling through.

“Coming down the hill, with a posted speed limit of 25, traffic’s doing 40, 45 [mph] at least sometimes,” Mr. Kiffer added.

Marie Eiffel, co-owner of Redding’s, said she’s noticed  cars going much too fast along Bridge Street. ”Trucks, too, but trucks are always going too fast,” Ms. Eiffel said.

“A lot of people are walking around now, and we have tables outside, so people bring their kids who are running around,” she added. “A lower speed limit is a good idea.”

Townsend Montant, manager of Shelter Island Wines & Spirits, said he’s noticed speeding cars, but didn’t consider that the main problem.

Mr. Montant said people are U-turning at will on Bridge Street causing traffic disruptions and a hazard. He suggested a sign against U-turns and better enforcement overall by the police department.

He also noted there was only one marked crosswalk and another should be established at the liquor store and Piccozzi’s gas station.

Bridge Street is Route 114, a state road, and so the town doesn’t have the jurisdiction to set speed limits. The same decision is in the state’s hands for putting in speed bumps, which has been suggested. But Supervisor Jim Dougherty has let the New York State Department of Transportation know there’s a serious safety issue. In a letter to Kevin Matthaei, a civil engineer with the regional DOT in Riverhead, Mr. Dougherty asked for a lower speed limit.

The board has suggested that the police department deploy its mobile speed marking sign to slow traffic. This will allow the department to also gather data that can then be given to the state requesting a lowering of the limit.

03/15/13 5:00pm

AMBROSE CLANCY

A man took a seat at The Dory on Bridge Street the other evening and ordered a Jameson’s. The man next to him said, “You like the Irish, same as me,” pointing to his drink.

“I do,” the newcomer said. And noting the man’s accent, added, “Whereabouts did you call home over there?”

“I’m a Dublin man.”

“Ah, God, me too,” he said, and clinked his fellow Dub’s glass. “Small world.”

“Tis,” his new friend answered. “Where in the city are you from?”

“Ballsbridge.”

“Oh, for the love of God. Me too. What street?”

“Lansdowne Road.”

“No! That’s my street! What number?”

The bartender turned away, went to the end of the bar and said to another patron, “It’s going be a long night. The Murphy twins are drunk again.”

This just in: Professor Niall O’Flaherty, head of neurology at Trinity College, Dublin, has discovered how Irish amnesiacs differ from other nationalities. “Our research has proven unequivocally,” Professor O’Flaherty reported, “that Irish amnesiacs forget everything except the grudge.”

Which leads me to remember my encounter with an Irish snail. One night I heard a slight scratching at the back door. I opened it, looked around and discovered a snail clinging to the door about an inch above the ground. I picked it off and threw it into the garden. Twenty years later I heard the same scratching. There was a snail stuck to the door.

Looking up, he said to me, “Now what the hell was that all about?”

I grew up schooled in gallows humor, but had my first real taste of it a number of years ago in Belfast. I was sitting at a kitchen table in a boarding house having breakfast. A bomb blast thudded somewhere in the city, close enough to shiver the windows and rattle the pots and pans along with my nerves.

The landlady, catching the expression on my face, continued to pour tea. “That’s only a wee bit of a one,” she said with a smile.

I stared at her, open-mouthed.

“There are three levels, you know,” she said. “The wee level. The close-by level. And the four pages of obituaries level.”

When I lived in Ireland, I learned something about what being Irish truly means. Tradition, family, culture, yes, but the real insight was that the Irish carry a duality within them. This duality creates conflict, and just as conflict is necessary for drama, so it makes people more interesting than those condemned to only one dimension.

F. Scott Fitzgerald thought that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

He was speaking of individuals but really was describing an entire people.

The Irish duality is most apparent in religion and language. When Patrick converted the Irish (the only conversion of a nation, by the way, with no martyrs), a vivid and powerful Celtic paganism was overlaid with Christianity. This tension of two solid traditions coexisting in one people is essentially what makes the Irish who they are. An example of this is the ancient stone carvings seen on some churches called sheela-na-gigs. These are nude female gargoyles, legs open, exposing their genitals unashamedly. They are Celtic representations of fertility, but also a celebration of female sexual power. The early Christians put them on their churches without comment.

With language it was the same. England, by law, banned Irish at certain points in history to ensure English would be the official language. (And eliminating the conquered people’s language would eliminate their culture, they thought, demonstrating how wrong even smart people can be.) The Celtic gift of turning language on its ear is in many cases a literal translation of Irish into English, making something new that sings.

I found the Irish warm, kind, sincere and hospitable beyond anything I’d ever encountered. But, then, there was something else. I found the other side of the coin working as a reporter and studying Irish history (which James Joyce said was a nightmare he was forever trying to awake from). Oppressed for centuries by a stronger, wealthier neighboring country, they had, like all victims of oppression, cultivated the values of deceit, cunning, false joy in the presence of strangers, envy, clannishness, bristling donkey-headed pride. And they remembered every slight no matter how petty or how long ago. The tragedy, they say, is the English won’t remember and the Irish can’t forget.

The legacy of what Britain had done to them is horrific but what they inflicted on themselves isn’t pretty, either. Betrayal, plotting, swift country justice by maiming, crippling, bloody death and exile. Blather, slyness, clever at life, soft smiles to conceal the stone heart, and rage near at hand, easy to find and use, like a tool a good workman always replaces in the same spot so he won’t have to think when he wants it, but just reach out and there it is, ready to go to work.

Noble causes and many ignoble people.

That was then, and the hope is it will stay in the past, as Ireland now has become — except for flares launched by dead-enders — ­ peaceful. In a way peace in Ulster is a miracle. What could be more miraculous than Martin McGuiness, once the most wanted man in the British Isles as Chief of the IRA, now the First Minister of Northern Ireland? Jaws in Ireland, Britain and the Irish diaspora crashed to the floor when McGuiness and the Queen of England exchanged handshakes and kind words last June in Belfast.

May peace, and our faith in it, never cease.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

12/31/12 5:00pm

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Jack Kiffer, proprietor of the Dory.

People have kidded Jack Kiffer that he’s made the front page of the Shelter Island Reporter more than anyone else in history. That can’t be true. Supervisors always get a lot of ink. But the irrepressible — some would say shameless — proprietor of the Dory restaurant and bar on Bridge Street since 2004 has hit the headlines a lot over his nine years there.

“Infamous” is the right term, said the 70-year-old Mr. Kiffer with a tired smile last week during a long, rambling chat at the Dory, where a small post-lunch bunch sat at the bar nursing their beers.

Perhaps he’s best known, at least among people who don’t really know him, for hauling a commode into Volunteer Park a few years ago and sitting on it with a newspaper in his hands and his pants down around his ankles. The point was to protest the lack of public toilets on Bridge Street.

“All publicity is good publicity,” Mr. Kiffer said of the episode.

So who is this familiar Island character? He was born in Rockville Center in 1942. His mother worked at the Grumman plant in Bethpage, riveting Hellcats together, and his father was a mechanic with the Army Air Corps serving in Europe and Africa during World War II.

Mr. Kiffer and his mother lived with his grandparents during the war. “I thought they were my parents,” Mr. Kiffer said. Three-and-a-half years old when the knock came at the door, he remembers seeing a man in uniform standing there. “I didn’t know who he was,” said Mr. Kiffer. “I became extremely jealous. I didn’t like him from that moment. I was the crown prince. Actually, I was spoiled rotten.”

He never got along well with his dad, who drove a milk truck after the war and eventually started a contracting business. Many years later, he would base it in East Hampton and build a house in West Neck on Shelter Island. By then, Jack had planted his own roots here.

The oldest of four boys, he was a member of Syosset High School’s first graduating class of 1960 and well known as a “troublemaker and a kidder,” he said. “I was always getting into mischievous trouble, cutting school, playing practical jokes.”

He went to college at Farmingdale to study aeronautics, having been bitten by the flying bug when his uncle feigned engine trouble and landed his Army L19 two-seater in a Hauppauge field just to take Jack up for a ride. His next-in-line brother, Jim, now 66, got the bug too. He is a professional pilot who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and flew for Delta until early retirement. He’s with a charter outfit now in Florida. Jack didn’t stick with college but he did learn to fly at long-gone Zahns Airport in Amityville. Eventually, he bought his own plane, a four-seat Cessna 170B that he based here at Klenawicus airfield. He sold the plane after five or six years because he wasn’t using it much.

After quitting college, he bluffed his way into a job with a photo lab in Mineola that processed film for Madison Avenue. “I lied when I took the job. I told them I knew all about photography,” he said. In fact, “I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

He and a friend shared an apartment in Roslyn and became regulars at a joint called the Cabana in Bayville, where he hung out with friends and dated “a bar maid,” he said. He “had a great time” and “should have wound up in jail” because he and his pals were doing so many “crazy things,” he said.

“I had a motorcycle that I kept in the kitchen. They kept taking it away from me,” Jack said of his pals, “because I was so damn drunk. They’d take the distributor cap away.”

As much as Jack liked to have fun — and booze and barmaids were a big part of it, as he readily admits — something else was going on, something he doesn’t mention, much less gloat over or explain: call it entrepreneurial instinct.
In the early 1960s, as Long Island boomed with suburban sprawl, he started his own trucking company hauling sand and gravel. It hit the jackpot when a tugboat strike forced Con Edison to hire truckers to haul coal to its big Ravenswood power plant in Long Island City.

He was even more successful when he became a partner in a New York restaurant and gave up the trucking business. Soon he tried his hand at building restaurants for others. Mr. Kiffer offhandedly listed J.G. Mellon, Ben Benson’s steakhouse and the Hudson River Café among the places Kiffer Contracting of Woodbury and later Farmingdale built for clients over two decades in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island.

The pivotal moment in Mr. Kiffer’s career came when his Roslyn roommate got a job at a bar in the city called Geordie’s and Jack went with him to live in Manhattan. “I wound up hanging out at a place called Don Denton’s and I became a partner,” Jack said offhandedly. Pressed, he said only, “Don was always in financial trouble. I had some money. I funded the place. We became partners.” The money came from the trucking business.

Another hot spot on the city’s preppy bar scene was “the very successful” restaurant and bar called Edwards on 61st and Lexington, Mr. Kiffer said. Through his partying and his work in the business, Mr. Kiffer became fast friends with its proprietor, who was about eight years older than Jack but “as crazy as everybody else on the block.”

Dick Edwards, whose father was president of U.S. Steel, Mr. Kiffer said, introduced him to Shelter Island and raucous weekends at the Edwards estate in Dering Harbor and at the Dory, then owned by Mal Nevel. Jack soon started to rent houses on the Island, which he’s still doing.

“I’m a drifter,” he said, “living just short of a shopping basket. What can I do?”

He does have an apartment in the city and he did own a house for a while in Noyac but that became a problem after Mr. Edwards left him the Dory and he had to sleep in his truck whenever he missed the last ferry.

Mr. Edwards had loaned Mal Nevel the money to buy the Dory back in the 1960s. When Mr. Neville decided he didn’t want it anymore, he let Dick Edwards have it for his last $1,300 mortgage payment, Mr. Kiffer said. “Dick kept it only because there was no one else to keep it going and he wanted a place to drink,” he explained.

When Mr. Edwards began losing a long fight with cancer, Mr. Kiffer helped keep the Dory going and helped care for Mr. Edwards. Three days before he died in 2002, he realized his brother Bob, to whom he’d left everything, wouldn’t know what to do with the Dory so he called in attorney Bill Sulahian to change his will, leaving it to Jack.

“I loved the Dory,” Mr. Kiffer said. “I was doing very well … I had a good reputation” in the restaurant business but “this place needed a massive amount of work. It was going to fall down,” he said. There was a hole in the floor near the bar “and somebody was going to get hurt.”

He gave his restaurant-building business to “a guy working for me” and dove in. The first winter after he refurbished the place, he stayed open all winter “and took my lickings like a man.” He didn’t try that again until last year, when pals in the Fire Department gave him a big dinner, made him an honorary fireman and “nailed me to the wall,” he chortled, by pleading with him to keep the bar open all year.

Mr. Kiffer, who quit drinking last July, has always had a long-term relationship with someone, he said. Dory regulars will remember a beauty named Milen, a waitress he met masterminding a grand wedding reception for hundreds of people on a cruise ship that was docked at 23rd Street. Milen served as his hostess and bartender for years. She’s back in the city now and Mr. Kiffer said they’re still friends.

He is looking forward to closing for just a while this winter, probably later this month, so he can take some time off. Maybe he’ll head to Costa Rica, where he owned some property for a time, or pay one of his regular visits to his brother in Florida.

“I’m here every morning,” he said. “I do the banking, the books, and I handle any problems that come up. That part doesn’t bother me — but I need some relaxation.”

“This will be my grand finale,” he said of his tenure as the Dory’s fifth owner since it was built in 1925. “I’ll fall over dead one day or sell it and go to Costa Rica.”