09/12/14 8:00am
JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO |  Andrew Graffagnino fixes a boat at the Island Boatyard.

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO |
Andrew Graffagnino fixes a boat at the Island Boatyard.

They’re not all ready to embrace the possibility that the national economy is showing long-term signs of recovery, but most Shelter Island business owners are boasting about a remarkable summer season. (more…)

Featured Story
07/15/14 12:38pm
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Natiliia, left, and Olga,Ukranian nationals working at the Dory this summer, are keeping track of loved ones and events in their war-torn country.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO |
Natiliia, left, and Olga, Ukranian nationals working at the Dory this summer, are keeping track of loved ones and events in their war-torn country.

Two young waitresses in jeans and black T shirts quietly shuttled burgers on the back deck of the Dory to a group of boaters on a picturesque Tuesday afternoon.

As the lunchtime rush wound down, Dory owner Jack Kiffer polished the bar while the waitresses headed into the kitchen, whispering with heavy accents in a language not often heard around here. The two 20-year-old servers, Olga and Nataliia (they preferred not to give their last names) hail from the other side of the world. They call Mykolaiv, Ukraine home, a city of 500,000 in the southeastern part of that war-torn country. (more…)

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.