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Buyers swarm Chequit for bargains and memorabilia

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Happy bargain hunters at the Chequit Inn tag sale Saturday. More than $6,000 was raised to benefit the Tot Lot.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Happy bargain hunters in the crush of shoppers at the Chequit tag sale Saturday included, left, Linda Zavatto and Kristina Lange  More than $6,000 was raised to benefit the Tot Lot.

Although the advertised opening of the tag sale at the Chequit Inn Saturday was 9 a.m., it was besieged with people a half hour before that.

At least two hundred people streamed in and out of the grand Victorian pile in the Heights, mobbing a large room, where everything from coffee mugs to antique mirrors were on display and priced to sell.

Near a pile of pillows going for a dollar and bath mats for the same price, Margaret Koller was looking for a coat rack. “I’m numb,” she said, at the crowds and noise. “I can’t believe these prices.”

The new owners of the Chequit, David Bowd and Kevin O’Shea, who recently paid $3.35 million for the Shelter Island landmark, donated all funds from the sale to the restoration of the Tot Lot, the playground for small children on School Street.

Mr. Bowd said after the sale that $6,331 had been raised.

Some people came for the bargains and others for a piece of the past, connecting to times happily spent at the Chequit. Kelly Gillooley was doing little bit of both, standing in front of a heavy, oak, antique sideboard she was buying for $20.

In the 1990s, Ms. Gillooley had waited tables here and also worked as an event manager. “I used to stock silverware in this,” she said, rubbing a hand gently over the heavily varnished surface. She and her husband were moving into a new place and the sideboard would be perfect, she said, but it also would bring happy memories whenever she’d look at it, she said.

The sale of the old place was “sad in a way” she said, “but it’s good the Chequit will have new life.”

Mr. Bowd has said the Chequit, after extensive renovation, will remain a restaurant and inn and be ready for business by May 2015.

The room buzzed with voices, broken occasionally by the crash of cutlery to the planked wood floor. Each piece of silverware was going for 25 cents, and a hundred tall salt and pepper shakers were going fast at a quarter apiece. On the back wall coverlets and blankets and works of art were being gathered up as whole families pitched in to take them away.

If the walls could talk
The history of the place begins in the middle of the 19th century. Parts of the Chequit, which was named for the old Indian word for “heights,” was built in 1849 as a town meeting hall, according to the Shelter Island Historical Society. But the building seen today was completed in 1872, in a Victorian style known as “Carpenter Gothic,” or more commonly known as “gingerbread.”

It was originally owned by the Shelter Island Groves Meeting Association, an organization associated with the Methodist Church when large parts of the Heights were used as summer retreats for city folks.

A community dining room, it was  known then as simply “the restaurant” and by 1909 was an inn. In the 1920s, Hollywood discovered Shelter Island, with stars such as Mary Pickford staying at the Chequit. Ownership changed hands several times, but celebrities were still attracted to the imposing hotel in the Heights, with reports of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller staying along with various Kennedys who sailed down from Massachusetts.

Next to a collection of dining room chairs at $5 a pop was a table of hundreds of dinner plates for a dollar apiece that Michaela Muntean was looking over.

She and her husband, Nik Cohn, first came to the Island in early 1980s from Sag Harbor. “The Chequit is the first place we slept on the Island,” Ms. Muntean said. “We played pool here, stayed in the bar, stayed up all night.”

She wanted to take a piece of the Chequit home but had not yet settled on just the right object.
Reporter columnist Bob DeStefano was on his way in from the porch, on the hunt, like Ms. Muntean and others, for something to take away as a gift for his son, Bob Jr., who had spent happy times at the Chequit.

On a side street next to the hotel, Jim Hayward stopped to chat. He’d been hoping to find some refrigeration equipment for his restaurant and fish market, Commander Cody’s, but had come up empty.

He reminisced about the old days, noting that “I was the bouncer in this place for 20 years.”
He looked at a row of bushes along the sidewalk. “These hydrangea bushes? I planted them 50 years ago,” he said.

Looking up at the grand old façade of the Chequit, he said, “Memories,” before saying goodbye and walking away.