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The great Shelter Island migration: Who’s getting out of town, and why

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | Vladena Noskova is working at Stars until she leaves for Slovakia in February. She’ll be back for the summer of 2016.
Vladena Noskova is working at Stars until she leaves for Slovakia in February. She’ll be back for the summer of 2016.

It’s about to get very quiet around here.

Winter on Shelter Island means an end to lawn care, boats come out of the water and tourism slows to a trickle. For the people who sell food, lodging and entertainment, as well as those who filet the fluke and service the yachts, the months of January and February are slow. Many folks figure it’s time to go away. Some head to Florida, with Key West particularly popular with Islanders.

The Reporter asked some of the people we see every day where they’re going and why.

For the next few weeks, Vladena Noskova is holding down the fort at Stars, but in February she will go home to Slovakia and return for the 2016 summer season on Shelter Island. She doesn’t’ have to be reminded of this place, but just in case, she wears a silver Shelter Island charm around her neck.

Slovakia is mountainous and quite cold, but it also has some similarities to Shelter Island, Vladena said, mainly the pace of life.

Stars Cafe owners Pepe and Lydia Martinez have a connection to Slovakia through Lydia’s family and that’s how Vladena found her way here. In fact, last summer she counted at least 10 people on the Island who were from Slovakia, including several who she only recognized because she heard them speak her mother tongue. She also discovered a cluster of Slovakians living in Montauk, which she found amazing since the entire population of Slovakia is only 5.4 million.

Gerry Siller of Grady Riley Gardens and his wife, Roni, are gearing up for a February visit with daughter, Kristen to inspect the grandkids, Riley and Gracie in Taylor Mill, Kentucky.

Gerry said they enjoy the drive and take their time, usually with an overnight. “We use a series of antique maps to find old places to eat and visit on the way,” Gerry said. Upon arrival at “Gracie-land” they also get to hang out with Riley, whose adorable portrait hangs behind the cash register at Grady Riley Gardens. Riley is in third grade and Gracie is in kindergarten.

Marie Eiffel and the employees of her eponymous market are scattering in every direction during their January and February break before the store reopens in the spring. Rakhat Mamytova is staying close, taking a baking and pastry course at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary School in Riverhead. Krystelle Bennett and Shante Covington will travel to Jamaica and Annabel Cohen is destined for France, Portugal and Florida.

Marie is off to an Ayurvedic Spa near Kerala, India for three weeks of restorative treatment  — cleanses and massage — before she continues on to the factories in Northern and Southern India that manufacture the goods she will sell in her stores next summer. Look for a smart new wedge shoe of her own design on her shelves next summer.

Tom Speeches works mornings at Piccozzi’s, but come March he and his partner Robert Westover put Wiley, their West Highland terrier, in the back seat and drive to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, their fifth year for this month-long excursion. On the way to the Sunshine State they stop in their favorite spots: Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

Tom said waiting until March for their getaway is part of a strategy. “It’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “By the time we get back the forsythia is starting to bloom.”

All summer long, Camille and Mike Anglin can be found at Jack’s Marine but for most of the winter they are in Scottsdale, Arizona. They discovered the charms of Arizona when they were living in San Diego. Camille, who was trained as a geologist, or a  “rockhound,” according to Mike, wanted to explore the desert.

For the Island couple, the draw of the desert is the contrast with the tall trees and seaside landscape of home. “In Arizona, there is nothing taller than a saguaro cactus,” Mike said. “And above the cactus line — 2600 feet or so — “there is no tall vegetation at all.”

They take five or six days to drive each way. Mike claims it’s the best part of the trip. “We stop at every sight,” he said. “The biggest ball of twine in the Midwest somewhere, the largest cross in Texas.”

From one year to the next they watch the changes along the route. A diner near Holbrook, Arizona is now a hole in the wall since the main highway, which used to go right past it, now goes around. Somewhere on Interstate 40 in Texas there is a water tower that’s been leaning a little more every year. Will this be the year it falls over?

Mike said the time away is precious to them. “It’s a time for meaningful conversations between the two of us,” he said. “Not thinking about Shelter Island. Still running the business, but from afar.”

Michael Kinsey seems as bookish and intellectual as the proprietor of Black Cat Books ought to be, until he confesses that when it really gets cold here he’s taking the family “to Boca.” That’s Boca Raton, Florida, a place known for the strange case of Freckles, a dog that reportedly filed for divorce from his owner, citing shame at being forced to poop outdoors.

As for timing of the trip Michael said, “We’ll play it by ear, since Jonas is in school.”

Last winter, walls of snow made a strong impression on the family. Michael was forced to dig a passage between the shop and the house, a situation he termed “trench warfare.”

“We’ll go to Boca and see the grandparents. I’m O.K. with snow, but it helps to go to Florida, and reach your boiling point,” he said. “Then you can come home and face the snow.”

With thoughts of climate change, Michael pointed out that the mild fall on Shelter Island could continue into the new year.

Eventually, going south may not be necessary. “Maybe one day we will tell our grandkids that here we used to skate on ponds in winter.” he said with a smile.

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | Owner of Black Cat Books, Michael Kinsey, plans to thaw out the whole family in Boca Raton when things get icy on Shelter Island.
CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | Owner of Black Cat Books, Michael Kinsey, plans to thaw out the whole family in Boca Raton when things get icy on Shelter Island.