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A Battle for the Sole of the Hamptons

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East Hampton's quirky shops have in recent years been edged out by chains (so long, Above the Potatoes; hello, Banana Republic). This summer, the food stores met their Goliath, when Citarella opened at Main Street and Fifthian Lane. Fans of Dreesen's doughnuts took to Citarella's aisles, scooping up grill-ready fish; Martha Stewart was spotted cooing over the white apricots.

"There isn't a food place out here that didn't feel a significant impact," sighs Jerry Della Femina, who owns Red Horse Market. "The closer you were, the more trouble you had." So much trouble, in fact, that Della Femina closed shop right after Labor Day, far earlier than usual. He says he'll reopen in May, but store insiders doubt it. Jeff Hellerbach, owner of Jeff's Fancy Produce, also closed in mid-August, running a heartfelt farewell ad in the East Hampton Star.

Perhaps because it buys in greater volume, Citarella offers Hamptonites some relief from the likes of $60-per-pound lobster salad. (The coffee starts at $5 per pound; at Jerry's, the least expensive grind is $9, and at the Barefoot Contessa, it's $11.95.) "I've seen workers from other food places checking out our store," says Citarella's Joe Carerra, who cheekily took an ad in Jodi Della Femina's Shortcuts guide.

Of course, some competitors say there's no problem. "This summer was just as hellish as ever," maintains Barefoot Contessa manager Sandy Posnick. "People tried it and came back," adds Schmidt's owner George Boden. But Della Femina isn't buying it: "Everybody says they had a great year, but people who work there will tell you the truth."

And at least one merchant, John Bogosian -- the Dalton sex-ed teacher turned enviro-activist who's just bought Jeff's Fancy Produce -- thinks he's found a niche. "This place has the romance of Provence," he says. "I'm turning it into a natural market."


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