Recession, Hamptons Style

As the Hamptons moves through its high season, caution and humbleness prevail — although since you have to be immoderately rich to be out here in the first place, the difference is sometimes difficult to discern. True, the customary golden hordes are back, the traffic is horrendous, and a sense of entitlement is everywhere, but it’s not like the heedless times of just two years ago, when lobster salad was $100 a pound. Today it’s a surprisingly affordable $40 per.

The winter was tough. Three hotels, including the Capri in Southampton, declared bankruptcy before the season even began, as did the BMW dealership in Southampton (though it recently reopened with new management). The local NPR radio affiliate, 88.3, came up short $500,000 to buy its license from Long Island University, and the station will probably be closing down for good on August 31. Last month Moody’s downgraded East Hampton’s credit rating and revised its outlook from stable to negative, “citing depletion of the town’s financial reserves.” And at this year’s Art Hampton, a baby Art Basel that was attended by 8,000 people, sales were down 40 percent to $6 million. When the Parrish Art Museum broke ground for a new Herzog & de Meuron building last month, it had to settle for a modest $25 million building instead of the dazzling, $80 million, pre-crash version. Yes, people are really hurting.

Although the stores seem busy, owners complain that customers are spending far less. Restaurants are full on weekends, but they’ve kept their prix fixe menus from the winter. “The hotels and inns are booked,” said a Hamptons tourism marketer, “but they had to reduce their rates to keep occupancies up.” Real-estate prices and high-end house sales are up, but so are the number of distressed sellers who lowered their prices to get out.

And yet, the rich and famous still flock. Madonna moved into her house on Lily Pond Lane, and Lady Gaga might be out later this month, renting. A woman from Tampa spent $500,000 for a two-week rental and didn’t even look embarrassed talking about it on The Joy Behar Show. The earliest you can get a table at Nick & Toni’s on a Saturday night is 10:45 p.m. Revlon’s Ron Perelman gave his annual July Fourth Gala at the Creeks, where he again played drums with Jon Bon Jovi, and Lally Weymouth gave herself another sit-down birthday dinner at her Southampton estate, with guests invited three months in advance.

Lawyer Alan Grubman’s power lunches and dinners continue apace every weekend, and this year there was a Kabbalah meeting at New York Mets owner Richard Wilpon’s house starring a rabbi and Gwyneth Paltrow. Alec Baldwin is everywhere: He starred in Equus at Guild Hall, where he also joined the board of directors; he appeared at the Southampton Screenwriting Conference; he became a benefactor of the East Hampton Library, where he chairs Authors Night; and he read Moby Dick at BookHampton. Jack Donaghy would certainly approve. And everywhere it seems there are Real Housewives, chasing their new fame.

All this distraction is good for the wounded economic spirit. It’s not exactly bread and circuses in the Hamptons this year, as the super-rich dole out small doses of glamour to the merely rich. Let’s call it lobster salad and circuses — especially if Gaga moves in.

Recession, Hamptons Style