Sixties vibe is still alive by
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Prompted By Shopping Local

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My favorite vacation town still has small independent stores and restaurants where you can buy most day-to-day necessities, almost all within walking distance. The wood-fired brick oven bakery sells pastries, bread, and other breakfast and lunch items all freshly made on the premises. It also has the best pizza I have ever had, but only on Saturday and Sunday evenings with one size and two options, margarita or special of the day. The special generally features local produce in season. No advance orders are allowed and the line usually extends out the door. The wait can be long but provides a social gathering to exchange local news and gossip. This year featured a great concession to advances in technology – for the first time they accept credit cards. The local fish market has the freshest fish possible. You can arrive at noon and ask for an item and have the owner tell you, “They are just unloading the boat now but it should be here by 2 PM.” I am now too spoiled to eat scallops or swordfish from any other source. The store itself looks like it started as a bait and tackle shop before adding retail fish and shellfish, along with a few tourist items like silk screen t-shirts with really cute fish on them that the owner makes over the winter. I am now Facebook friends with the owner and especially appreciate the pictures of the area that he posts in the long winter months, my best way to gauge how much snow they received. All in all, the vibe is still the sixties.

The town has held onto shopping local mostly due to geography and history that are conducive to isolation without hardship.

Off the major intersection which has the only traffic light in town — but blinking red only, no yellow or green — you can find a grocery store, a hardware store, a garden shop, a beauty salon, a liquor store, a marine store, an automotive garage, a fitness center, a post office, a library, the town hall, the fire station, an art gallery, a gourmet shop, an ice cream parlor, half a dozen restaurants, several lawyers’ offices, and three churches. None of these are chain stores. The only commercial establishment with a sign that you could find elsewhere (much bemoaned) is the gas station/convenience store. Several farms in town also have shops selling their own and other farmers’ products. Everyone knows your name quickly even if you are not a full timer. Businesses with local owners are cheered but maintaining this pattern is not easy. The current crisis is the closing of the pharmacy after 40+ years, apparently due to the increasing burden of maintaining information on multiple insurance plans.

The town has held onto shopping local mostly due to geography and history that are conducive to isolation without hardship. This island was settled early in the colonial era but the colonists used it mostly as pasture land while leaving the native American inhabitants largely in peace. The handful of early settlers included Benedict Arnold (not THE Benedict Arnold — but a warning of the danger of passing on your name. Even if your children and grandchildren turn out fine, beware the great-grandson!) For the next three centuries it remained largely agricultural with small town shops and services. Ferry boats eventually made regular trips over the short stretch of the bay but that moat was enough to discourage casual drop-ins. After a major hurricane destroyed the ferry boats and docks, a bridge to the mainland was quickly built by the Works Progress Administration. The link made access to the mainland easy but the bridge was not constructed for the faint-hearted and the toll (10 cents) discouraged those with no good reason to go there. Isolation without hardship prevailed. More recently a second bridge was built in the other direction and then the first bridge was replaced with a more comfortable alternative. By then the townspeople had come to value their solitude and to seek vigorously to preserve the farms and local shopping.

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Characterizations: well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Great story, Jean! Your vacation town sounds idyllic. Would you be willing to reveal its name or location, or do you prefer to keep it a secret?

  2. JeanZ says:

    I did withhold the town name as a tease while dropping many hints. Does anyone who knows New England want to guess?

  3. Marian says:

    Love the evocative story. Seems like it could be on Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, but I’m not a New Englander, so I really don’t know.

  4. Lovely and especially well written story. I have no clue what town. Do tell.

  5. Hmmmm… It’s an island whose infrastructure and access was destroyed by a hurricane and rebuilt by the WPA. That sets the hurricane time sometime between 1933 and approx 1939. How about the 1938 hurricane? It made landfall in Long Island, crossed the sound and landed again on coastal Connecticut. There are a few islands and sandspit/beaches along the south coast of Long Island beginning with Gilgo Captree on the western end of the storm landfall. Captree has two bridges, one connecting the island to a sand spit, part of Long Island’s version of Fire Island. Maybe there.

    But moving eastward further out Long Island toward Westhamption, Moriches, Easthampton… Gardiner’s Island must be the place, ‘left’ to the Gardiners by the Montaukett tribe. The Gardiners gave shelter to a Brit named André who was busted with Benedict Arnold, so at least we know Gardiners’ was probably the neighboring island you told us of, Jean Z. There’s also a windmill there. That puts us just about at East Hampton and Neapague. East Hampton and Sag Harbor are both too big to have a single blinking light, so a smaller town like Neapague might be right. Captain Kidd supposedly left a treasure on the island. It’s gotta be a town on the island itself, but I can’t find it on a map. As close as I can get via deduction. A fun treasure hunt, JeanZ, thanks!

    • JeanZ says:

      It was the Hurricane of 1938 which devastated coastal areas of the Northeast. I do not know Long Island and enjoyed your deductions about islands there. Continuing on the storm’s path to Narragansett Bay, you will find Conanicut Island with the town of Jamestown.
      Thanks for playing.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Jean, I read the story on Facebook two night ago, so was part of the location discussion then (I’m on Martha’s Vineyard as I write this and will be on Nantucket next week, so I know about those islands, even Cuttyhunk and the Elizabeth Islands, which are largely uninhabited). I thought about Rhode Island when I brought up Block Island, but know there is no bridge. Thought about Newport, but that is a bustling town that was the playground of the rich in the late 1800s and remains so today, so ruled that out. I confess, I have never heard of your little island, but it sounds utterly charming. I must do more research on it. Thanks for leading us on this treasure hunt.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    Beautiful description of a town frozen in time — an era in which everyone shopped local and businesses were unique. Sounds like a perfect vacation spot.

  8. John Zussman says:

    I like how this story serves as a portal not just to another place but seemingly to another time! And what a good idea to make a guessing game out of it—irresistible.

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