Hazmat Suits in the Supermarket: How Wealthy Hamptons-ites Are Panic-Buying

Courtesy photo
Completely bare shelves of King Kullen in Bridgehampton (left); a sign at Provisions gourmet shop in Sag Harbor

As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's restaurant and bar shutdown went into effect, seasonal residents raided gourmet markets bare with additional chauffeured SUVs in tow under the threat of a disrupted chain of food supply: "There is only one road out of the Hamptons."

In Manhattan, during the March weekend of Friday the 13th, entertainment moguls, media personalities and financiers were among the throngs hopping onto Blade private-helicopter flights or jumping into luxury cars followed by additional chauffeured SUVs carrying supplies. A mass exodus from New York City to the Hamptons had begun in an effort to escape the dense city’s potential of contagion and apocalyptic vibe. (Blade recently added additional flights: "A lot of people didn’t realize how long they were staying, so we are seeing people take quick trips back for essential doctor’s appointments, to pick up clothes, document or cash for an extended stay," says chief revenue officer Patrick Albano.)

Though the first few days out in the affluent enclave were initially filled with crisp beach strolls and dining at local haunts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's edict Monday to shut bars, restaurants and theaters that evening quickly altered the situation. As local restaurants started to close — many of which had opened earlier than usual in the season — stores became depleted of food while Amazon and Fresh Direct declined orders due to lack of stock or delivery to the area. The idyllic summer respite may be only a three-hour drive from the city, but questions of a disrupted chain of supply began to make temporary residents uneasy. “There is only one road out of the Hamptons, and if there is a quarantine here, I don’t even want to think of how quickly there might be a mass exodus,’’ says one East Ender.  

The stampede for provisions was on. “The meat department is empty, nothing is in dairy or produce and we are having trouble getting stuff from the warehouse,’’ admits an employee at King Kullen in Bridgehampton, which had lines out the door when it opened at 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

“You can’t even get an orange; it’s completely cleared out, and if they start unpacking chicken, everyone grabs at it, and it vanishes within seconds. They don’t care if they get wings or thighs; they are happy to have anything to cook,’’ says the father of a Los Angeles-based screenwriter who has retreated to his large home in the hamlet of Water Mill with extended family, including his girlfriend’s daughter and her friend, whose parents are stuck in Europe. “Everyone is here indefinitely,’’ he sighs.

People with unlimited funds, used to getting what they want whenever they want it, are hurriedly buying without boundaries. “I saw one woman early on with a shopping cart just completely full of tomatoes — she cleaned them out,’’ observed a film financier. “The social fabric is disintegrating; it’s like a Twilight Zone episode.’’

Loaves and Fishes, a gourmet market known for its $100-per-pound lobster salad, is rationing gourmet goodies. “I want to stay in as much as possible, so I made one trip there to buy 10 chicken breasts, but the woman would only sell me five,’’ reports a man in finance who works with top entertainment clients. Stop & Shop stores in Southampton and East Hampton have also put a limit on purchases — only two of any item in the store.

“If you even put more than two of something in your cart, people glare at you,’’ says one urban refugee. “I went to Citarella, which is more costly, but they leave it to customers to police themselves. A couple walked in with full-on hazmat suits. They looked like spacemen — it was surreal.’’

Though East End locals tolerate New Yorkers in the summer, they are less than thrilled about having them invade like locusts off-season, particularly in this off-season of the coronavirus. The wife of a film producer who decamped to his Sag Harbor home got the message when she entered the town hardware store: “I heard two women saying, ‘Why are all these people from the city here? They are probably bringing us the virus!’ As soon as they saw me in my mask and gloves, they quickly stopped talking.’’