Hamptons Tradition: Shopping the 5 and 10 cent Sag Harbor Variety Store

T.J. Clemente's Hamptons Tradition #2: Sag Harbor's five-and-dime.

When you stroll into the doors of the located at 114 Main Street in Sag Harbor you go back in time, back to the time as a child you first walked into a 5-and-10 store.

The smell of candy, the feel of the wooden floor, the nine aisles of everything from those toys to Tupperware never changes. Lisa Field, the manager and daughter of owners Phil and Roseann Bucking, was kind enough to share the magic of what makes a 5-and-10 store timeless.

With more than 20,000 different items in stock, the inventory is still the same as when her dad in his 30s left the Bulova Watch Company to buy the business. “The bank would only lend him the money to buy the business from Mr. Hanson if he bought the building too," Lisa explained. “That was a great thing to do.”

Lisa, who grew up in Sag Harbor, said that as a child she and her brothers were not allowed to just go grab any toy they wanted from the shelves but had to save up and buy the toys. With her own children now, “I am a little more liberal, but they still have to pay for it." At the time of the interview a few years back, her then 13-year-old daughter worked there in the summer. Being open seven days a week 362 days a year (closed Christmas, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day and Easter Sunday) was taxing on her family but also a service to the community. Even today old friends drop in to buy an odd or end thing that you only find at a 5-and-10.

So one Christmas a few years back with Perry Como singing "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" over the speakers, I went for a walk down all nine aisles. The hola hoops, plastic bags of toys soldiers and cowboys and Indians caught my eye at once as they did when I was 7 years old. Fifty years later they still had the stacks of games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Candy Land, Shoots and Ladders. How about those Tester models of cars and ships? The Fisher Price collection, not to mention Barbie and G.I. Joes, yes they are still selling. Then there on the shelve was the “Silly Putty” right next to the slinkies, and Nerf toy balls. A line up of stick horses, tinker toys, Lincoln Logs, was next to shelves of Play Dough, crayons and plastic tea sets.

Believe or not they have more than 40 different types of contact paper. Laundry baskets woven and plastic, pots, pans, pot holders in different, sizes, colors and shapes. Not to mention the clothes from inexpensive but vital gloves for children to the fleeces and wool caps.

Lipsticks, hair pins of every size, nail polish line up in the same presentation as I first probably saw them 50 years ago. There were even miniature cans of shaving cream for travel.

Do you remember walking in the day after school had started in September to the school supply aisle to see all those notebooks, binders, #2 pencils, ballpoint pens, loose leaf paper and of course the erasers? Being Christmas time the Christmas stuff was up front. Big Santa faces, tree ornaments, wrapping papers, Christmas lights and you name it were all ready for the next few crazy weeks. The Christmas stockings and the stuff to stuff them with were all right there. Everybody also knows that the 5-and-10 is the best place to get fairly priced costumes for Halloween for children in that season too.

Besides tools and glue they even still create copies of car and house keys there. Scissors, tape, candles, everything all in those nine aisles. A lifetime of memories stacked up 10 feet high. The candy is still there too. A local real estate agent who grew up in Sag Harbor now a grandmother went in recently and confessed that as a young school girl she once stole some candy. Lisa Fields scolded her, forgave her and gave her free candy. I may have never done that myself, but I once told my parents I had a dream of going in there and taking everything I wanted for a whole night.

Phil and Rose Bucking have left the 5-cent Pepsi sign up along with the old cigarettes signs from the 1922 era when the store first opened. My favorite was the Hostess Cup Cakes "2 for 5 cents."

Who doesn’t remember those 25-cent rides on that horse in front of the store where after the quarter was deposited you became Roy Rogers or Anny Oakley for those precious moments. Amazing how years later as parents you go through it again with your own children. The tradition of the 5- and 10-cent stores is a dying tradition but not in Sag Harbor. The banker who talked the Buckings into buying the building along with the business insured the family no rent increase would kill off another tradition.

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