Coronavirus: Wealthy New Yorkers flee to the Hamptons as panic sets in

‘We’re headed to the Hamptons with my whiskey and Lysol wipes,’ says Julie Macklowe, resident of the Upper East Side

Amanda Gordon,Katya Kazakina
Thursday 12 March 2020 15:43
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When Steve Schwarzman’s grandson went on a break from boarding school at the end of February, he brought home a classmate from China, who wasn’t able to fly back home for obvious reasons.

Now coronavirus has come to Manhattan, where Owen and his friend are currently stuck, playing video games and other things boys do.

“I think we should stay home forever,” Owen said.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, and the inconveniences and hazards are tallying up for New York City’s most privileged residents. Private schools are closing, galas cancelled, vacations to Europe and warmer climes scrapped. Aspen instead of Italy seemed like a safe switch until an Australian who visited the tiny Colorado ski town tested positive.

Some families have retreated to their vacation homes on Long Island, the Hudson Valley, or Vermont. Others are urgently trying to rent such houses.

“We’re headed to the Hamptons with my whiskey and Lysol wipes,” said Julie Macklowe, who lives on the Upper East Side.

Ms Macklowe said she’s cancelled all her engagements, including a board meeting for the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Couture Council. “No play dates. The kids can FaceTime each other, we’ll find out if that works.”

It’s become clear that coronavirus isn’t going to discriminate or choose where to go by postal code. Some New York City parents are going to worry about how to provide food if public schools close and their child is unable to get meals there, or how their kids will keep up with their studies if they don’t have a computer at home for remote classes.

Jennifer Wallace, a journalist writing a book about achievement culture, said she’s trying to keep things in perspective for her children.

Last week, as rumours swirled about an imminent closing for her eldest son William’s private school, she took him to a gala for Sheltering Arms, a nonprofit serving New York City’s neediest children and families. William raised his paddle to make a gift during the auction.

The next morning, he and his two siblings talked about their coronavirus worries around the breakfast table in their Upper East Side apartment, a short distance from their father’s job in private equity at Blackstone.

“There are parents who, if their kids are home and they can’t go to work, can lose their income and even possibly their jobs,” Ms Wallace said, recalling the conversation. “This is not going to impact our family like it will a family on the verge of homelessness. What those parents have to deal with — that’s where the panic is.”

Meanwhile, one navigates these exceptional circumstances as best one can.

Emmanuel Di Donna, founder of Di Donna Galleries on the Upper East Side, said they probably won’t go anywhere over spring break. Rather than take the kids to gymnastics at Chelsea Piers last weekend, they instead went to Central Park.

“Simple measures — you just have to take them to minimise risk,” Ms Di Donna said.

On Monday, Zibby Owens, creator of the podcast “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books”, hosted an event at her Upper East Side apartment for two authors and a fashion designer with about two dozen people attending.

“I’m taking it one day at a time,” said Ms Owens, who is Schwarzman’s daughter. In the Hamptons, their choices are backgammon, walks on the beach, trampolining or tennis, Ms Owens said, adding she’s not changing her three-hour per week video game limit.

Taylor Berry, owner of Berry & Co book store in Sag Harbor, said business has been brisk for so early in the season. “People are staying away from politics and pandemics,” said Mr Berry, who attended the author event. “They’re going for light fiction.”

Victoria Shtainer, a broker with Compass in Manhattan, owns a home in Southampton that she’s rented out for the past two summers. It’s currently for sale, but she said she’s getting unsolicited offers from people seeking to lease it immediately.

“I’ve gotten so many requests to rent right now, as soon as possible,” Ms Shtainer said. “Crazy amounts offered.”

The Hamptons isn’t free of the coronavirus.

Southampton Hospital is caring for the one confirmed case in Suffolk County, and a group of students from Stony Brook who returned from Europe are in isolation at the hospital. On Tuesday, East Hampton suspended programmes for senior citizens at the Montauk Playhouse and senior centre. The public schools, and the private Ross School, and the libraries are open.

Lauralee Kelly, a massage therapist based in Amagansett, said she’s been getting calls for bookings from clients who live in New York. “The wave is not quite here yet, but it’s coming,” Ms Kelly said. “It’s really slow out here usually this time of year, so this is absolutely not typical.”

At Catena’s Food Market in Southampton, Victor Finalborgo said he hasn’t yet seen a rush to buy supplies, but added, “I’m sure it’s on the horizon”. Meanwhile, shoppers at Village True Value Hardware in East Hampton snapped up 36 bottles of Purell on Tuesday as soon as they were unloaded from the box.

Anticipating demand this weekend, Carissa’s Bakery in East Hampton is doubling the number of chickens (brined for 24 hours) available on its weekend take-out dinner menu, and adding ribs and lasagne. Loaves & Fishes in Sagaponack will have its citrus salmon and chicken pot pie ready to go, and shopping via FaceTime in case anyone needs kitchen supplies. “Maybe they’ll learn to cook over spring break,” said investment banker and full-time East End resident Brett McGonegal.

In upstate New York, consultant Bettina Prentice self-quarantined with her kids and husband in their weekend home after discovering someone he’d had dinner with in London tested positive for the virus.

“We are trying to keep the kids entertained, roasting marshmallows, having dance parties, watching ‘The Princess Bride,’” she said. “We are trying to make this a happy family memory.”

Her kids, ages 3 and 7, have lots of questions. “They’re asking ‘Why can’t we see our cousins? Where’s our Nana? Why can’t we go to school?”’ Ms Prentice said.

She wishes she’d stocked up before burrowing in. They’re relying on online retailers for food deliveries to their Hudson Valley home.

“We are looking forward to return to normalcy,” Ms Prentice said.

Bloomberg

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