Thursday, August 13, 2009

Real Kids

Open for Business.
Real Kids
by Alexandra Lebenthal

Like many of the rubberneckers who tune in weekly to watch the train wrecks that reality television gives us, I am as addicted to NYC Prep as I am the housewives of all past present and future cities. NYC Prep however hits a little too close to home. I am not only a mother of one, and as of September, two, Nightingale Bamford students, but also a graduate myself as well as former Trustee.

When The New York Times and New York Magazine printed quotes that no one from a good school would agree to do a show like this and there, blaringly, is a Nightingale girl in the cast, my blood boils. I proudly recall that my graduating class in 1982 boasted 2 students each to Harvard, Yale and Princeton out of its 33 members. But so it goes, I guess, in the incessant search for fame, it doesn’t matter who or what gets taken down a notch.
Teenage and college age kids can act rather stupidly. Part of growing up is the opportunity to make mistakes, say dumb things, get into trouble, and contrary to what they may say “not have it go on your permanent record.” Isn't that why parents exist as they constantly try diligently to prevent their kids from showing the world how unsophisticated and young they really are.

Sadly and inexplicably, in the case of NYC Prep, those parents missed the memo. So the rest of us get to roll our eyes and enjoy talking about it after each episode. It’s ironic because in ten or fifteen years they might have (and one hopes still may) turn out to be decent people, who laugh away how mature they thought they were in high school.

But not all have this strong a sense of entitlement, or are this oblivious that their actions have unintended consequences themselves, families and communities. Here is a tale of some real kids that have embraced opportunities and in so doing have created an economic and cultural buzz that an entire town has taken notice of.
Scenes of Bellport.
Bellport, New York. Summer of 2009

You might have heard of Bellport or perhaps know someone who has a house there. You’ve been there or want to see it. This is a small one street/one light town on the South Shore of Long Island, a stone’s throw from the Hamptons, and a step back in time. There are a group of New Yorkers with weekend houses, people who might just as easily be Hampton’s residents but for some reason the uniqueness of the town keeps them there. Just about everyone knows one another by face if not name.

Bellport activities.
Unlike the Hamptons however, where once 27 becomes a one lane highway, the lawns are lush, the houses large and the fields are tall with cornstalks, driving through the surrounding towns of Patchogue, Medford, Coram and Shirley on the way to Bellport, there is stark evidence of the economic crisis.

Foreclosed homes are noticeable. These are not the McMansions in Orange County California that people bought and flipped while continually trading up. These are run down, aluminum siding, ranch style homes. Thigh high grass sprouts up from driveways and windows are blocked out or broken.

For sale signs hang in front, eerily cheerful with colors and logos. No doubt this is a short sale and the proceeds will be going right to the bank. One wonders what happened to the residents. Where are they now? Where will they end up?
Bellport is an oasis from the surrounding villages, yet it is not exempt either from the downturn. There is no Scoop, J Crew or Ralph Lauren. If a store doesn’t make it there isn’t always another immediately ready to move in. This year several storefronts have sat empty on Main Street to the dismay of everyone. Weekenders shake their heads with sadness and wonder what will become of their property values.

The locals perhaps worry more. Their concerns are about their livelihoods. Friends have lost jobs, potentially putting more homes in danger of foreclosure. The town seems sad and yet its spirit as it turns out still lives, even more than we may have realized.

And this is where a wonderful story of this summer in Bellport begins, on the corner of Main Street and Station Road in a building that has been standing there since the early 1900s.
The Corner Store on Main Street, 1955.
This past year a clothing store that had occupied the space, moved down the street and as Memorial Day loomed this prime piece of real estate sat empty. Three young men, Johnny Knapp, Tyler Healy and Quinn Sherman well known, at least by face, as waiters in town and lifeguards at the beach, two of whom also happen to be art students, were asked by the owner of the building if they would spruce up the windows so it wouldn’t look empty.

TYLER HEALY, Co-founder and Parsons art student.
They created a simple beach and surf scene. It wasn’t too long after that before the owner said they might as well do something on the inside, if they were so inclined, and so the “Corner Store Coop” was born.

On Friday July 3, the opening party was locally advertised by flyers and word of mouth. No public relations folks sent out press releases. No photographers were present. There were no gift bags. There was music and art on the walls, and above all a buzz that these kids had created something special. The Corner Store Coop has become the focal point of the town and a reason for kids and adults alike to embrace what a little bit of effort and creativity can bring.

By day the Coop sells merchandise from a group of kids, the youngest of whom, Claire Read, ironically, is a Nightingale Bamford student, starting her junior year next month.

Last year Claire started a successful line of t-shirts, that are now the must have summer wardrobe item.

Her older sister Georgia, Nightingale 2008 and a student at Rhode Island School of Design has her own T-Shirts; aptly named “11713,” the Bellport zip code.

For sale inside are prints and photographs that Tyler Healy has taken, reclaimed clothes by Aria McManus, T Shirts from Quinn and Tyler, and photography from Genevieve Garruppo, a graduate of the Savannah School of Art and Design

There are surfboards from Mike Becker and skateboards from the Chapman Brothers. Anything for sale is part of the décor as well.
Live, Jive, and Dive by Tyler ... One of Genevieve Garruppo’s photos for sale ... Surfboards from Mike Becker.
They aren’t quite sure how much they have generated in total gross since it is a cooperative. Tyler Healy thinks they have grossed a few thousand dollars. Georgia Read has sold about $600 of her T-shirts.

At night the Coop has become a gathering place. There are film screenings and live musical performances. People linger on the street and inside the store. Adults drive by and smile at how quickly this effort has become a part of the community.

Unlike the NYC kids who have sought out publicity for doing, well not a whole lot, the kids of the Coop did not seek any and yet have been in a blog post in The New York Times, written by Bruce Pask and recently they were shot by Vanity Fair for an upcoming piece on them this Fall.
Bellport nightlife.
The good news is that this autumn, a coffee shop will be opening in the space, so the Corner Store will live on after the kids return to school. The even better news is that they have already had conversations with other store owners in town about where they might set up next year. They have become a part of the wonderful fabric of the town and to me an example of what can and should be going on across the country by all of us in an effort to kick start our economy and re-energize our spirit.

I can only imagine that in ten or fifteen years many of us will think back to the summer when some kids helped start the local economy going in their own small way. That is what will linger in our minds, not the silly shenanigans of kids primping for TV cameras. And thanks to Claire and Georgia Read, I am all the more proud to be a Nightingale Bamford graduate and parent.
CLAIRE and GEORGIA READ (in 11713 and FLOC).
Alexandra Lebenthal learned from her father, Jim Lebenthal, and grandmother before that about the basics of finances and investments. Today she is the CEO of Lebenthal & Co., LLC and its wealth management division, Alexandra & James Co.