Linda Kessler is the brunette at right. Q: You have an unusual store, such a mix of old and new. Have you always been in retail?
A: I got into antiques when my husband was in med school in Missouri. We used to buy old furniture, restore it, bring it back East and sell it, and that would pay for our trips. I got hooked, and kept doing antiques and retail. I’ve been in the business for more than 40years now.
Q: Are you originally from Missouri?
A: No, that was just med school; I grew up in Queens. [Ed: the NYC borough.] I’d never been to Missouri before, and finding a way to cover the gas to come home was important; I missed it back here. I am a city person at heart. I love the diversity and pulse.
Q: How did you get to the North Fork?
A: We summered in Hampton Bays on Shinnecock Bay my entire life. I attended Southampton College because I loved the East End. We discovered the North Fork when a friend and colleague of mine bought a house in South Jamesport. I loved the authenticity of the area. I missed the farms and rural feel that was once part of the Hamptons.
After a year of searching, we found a wonderful old house in Southold and purchased it in 1984. In 1985 my second daughter was born and we began coming out more often. In 1993 I opened my own store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on 87th Street, and I had a satellite store in Greenport that I really focused on in the summer. Manhattan empties out in the summer; my customers were all out on the East End or travelling.
Q: How did you find out about Greenport? It wasn’t nearly as well known then as it is now.
A: We used to eat at the Chowder Pot on Friday nights (great prime rib dinners) when we would arrive to the East End and would have breakfast at the Harborfront Deli when it was in the building where my current business is.
Q: Greenport was really different in 1984. What was it like?
A. There were many empty stores and a sad feel back in the 80’s but I love the sea and liked the saltiness of the village. It called out to me. After opening the NYC store in 1993 I took over Dr. Levin’s old dental office on Front Street and started Mixed Bag. There were two other antique dealers that shared the space with me which created a mix of merchandise. Thus Mixed Bag!
One thing was striking by 1998—the majority of the Greenport shopkeepers were women. The Suffolk Times did an article about us in ‘98 or ‘99 with a group photo on its cover. Many of us are still running businesses i.e.: Shelley from The Market, Claudia of Salamanders, Rita from North Fork Press now Academy Printing, Lydia from Lydia’s Antiques, and Patti from DeAngelis Leather. The trend has continued, with Rita Winkler from Vines and Branches, Carolyn Crusin from Gallery Hotel, and Kim Loper from Harbor Pet, to name a few.
Q: That’s cool—Greenport has a strong women entrepreneurial presence and has for years. But what changes have you seen over the decades?
A: The whole place is totally different. I bought a building on Front Street in 1998, right across from a muddy dirt lot. Then Mayor Dave Kapell really got things going, and turned that dirt lot into the beautiful Mitchell Park.
Q: Mitchell Park is such a gem—my kids love the carousel and ice skating. And Front Street is such a great place to window shop; so many unusual mom and pop shops mixed in with the restaurants. Is that where your store is now? And what might someone find if they wandered in?
A: My store—Kessie—is located at 8 Front Street next door to the Coronet. I have a mix of old and new. When I first opened years ago my inventory was primarily vintage with about 15% new merchandise. Today Kessie is primarily new goods with a shift to handmades, made in America, and about 20% vintage which includes glassware, lamps and vintage jewelry.
My inventory changes because so much of it is one-off stuff, but as a general matter people can come in and find unusual items. There is something for everyone. Jewelry, clothing, gift items and more.
Q: Is there a certain aesthetic that you particularly like or a time period or feel that your inventory reflects? Or do you keep a very diverse selection?
A: The inventory is eclectic. I buy what I like. This week I had the opportunity to purchase goods from an estate of a 96 year old that the family was liquidating. I found a wonderful mid-century server and a great collection of mid-century costume jewelry and a collection of Hermes scarves.
Q: What do you like best about being a Greenport shopkeeper?
A: I love my store and retailing. My customer base is wonderful and being in Greenport allows me to meet different people all the time. I enjoy shopping and selling old and new which gives me a bigger playing field for shopping for merchandise. You have to do what you love.
Q: Are you still a summer, satellite store of your Manhattan flagship?
A: No. Several years ago the Manhattan rent just got crazy. I loved that store, but the smart business decision was to just let it go. Kessie became my business full time out here ever since, and I really love it. I’m open year round; weekends January through March, and seven days a week during the season.
Q: What do you like best about living out on the North Fork?
A: I don’t live here year round; my husband and I still maintain our apartment in Forest Hills. During the season I am here most of the time and go into the city to shop for the store. Living on the North Fork provides me the sea which I love and vistas of beautiful vineyards and farmland.
I am active in the community and work alongside many of my fellow merchants. I’m excited for tall ships 2015 which is happening July 4th Weekend and continuing my work with the Greenport Business Improvement District. I also look forward to our 26th Maritime Festival where I will be working with the merchants and vendors for my fourth year.