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Manhasset’s Watermelon Patch Closes After 18 Years

Owner Recalls a ‘Walking Town’

With Variety of Small Shops

For the past 18 years, since 1993, Susanne Gries has owned The Watermelon Patch at 500 Plandome Road. Like so many on Plandome Road before her she will be closing the door, locking it for the last time on April 15.

Gries is leaving for a combination of reasons, including, of course, the economy. “I’ve been just making enough in the shop to keep it running, hoping it will get better, but it hasn’t been good the last few years. And last fall going into the holidays I said to myself, let’s just get past this. Unfortunately, having given myself the timetable, I had to admit, I can’t do it any longer, it just doesn’t pay.”

Susanne explained how she came to operate the store—“I just inherited it.” The owner before her, Florence, rented near the movie theater where several other individuals showcased their collections, “it was run like a cooperative,” Gries explained. Everyone left within the first year except Susanne and then, in 2001, Florence left too, leaving Gries the sole proprietor.

Suzanne lives in East Hills and actually has another job, working for her husband, a psychologist. By profession she is a nurse, although she hasn’t practiced for a while.

Her shop is a study in organized clutter. Salt and pepper shakers have their place on a counter top, jewelry is plentiful and accessible, but it is the wall of buttons at the far end of the shop that draws the eye. Antique buttons are the specialty item, and Susanne acknowledged she has about $15-20,000 invested in the buttons. A section of vintage fabrics is along the adjoining wall, and across from the fabrics hang the vintage linens.

“Linens are no longer sought after items,” Gries sighed. “Young people are not interested in them any longer. For that matter,” she continued, “this type of industry has changed. People decorate differently, it’s more of a disposable society now.” She commented that people who have collections are looking to downsize, and no one is taking their place.

Gries has been told, and understands, if she were located in a trendy area of Brooklyn or in New York City her store would do very well. Manhasset does not make it easy for store owners, she said, noting the parking is awful, police are on top of it—“I understand they need to make money. We’re not allowed to put anything out on the sidewalk. Early on, I was fined for doing just that, so I don’t do it anymore,” she said.

Susanne remembers when Manhasset used to be a wonderful walking town. There were gift shops, antique shops, so many similar types of stores. And you know, she explained, competition is not bad, it’s good because the stores draw upon each other, and, she said, it is the same in Port Washington too.

Certain customers used to shop three to four times a year, often with their small children, “I would work with them,” Susanne explained. Smiling she recalled how the child would have a budget for a gift and they would shop the store together until they found something the child liked that was (miraculously) in the proper price range. Sadly, the same type of person, Susanne said, is not coming into the store.

The young do like the jewelry, though. And many come for the buttons. Knitters love them and jewelry makers come from all over for the assortment of buttons on hand.

“When this was a walking town, and it doesn’t seem so long ago,” Gries said, “people would hang here.” Eileen Kaplan, a good friend, still does and sometimes even helps out with the shop, especially the window displays, which she is very good at.

Susanne said she will miss the people. Mrs. Sheila Gillespie would stop in, Diane Graham from Port, Ellen Schlio of Great Neck. Many unique customers, she said, found their way into the store. That includes Mr. Ronald Fasano, a presence in town, she said, dressing in eccentric clothing as he does. Gries recalled how she has known him for years and how he would usually buy something because he was always decorating his house. “Yes,” she said softly, “I will miss the people.”

She feels very fortunate that all the merchandise is paid for. She will sell what she can at about 50 percent off—but not the buttons. “They are hard to come by, we don’t get new ones, they’re all vintage,” she said. Susanne intends to relocate in a multi-dealer space in Northport. “What I can’t sell I’ll donate to shelters, places for abused women that operate little stores. Or, animal shelters, I’m a big fan of animal shelters,” she said.

Susanne said she has had a good landlord. “Richard Finamore has worked with me. When Obama was elected he said, ‘Let’s give Obama a chance.’ But the economy has not improved enough to save The Watermelon Patch.

“It is just a sad sign of the times. I have no regrets,” she said.