By Jared Chausow
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"I'm here because it seemed like a good idea to see what they have," says Dobrow, a former designer with homes in East Hampton and Manhattan. "There's nothing spectacular."
Uh-huh. From now on, you can assume that even the toniest inhabitants of the Hamptons will unconsciously prick up their ears when they hear "Attention, K-mart shoppers!"
Back here, she says, to exchange something, Dobrow sets the early fashion pace at what is now the world's most fashionable K-mart by wearing all black, save for tortoise-shell glasses and leopard-print boots that match her terrier's leash.
Elizabeth Palacio, who works in real estate in Southampton, makes a different, yet somehow fresher, statement in her leather pants. While pushing a somewhat standard shopping cart containing a beige cat-litter pan, Palacio avers, "I miss Caldor. This is too crowded. The aisles are too close together and the carts are too big."
Most shoppers here are classy enough to keep their emotions in check, of course. They look dignified as they maneuver for parking spots in the packed lot and they keep tight control over their urge to run from the car to the store. But it's the Sunday grand-opening extravaganza-how could they not just sneak a peek?
The K-mart (technically one of the chain's Big K stores) refills the space that was held by now-defunct Caldor. And not a moment too soon. After having to trek to Riverhead since Caldor closed in May for items like toilet brushes and dish-drying racks and decent wastebaskets and underwear-or simply going without-Hamptonites have reason to celebrate. From 8:30 in the morning until long after the sun goes down, hordes pile into the supernaturally bright store.
Most Hamptonites, of course, are just like you or me. The upper-crust crowd-who give the place its reputation-like to talk about K-mart as just the type of thing they hate about "up-island." Not today. Many are either punch-drunk from the thrill of consuming, or forgetful, or just too giddy to hide their glee. "Just the toy section is bigger than our house!" sings one dad, tugging three chubby blond kids toward the wall of TVs. "Let's go up and down every aisle!" giggles one 20-something woman to another. "I'm excited about it," she admits to me, refusing to reveal her name. "There's tools, bras, food. We were just saying we could go live in aisle four. Where else do you buy a vacuum cleaner?"
A Sag Harbor couple (actors who won't reveal their names because "we have too many product endorsements that we get paid for" and shouldn't be caught shopping here) are with their toddler son, methodically filling a cart with new outfits for him. "We can't figure out what people did on Sunday morning before this," says the woman, obviously enjoying herself. "Were they in church?"
As far as K-mart being celebrated in the most unlikely of places, she says, "Snap out of it. Martha Stewart's here!" It's true: There are four entire aisles dedicated to that East Hampton guru's line of linens. "Martha's probably over there right now, stacking towels."
She's not. But around the corner from the sheets, in the toy section, sits Barbie, live and in person. Actually, she's just a young woman, blond and perky, wearing a plastic headband and a puffy, pink gown-kind of like Glinda the Good Witch's, but more, well, K-mart. "Tell her how much you like Barbie," one mom tells her daughter. "I like Barbie," the girl says quietly, sizing up the impersonator. She gets an autographed, Mattel-issue illustration and plods away. Another girl hands Barbie her actual Barbie. The fake Barbie looks confused and asks, "Where do you want me to sign it, hon? On the leg?"
Mia Hamm was scheduled to take over Monday night-the next consumer incentive to get East Enders into the store. It's probably better for everyone if we can all just pretend that they need one.