Wealthy New Yorkers struggle to get hold of cash in the Hamptons

Banks and food stores report brisk business as owners of luxury homes avoid the city

(FILES) In this file photo a New York Police Department boat is seen on the East River in front of the UN headquarters building in downtown Manhattan on 2019 in New York City. At the normally busy headquarters of the United Nations in New York, life is suddenly moving at slow speed -- very slow speed.   / AFP / Johannes EISELE

Ever since New York’s elite starting fleeing the city for the Hamptons, there have been unusually large orders for food. And for cash, apparently.

One New Yorker who visited a Chase branch in Southampton on Friday said that a request for $30,000 (Dh110,175) was refused as the limit was $10,000, said the person, who asked not to be identified. Branch employees said they had received other requests for withdrawals exceeding that amount and were waiting for a shipment of cash, the person said.

One bank teller called East Hampton and Sag Harbor branches to see if they could fulfill the rest of the demand. Neither would, with the message coming in that East Hampton had two massive withdrawal orders of its own.

A JPMorgan Chase spokeswoman said the bank couldn’t comment on specific client transactions but there was enough money available in the locations and ATMs were well-stocked. There are multiple reasons that money won’t necessarily be distributed, she said, such as requiring special security when someone is taking out that amount of cash.

To be sure, JPMorgan is the largest US bank and earned $36.4 billion in 2020, the biggest annual profit in US banking history.

The bank wasn't the only firm facing unusual demands for hard currency. A Bank of America branch in Midtown Manhattan briefly ran out of $100 bills to meet large withdrawals, including for as much as $50,000, the New York Times reported, citing sources. The issue was limited to large bills, and the ATMs didn't run out of cash, the newspaper said.

Requests for tens of thousands of dollars of hard currency in the Hamptons speaks to the level of affluence in the villages – a place of second homes for Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers – but also the anxiety over the spread of the coronavirus and how best to prepare for potentially weeks of relative isolation.

It’s leading to much of the same panic buying and hoarding preparations other communities are experiencing, except at a more expensive level.

The car park of the Citarella gourmet food market “looks like it does on a peak summer Saturday”, said Valerie Smith, who owns the Monogram Shop in East Hampton. At the Red Horse Market, she saw a box of 15 roasting chickens on its way to one family, and the produce, meat and dairy sections pillaged.

“Even the lowly IGA, that place was jammed,” Ms Smith said. “I was able to buy some toilet paper. It’s a frenzy. It’s a terror of starving to death is what it looks like.”

Locals aren’t yet complaining about the off-season influx.

Charlotte Sasso of Stuart’s Seafood Market in Amagansett said on Friday that area fishermen will get a boost at a lean time of year.

“Just from one boat yesterday we got a load of fluke, flounder, squid, cod, sea bass, monkfish, whiting,” she said.

She sold it all. Customers were also grabbing frozen pizzas imported from Italy, four or five at a time.