Hamptons 'Beach Pass Barometer': Economic Rebound Sign?

East Hampton Beach, NY
Mitchell Funk | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images
East Hampton Beach, NY

The real estate blog “Curbed Hamptons” notes Monday that permits for the exclusive beaches in East Hampton are officially sold out for summer 2012. How early is that?

“It’s the earliest they’ve ever sold out.”

Lipstick Indicator,” meet the “Beach Pass Barometer.”

In the heat of the recent recession in the U.S., sales of lipstick were closely gauged for signs of economic strength or weakness. Referred to as the “lipstick indicator,” sales were expected to soar during the recession, as consumers — presumably women — substituted more expensive impulse purchases for a few cheap thrills at the cosmetic counter.

Fast-forward to 2012, and it seems to be all about when — not if — the housing market will recover and when the bull market for bonds makes the turn. Every data point is parsed and pondered, examined for hints that we are near the bottom of the economic downturn. Higher gasoline prices have become not just an annoyance, but a hotly debated political issue that could cut into consumer spending and derail the economy.

Early sales of beach parking permits are “a small indicator that there is more interest in spending the summer in East Hampton,” says Larry Cantwell, East Hampton Village Administrator.

In East Hampton, there are 2900 beach parking permits available to non-residents, at a cost of $325 per summer. For the past seven years, the permits have gone on sale February 1; and this year, sold out about ten days earlier than usual or, about a month earlier than the worst of the recession. There is “no question that things are a heck of a lot better than they were three years ago, ” says Cantwell.

Whether early sales indicate a stronger economy or more people planning to vacation closer to home is good fodder for armchair economists everywhere.

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