Step back in time while shopping for your sundry items the next time you’re on Shelter Island.
Bliss Department Store is an institution there, having served as the Island’s only department store since 1932. It provides most of what tourists and locals need in the summertime, then switches over to serve mainly local residents in the fall and winter.
“The bulk of our business is in the summertime,” said owner Peggy Johnson. “We have T-shirts, beach and vacation items, bathing suits, flip flops, souvenairs. In the winter the flip flops and T-shirts turn into boots and sweaters, but we have a lot of basic things that we tend to sell year round.”
Toiletries, hats, shoes and housewares are big sellers at Bliss. They even sell fudge just like an old fashioned general store, even though Johnson insists they are a department store.
“We are not a general store, there are no food items,” she said. We get requests for bait sometimes, which is available next door at the hardware store.”
The building that houses Bliss was originally built in 1928 for the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, better known as A&P. The store changed over from groceries to dry goods around 1932.
In 1973 it was bought by the Bliss family the same year that Peggy Bliss married Walter Johnson. They’ve run it together now for the last 33 years.
Very little of the store has changed, the original A&P wooden shelves still line the store walls. Even two and a half feet of floodwater from Hurricane Sandy couldn’t destroy the store.
“We literally lost everything,” Peggy Johnson recalled. “We almost lost the floors, they came up, but we didn’t want to lose them, so we refurbished them the best we could.”
The original antique sliding ladder, from the store’s A&P days, is still used to access the higher shelves.
“Most of the time we have inventory from the floor right up to the ceiling,” she said. “This thing comes in very handy. It’s beautiful, there may be another term for it, but we just call it the ladder.”
Even though the Bliss family has been there over 40 years, they continue to discover things about the store that surprises even them.
“My son just put in a new lock on the door,” Johnson explained. “When he took the faceplate off of the front door, there was an inscription there, evidently by whomever had put the door in from 1928.”
Johnson gestures toward a wooden shelf in the back of the store, clearing some items to show a name written on the shelf.
“I’m not sure where this shelf was, but this says A.W. Basile, Sag Harbor,” she said.
Basile, the original owner of the Shelter Island store, also opened a similar store in Sag Harbor. Eventually he handed over both stores to be run by his sons.
“The Sag Harbor store isn’t there anymore,” said Johnson. “But this one’s been going pretty strong.”
Bliss Department store is located at 186 North Ferry Road. Currently open 7 days a week, call them at (631) 749-0041 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information please visit blissdepartmentstore.com.