“Some people think I’m nosy,” Nada Barry, 87, proprietor of The Wharf Shop on Main Street in Sag Harbor said with a laugh. “But I think it’s important to be involved in the community. I’ve always been an activist. It’s the way I grew up.”
Sitting in her makeshift office in the back of her shop surrounded by toys and books, Barry remembers when she came to the United States. Born in England, she reminisced, “My mother, me, and my two brothers would come summers to visit my American family in Saratoga. My mother was American and my father was British.”
By the time Barry was eight years old, the world was showing serious signs of turmoil. “In August 1939, just a few weeks before World War II began, my American grandfather insisted that we come to America. We came over on the Cunard Line,” she said.
Upon their arrival in America, Barry and her family settled in what is now known as Greenwich Village. “The neighborhood was 90 percent Italian and we would walk past all the push carts on Bleecker Street to get to school every day,” she said. Nada’s mother, Natalie Davies, sent her children to one of the first progressive schools in New York City, the Little Red School House.
Her family would summer in Sag Harbor. “One time during the war we came out, Duncan Dancing and Anita Zahn was putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I had a minor part in it but my cousin Moyra played Puck. The play was casted, directed, and produced by Augustus Duncan. He was blind. I don’t even know how he did it without being able to see. He could just hear and knew. It was something you could never forget.”
“In 1948,” Barry said, “My mother built the most modern house in Noyac. We used it as our weekend house in the summers.”
“In the summer of 1950, I taught tennis to kindergarten children in Mashashimuet Park. I made $25 a week. I liked to play and had a competitive spirit. I challenged the current local tennis champion Nancy Simonson and beat her,” Barry recalls with a smile.
“I’ve always loved to travel and have done my share of it,” she said. It was during one of her trips in 1951 that she met her first husband, Jaap Ebeling-Koning, whom she met on a student ship, the Vollendam, on a return trip from Holland to Canada. They were married in the First Presbyterian Church in 1952. She and her husband lived in Aruba.
In 1963, several years after her mother passed away, she brought her three children, Tasha, Derek, and Gwen to live in North Haven. She met Robert Barry, who built and owned Baron’s Cove Marina, Restaurant, and Motel and the village’s hardware store. “It was the first marina in Sag Harbor. He started it in the 1950s. We married in 1964 and I had a son, Trebor.” They lived on a boat, a cabin cruiser, docked at the marina.
“I helped build the dock,” said Barry. “I drove many of the nails myself.”
“Mother Barry, my mother-in-law, had a department store. It was located right here,” Barry says as she gestures to the front of The Wharf Shop. “In 1968, I opened The Wharf Shop. Mother Barry let us put up a partition, I took over that half and opened a toy and gift shop. We even had the first art gallery in Sag Harbor in the back here.”
“I still have such fond memories of summers in Sag Harbor,” Barry said. “You could go fishing and pull up blowfish with just a hook on a string. You could go clamming and rake in 100 clams in a half-hour. You could go pick blackberries in Mashashimuet Park. The area was so bountiful.”
In 1968 Barry started the Merchants Association of Sag Harbor. “I wanted to promote the Village of Sag Harbor. We started the whalers festivals,” she remembered.
Having come from a progressive education, Barry wanted the same for her children. In 1966, with help from parents and others in the community, the Hampton Day School opened. But it was hard to find ways to pay the teachers and run the school, she said.
“We would do fundraisers in the Old Whalers’ Church. Truman Capote even came and put on a show to help. He did A Christmas Carol to raise money.”
Appropriately dubbed the “Mother of Sag Harbor,” and to many Sag Harbor’s unofficial mayor, Barry continues to keep her finger on the pulse of her beloved village. She attends meetings at the Sag Harbor School District and the village board.
Twenty years ago, she helped start the Sag Harbor Youth Committee, a youth networking organization. “I also started Sag Harbor Kids, which is a website devoted to providing information on youth activities on the East End,” she said.
A child development and psychology major, Barry’s knowledge in these fields is evidenced in her store’s toy assortment. The store recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. “We’re the oldest business in town where the original owner is still here,” Barry states with pride. “I never envisioned going into retail. I never envisioned a toy store. It’s been challenging in every way.”
Barry likes to employ students in the summer. “It gives them an opportunity to learn business, have responsibility, and feel good about themselves. It’s what community is all about,” she said.