The building at 133 South Country Road in Bellport was built just over a hundred years ago and since then has been a part of local history. In the early twentieth century, it housed the Comet Theater, a vaudeville venue and later a movie theater; in the 1930s it became Wallen’s, a local market that was open until 2012. The building is now in its third existence as Copper Beech, renewing an old Bellport tradition that thrived throughout the nineteenth century—that of the emporium or general store.
With Copper Beech, Thomas and Dan have stayed faithful to the history of the building by keeping original details and some of the faded charm that made them first fall in love with it. Three years ago, when they began restoring the building, they found many surprises and marks of the building’s past. From its days as a theater there was a fine tin ceiling and two old admission tickets that they found inside a wall, now framed and hanging in the store.
During World War I, when the building housed the Comet Theater, the great American songwriter Irving Berlin was stationed at Camp Upton in nearby Yaphank. He wrote his hit revue show Yip-Yip Yaphank while a soldier there, including the songs “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” and “God Bless America.” In 1918, when he and his group of army recruits–turned–singers and actors travelled and performed the show to raise money for the U.S. Army, Bellport’s Comet Theater was one of the places it was staged.
The building was a market for close to eighty years, and Thomas and Dan decided to pay tribute to the beloved Wallen’s by keeping one of the charming, old-fashioned original checkout counters, as well as Mr. Wallen’s desk, where locals remember him calculating their charge accounts and loaning cash to his customers, in a time before ATM machines.
As for the town, the Brooklyn Eagle—the newspaper most famous for having had Walt Whitman as its editor—wrote about Bellport in the late nineteenth century: “the business center of the village is a mile and a half from the water, snugly placed along one or two well-shaded streets. Neat shops and stores which sell a great variety of things all together are numerous. There is a general air of thrift and quiet which is refreshing after the heat and noise of the city.”
Bellport still has this general air of quiet, and with the opening of Copper Beech the main street once again has a store selling a “great variety of things.” Bellport was home to at least five such general stores in the nineteenth century, including Howell’s, Osborn’s, Hulse’s, Hawkin’s and Brown’s. The tradition of the American emporium has regrettably been going slowly extinct in our modern world, but for Thomas and Dan, Copper Beech provides the chance to return to the experience of slow shopping. It is a place to discover beautiful, unexpected things as well as to stock up on practical essentials.
City-dwellers can pick up provisions for the weekend, or, on a rainy afternoon, the store is an ideal place to linger, with its always surprising variety of extraordinary objects ideal for a well-lived life. With every change in the inventory of the charming, romantic, and humorous things, treasures abound. You might find a large variety of brooms, ranging from contemporary Japanese designs to handmade traditional ones from the American South. The shelves will be stocked with authentic and slowly made Italian pasta, special French cleaning products, African sunhats, vintage toys, and fine silver serving pieces. Copper Beech has a little of everything.
Images of Main Street and Al Kinsella, Robert Lyons Sr., and Michael Wallen at Roulston Grocery Store which later became Wallen's Supermarket circa 1933. Bellport Village and Brookhaven Hamlet, Victor Principe, Arcadia Publishing, 2002.