Corliss Owner Michele Youakim

For anyone who’s ever visited Fair Harbor, as soon as you step off of the ferry it is clear that the store, Corliss on the Bay, is an iconic staple of the beach town. Michele Youakim and her husband, Jeff Whitney, have been owners of the store since they took over from Jeff’s mom a while back. Growing up, we stopped into Corliss for a weekly or event daily trip; new kadima sets, renting a movie on a rainy day, postcards to mail to friends, beading sets to make jewelry to sell in our wagon...the list goes on. We’re proud to say that we’ve had a permanent flagship in Corliss this summer! Read more below for  Michele’s personal and historical account of Corliss.  

Where did you grow up? Where do you currently live?

I grew up in Buffalo, NY, and in fact still live there from October to April. Yes, we could be the only people on the planet who choose to spend winters in Buffalo.

When did you first start going out to Fire Island?

I met my husband, Jeff Whitney, in graduate school in the eighties; we were Doctoral students in Neuroscience. His father, Frank, ran the family grocery businesses on Fire Island. At the time, they had stores in Kismet, Saltaire, Fair Harbor, Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park. We spent any summer vacation time we had in Fair Harbor.

How did you originally get involved in Corliss?

Jeff’s mom, Corliss, ran one of the stores in Fair Harbor, Corliss on the Bay. When Corliss was about to retire, Jeff decided to leave Academia for what he hoped was a more stable and lucrative career in his families’ business. I continued to work at the University of Buffalo, teaching neuroscience and anatomy and doing research on the primate brain. As soon as Spring semester ended, I packed up our 2 kids, the dog, cat and bunny, and joined Jeff in Fair Harbor.

How would you describe Corliss to someone who has never been to Fair Harbor?

As a bike, surf, clothing, toy, hardware, housewares store? A general store that in some ways is as unique as Fair Harbor is itself.

In your experience, what makes the town of Fair Harbor unique?

First, there are the aspects that make Fire Island itself unique. I think a big factor is the absence of cars. I’ve vacationed in Nantucket, Cape Cod, Virginia Beach, Hamptons and other smaller beach venues on the East Coast. For all of them going to the beach involved packing up a hot car, driving in traffic to beach access (mostly consisting of SUVs) and doing it again at the end of the day. In Fire Island, pack a wagon (or not) and walk the block or two. This is true for all the Fire Island communities, but especially Fair Harbor where every walk provides access to the beach.

What is one of your favorite memories on the island?

My favorite memories are about when my kids were growing up here (they are 30 and 25 now). Fire Island kids get their first glimpse of freedom here! An ‘outing’ to the stores alone at the young age of 4 or 5 could only happen here. The most fun though, was when their cousins would visit (I have 9 sisters) and we would have pajama parties lasting a week or more.

Do you like to cook? If so, what’s your favorite meal to make?

I love to cook! I am one of those foodies who will read a cookbook before bed, plotting next day’s fare. I especially enjoy cooking/eating middle-eastern dishes (I’m Lebanese), but I’ve tried everything.

What would your ideal barbecue consist of? Who would you invite to it?

No question about that. Marinated skirt steak and tomato/red onion salad! John Lennon.

In what ways do you live a clean lifestyle?

Despite my penchant for steak, I really am very committed to eating healthy and exercising (running in winter and tennis in summer). I love vegetables of all forms (raw better than cooked) and rarely eat desserts.

Sea's the Day!
Interviewed by: Caroline Danehy

caroline danehy