Forget the Hamptons, if Howie Guja, photographer and real estate agent, keeps doing what he’s doing, Bellport, NY, will be the next hot vacation destination.
Guja grew up in Babylon Village in Suffolk County — only about a 30 minute drive away from Bellport. Yet he stumbled upon it almost by accident as a student at the School of Visual Arts, when his sister’s friend needed a ride there.
“As soon as you turn on South Country Road, you step back in time,” he said. “It’s just beautiful, beautiful leafy streets, white picket fences, clapboard and shingled homes, green shutters. I said, ‘I have to come back here.'”
He did come back, and has lived in Bellport with his family since 2006.
His photos of the idyllic surroundings have earned him almost 26,000 followers on Instagram, some of whom even turn into residents themselves.
Some locals worry that Guja’s Instagram will make Bellport too popular. One couple that he showed around town after they reached out through Instagram made an offer on a house on the spot.
He has since sold 10 homes — a large number considering Bellport is only two square miles.
The village may be small, but it continues to attract big names in fashion, art, and culture. Past residents include Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, designer Isaac Mizrahi, and First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Designer Francisco Costa, actress Isabella Rossellini, and art dealer Angela Westwater currently call it home.
Despite boasting some notable locals, Guja maintains that Bellport isn’t “sceney.”
“There’s no traffic, there’s no waiting to get into restaurants — it’s just a quiet, laid back place where people aren’t really showing off or anything,” he said. “It’s not a seen-and-be-seen kind of place.”
Bellport is only 90 minutes outside New York City, but it couldn’t be more different.
“It’s beautiful little town with a big preservation culture,” Guja said.
“There are times when I think I’m taking a lot of pictures of the same thing again and again, like the sunrise with the sailboats, but it looks different every day.”
“I’ve had people say to me in a way that I think is only half-joking, ‘You’ve got to stop promoting this place so much, because you’re gonna ruin it,’” he said. “What I tell them is that the reality is Bellport is very self-limiting.”
This means that there are no commercial waterfront properties, nothing in Bellport’s historic district can be knocked down, and only residents and their guests can access Ho-Hum Beach by ferry or private boat.
“Part of the beauty of it is that it’s mildly inaccessible,” he said. “The more people we get here who appreciate it and understand how special a place it is, [the more it] it adds to the value of The Whole Place, you know?”