Business

Gunther's Tap Room in Northport is ready for business. Photo from Facebook.

The iconic Gunther’s Tap Room is reopening for business.

The Main Street watering hole in Northport built by Peter Gunther Sr., the late ex-chief of Northport Fire Department, has been rebuilt by the community it once served. Now, it’s ready to become the “bar of the people” again.

“As long as all goes well, we are looking to open for business Thursday or Friday,” co-owner Brad Vassallo told TBR News Media Aug. 31. “We have 20 to 30 people a day who pop their heads in here to ask, and we are excited.”

Everybody loves Gunther’s, it’s the late-night place to go. “It would have been really upsetting to see it not reopen and become something else.”

— Vince Terranova

It’s been more than a year since an early morning fire gutted the historic bar May 23, 2017, where one from locals to American novelist Jack Kerouac have sat down to have a pint.

“It was very emotional for all of us, as we’ve all felt the pain,” Northport native Bob Hagan said. “Being personal friends with the original owner, it was really difficult to see that happen.”

Hagan and his business partner, Eddie Carr, donated custom hardwood flooring to replace the former linoleum tiling. The 10-inch planks were installed and sealed with the final coat of stain earlier this week.

“It was probably more emotional than financial on our part as we wanted to see it rebuilt as quickly as possible,” he said.

Northport resident Vince Terranova also stepped forward and helped the Northport bar by donating to the reconstruction and renovation of the bathrooms, according to Vassallo.

“Everybody loves Gunther’s, it’s the late-night place to go,” Terranova said. “It would have been really upsetting to see it not reopen and become something else.”

Gunther’s co-owners, Vassallo and Eddie McGrath, had only taken over running the bar for roughly a year before it burned down, which hit home as they appreciated the local history it contained.

It has that same Gunther’s feel that it always had, which is always what we were trying to do.”

— Brad Vassallo

The walls have been repainted in the same original orange-and-brown color scheme with a red door that’s all “part of the history,” according to Vassallo. A few of the old pieces of memorabilia, photos and mirrors dug out after the fire, will be hung back on the wall over time. Vassallo said he has reached out to Gunther’s daughter, Lori Kerman, in an attempt to get replicas of the old newspaper articles that used to decorate the bar.

“It has that same Gunther’s feel that it always had, which is always what we were trying to do,” the co-owner said.

One infamous piece that’s been removed is the structural support pole near the pool table, according the owners. It was no longer needed when the 100-year-old building was reconstructed to modern safety standards.

“It’s a big change,” Vassallo said. “We plan on putting the pole back up near the bar for the nostalgia.”

He said one key piece at the heart of Gunther’s Tap Room that was salvaged is the original bar top. The piece has been painstakingly restored by Northport painter Robert Sturner. He said it required stripping the bar top down to its original wood, restaining it and layering six coats of polyurethane over it to preserve it.

“I polyurethaned right over the burns,” he said. “It adds something to it — it tells the story.”

“So many situations have happened in Northport like this, and over and over again, the community steps forward to pick up the pieces and help out.”

— Brad Vassallo

Even more important than the bar itself, Vassallo said the tap room’s bartenders and staff will be returning to pour a glass for their regulars. Many have already committed to their old shifts.

“It’s the people who make Gunther’s what it is,” he said.

Many had taken up a hodgepodge of shifts at other local establishments in order to offset the financial hardships for the last 16 months. Community fundraisers were launched to raise funds to help employees pay their bills, with more than $8,000 raised via GoFundMe for employees of the business.

“Northport is a close community and people here seem to take care of each other,” Vassallo said. “So many situations have happened in Northport like this, and over and over again, the community steps forward to pick up the pieces and help out.”

Sturner said he’s just glad to be one of the dozens who lent a hand in helping Gunther’s start its next chapter.

“I am grateful to have been a part of it,” he said. “They are my friends, and that’s my bar.”

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A mural has been painted on the side of a business in Rocky Point depicting some of the hamlet's history. Photo by Kyle Barr

A local artist is using an image of the past to illustrate a brighter future.

A newly finished mural on Broadway in Rocky Point highlights the historic nature of the old hamlet while serving to continue efforts to beautify the downtown.

Natalie Rash, Edith Mahler, Geraldine Luglio and Max Braun work on the mural, which was completed last month. Photo by Julia Vogelle

Retired Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle spearheaded the project and painted the mural, located just outside Rocky Point Ship and Pack, alongside Edith Mahler, a trustee of the Rocky Point Historical Society. It is painted on the side of Belladonna Hair Design, located at 45 Broadway, and faces the entrance of Rocky Point Ship and Pack next door. Vogelle said several local community members, even those just passing by, came to help with the project. She said she even got several of her ex-students involved, including Geraldine Luglio, Max Braun and Natalie Rash, all recent graduates from Miller Place High School.

“It’s been a wonderful experience working with them,” Vogelle said. “It’s really been an effort of love for Rocky Point.”

The mural depicts several historic elements and landmarks of Rocky Point, such as the Noah Hallock Homestead, Indian Rock, The Hallock Landing shipwreck, the RCA Radio Central station, Tilda’s Clock and the Rocky Point train station. Natalie Stiefel, the President of the Rocky Point Historical Society, gave Vogelle a few suggestions on what to include.

“It would take a mural the entire size of the town to represent all the history of Rocky Point, but they did a really good job,” Stiefel said. “Rocky Point is really such a magical place.”

Vogelle said the mural was in planning since spring 2017, and after many months of work it was finally completed in mid-August.

Julia Vogelle, Geraldine Luglio and Natalie Rush work on a mural in Rocky Point. Photo from Julia Vogelle

The former art teacher is one of the people heading up plans for The Brick Studio in St. James after a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2017. The original plan was to locate the studio in Rocky Point in a brick building near the Rocky Point Farmers Market at the corner of Prince and Broadway, but the group was unable to land the deal. Vogelle said this mural project is a way of giving back to the community that originally supported her and the rest of her team.

Steven Badalamenti, who works at Joe’s General Contracting and Masonry, watched as the mural went up over time. He marveled at just how much history there is in the hamlet where he grew up.

“It really did capture the essence of Rocky Point,” Badalamenti said.

The mural was painted with supplies provided by Rocky Point Civic Association in continued efforts to continue to beautify downtown Rocky Point, according to President Charles Bevington.

“Hopefully Rocky Point grows slowly with some dynamic but still within the spirit of the local culture,” Bevington said.

Rocky Point Statuary on Route 25A has been owned by Mario Tribuzio since 1966. The business continues to sell statues made from concrete by Tribuzio despite it being down to a one-man operation. Photo by Kyle Barr

Mario Tribuzio, the 87-year-old owner of Rocky Point Statuary on Route 25A, sat in his chair among gods and angels and wondered how the deer survive the winter.

“They have to drink out of people’s bird baths and they go in other people’s gardens,” Tribuzio said. “You’re tucked into a nice warm house and they’re surviving out there in the winter, rain, ice and snow. Incredible, eh? But I feel bad for the deer. The deer got to make a living too.”

Rocky Point Statuary on Route 25A has been owned by Mario Tribuzio since 1966. The business continues to sell statues made from concrete by Tribuzio despite it being down to a one-man operation. Photo by Kyle Barr

Somehow, despite the cold and the frost, year after year they survive, just like the statuary. Every winter the business slows to a crawl, but every spring Tribuzio is there, in his chair, awaiting the next customer to walk through his gate.

Every weekday morning, he walks from his house, just across the street, and opens the gates to the sound of rushing traffic. Every day he gets customers who come to him saying they had driven by so many times, wondering at the hundreds of Jesus, Mary and Buddha statues out front, but having never decided to stop in.

That wonderland of monsters, gods and animals is something the old statue maker has been building since 1966, when he first opened. In the workshop there are hundreds of statue molds lying in heaps on worn wood shelves and floors. In his paint studio, really a small shed to the rear of the statuary property, Tribuzio gives attention to his own deer. They’re concrete and painted with an airbrush and a well-practiced hand. Without close scrutiny, a passing figure might think they’re real.

“That’s why I’m still around — because I’m making them, but I can’t pick up a bag of cement no more,” he said. His face grew into a smile as he commented on his waning strength. “I never knew it was so heavy — a bag of cement, it’s like they’re making them heavier today, something’s going on.”

Tribuzio got his start as a young kid, carving shapes and figures out of soap. Later, a newly married Tribuzio was driving by the property on Route 25A and saw a man was selling statues on his front lawn. He bought the property in 1966 and moved in. Later, he bought a house just across from that property and has lived there ever since. From his perch behind the chain-link fence he has seen things change, and he said he questions if there is still a desire for crafts like his.

Rocky Point Statuary on Route 25A has been owned by Mario Tribuzio since 1966. The business continues to sell statues made from concrete by Tribuzio despite it being down to a one-man operation. Photo by Kyle Barr

“People are running too far too fast, the pace of living today is just too much,” Tribuzio said. “Once people entertained themselves at home doing sculpting — carving stuff.”

With the majority of his family living in Maine, most of the time he is alone, even if he remains in the company of his stone brothers and sisters.

“Even the smell of a bag of cement brings back so many memories,” Tribuzio’s daughter Marjorie Adams said. “Statue making is in his blood, and he’s been doing it his whole life.”

Though all three of Tribuzio’s children moved up to Maine, several of his children and grandchildren still take the trek south periodically to help him in his workshop and also learn the art of statue making. Tribuzio’s granddaughter Megan Tribuzio said some of her family has continued their grandfather’s trade and made a small statuary in the town of Northport, Maine.

“I’m proud of his business, and I hope there is some way to keep it open,” Tribuzio’s granddaughter said. “No matter where you are, a lot of people like those statues, whether it’s a mermaid, a dolphin or a deer, people like to have them in their yard.”

Rocky Point Statuary on Route 25A has been owned by Mario Tribuzio since 1966. The business continues to sell statues made from concrete by Tribuzio despite it being down to a one-man operation. Photo by Kyle Barr

Where in earlier decades he had young people working with him to make the statues, now it’s just him. He said the liability insurance has pushed out any hope of hiring anybody new. And as he ages he finds it near impossible to lift the bags of concrete to poor into the molds. He’s contented himself by making smaller statues like his deer, or the small ornaments designed to look like bread, donuts and Italian bread real enough to eat.

David Perry, who now lives in Brentwood, worked in the statuary for nearly 25 years before heart issues forced him to stop. Tribuzio called him one of the best statue painters he ever saw, painting beautiful work on images of Jesus or Venus, back before it became too expensive to use the glossy lacquer paints.

“He was more than just a boss, he was a good friend, and he’s about the only thing that I have that resembles family anymore,” Perry said. “He’s very fair, that’s the best way to put it, he’s real old school.”

Tribuzio remains the last thread that is currently holding the statuary together, and despite the family’s desire to maintain the business it would be hard for any of them to leave Maine and take it over.

Still, the old statue maker has cement in his blood, and for now he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“I’m fortunate, real fortunate,” Tribuzio said. “I started out dedicated to do something like this and I can’t believe how it worked out myself.”

Rocky Point Statuary on Route 25A has been owned by Mario Tribuzio since 1966. The business continues to sell statues made from concrete by Tribuzio despite it being down to a one-man operation. Photo by Kyle Barr

Hugo Fitz and his barista, Vito, at Nautilus Roasting's pop-up shop inside Carl's Candies. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Coffee lovers may find themselves intrigued by a sidewalk sign promising Japanese iced coffee is available inside Carl’s Candies.

Nautilus Roasting Co. owner Hugo Fitz has launched a seasonal pop-up coffee shop off Northport’s Main Street that will offer a variety of hot and iced coffee drinks for sale through Sept. 30. For Fitz, he said he hopes the stand is a first step toward fulfilling a dream.

It’s been at least 12 years of me talking about how I’d love to open up a coffee shop one day.”

— Hugo Fitz

“I have a passion for coffee,” he said. “It’s been at least 12 years of me talking about how I’d love to open up a coffee shop one day.”

A Huntington Station resident, Fitz, 39, has spent the last 13 years working for a New York City advertising agency. Facing lengthy commutes into the city, coffee was not only a passion but a daily necessity.

“There’s plenty of opportunities to experience higher-end coffee when you work in the city,” the entrepreneur said. “There’s where I cut my teeth on being a coffee fan.”

Pourover coffee at Nautilus Roasting’s pop-up shop. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Fitz said he quickly became a hobbyist who “dove down the wormhole” in learning what went into a cup of java starting with four different methods of processing the beans, the hundred or more methods of brewing from standard drip and iced coffee to Japanese iced brew. This Japanese iced brew method at Nautilus uses hot water and a traditional drip to brew the coffee, but then drops onto ice “flash freezing” it to preserve each batch’s unique flavors.

“I have a master’s degree worth of knowledge in coffee, and yet, there’s still so much more I don’t know,” he said. “I think to evangelize good coffee to people, this is a great opportunity.”

Fitz said he wants to help bring “third-wave” coffee, a movement to create high-quality artisanal coffee that’s sourced from individual farmers or locally roasted, out to Long Island. While it’s prevalent in New York City, he claims to know only a handful of shops that offer it locally.

In 2017, the entrepreneur founded Huntington-based Nautilus Roasting Co. and began searching for a storefront. After four failed attempts at negotiating a commercial lease, Fitz said he decided just to focus on what he loved — making a great cup of joe. The entrepreneur began renting time on a Long Island City roasting machine to prepare 25 to 40 pounds of coffee beans at a time — putting him in business as a nanoroaster. His first product, the Signature blend of Columbia, Burundi, Guatemala and Sumatra coffee beans, was sold online. 

There’s a great opportunity to bring the coffee bar up on Long Island.”

— Hugo Fitz

Fitz met with Gina Nisi, owner of Carl’s Candies, looking to rent space before being offered the chance to setup a space of his own. He’s got a small coffee bar set up inside the sweet shop where customers can purchase espresso, hot coffee, hot or cold lattes, cold brew, Japanese iced brew or the potent Red Eye, a choice of hot or Japanese iced brew coffee with two espressos, made from his roasted beans through Sept. 30. Prices range from approximately $2.50 to $4 per serving.

Fitz said he feels like he’s gotten a warm reception in Northport, sometimes finding it difficult to keep growlers of cold brew and cold-brew concentrate in stock due to its popularity.

“There’s a great opportunity to bring the coffee bar up on Long Island,” Fitz said. “There’s no reason if you want great coffee to go to Brooklyn. It’s not grown there. We can make great coffee here too, and get people drinking great coffee.”

Bags of his specialty coffees are available for purchase inside the Carl’s Candies. Learn more about Nautilus Roasting at www.nautilusroasting.com.

A conceptual rendering of the approved site plans for TDG Commack on Jericho Turnpike. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Planning Department

Town of Smithtown officials gave their seal of approval to two developers to construct a total of 160 new apartments between two complexes. 

The town board voted unanimously Aug. 14 to approve site plans for two housing projects: a mixed-use development featuring 62 units at The Lofts at Maple & Main in Smithtown and a 92-unit complex by TDG Commack, LLC to be built on Jericho Turnpike. 

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said he hopes the two projects will help provide much needed housing in the township. 

The Lofts at Maple & Main by East Hampton-based developer VEA 181st Realty Corp. will consist of four buildings on the site of the former Nassau Suffolk Lumber & Supply Company in Smithtown. A mixed-use, three-story building will be constructed facing Main Street consisting of approximately 9,400 square feet of retail space on the ground level divided into two storefronts. The second and third floors will each contain 13 residential units consisting of six one-bedroom apartments and seven two-bedroom apartments per floor. Set back behind the Main Street building, three additional three-story apartment buildings will have 12 apartments each, primarily two-bedroom units. 

“This will be the first opportunity for a young person, a young professional coming out of college that cannot afford to buy a single-family home on a half acre of property, to have an avenue to live in the business district,” Wehrheim said. “It puts them in walkable distance to restaurants, a railroad station and everything they really require.” 

The development will have six affordable workforce housing units constructed and rented out for below-market price, according to town planner Liam Trotta. 

The supervisor said he hopes the apartment complex will help push downtown revitalization.“It will have a positive effect on the local business community as well,” he said. “The people that go into those 62 units will frequent the businesses that are along Main Street.” 

The town board expressed it was “pleased” with the agreements struck with the developer during planning, such as agreeing to permit three-story buildings instead of the four stories initially requested. 

The developer, Salvatore DiCarlo, of VEA 181st could not be reached for comment by press time. Wehrheim said that DiCarlo still needs approval from Suffolk County’s Health Department for the on-site sewer treatment, which may take a few weeks, but construction will begin immediately afterward. 

The second garden apartment complex designed by TDG Commack was approved as  a seven-building apartment complex along Jericho Turnpike, taking over the site of the Courtesy Inn. Each building will have two stories and, when completed, offer a mix of 48 one-bedroom and 44 two-bedroom units. There will be a
community pool for residents. 

Similar to The Lofts at Maple & Main, the Commack housing development has proposed to build a sewer treatment plant into the site to handle all wastewater at the location. However, Trotta said as the developer did not exceed the maximum density for the site, it will not be required to designate units as affordable workplace housing.

Bi-County Auto Shop in Smithtown. Photo from Facebook

A Smithtown auto body shop has been ordered to pay $185,000 in back wages to its employees plus damages for violating federal labor laws regarding overtime pay.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Aug. 14 that it obtained a judgment against Paul Joseph Dill and Paul Jeremy Dill, the two owners of Bi-County Auto Body, ordering them to pay $185,000 in back wages plus an equal amount in damages to 49 employees, plus $30,000 in civil penalties, for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“The employer engaged in an unlawful practice to deny employees the overtime wages they had legally earned and to conceal their failure to pay for those hours,” said Irv Miljoner, Long Island director of U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hours Division. “The resolution of this case demonstrates our commitment to those workers, and to leveling the playing field for employees who play by the rules.

From July 2014 to April 2016, the Smithtown employers violated labor laws by paying its employees in cash for any overtime beyond the 40-hour workweek and paying straight time, according to U.S. Department of Labor. Federal standards mandate that employees be paid one and one-half times their normal rate of pay when working overtime.

In addition, federal investigators said the employers also deducted one hour of pay from employees’ daily hours for a meal break, even though workers often were unable to take an uninterrupted break. Bi-County Auto Shop failed to keep track of time its employees worked beyond 40 per week in an attempt to conceal overtime, according to U.S. Department of Labor, resulting in recordkeeping violations.

“This case shows that the U.S. Department of Labor will take appropriate steps to ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and to rectify wage violations, so employees are not denied their justly earned pay,” said Jeffrey Rogoff, the department’s regional solicitor of labor.

Under the terms of the court judgment, Bi-County Auto and its owners are prohibited from accepting the return of back wages from its employees and discrimination from any employees who step forward to exercise their rights under federal labor law.

A manager at Bi-County Auto Shop stated that the company has no comment on the judgment issued Tuesday.

Any worker who believes that their employer may be violating minimum wage or overtime laws may report them through U.S. Department of Labor’s PAID program. More information on federal labor laws can be found at www.dol.gov/whd.

At Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai, representatives from State Farm pass off keys to a Ford van to Charlie Russo to be used by Hope House Ministries. Photo by Alex Petroski

The private sector stepped up to help the helpers Aug. 3.

Through a program called Recycled Rides, which creates partners between insurance providers and auto-repair companies to repair and donate vehicles to those in need, a Ford E series van was donated to Port Jefferson-based Hope House Ministries during a ceremony held at its Mount Sinai location, Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary Friday. Recycled Rides is an initiative started about 10 years ago by the National Auto Body Council, a not-for-profit organization aimed at improving the image of collision industry professionals. In this case, ProLiner Rescue auto-repair shop in Medford and State Farm teamed up to facilitate the donation.

“We brought [ProLiner Rescue] the van, it was a mess,” said Steven Wisotsky, Metro New York Salvage Unit agent at State Farm.

Wisotsky said the vehicle had been stolen. When it was recovered and ultimately purchased by State Farm, it was missing parts, there was substantial damage to its body, and other mechanical work and a paint job were also needed. The repair shop did all the work free of charge.

Steven Wisotsky of State Farm with Charlie Russo of Hope House Ministries. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s phenomenal — we don’t have any federal funding or state funding, so for us, everything that we get is so appreciated,” said Charlie Russo, Hope House Ministry’s board chairman. “To have to go out and buy something like this, we can’t budget for. All of our money goes to direct services. It’s a phenomenal gift from this community, we receive so many gifts from this community. Just their support — emotional support, monetary support — and the amount of volunteers that come from our community, it’s just amazing.”

Russo said the van would be used to transport necessary supplies to and from the organization’s 10 facilities, which are dedicated to serving individuals in crisis on Long Island since 1980. The chairman said the van was much needed, though he mentioned Ramp Motors in Port Jefferson Station has also been generous in supplying Hope House with transportation-related needs in the past.

Brookhaven Town councilmembers, Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) and Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), were among the elected officials in attendance to commend the companies for their generosity.

The site of McCarrick's Dairy in Rocky Point, which closed its doors in 2017, will become a 7-Eleven. Photo by Kyle Barr

The shuttered McCarrick’s Dairy, a fixture in Rocky Point for 71 years, might soon be bearing the green, white and orange colors of the ubiquitous 7-Eleven logo.

The Brookhaven Town planning board approved the plans for the new 7-Eleven at its July 30 meeting. The half-acre property, owned by Rocky Point based Dairy Farm LLC, at the northwest corner of North Country Road and Harding Street will be renovated to have 43 parking spots in front and behind the main building. Plans for the 3,800 square foot renovated structure are prohibited from including neon signage, and outdoor sales and storage in an effort to stay true to the residential nature of the area, according to recommendations by the planning board.

A number of residents view the new 7-Eleven as a major change from the old McCarrick’s Dairy, which they considered a small grocery store more so than a typical convenience store.

“A convenience store is something that is a grab-and-go,” Rocky Point resident Anita LoPiccolo said at the July 9 planning board meeting. “McCarrick’s was a family run, community supported business that encouraged community closeness.”

Charles Bevington, the president of the Rocky Point Civic Association, said he is concerned with how many convenience stores already existing in downtown Rocky Point. There are already two other 7-Elevens in the hamlet; one on the corner of Route 25A and Rocky Point Yaphank Road and another next to Westchester Drive.

“Rocky point is apparently drinking a lot of coffee,” Bevington said. “We will soon have 10 to 12 convenience stores in a matter of two miles.”

Kevin McCarrick, co-owner of McCarrick’s Dairy before it closed in 2017, said before they received an offer from 7-Eleven, they had been searching for another local business to take their place, but they could not find any potential buyers.

“We started out seeking those operators who had shops like ours, but unfortunately they are a dying off breed.”

— Kevin McCarrick

“We started out seeking those operators who had shops like ours, but unfortunately they are a dying off breed,” McCarrick said. “All kinds of stores sell all kinds of products now and it’s really diluting the product mix. It becomes very difficult to maintain margins.”

He said by not opening another shop similar to the old McCarrick’s, ultimately he was protecting the business of shops like Shop With Us in Shoreham and the Handy Pantry further down from McCarrick’s in Rocky Point.

“There is a difference between a 7-Eleven customer and a customer of those types of shops, and both those stores are doing better and will continue to do better with a 7-Eleven than even if we remained there,” McCarrick said. “It will probably do more business than our store used to do.”

Some residents were concerned about the safety and lighting at the location, citing the potential for crime and litter. McCarrick said the location already has two spotlights that light up the property as well as the adjoining residential park. The 7-Eleven will also have a 10- by 20-foot garbage enclosure and surrounding bushes and fences to prevent trash from blowing onto neighboring yards.

Some in the community are excited for the new 7-Eleven. Nancy Hoffman, a direct support professional at the Association for Habilitation and Residential Care Rocky Point residential group home facility located off Harding Street, said she and other workers at the home were looking forward to the opening of the new convenience store.

“We will be take some of the residents there, and it will just be more convenient,” Hoffman said.

McCarrick said they plan to start renovations on the store in about a month. Representatives from 7-Eleven said the location would be operated by corporate for an unspecified amount of time until they could find a person who would wish to franchise the store.

The Rocky Point site slated for a residential community for seniors. Photo by Kyle Barr

As drivers hurtle down Route 25A from either direction into the hamlet of Rocky Point they are met by a crossroads. If they keep straight, they will link up with North Country Road and head into the Rocky Point business district lined with shops, restaurants and services. If drivers take a right and continue along Route 25A, they circle around North Country Road, bypassing all those businesses.

It’s been the story since the bypass was constructed in the late 1990s, but it’s just one of the challenges facing business owners in Rocky Point’s commercial district as they wait to see much discussed revitalization.

“The bypass really put downtown on life support,” Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “You can’t just put a bubble around Rocky Point — you can’t just freeze it in time — but I say you have to have a healthy respect for the history of it and plan your development sensitively.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and developer Mark Baisch stand near a Rocky Point site slated for a residential community for seniors. Photo by Kyle Barr

Revitalization has been planned for years and small steps taken, but much is left to be desired by those yearning for a vibrant downtown along North Country Road and Broadway, hoping to return back to the prosperity of the mid-20th century, when Rocky Point’s population experienced a boom and new businesses flourished. While new restaurants like the Broadway Market have created a sensation, the memory of stores that have closed down also looms, such as when in April 2017 McCarrick’s Dairy, an utter staple in the community that had been open for 71 years, closed its doors.

While Rocky Point is the only hamlet between Riverhead and Port Jefferson that has a semblance of a real downtown, its small size and limited space have led to unique revitalization issues. As also arises whenever the term revitalization gets thrown around, retaining the historical aspect of the downtown while growing it with a mind toward the future is a delicate balance.

In 2007 the Town of Brookhaven paid Vision Long Island, a nonprofit that advocates for transportation-oriented development, for a charrette about Rocky Point revitalization that was released in 2008. The plan called for a combination of retail, business and residential all in one place, much like what has been attempted in Patchogue, Farmingdale and dozens of other pockets of Long Island. That plan was rejected by the community, which felt it would destroy the small town feel of the area.

“[The Vision plan] was much too aggressive in pro-business and development,” president of the Rocky Point Civic Association Charles Bevington said. “I’m in favor of slow-growth opportunities for small businesses and restaurants. You know you can’t come in and dictate development. We have too many problems with water. We have too many problems with nitrogen in our systems.”

Eric Alexander, the director of Vision Long Island, said his organization’s plans hinged upon sewers, which the community rejected.

“They wanted goods, services and restaurants, something walkable and quaint but that was as far as they wanted it,” Alexander said. “That’s fine, but the numbers didn’t work without the sewers. Revitalization has gone in a few different directions since we left them.”

Some residents said sewers would only be a hindrance to the community’s growth.

“You can’t get the density on Broadway to support the cost of sewers,” said Linda Albo, the owner of Albo Real Estate on North Country Road. “Downtown is just not the right place for sewers.”

In 2012 and 2013 Bonner and Brookhaven secured a $1.2 million grant for road and traffic light improvements along North Country Road. It included setting up new light fixtures and fixing the curb cut along the main road’s intersection with Broadway. Yet real revitalization that would bring business flooding downtown is still a dream, even as some think its advent is just on the horizon.

Mark Baisch, the owner of development company Landmark Properties Ltd., is the latest to attempt to reinvigorate downtown Rocky Point. Its On the Common project promises 40 one-bedroom apartments for seniors inside 10 buildings located along Prince Road and King Road, just north of North Country Road. Also included are plans for a large green space along Prince Road set up for community activities such as the Sunday Rocky Point Farmers Market and a new VFW Memorial Museum right in front of the Brookhaven municipal parking lot. A quarter of the apartments will be reserved for veterans, Baisch said.

The apartments hold a distinction from other residential projects meant to stimulate downtowns. While projects in Patchogue and Ronkonkoma have tried to get young people living in space that is part residential and retail, Baisch said he hopes to do the same with the 55-and-older community.

“There is a huge need for it,” Baisch said. “There’s so many 90- to 100-year-old people living up in the hills of Rocky Point, and nobody even knows they exist. They sit in their house with the rooms closed up not knowing if they’re going to have a way to get out of the next snowstorm. It’s not a great way to live out your twilight years.”

Businesses on North Country Road have pointed to the construction of the Route 25A bypass as a detriment to growth. Image from Google Maps

Some residents are looking forward to the On the Common project with the possibility of leaving home ownership behind.

“I think it is a great idea,” Rocky Point resident Claire Manno said. “I am a senior citizen and have lived in Rocky Point for 20 years. I will have to sell my house eventually because we can’t afford it for much longer. I’d like to stay in the area if possible.”

Other community members questioned why there will only be one-bedroom apartments available.

“I became disabled two years ago,” Rocky Point resident Christine Cohn Balint said. “I have a three-story home and I cannot manage stairs. So we will be selling. But this ‘community’ will not be built for me — they won’t be ready. One bedroom only? They should offer two bedrooms also, if so I’d consider it.”

Baisch said he hopes to start construction around October.

There is hope in the community that good things are coming. The Broadway Market, which opened in March, has made a big splash. Some also looking point to plans in 2019 to start construction on the Rails to Trails project, which will create a biking and hiking path along the old rights-of-way and train rails that run parallel to the North Shore. That path will run north of North Country Road and give people walking and bike access directly into the heart of the commercial district.

“The Rails to Trails is going to have the biggest positive impact,” Bevington said. “It’s going to be along the line of walking and bicycling, and we have two bicycle shops in town that can be aided by the project. That’s really something.”

Alexander said he believes while there wasn’t community support for his organization’s plans, these upcoming projects could result in something good for the area.

“The community has to trust the change, any change that occurs,” Alexander said. “There are a lot of good people over there working in good faith — people who care deeply about the community — that’s what’s most important.”

Broadway Market in Rocky Point, owned by Ann Olenick and Shasho Pole, is conjuring images of a revitalized, walkable downtown community hub for some locals. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Broadway Market, a Rocky Point restaurant that opened in March, has quite a lot on its plate.

It’s not just the food — even though the restaurant has offerings not only for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but all the way through coffee, desserts and alcohol — it’s that owners Ann Olenick and Shasho Pole both respect what a place like the Broadway Market means to the community.

“I think it’s an anchor business, and I think it gives people another reason to try to come here – bringing Rocky Point back to a walking town,” Olenick said.

Olenick and Pole are both area natives, having first met at the Rocky Point Farmers & Artisan Market nearly five years ago. After learning about each other’s expertise, with Pole in the organic meats market and Olenick in baked goods and desserts, the two decided to partner up and take their show on the road. They travelled to multiple farmers markets across Long Island, and by the third year of working together the duo was going regularly to seven local markets every season.

Broadway Market in Rocky Point, owned by Ann Olenick and Shasho Pole, is conjuring images of a revitalized, walkable downtown community hub for some locals. Photo by Kyle Barr

Despite their success on the local market scene, the idea for a brick-and-mortar restaurant didn’t cross their minds until they tried to meet a demand for chicken cutlets. Because of state regulations, they could only sell chickens whole without an inspected, clean location to butcher them. Though the two looked all over Long Island for a proper space, their eyes settled on a location in Rocky Point right near the farmers market where they first met. They settled on a location that was once home to a bar, first named Harry’s Beer Garden and then Gracie’s Hearty Foods.

“It already had all the wastewater approvals, the sanitary requirements we needed and an inspected kitchen,” Pole said. “It’s funny, we went on a quest for a spot, you know a wet space, in a walking town and circuitously we wound up back here.”

The idea grew exponentially past a simple place to sell their meats and sweets. At the start of their building project they thought they could get away with a Keurig coffeemaker, but that transformed into days of barista classes in New York City. They originally didn’t think that the restaurant would have a bar, but since the location already had a liquor license they decided to go through another round of classes, this time in bartending.

“We thought we would have a little closet — a little boutique — and we wound up with all this,” Pole said.

The building sticks out not just for its looks, with modern rustic-gray stonework and barn-wood interior, but for its freshness. Local community leaders have recognized just how much of a turning point the Broadway Market is for downtown Rocky Point.

“The Broadway Market is great — it’s bringing more attention to the community,” said Charles Bevington, the president of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “Rocky Point is still a place where people can invest.”

While the old Gracie’s stood in the same spot as the market, the only things left of the building are the western wall, a chair and the beer tower, now refurbished, that used to belong to both Harry’s and Gracie’s.

Pole said that all the food at Broadway Market is as regionally sourced as possible, including fish and vegetables as long as they are in season. Some 10 percent of the meats are grass fed, particularly the beef used for burgers, and they do their best to get their chickens from free-range sources.

On the bakery side of things, Olenick, who is a college-trained pastry chef, said she offers some of her own designs along with the designs offered by their trained in-house chef Elizabeth Moore.

Though the two owners know their food, it took a bit of time for the pair to figure the ins and outs of operating a restaurant. Over the past several months they have slowly increased the number of days and hours they are open. Now as the sun rises on the restaurant, the building strikes such a distinct poise compared to the other smaller, brown and white paneled buildings it neighbors. Some locals have described it as something one would only see in more affluent areas like in the Hamptons.

Broadway Market in Rocky Point, owned by Ann Olenick and Shasho Pole, is conjuring images of a revitalized, walkable downtown community hub for some locals. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We’ve had people say when are you opening in East Hampton, when are you opening in Huntington? Can you come to Soho?” Olenick said laughing.

“Stop, stop, stop — please, we need to get our traction here first,” Pole said, continuing from where Olenick left off. “There are naysayers, but the feedback that I get here is a resounding ‘we need this, we need something like this.’”

Either way, the community is responding to the new restaurant in a big way. Some see it as a dream of what might be the future of Rocky Point’s downtown.

“It’s good to have a nice restaurant in the area,” said Kenny Kowalchuk, a Rocky Point local who had just finished his meal at the restaurant. “This is really turning the community around.”

Broadway Market is located at 643, Broadway in Rocky Point. The location is open seven days a week, Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday 2 to 10 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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