Business

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Gold Coast Bank’s East Setauket branch is located at 690 Route 25A. File photo

Gold Coast Bank, which calls Route 25A in East Setauket one of its homes, is cashing in with a new branch in Southampton.

The Islandia-based bank filed an application with the state Department of Financial Services and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to expand its sixth Long Island branch in the eastern Suffolk community since its launch in 2008.  The new spot is slated for 97 North Sea Road in the Southampton Village business district, adjacent to the Southampton post office.

“We are extremely pleased to announce our plans to open our sixth branch,” said John C. Tsunis, Gold Coast Bank’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Gold Coast has been highly successful since it opened for business, and this new branch serves to confirm our standing as a bank that continues to strengthen its roots in the communities we serve across Long Island.”

Tsunis said the bank recently reported its fourth consecutive year of profitability, making the move to expand an easy decision. The new Southampton location will join the Gold Coast branches across the island, including Mineola, Huntington, Farmingdale and East Setauket. And looking ahead, Tsunis said the bank had big plans for the far eastern end of Suffolk.

“With the opening of this branch, we are certain we will play a very active role in the growth in the Hamptons,” Tsunis said. “Southampton has always had a very large role to play on Long Island, serving as a beacon for business, tourism and the arts. We are excited to further extend the Gold Coast Bank footprint into this vibrant community.”

The announcement of the bank’s expansion came just weeks after another milestone announcement, when the state Department of Financial Services and the Federal Deposit Insurance Program promoted Gold Coast Bank past its new bank, or “de novo,” status. The reclassification moved the bank beyond certain state banking regulations that are typically put in place for newly formed banks.

James P. Johnis, president and chief operating officer of Gold Coast, said the bank’s $323.8 million in total assets as of the end of 2014 propelled the bank into becoming one of Long Island’s premier banking locations.

“This solidifies us as a major part of Long Island’s banking industry, and going forward, we will continue to provide customers with superior personal service while exceeding customer expectations,” he said in a statement when the bank was promoted past new bank status. “This is a major step in our history and a most positive sign of our growth and success.”

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In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

By Dave Kapell

One of the strategies being widely discussed as a means of revitalizing the Long Island economy is the creation of transit-oriented developments, especially in downtowns served by the Long Island Rail Road. These developments are much needed and would serve multiple purposes — increasing housing options, enhancing downtown areas and providing places to live and work with easy access to and from New York City. But they are not new to Long Island. Greenport on the North Fork was a transit-oriented development in the mid-19th century and thus underscores the potential that this long-standing tradition still offers Long Island, if we can focus on mobility.

Ironically, when the LIRR’s track to Greenport was laid in 1844, it was not to provide transit access to New York City but to connect New York with Boston, because the technology did not yet exist to bridge Connecticut’s rivers. Greenport was, and still is, the terminus for the LIRR Main Line —aka the Ronkonkoma Branch — but its fundamental role at the time was to provide a transit connection to Boston by ferry. It was a two-way street for people and for commerce.

In the mid-19th century the only way to travel by train from New York City to Boston was by taking the LIRR from Brooklyn to Greenport, transferring there to a ferry to cross the Long Island Sound to Connecticut and then resuming train travel to Boston. Greenport, therefore, evolved naturally as a transit-oriented development with a thriving downtown that was created during this period with housing as well as jobs, commerce and robust population growth. That’s still a central appeal for the concept today, and it’s especially timely.

New York City is both the financial capital of the world and a powerful magnet for youth and talent. That makes it all the more important that Long Island build upon its proximity to the city by expanding transit access to its dynamic economy and the jobs it offers to Long Island residents and, as importantly, the talent pool it offers to support Long Island businesses. It’s also important to recognize that young people are much less inclined to drive cars than previous generations.

But there are two keys to maximizing that access. First, we need to make it easier to live and work near LIRR stations. The good news there is that the Long Island Index and the Regional Plan Association determined in 2010 that a total of 8,300 acres are available for infill development within a half-mile of LIRR stations and downtowns. That means that transit-oriented developments can enhance downtown areas while reducing pressure for development on Long Island’s iconic and treasured rural landscape.

Second, we must enhance the LIRR infrastructure to make reverse commuting — from New York City to Long Island — more available. On the 9.8-mile stretch of the LIRR Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville, we’re still using the same system of two tracks that were laid in 1844 when the Island population was 50,000. Today, 171 years later, we have the same two tracks and a population of 3 million. Six LIRR branches now converge on this bottleneck, turning it into a one-way street during the peak morning rush, making reverse commuting impossible.

At present, we cannot compete successfully with other suburban areas in the metropolitan region where reverse commuting by transit is readily available. The jobs and young people that we want are, therefore, going elsewhere. It defies common sense to think that Long Island can thrive in the 21st century with this critical defect in our transit system left in place.

The solution is to expand the current LIRR system of tracks to support Long Island’s economy, just as we did in 1844 when the track to Greenport was laid. Only now, we need to add a third track — or, as some call it, a Fast Track — to relieve the bottleneck between Floral Park and Hicksville. It is strangling the Long Island economy and, according to a recent report by the Long Island Index, building the Fast Track would relieve the problem and generate 14,000 new jobs, $5.6 billion in additional gross regional product, and $3 billion in additional personal income by 2035, 10 years after its completion.

The Long Island Rail Road remains an extraordinary resource, but it needs to be thought of again as a two-way street. We also need to think beyond the auto-dependent suburban model to a future where young people, who are the workforce of that future, have the option to live on Long Island or in the city and have easy transit access to jobs in either place.

Greenport knows the value of transit-oriented development arguably as well as any community on Long Island, because ferry, bus and rail facilities continue to power its reputation as a walkable village where people can live, shop, be entertained and get to work without driving. If Long Island now seizes on this time-honored track to success, the concept may well become fundamental to the revitalization of the region’s economy as well.

Dave Kapell, a resident of Greenport, served as mayor from 1994 to 2007. He is now a consultant to the Rauch Foundation, which publishes the Long Island Index.

Smithtown Assistant Planning Director David Flynn says a potential shopping center near the Smith Haven Mall could add to an excess of neighborhood business zoning in the town. Photo by Phil Corso

A proposal to rezone part of Route 347 near the Smith Haven Mall has the town Planning Department mulling over its roster of retail.

In November, the town board considered at public hearings proposals to construct a 30,500-square-foot building on Route 347 near Alexander Avenue in Nesconset along with another 3,100-square-foot building on Middle Country Road, making way for a potential shopping center to house restaurants and small office space, attorney David N. Altman said. But Smithtown’s Assistant Planning Director Dave Flynn approached the town board at a work session Tuesday morning to ask members to consider the application’s potential impacts, given an already robust level of business zoning in town.

Flynn said he and the Planning Department staff delved into the potential shopping center when its applicant, Sun Enterprises, Inc., asked for a rezoning for the area from residential, single-family to neighborhood business. The department then drafted a memo to the town board recommending the property be developed into garden apartments instead of retail because of what Flynn cited as a possible overabundance of business zoning in the town.

“I felt it was my obligation to speak with you,” Flynn said to Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R), Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) and Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) at the work session. “If the town board felt this should be explored, I would contact the property owner. It’s hard to measure the damage it would do.”

Vecchio, McCarthy and Wehrheim heard Flynn’s considerations for the future zoning of the area, but leaned more on the side of following through with what the board and the applicants had already started.

“The applicant did his due diligence, and I think we should do ours,” McCarthy said.

Wehrheim also said he had similar sentiments.

“The applicant went through a lot to get to this point,” he said. “And now we are going to change our minds?”

The town board heard public hearings at its Nov. 20 meeting to consider the shopping center, which Altman said would create anywhere from 20 to 50 construction jobs and 20 to 50 permanent full-time jobs. The applicant was asking for the rezoning of three separate lots into one business lot, which Altman said could increase the overall real property taxes generated for the site from $25,000 a year to anywhere from $180,000 to $225,000.

Frank Filiciotto, a hired civil engineer and traffic planner, also spoke to the board at the November meeting and said the potential development would draw from existing traffic in the area and wouldn’t significantly impact the number of cars traveling along Route 347.

“It’s important to note that all three driveways will be right in, right out driveways,” he said. “There’s no conflicting left turning maneuvers in and out of these sites. So what it does is, it draws from the traffic that’s already on the streets.”

Bellone signs Anker's legislation into law

Sarah Anker introduced the legislation to require the warning signs last year. File photo by Erika Karp
Suffolk County retailers who sell liquid nicotine will now have to display a sign warning customers of the possible dangers associated with the product.

On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed the legislation into law, which officials say is the first of its kind in the nation. The bill was sponsored by Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and seeks to educate consumers about liquid nicotine — an ultra-concentrated nicotine substance used in e-cigarettes. The product could be poisonous if swallowed, inhaled or if it comes in contact with skin. Anker pitched the legislation in December following the death of a Fort Plain, N.Y., one-year-old who ingested the product.

“This potent and possibly toxic product requires regulation, and without leadership from the federal Food and Drug Administration, Suffolk County must move forward to protect our residents with the required warning sign,” Anker said in a press release.

Calls to poison control centers regarding liquid nicotine poisoning have increased throughout the last few years, according to the press release. In 2012, there were fewer than 100 cases of nonlethal liquid nicotine poisoning; in 2013, the number rose to 1,300; and in 2014, the number jumped to 4,000.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services will enforce the law and provide the downloadable warning signs. The law will take effect 90 days from filling with the Office of the Secretary of State.

Businesses in violation of the law could receive an up to $250 fine for a first offense. Fines increase to $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a violation thereafter.

Last year, the county prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to anyone younger than 21 years old.

Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of GSE Dynamics, New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales and Keith Barrett, president of Huntington Station Business Improvement District, speak last week. Photo from Laz Benitez

A state plan to raise the minimum wage made its way to Hauppauge to show how higher pay could impact close to home.

Cesar Perales, secretary of state under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), spoke at GSE Dynamics on Oser Avenue March 18 outlining the governor’s proposal to capitalize on New York’s economic recovery by raising the minimum wage from $8.75 to $10.50.

Perales said the state has already created more than 500,000 new private sector jobs since the big recession — the second most in the country. But at the same time, wages have not grown fast enough and people are being left behind, he alleged.

“We had a bad few years after the recession in 2008, but we are out of it now and we are moving forward,” he said. “Unemployment is down and, in every region of the state, jobs are up.”

Cuomo’s plan calls for a $10.50 minimum wage across the state, except for New York City, where he suggests the minimum wage be increased to $11.50. In total, he said more than 1.35 million workers would see a wage increase throughout the state, bringing a direct economic impact of nearly $3.4 billion.

“The minimum wage should allow people who work full-time jobs to support themselves and their families – but that is just not possible today,” Cuomo said. “Our proposal will help hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers better sustain themselves and live with dignity and respect. The State Legislature must pass our proposal this year, because the sweetest success is shared success and we won’t rest until we are all rising together.”

During four of the five recent increases in the state’s minimum wage dating back to 1991, data indicated an employment uptick each time the wage went up, Perales said.

“Under this plan, nearly 150,000 workers here in Long Island will see a pay raise,” he said. “In a family with two earners, the increase from $8.75 to $10.50 translates to more than $7,000 in additional income per year.”

The proposal said Long Island currently sees 85,264 total minimum-wage workers earning $8.75 today. But under the new plan, 202,248 Long Island workers would earn the minimum wage, bringing a direct economic value of $382.3 million to the island, Cuomo said.

Perales spoke alongside Keith Barrett, president of the Huntington Station Business Improvement District as well as Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of Hauppauge’s GSE Dynamics, to explain how higher minimum wages could bring better business to the North Shore.

“Raising the minimum wage is not just about money, it’s about opportunity,” Perales said. “It’s about saying that everyone who works a full-time job should have the chance to live a decent life and put food on the table for themselves and their loved ones. Because at the end of the day, we are all part of the same community and the same state, and we are at our best when we all do well together.”

The Ronjo magic shop is full of tricks and costumes. Photo by Jenni Culkin

By Jenni Culkin

Ronjo has a little something magical for everyone. The magic and costume shop has card tricks, coin tricks, novelty items, pranks, juggling props and swords, magicians, knife throwers, ventriloquists, jugglers, balloon artists and party planners. There are costumes, accessories, makeup, masks, wigs and so much more on display from the moment a customer walks through the doors.

“We specialize in entertainment,” said Ronald Diamond, owner of the shop on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station. “We can do it all.”

Ronald Diamond performs a card trick at the Ronjo magic shop. Photo by Jenni Culkin
Ronald Diamond performs a card trick at the Ronjo magic shop. Photo by Jenni Culkin

Diamond is a professional magician and entertainer who has years of experience working with different age groups. He believes that magic is an art form that serves a purpose higher than just entertainment.

He attributes his success to good business practices, like customer service skills and product knowledge. He also gives credit to the current manager of the store, Peter Albertson.

Born in Flatbush, Diamond’s family moved to Suffolk County in 1966. The shop owner began his adventure at seven years old, when he was introduced to magic and took it up as a hobby. In May 1974, when he was 15, he began to take magic from hobby to profession.

“It made me feel confident,” Diamond said about performing magic. “It helps people with public speaking and it is used as a way to connect.”

Diamond, a husband and father of two girls, lives in the Town of Brookhaven, where he says he can relate to and understand the needs of his local customers. He believes he can spread his confidence and social skills by offering private magic lessons for adults and children and running a magic club during the first Friday of each month. During the nicer weather, Diamond runs a free magic show that accepts donations for designated charities.

According to the businessman, magic can boost even the most distinguished professionals, such as health professionals and lawyers, by helping them develop social connections with the people they work with.

In 1978, Diamond began expanding his store’s specialties to include costumes and other dress-up items, a transition that began when his performers started asking him if he could provide them with a mask or a costume to further entertain their audiences.

“We are not Halloween, we are Hollywood!” Diamond said, sharing his motto for Ronjo’s costumes.

People are impressed by the quality and selection of the store’s costumes, he said, especially when compared with chain stores that tend to carry only three sizes or one-size-fits-all costumes. Ronjo’s shelves have costumes for many seasons and holidays, including the Easter bunny, Santa Claus and some comical green St. Patrick’s Day outfits.

Ronjo also manufactures its own tricks — about 40 right now — and distributes them worldwide, and Diamond has published a couple of his own magic booklets.

In recent years, Ronjo has upped its game, becoming a “green” store that uses LED lighting and prints on both sides of the paper and cards they use.

“This is not a job,” Diamond said about his business. “It is a lifestyle for me.”

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Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta holds a copy of a troubling letter sent to over 200 recipients operating home furnishing businesses in Suffolk County. Left to right: Ralph Mondrone, Natalie Weinstein, Robert Trotta and Charlie Gardner. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Housed in a building that was originally a vaudeville theater built in the early 1900s, Uniquely Natalie is a St. James-based consignment store catering to shoppers looking for affordable home and office furnishing.

Its owner, Natalie Weinstein, launched this space last year as a designer-driven shop adjoining the headquarters of Natalie Weinstein Design Associates — a full-service interior design firm.

Aside from contending with the challenges of owning her own business, Weinstein was recently served with some bad news from the county.

In a letter dated Oct. 27, Weinstein and several other small business owners with storefronts operating in Suffolk County were introduced to county code Chapter 563-106-A, which among other things states it is unlawful for any person to engage in the selling of furniture or carpets without obtaining a license.

“When I received the letter my first inclination was to say, since I’m a good law-abiding citizen, we’ve got to pay this, [but] how are we going to do this now?” said Weinstein. “This is my first retail operation … I felt it would be helpful to people who really couldn’t go to the big box stores or pay for expensive furniture and still get quality things.”

The code makes no distinction between “new, used or antique furniture,” and there are no exemptions that exist for “antique furniture dealers, churches or other nonprofit organizations.”

This means that Weinstein and others specializing in the sale of home furnishings in Suffolk County are required to apply for licensing at the initial cost of $200 with $400 needed to be paid every two years for relicensing.

Frustrated and looking for outside assistance, Weinstein reached out to Legislator Rob Trotta, who admitted his outrage over the county mandate.

“This is strictly an attack on small business,” said Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). “Over 200 letters were sent out right before the Christmas season. Downtowns are struggling, small businesses are struggling and this [code] said that you need to get a license.”

Trotta said the foundation of this law had shifted from its original intent and that this mandate was just “another attempt to hurt small business and to raise revenue.”

Aligning himself with Trotta is former Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Charlie Gardner. Gardner believes that this mandate aimed at small-business owners subverts the original intent of its legislation, which was to safeguard consumers from unlawful business practices.

“This legislation was aimed at regulating those businesses that would routinely go out of business, would take consumers’ deposits for money, fail to deliver furniture, deliver damaged furniture, and many times consumers had no recourse,” said Gardner. “Since the inception of this legislation the number of complaints dramatically decreased, but it was certainly not aimed at antique stores, antique dealers [or] roadside vendors.”

Gardner, who is now chair of the Government Relations Committee for the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said if any of his town members were burdened with the mandate, he would suggest they appear before the Legislature to vent and demand that the legislation revert to its original intent.

In an attempt to resolve this issue, Trotta asked legislative counsel to draft legislation that would clarify the definition of “antique dealer” and “seller” and save Weinstein and others from additional hardship.

“I believe that the original intent of the law was to protect consumers when primarily furniture and carpet retailers failed to deliver the merchandise promised,” said Trotta. “Now it appears that the county is going after the small-business person who sells a few pieces of furniture and [the consumer] takes the merchandise with him or her.”

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