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Business

Rocky Point Jewelers employees from left to right: Ken Driver, Ronald Watkins, Anthony Bongiovanni Jr., Ann-Maria Bongiovanni-LaBella, Barbara Michelle, Tara Jansen, Theresa Armone and Cassie Mundy. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Honesty and service — that’s what the owners of Rocky Point Jewelers say have been the mainstay of their shops for 40 years. 

Originally born from a coin collecting hobby between father and son, Anthony Bongiovanni Jr., the general manager of the store, said that after he graduated high school he and his dad hatched the idea of opening a small coin shop. The coin shop eventually turned into a full-fledged jewelry store. 

“I realized early on though that jewelry was the way to go for a daily business — so we went in that direction,” Bongiovanni said.

From there, Bongiovanni would pursue and receive a graduate gemologist diploma from the Gemological Institute of America, the highest degree awarded by the institute. He also holds the title of certified gemologist with the American Gem Society. 

“He meant everything to the store. He was here every day — he was a fixture — always there to lend encouragement to the staff.”

— Anthony Bongiovanni Jr.

Bongiovanni said he learned much from his father. 

“My father taught me honesty and hard work,” he said. “He meant everything to the store. He was here every day — he was a fixture — always there to lend encouragement to the staff.” 

Anthony Bongiovanni Sr. passed away in 2011, but his impact on the store and the community remains. 

“My father was a big influence — he was a great man,” Ann-Maria Bongiovanni-LaBella, who works with the family business, said. “I see a lot of my father in my brother.”

Bongiovanni-LaBella worked as a secretary for many years in the Hauppauge area until that company went under. With some convincing from her father she began working at the store in 1984. 

“Who would’ve thought it would’ve come to this,” she said. “[I remember] we started out with homemade displays my mother would make.”

Over the years, the store has seen an expansion in size, and the family opened a Rocky Point Jewelers branch in Stony Brook.  

The Bongiovanni siblings point to customer service as essential to running a success business. 

“Anyone that sells retail will tell you that it is a different environment now than it was years ago,” Bongiovanni said. “You’re competing these days with not only other retailers but big box stores and online [shopping].”

The main store’s general manager said local jewelers like himself still offer services that are hard to find elsewhere. 

“If you need a ring sized, a chain fixed, a watch fixed or something custom designed — that is something that can’t done on the computer — you have to see a professional for that,” he said.  

Bongiovanni-LaBellla said you learn how to read people and get a sense of what they want.

Many customers have become personal friends over the years. 

“Some of these customers I’ve been seeing for close to four decades,” Bongiovanni said. “You know them, you know their children, now we are meeting their grandchildren.” 

Bongiovanni’s sister said she sees her customers at the post office, at Stop&Shop and at the bank. 

“Generations of families have come here,” she said. “We try to keep people happy — your biggest advertisement is word of mouth, it really is.”

“We try to keep people happy — your biggest advertisement is word of mouth, it really is.”

— Ann-Maria Bongiovanni-LaBella

Theresa Armone, who has worked at the store for more than four years, said it’s the level and quality of service they provide that has kept customers coming back all these years. 

Those who work at Rocky Point Jewelers agree the store works hard to earn the customers’ trust. 

Bongiovanni said people entrust them with their valuables and sentimental objects and it means never compromising their standards. 

“Times change, but it doesn’t mean your level of quality or service has to change — we try to improve on services as much as we can,” he said. 

The general manager said with the work ethic instilled in him by his father, good employees and a little bit of luck, the store is still around 40 years later.  

“It’s a tough retail environment out there,” he said. “There’s no two ways around it, but you always have to strive for better.” 

Rocky Point Jewlers is located at 29 Rocky Point-Yaphank Road and 137 Main Street, Stony Brook.

Camille Pabon, Marie Delia and Lorian Prince of the family owned Del Fiore Italian Market in Rocky Point. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Sara-Megan Walsh

The current government shutdown became the longest running federal closure in the nation’s history as of Jan. 12 — and there’s no clear end in sight. It’s estimated more than 800,000 government employees are either furloughed or are continuing to work without pay. By this publication’s press time, the shutdown has been ongoing for 34 days.

Several North Shore businesses, residents and other nonprofit organizations are doing what they can to aid those individuals who are anxiously awaiting their next paycheck.

Prism Wellness Salon and Spa, St. James

Janine Argila, center, the owner of Prism salon in St. James with two employees. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Janine Arguila, owner of Prism Wellness Salon and Spa in St. James, announced Jan. 16 via Facebook that her business would offer free haircuts to federal employees with a valid government ID through Feb. 26, or when the shutdown ends.

“We cannot end the shutdown but we can help those affected!” reads the Jan. 16 post. 

Additional notification was also sent out via email to her clients on the company’s mailing list. Arguila said the public’s reaction to her offer was immediate and overwhelming. 

“We’d had people saying, ‘Thank you so much, I’m not even a government employee and I think this is amazing’,” she said, noting thousands of likes and shares the announcement quickly garnered. 

The salon owner said she came up with the idea after reading a friend’s social media posts about how her husband serves with the U.S. Coast Guard and was not sure when he would be able to subsist without a paycheck.

“A lot of people are government employees, or it’s their family, and we don’t even realize it,” Arguila said. 

The first to accept the offer of a free haircut was a regular customer, according to Arguila, who thanked her after stating that her husband is a government employee and is working unpaid. She expects her salon will provide free services to many more as the shutdown drags on. 

“I’ve had my success is by giving back,” the owner said. “My mother taught me to do the right thing no matter what it is. It’s always worked for me in every way.” 

Del Fiore Italian Market, Rocky Point

Del Fiore Italian Market in Rocky Point. Photo by Kyle Barr

Del Fiore Italian Market, located on Broadway in the Rocky Point Business District, starting Jan. 17, gave out two-person meals to government employees throughout the weekend. By Jan. 22, the store had gifted meals to more than 200 people, some of whom traveled from as far as Nassau County. Each meal included a box of fresh cheese ravioli, a quart of meat or
marinara sauce and a loaf of bread valued at $18. The owners said they gave out close to $800 worth of food. After the weekend the business gave out bags of house-cooked pasta until Jan. 24.

“When something’s wrong, people eat, so when something’s wrong you give people food — that’s what we do, we Italian people,” said Camille Pabon, who helps run the family-owned Del Fiore with her sister Lorian Prince. 

While its costly to supply these meals, Pabon said other patrons were quick in supplying the business some money to help pay for the lost revenue. She received promises from those who accepted free food now would come back later as full-paying patrons once the shutdown is over.

Sassy Salads & Bagel Lady Cafe, Shoreham

Sassy Salads & Bagel Cafe. Photo by Kyle Barr

Those who give food now know there is no hint yet when the shutdown could be over.

Linda Winter, the longtime owner of Sassy Salads & Bagel Lady Cafe, located in the Shoreham Plaza along Route 25A, announced Jan. 17 she would be giving out a complementary dozen bagels to those government employees who walked through her door. Over the weekend, Winter said more than 80 individuals came in for the bagels. Overall, the store handed out over 100 bags of a dozen bagels. She was astounded by the number of people who came in looking for help.

“We didn’t refuse anybody,” Winter said.

The deluge of people coming in for bagels was so much she said there were wait times for regular customers as they needed to keep baking new batches over the weekend. On Jan. 24 she announced she would have to limit the bagels to five dozen per day as well as limit the area to Mount Sinai through Wading River, though including Ridge.

“Here I am nearly 29 years in this location and the community has supported me for all those years, so I felt it was the right gesture,” Winter said. “I can imagine it’s a scary time for them … they are singled out, and they need to know people care about them and what’s going on in their lives right now.”

More organizations offer help to government workers in need

Other businesses and organizations from Port Jefferson to Huntington have been stepping up to offer aid to those government workers affected by shutdown: 

Wahlburgers on Route 347 in Port Jefferson. Photo by Alex Petroski

* Blue Salon and Spa in Stony Brook is advertising a free blowout and haircut to those affected by the shutdown.

* On Jan. 18 Wahlburgers in Port Jeff Station announced it is offering a free burger, side and soft drink to individuals who could provide a government identification, ending sometime around Jan. 23. 

Manager Adam Subbiondo said they have already seen more than 300 people ask for a meal since they started providing them.

“You can only imagine what its like to not get paid and go on to live their lives with their families, mortgages and kids,” he said.

* Teachers Federal Credit Union announced Jan. 14 a number of programs to assist those affected, including being able to skip payments on credit cards and loans up to $5,000 for immediate needs. 

*Other organizations like the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been giving out free pet food for those who can’t afford it.

United Studios Martial Arts Academy in Rocky Point. Photo by Kyle Barr

* The United Studios Progressive Martial Arts studio, with locations in both Rocky Point and Port Jefferson Station, is having a food drive over the weekend to help those affected. 

“We believe, as martial artists, in humanitarian efforts,” said Blake Wolfskill, the chief instructor at the Rocky Point location. “We see people suffering and we have to do something.”

* The Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs, which represents more than 20 boat and watercraft organizations, announced Jan. 10 a gift card donation drive to help the U.S. Coast Guard personnel who safeguard the waters of the Long Island Sound. In addition to gift cards, the boating council will also accept monetary donations or check made out to “Chief Petty Officer Association” with Shut Down Fund CT-NY in the memo line and mailed to:  P.O. Box 2124, Halesite, NY 11743.

*This post was updated to reflect Winter’s new bagel policy

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When the calm of the cold settles on visitors to the Village of Port Jefferson, all find reason to seek comfort indoors. Despite it, the village is illuminated in swathes of light all the way from West Broadway to East Broadway, down East Main Street and up Main Street. Here is just a selection of pictures displaying the serenity of the cold night, when the lights dance in the street and in the eyes of people behind the window panes of Port Jeff.

A sign announces the coming of Main St. Board Game Cafe on Huntington's Main Street. Photo from Facebook

There’s something different about sitting down to play a board game. Unlike a video game or a movie, a board game with all its little cards and pictures is abstracted. When several people sit around a table with cards stacked in front of them, calculating their next move, they are all transported somewhere different, from haunted houses and mercantile guild halls to the legendary halls of King Arthur’s court.

It’s an experience that several Huntington locals are hoping to bring to Huntington village with the Main St. Board Game Café. Owner Neil Goldberg said he hopes to start construction on the board game parlor and cafe this holiday season.

“I have two kids, 9 and 6 [years old], and they love what their friends love,” he said. “They play video games and they’ll play it until I tell them to stop. I want them to have something where they’re not staring at a screen — where you talk, think, plan and interact with something that has value.”

A pile of board games owner Neil Goldberg said is compiling for Main St. Board Game Cafe. Photo from Facebook

Goldberg said the cafe will have a selection of close to 300 games on hand. He plans to have
a selection of classics, like the popular Settlers of Catan board game and following series,
where players gather resources in an effort to colonize an island. The owner also wants to introduce narrative-based games like Mysterium, where players take on the role of psychic detectives trying to help a ghost, controlled by another player, in finding the person who murdered them. The shop is prepared to host role-playing game groups playing games like Dungeons & Dragons with an in-house gamemaster.

“We love being on our phones, but to a certain extent we’re all sick of it,” said Didi Feuer, one of the upcoming cafe’s employees. “It’s an easy way to spend time, but at the end there’s something not fulfilling about it. I think people are craving a face-to-face social interaction without screens.”

Board game cafes have been cropping all across New York City, but they have yet to have a presence on Long Island. Goldberg said he started playing board games at a young age. He can still remember playing such classic games as Scotland Yard and Stop Thief!, but eventually forgot much about them as adulthood set in. For more than 20 years, the future cafe owner worked as a producer for New York One’s sports programming. Eventually NY1 canceled its sports broadcasting, but Goldberg was already starting on another tack when a friend of his alerted him to a remake of Stop Thief! on Kickstarter.

“You ever have a rosebud moment?” Goldberg said, referring to the catalytic moment of the 1941 movie “Citizen Kane.” “I’m in my mid-40s and I flashback to being 10 or 12 years old.”

The space will also include a cafe area, where Goldberg expects to sell coffee and other soft drinks. If the new business can secure a license, he hopes to sell wines and craft beers selected from local breweries in the evening.

Goldberg said he expects the board games will be the element that draws in the crowds. The last several years have been kind to the board game industry, according to Goldberg. With the advent of crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, new and unique games have had the opportunity to reach out and find support directly from the audience interested in playing them. The new business owner said he wants to bring these games into the limelight and take the stigma away from the industry that the only games available are Monopoly or Scrabble.

With tabletop board games there is infinite complexity, infinite aesthetics and an infinite number of things one can accomplish.”

— Neil Goldberg

“With tabletop board games there is infinite complexity, infinite aesthetics and an infinite number of things one can accomplish,” Goldberg said.

So far, he has hired a number of experienced people in the gaming industry, including Feuer, who previously worked at the Brooklyn Strategist and another board game cafe in the city. Feuer plans to help run its after-school programs, one group for kids in first and second grades, with another group for third- through fifth-graders. There will also be a Dungeons & Dragons group available for older children.

The after-school programs will be designed to start out with simple games, such as Othello and Azul, before progressively introducing more difficult games and choices players can make more complex. Feuer said tabletop games are unique in how they teach kids basic skill, like reading comprehension, mathematics and deductive skills, in a social environment.

“Everyone’s sitting down and agreeing that right now there’s an island called Catan, and right now our job is to find resources and settle Catan,” Feuer said, “It’s teaching kids they have the capability, that they can show that they did focus for two hours and still have fun.”

Goldberg said he expected to start renovations after the Thanksgiving holiday. The location will be at 307 Main St. in Huntington and, hopefully, open for business in early 2019.

Students in Thomas Fank’s Virtual Enterprise class at Miller Place High School work on their virtual business. Photo by Kyle Barr

The halls of the Miller Place High School are dead quiet, and footsteps echo far down the long halls. All the students are sitting down and being lectured to from one period to the next, all except one class where their raucous noise can be heard through the door.

Walking into business teacher Thomas Fank’s fourth-period Virtual Enterprise class is like walking into the main floor of a Manhattan business startup. There is an onrush of sound, a cacophony of fingers clacking on keyboards and students shouting across the short space of the computer room. As a stranger walks in, Miller Place High School student Andrew Friedman strides over with a hand outstretched. He doesn’t say, “Welcome to Miller Place” or “Welcome to Fank’s fourth-period.” He says, “Welcome to Amplify Audio,” the name of their virtual company that sells headphones and other audio equipment.

Students in Thomas Fank’s Virtual Enterprise class at Miller Place High School work on their virtual business. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Everyone here enjoys what they’re doing so they don’t go off topic much at all,” said Friedman, the president and CEO of their virtual company. “I look forward to this class every day.”

The business had only gotten off the ground at the beginning of October. Despite having only a 40-minute period every day, the students already have a portfolio as thick as a phone book, with sheet upon sheet of statements of goals, human resources forms, invoices and so on. The class has a living breathing website including a Spotify music playlist, a link to the virtual company’s Instagram account and a page where one can buy their products. Though the site and company are still under construction, just like a real business, Amplify Audio buys from wholesalers and then sells items for a profit, though all with virtual funds.

The business started with $150,000 in virtual investments from the renowned McNulty’s Ice Cream Parlor in Miller Place, the agrochemical company the Halex Group and Autonomous Ballistics, a Manhattan-based firearms company. All these investments were made with calls by the students themselves, and though they don’t involve actual dollars, the sales pitches are very real.

“If we didn’t have those investors, we would have had to take out a loan and we would have been in debt before we even started,” said Tyler Cohen, vice president and CEO of Amplify Audio. “This is one of the issues that a real company deals with. Where are they going to get the money?”

Virtual Enterprise classes have been becoming more and more popular in schools throughout the U.S., though Fank’s two VE classes have only been in place since the start of the school year. The business teacher said when he originally proposed the class to the school board, he expected it to be a much harder sell, but nearly everyone was on board with the idea.

Students in Thomas Fank’s Virtual Enterprise class at Miller Place High School work on their virtual business. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It’s student driven, and that’s why they like it,” Fank said. “The kids have more responsibility and more accountability than other classes, and there’s more peer-to-peer learning.”

Fank, who himself has his own small business, a wedding DJ company called Encore Events, teaches two VE classes. His fourth-period class is the Amplify Audio group, while his eighth-period class’s company is called Snap Shack, which sells photobooths for use at party events.

Everything within Amplify Audio is virtual, from the products to the money they use to sell them, though the students don’t treat it as such. Throughout the 40-minute period they have, each and every minute is spent in meetings, making sales, working on company documents, or like the much-maligned party planning committee from the hit television show “The Office,” planning for holiday events or birthday parties for every employee. Those in the human resources department complete employee evaluation forms of their fellow students as if they were real employees.

“We’re the ‘Toby’ of our office,” said Julianne Cerato, the human resources director of Amplify Audio and member of the party planning committee. “When it comes to the evaluations, they may be friends, but we’re still a business, and you have to focus on them as if they’re just a co-worker.”

Students in Thomas Fank’s Virtual Enterprise class at Miller Place High School work on their virtual business. Photo by Kyle Barr

Students on the sales team make real efforts to pitch their products to teachers and students around the high school. Alex Constantis, the president of marketing, made 10 sales alone from Nov. 5 to Nov. 9 to teachers and students he found while wandering the halls.

The next step for Amplify Audio is finishing out its business plan by Dec. 12. Every member of Amplify Audio staff has to pitch in at least three pages of a 60-page report, though this is just the start to the company’s adventure.

In October both VE classes traveled to Long Island University Post to participate in the annual Virtual Enterprise competition. Fank said his classes didn’t place, simply because of how new they were compared to other schools that have been working on their businesses for several years. He hopes by January, when the next competition takes place, his classes will make top honors.

“The accountability is the main thing I tell them about,” Fank said. “We don’t have any kids who come in here and sit on their phones. They know they have to do work because it’s part of that team-oriented feel that we have, and it really guides them to want to do well.”

Representatives from Qwik Ride, Port Jefferson Village and the Port Jefferson BID announce the kick off of Qwik Ride in the village during a press event Nov. 5. Photo by Alex Petroski

Business owners and elected officials in Port Jefferson Village are confident they’ve finally found the antidote to the business district’s most talked about problem.

In an effort to open up parking for more visitors, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District has partnered with Qwik Ride, a company that uses 100 percent electric vehicles summoned by a mobile phone application to alleviate parking constraints in downtown areas.

“We have tried a lot of different things,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “I think it’s fun, it’s mobile, it’s free — it solves all of our issues. It can help an employee park out of the village and open up a spot. It can bring a resident downtown and keep that spot open for somebody else. And I think they’re innovative and they’re flexible, and I think when you have a dynamic problem you need a dynamic solution.”

The service is offered free of charge to riders thanks to a sponsorship contract between the BID and Qwik Ride. One of the two cars allotted to Port Jeff Village is sponsored by the BID as a whole, while the second is sponsored by Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and BID president individually.

“Parking is widely perceived as the major contributing factor to the demise of foot traffic in this village and the ultimate failure of so many businesses, so having an option to try to get around the parking problem by having people picked up and not having to bring their cars down into the village is an obvious benefit,” Schafer said. “They look fun to ride in too, so hopefully it’ll spur people on. The fact that it’s no charge, I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a huge success.”

The contracts are for 20 months, with services being available beginning this Saturday, Nov. 10 from noon to midnight. Initially the cars will be running Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight and 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Qwik Ride owner Dan Cantelmo said the company hopes to eventually have up to five cars sponsored in Port Jeff and service available seven days a week, though expansion will be based on demand.

Once operational, the service will pick up Port Jefferson residents in the 11777, and those traveling to the area from outside of the village are instructed to park in the CVS parking lot on Main Street near Earl L. Vandermeulen High School to summon the cars from there for transport downtown. The company has rolled out cars in Patchogue, Northport and Huntington villages earlier this year with great success, according to Cantelmo.

“All have a similar concept — trying to ease the parking and encourage people to park further away so that we can bring them into the town,” he said.

While the service is only planned to operate Thursday through Sunday in PJV at first, special events like the Charles Dickens Festival and popular nights out like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be covered as well.

The cars will be kept in the parking lot behind Village Hall when not in service, but the village has no other stake in the agreement, other than offering its support, according to Garant. During the summers of 2017 and 2018, the BID partnered with a valet parking company to offer a municipal parking service, an agreement that required village permission to use certain parking lots, though failed to garner enough usage to remain viable.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Roger Rutherford, general manager of The Port Jefferson Frigate. “ I think it’s going to mean more customers for us.”

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BiblioFlames and Breathe Inspiring Gifts are among the places in Port Jefferson Village cited by Village Center building manager Bob Hodum as hotbeds for paranormal activity. Photo by Kyle Barr

There are the old stories told only in whispers, and then there are the legends, which hide in the dark corners of local homes and shops. Port Jefferson has a long history, and such a village always has one foot in modern times with compelling ghost stories of days gone by constantly trailing in its wake.

Bob Hodum, the building manager of the Port Jefferson Village Center, annually takes willing participants on a ghost tour of the village to peer into its haunted past. Back in the days when Port Jeff was known as Drowned Meadow, a port settlement with a thriving shipbuilding industry and only a few shops to its name, spirits made their way into the woodwork of these lasting structures, according to Hodum. In the 19th century there was no Main Street as it’s known today, and instead East Main Street was considered the real commercial district.

BiblioFlames and Breathe Inspiring Gifts are among the places in Port Jefferson Village cited by Village Center building manager Bob Hodum as hotbeds for paranormal activity. Photo by Kyle Barr

All along East Main Street, stories abound about a haunted past. Jena Turner, the owner of Breathe Inspiring Gifts, which sells a number of spiritual items — such as crystals, minerals, tarot cards, incense and oils — said she has sensed a number of spirits who live in her store. One she and her friends named George or The Captain and another they named Charles. Another apparition once came into the store just a few months after Turner moved in 2009, a Mae West-looking woman they dubbed The Madam, she said.

“The day I came to look at the building I sensed it right away,” Turner said. “One day I felt like I was pushed, and I broke a mirror. Another day I was in a store with a customer, it sounded like somebody was trying to get out of the bathroom. The mirror came off the wall and landed on the floor. … There’s an office door next to cash register which opens at random times and freaks people out.”

During the 1930s, the space that Turner occupies was a bar, Hodum said, which gained the gruesome name The Bucket of Blood because of the number of fights started by sailors and shipwrights. Hodum added legends say the local village doctor was a regular attendant to those hurt in fights at The Bucket of Blood, and those who survived his treatment were offered a free drink.

“The place was a real dive — men fought all the time in it, and knives were their weapon of choice,” Hodum said.

The house across the street from Breathe was owned by a man named Capt. George Washington Brewster, a well-known mariner of the mid-19th century, Hodum said. Turner suspected his spirit must be the one making an appearance, perhaps among others who once visited the saloon. Despite the spirits being hosted in the building, she said she feels the ghosts aren’t malicious, and they add a little bit to the atmosphere of her shop.

Many other buildings on East Main Street belong to the late-19th and early 20th centuries. In the shop now occupied by BiblioFlames, a book-inspired candle shop on East Main Street, Hodum told another story of Lee Jong, an amiable laundryman and Chinese immigrant to Port Jefferson. Jong was known as a model citizen, and often gave refuge to people down on their luck. That is how he came into contact with John Rys, who was given space by Jong after the young man found himself homeless. Rys later went on a robbing spree, which Jong found out about and subsequently told the police. As Rys was being led away, he vowed revenge on his benefactor.

“One day I felt like I was pushed, and I broke a mirror. Another day I was in a store with a customer, it sounded like somebody was trying to get out of the bathroom. The mirror came off the wall and landed on the floor.”

— Jena Turner

The robber got his revenge in 1922 by murdering Jong in his own shop, according to Hodum. The crime was witnessed by a woman in the shop next door, and he was sentenced to death at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining. Both Rys and his accomplice John Emieleta were put to death in 1925 via the electric chair, gravely given the sobriquet “sparky.”

Sometimes Hodum said people can still hear Jong in his shop, continuing his lifelong profession by ironing shirts.

Hodum told another story of a lurid murder spree by Henry Walters of his wife Elizabeth Darling-Walters and her son-in-law over the family’s inheritance in 1857. The tragedy took place near the site of the Port Jefferson Power Station. Emmet Darling, the youngest member of the household, survived and managed to escape. Knowing that he would most likely be caught, Walters hung himself, according to Hodum. If you listen on a cold November day, some locals still say they hear the murderer’s voice.

“In November, when the murder took place, in the evening you can actually hear Walters moaning, where he’s crying about the fact that he would be discovered, and how sorry he was for it,” the building manager said.

Hodum hosted ghost tours to help promote the Port Jefferson Conservancy and the Village Center’s Haunted Mansion night Saturday, Oct. 27. The night will included fun and scares for all ages, mad scientists, ghosts, spooky fortune tellers and more. 

The funds raised by the event will go toward supporting the conservancy.

Port Jefferson restaurants Ruvo and Old Fields are back open after sustaining serious damage during a Sept. 25 flood. Photos from Facebook

The skies opened and dumped buckets of water on Port Jefferson Village Sept. 25.

The area was hit with more than 4 inches of rain during the evening into the night, according to the National Weather Service, leading to severe flooding and leaving behind devastating damage. Two Main Street restaurants — Ruvo East and Old Fields of Port Jefferson — sustained significant damage that night, causing emergency evacuations and significant periods with their doors closed while feverish-paced repairs took place.

“I definitely have the best staff in all my restaurants,” said Joe DiNicola, owner of Ruvo. The restauranteur said the possibility of closing the doors to the establishment for good was a distinct possibility, but after weeks of hard work around the clock that possibility went away Oct. 11. “We bonded together and decided we were going to reopen it. Since then that’s been our common goal.”

The restaurant reopened Thursday afternoon. DiNicola said the building was inundated with about three feet of water as the rain poured down Sept. 25. The repair job required the reupholstering of most if not all of the restaurant’s furniture, “gutting” and redoing four bathrooms, a new roof, plumbing and electrical work, and more. He said his staff was all retained through the reconstruction process and nobody missed a paycheck. He said he encouraged his staff to take time off, making sure no one was putting in full seven-day work weeks, though many were there up to six days per week, and DiNicola said he was logging 15-hour days and beyond during the cleanup effort.

“We’ve had water in the past — a little bit,” he said. “This was an event that it was an anomaly. I just don’t understand. It was just rain.”

DiNicola said water poured into Ruvo from the roof, through drains and eventually in the front door. About 20 cars were totaled in the parking lot, he said. The Port Jefferson Fire Department — which sustained substantial damage itself at the Maple Place firehouse — had to assist people in exiting both Ruvo and Old Fields that night, in addition to helping stranded residents out of about a dozen cars. DiNicola and Old Fields owner David Tunney both heaped praise on the fire department for the work they did that night.

“Thank you to all first responders, village workers, volunteers, our staff, and to you, our loyal customers, thank you for all of your support,” Ruvo posted on its Facebook page Oct. 12.

Old Fields, which is just on the other side of Wynn Lane on Main Street north of Ruvo, was able to reopen Sept. 28, according to Tunney, who said he was thankful the situation here was not worse, sending his condolences to those experiencing recent storms in Florida and the Carolinas.

“It has been frantic,” he said. “We worked really hard and diligent to get back open. The water came in quick.”

Tunney’s restaurant was closed for two days, compared to nearly two weeks for Ruvo, though he said the job required a team of about 30 people working to clean and sanitize the soggy eatery. He said even in the moment on the night of the flood, he was able to keep things in perspective, joking that he told a member of his staff who asked if they needed some more rags, “no, get some tequila.”

This post was updated Oct. 16 to correct the date Old Fields reopened.

Logo from Facebook

The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce only established its current form less than a month ago, but in that short time it’s already full steam ahead on a number of ambitious projects.

“It’s gangbusters, and it’s a challenge, but we wanted to get something on the map right away,” said John Tochterman, chamber treasurer and the branch and financial services manager for the Teachers Federal Credit Union in Rocky Point.

The chamber hosted its first meeting in August, but already it is planning several events including multiple festivals, expos and golf tournaments. Gary Pollakusky, the president of the new chamber and managing partner of Media Barrel LLC in Rocky Point, said the hamlets of Rocky Point and Sound Beach need a group to champion not only those on the highly trafficked Route 25A, but the businesses on the roads leading to the North Shore.

“The first piece of what we do is bring business into the area and inspire our merchants to do things that are a bit out of the box,” Pollakusky said. “We have to get customers to our different business districts — to our Sound Beach business district and our Route 25A business district.”

The chamber started to come together in January, when Marie Stewart, the owner of Brooklyn Bagels & Café in Rocky Point began gathering local business owners, slowly building the chamber until it formed a new board in March. In June, the chamber incorporated and attained 501(c)(6) chamber status.

In October 2017, the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce, which covered businesses from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River, dissolved because the time commitment proved too much for volunteers in such a large coverage area. It was then decided the chamber would split up to take on original shapes, which focused on businesses in just a handful of hamlets.

Pollakusky said the North Brookhaven chamber collapsed because it simply couldn’t reach every nook and cranny of businesses in its coverage area. Now more people are stepping up in local communities to fill the void left behind.

Members of the Port Jefferson area created the Port Jefferson/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, people in the Mount Sinai area established the Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance, and the community in the Shoreham area created Wading River Shoreham Chamber of Commerce.

Jeff Davis, owner of the Rocky Point Funeral Home was part of the North Brookhaven Chamber before it dissolved, and he said the new chamber focusing on the local businesses is heading in the right direction.

“They have all the right ideas — I’m hoping they can pull it off,” Davis said. “We’ve talked about [the fall festival] for years. It takes people who want to get involved to do it.”

Already boasting approximately 40 members, according to Pollakusky, chamber leaders are still looking for new people to fill positions on the board. They are asking local business people to fill positions to help welcome owners to the neighborhood, hold ribbon cuttings, drive membership, find sponsorships and plan events, among others.

“The more the merrier,” said Stewart, who now serves as chamber vice president.

Plans are set for the Fall Festival in the Rocky Point business district Oct. 27. The event will include a children’s costume parade, hayrides, local vendors and demonstrations from the Rocky Point Fire District. After hours, the event will also include a late-night adult-only session including live music, a beer garden and costume contest.

Events are being planned into next year. The chamber hopes to establish a spring festival to be set in Sound Beach next year, along with a senior expo and golf tournament fundraiser. Pollakusky said they were still ironing out the full details for those events.

“There’s all kinds of businesses that need our support, it could be our lawyers, our doctors, our nonprofits, it could be our home-based businesses, our brick and mortar craft merchants, our restaurants, there are many categories of business that need our help,” Pollakusky said. “To look at every category and see how we can support them that is the difference maker in this chamber.”

The chamber is looking for more volunteers and vendors for its upcoming Fall Festival. Contact the chamber through its website, www.rpsbchamber.org.

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

It’s a rubbish time to be involved in the recycling industry.

The Town of Brookhaven’s recycling plant is grappling with unprecedented mounds of bottles, used paper goods and trash. Ever since China implemented its “National Sword” policy in January banning the import of various nonindustrial plastics, paper and other solid wastes, Brookhaven’s had a hard time selling off collected recyclable materials. As China was one of the top buyers of U.S. recyclables according to NPR, this move has left many Suffolk townships unsure what to do with their residents’ recycled garbage.

To recycle or not: Tips  on handling your trash

By Kyle Barr

Operators of the Brookhaven recycling plant deal with a lot of junk. Not the good kind of junk, however, as many household items that residents assume can be recycled can cause havoc in the machinery.

In the four years since the town invested in single-stream recycling,  Erich Weltsek, a recycling coordination aid for Brookhaven, said there has been increased resident participation in the recycling program. But it has also led to some residents chucking in items that have no business being recycled.

We’ve gotten chunks of concrete, and you even get sports balls — like soccer balls, footballs — constantly,” he said. “A lot of what we call ‘wish cycling,’ where people think they’re doing the right thing and when in doubt they throw it in a recycle bin instead of the right receptacle.”

Weltsek said people have tried to recycle Coleman outdoor stoves and propane tanks, which is extremely dangerous and could result in an explosion at the facility.

The most pervasively disruptive items are plastic bags and other items that Weltsek called “tanglers,” such as Christmas tree lights, pool liners and garden hoses. The recycling facility operates on a number of conveyor belts that first feed into a device called a star screen, a number of rotating cylinders with feet that separate recyclable fibers from other items. These items either wrap around the wheels on the conveyor belt or star screen, either letting fibers through the wrong end or stopping the machine entirely.

Suffolk residents should clean out any plastic bottles or cans before putting them in the recycling. Any low-quality paper products or grease-stained cardboard such as used pizza boxes, should not be recycled because they affect the sellable quality of the entire recycling bundle.

Andrade said all plastic bags should be recycled at a local supermarket, which are mandated by New York State law to have a receptacle for all shopping bags.

The plant often has to turn away other nonrecyclable material, such as plastic utensils, bottle caps and Styrofoam. All of these are considered contaminants, either because they cannot be recycled properly, or they
dilute the quality of the material.

“While it hasn’t stopped it, China’s new policies have significantly slowed down the ability of recyclers to move material to market,” said  Christopher Andrade, commissioner of Brookhaven Town’s waste management department. “There are domestic mills and domestic markets [but] the thing is just finding them, negotiating them and moving the material.”

That is easier said than done, according to Andrade, as many recycling plants across the nation now have fewer options of where to sell their collected goods. China has publicly claimed the decision has to do with the quality of the materials, as low-quality newspaper print or thin PVC plastics are not considered valuable enough for reuse. There’s also the problem of recyclables being mixed with other, nonreusable garbage.

In 2014, Brookhaven moved from dual-stream to single-stream recycling, a system that allows residents to put out all their recyclables in a single can to be sorted out at the town’s facilities instead of bringing out a different material — plastic, papers or metal — every other week. This increased overall participation in the recycling program, Andrade said, but has led to some confusion.

The loss of the Chinese market has severely interrupted the Brookhaven-owned Green Stream Recycling facility’s outflow. Green Stream Recycling LLC, a company that contracts with the town and operates the town’s facility in Yaphank, made good use of China’s market. While the facility continues to operate without a definitive answer to where else the company can move its materials, some of it is now going back into the landfill, according to Andrade.

This crisis is not only affecting the Town of Brookhaven, but other municipalities on Long Island which sell their collected recyclables to Suffolk County’s largest township. In 2014, the Town of Smithtown formed a five-year contract with Brookhaven to send 12,000 tons of garbage to the Green Stream facility,  in return for $180,000 per year. While Brookhaven continues to honor the agreements with its partnered municipalities, the lack of market availability for recyclables has some members of Smithtown Town Board concerned.

At a Sept. 4 work session, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) showed board members a photo taken by a drone in May showing recyclables piled in heaps just outside Brookhaven’s facility. The picture made Wehrheim and other board members question what might become of the town’s current recycling agreement.

“At one point, we’re going to come to some decision what to do with [Brookhaven Town,] Wehrheim said. “It could be a potential problem … in the short term.”

Andrade said that excess dumping on the facility’s land came from the “shock” of China’s National Sword policy being implemented earlier this year, though he said the situation has since been brought under control. Despite these international issues, Andrade said Brookhaven remains committed to recycling.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) “and the board believe very strongly in recycling, and we’ll bounce back from this,” he said.

The markets are being overwhelmed; the people taking the material can be picky on what they accept. We’re going to have to respond by being better at only putting out the things that people can actually reuse.”

— Russell Barnett

Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director in the Department of Environment and Waterways, said he is working on a solution with Brookhaven, including a regional approach comprising Smithtown, Huntington, Southold and several other communities that are partnered with Brookhaven.

Smithtown had its own dual-stream facility that was closed before it started sending its materials to Brookhaven in 2014, though reopening it could be costly.

“We’re assessing our equipment — seeing what’s operational, what’s not, what repairs need to be made and what upgrades need to be made if the occasion comes up that we want to go that route,” Barnett said.

In the meantime, he said residents need to be more discriminating when it comes to deciding what items to recycle. Otherwise, it will be much harder in the future to find a buyer for the world’s recyclable garbage.

“When they talk about the standard, they’re not just talking about nonrecyclable material
but the right kind of recyclable material.” Barnett said. “The markets are being overwhelmed; the people taking the material can be picky on what they accept. We’re going to have to respond by being better at only putting out the things that people can actually reuse.”

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