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Fred Hall

Melissa and Doug Bernstein, right, take a stroll across Port Jefferson for a company retreat aided by the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Kyle Barr

More than 400 employees from the Connecticut-based toy company Melissa & Doug descended from the Port Jefferson ferry July 25.

Director of Operations for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Barbara Ransome said the toy company contacted them about coming to Port Jeff for a company retreat. The chamber rolled out the red carpet, putting up signs welcoming them to the village while some local businesses welcomed them with signs to encourage them to patronize their shops.

Melissa and Doug Bernstein, the founders of the company, were glowing as they walked down the streets of the village. 

“We look at it all the time across the sound,” said Doug Bernstein. “We know how charming this town is.” 

They had previously visited Port Jefferson several times before, but were surprised that many of their employees had never been across the Long Island Sound to visit the small village across the way.

“Coming over I asked everyone who I was meeting: Have you been here recently,” Melissa Bernstein said. “Almost everyone on the boat said we hadn’t done this before,”

The Port Jefferson chamber, along with business groups in Bridgeport across the Sound, are looking to find ways to bridge that disconnect. 

The Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry company is looking to work with chambers on both sides of the Sound. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Certainly, we have enough to do for a day’s visit,” Ransome said. 

Jeff Bishop, the business development manager for the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, said he has long felt a connection to Port Jefferson and Long Island as a whole, even though he was born and raised in the Connecticut city across the pond.

“It makes complete sense to connect the two economically, as much as we can,” he said. “It seems like a no-brainer to me.” 

The Bridgeport area has a few new projects underway, including a seasonal amphitheater, along with new restaurants and breweries that complement a growing downtown. This has business leaders excited. 

Ransome said the point is to encourage people to shop in local businesses without coming with their cars and using up the village’s valuable parking spaces.

Fred Hall, the vice president and general manager of the ferry company that sails between the two locations, said that in the earlier parts of the 20th century, Bridgeport was the more “happening” town, but that started to change in the late ʼ60s and early ʼ70s, as Bridgeport’s thriving industries collapsed. 

Currently, well over 200,000 people make the trip from Bridgeport to Port Jeff, Hall said, but much fewer take the trek in the opposite direction. Hall said he blames himself in part for not emphasizing day travel from Port Jeff to Connecticut’s coastal city.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think I have done a good enough job in encouraging people to go to Bridgeport,” he said. “I think there are wonderful things about it.”

Ransome and Hall invited Bishop and other economic and local leaders from Bridgeport to tour Port Jeff July 19 and help get a layout of what Port Jeff offers to day-trippers coming from Connecticut. Ransome and Bishop said plans are for Port Jeff chamber members to visit Bridgeport sometime in September to lay out what possible opportunities they may have. 

After that, Hall said, the next step is to lay out a number of travel and discount packages for people taking day trips to either area when taking the ferry. 

Hall said he already has a tour department within the ferry company that can handle most of those arrangements.

Unlike much of Port Jefferson village, which is suitable to walking, Bridgeport’s attractions  often require transportation. The Beardsley Zoo, for example, is located approximately two miles from the ferry pier. One option is to use shuttle buses, of which Hall said his company already operates two on the Connecticut side. Business leaders might also promote overnight stays between each area.

Overall, Bishop said he finds there is a greater connection between the two towns than many people realize.

“I have gotten to know a lot of people who grew up on Long Island … I have had very similar upbringings and outlooks and way of viewing things as people who grew up on Long Island,” he said. “I think the communities are so closely linked together. It’s almost mindblowing to me.”

 

The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat ferry company is temporarily operating with a significantly scaled down schedule. File photo

Ferry riders beware.

Frequent passengers of the Bridgeport-to-Port Jefferson ferry have fewer travel options for the time being.

The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company currently has just one of its typical three-ship fleet available, according to Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the ferry company located in Port Jefferson Village on the New York side of the Long Island Sound.

One of the ships, the PT Barnum, is out of service due to a bent propeller wheel, and The Park City is also unavailable because of needed repairs. Hall said the wheel of the PT Barnum was bent last week when the underside of the vessel hit an underwater piling. The Grand Republic is the only ship left standing.

Temporary ferry schedule April 9 through 12

Port Jeff departures:

6 a.m.

9 a.m.

12:15 p.m.

3:15 p.m.

7 p.m.

Bridgeport departures:

7:30 a.m.

10:45 a.m.

1:45 p.m.

5 p.m.

8:30 p.m.

“We wish we could offer a little more convenient schedule, but we only have one boat operating,” Hall said in a phone interview.

The company alerted riders of the pared down temporary schedule in a Facebook post April 7.

“The ferry company regrets that we must reduce our schedule for the foreseeable future and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience,” the post said.

Hall said the plan is to get the PT Barnum to a shipyard for repairs later this week — either April 12 or 13 he said — and that he expected the propeller replacement should not be more than a one-day job, and a two-boat schedule would be reinstated in short order. There is no current timetable for The Park City’s return.

Service was impacted last weekend, with only two trips departing from Port Jefferson April 7 — one at 5 p.m. and one at 8:15 p.m. Typically 11 ferries rides would leave from Port Jeff on a Saturday or Sunday. Five trips were made Sunday, April 8. Just prior to the start of the work week, the company announced again via its Facebook that fewer rides would be offered at least through April 12. Ships will be departing Port Jeff at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 3:15 p.m. and 7 p.m. through April 12, compared to a usual 10-ride weekday schedule. Only five return trips from Bridgeport, Connecticut are currently offered for the duration of the shortened service as well, with the earliest being 7:30 a.m. and the latest 8:30 p.m.

Several Facebook users commented on the two posts expressing frustration with the inconvenience.

“One boat = mismanagement, where does all the money go?” poster Kristine Sawdey said.

More than one commenter said they hoped the shortened service would be over soon.

The PT Barnum has been part of the company’s fleet since 1998. The 300-foot vessel has the capacity to hold up to 120 vehicles and 1,000 passengers, according to the ferry’s website.

Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, has been selected as the 67th Ringmaster of the Barnum Festival. The Barnum Festival, founded in 1948, is meant to build community spirit, as well as honor Phineas Taylor Barnum, a successful businessman, community leader and world-renowned showman, who was a resident of Bridgeport.

The festival will run from June 12 to 28, and every year a ringmaster is chosen to lead the festivities. The event, which will be held in various locations throughout the greater Bridgeport area, includes the Wing Ding Parade for Kids, the Ringmaster’s Ball, the Barnum Pub Fest, and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Pops Concert and Skyblast Fireworks.

Ringmaster Fred Hall, photo from Hall
Ringmaster Fred Hall, photo from Hall

Hall first joined the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company in 1976 and became vice president in 1985. He served as a judge on the royal family panel for two years. I recently chatted with Fred Hall about his newly appointed position.

Q. What are the duties and responsibilities of the ringmaster?
A. You are basically the master of all the ceremonies. You’re at almost every event and are the face of the festival. Some specific duties I’ll do is throwing the first pitch at the Long Island Ducks and Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game and putting together a friendly wager between Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport and Mayor Margot Garant of Port Jefferson during the game.

Q. Are you essentially the kickoff for every event?
A. Pretty much. I think I have 16 appearances in the month of June alone. One of the events that is not widely know, we actually go to nursing homes and convalescent homes and we put on small shows for the residents. I know we go to more than 10 homes and we do the show and stop in. For some of these folks it’s the highlight of their year. All the past ringmasters told me that is the most rewarding of all the events.

Q. Can you give me a bit of a preview of the show?
A. No, because rehearsal hasn’t even started yet!

Q. Oh, I see. So when does rehearsal start?
A. We need to find out who the winners of the Barnum’s Got Talent Competition on June 13 are. Right after that we go into rehearsals for the small road shows, with myself, the performers and the royal family.

Q. What exactly is the royal family?
A. The royal family is made up of six members: a king, queen, prince, princess, Tom Thumb and Lavinia. To find the king, queen, prince and princess, we ask for two high school juniors in the top 15 percent of their class, one male and one female, from every school we can get in Connecticut. They go through a two-part process; the first is a panel of judges who asks varying questions to each contestant. The two years I served as a judge, my question was “Who was P.T. Barnum?” Not everyone knows about Barnum, the philanthropist or the inventor. So we have to get the word out! After the panel we hold a social event for them, and we are looking for the kids that are getting other kids dancing and socializing. At the end of that event the judges select a king, queen, prince and princess, and they all get scholarships.

Q. Who are Tom Thumb and Lavinia?
A. They were little people that Barnum employed in his circus, and they were also married. So we have a competition with seven- or eight-year-olds. Interviews happen, they get a tour of the museum, and at the end of the event we chose a Tom Thumb and Lavinia, and they comprise the last two members of the royal family.

Q. Can you tell me a little about some specific events, like the Ringmaster’s Ball?
A. It’s a great social event. Last year there were 500 people. There are cocktails, dinner, dancing; and a lot of people from the area show up. We get numerous politicians; last year Governor Malloy attended. It’s a great event. The tickets are $175, and the money helps support the scholarships we give out every year, as well as the various activities during the festival.

Q. What are you most looking forward to this year?
A. Meeting new people, getting to know the entire royal family. There really are some amazing people involved in this festival, and frankly I am in awe of them. The volunteers as well are terrific people. I can’t emphasize enough how much this festival is about the people.

Q. What was the best piece of advice former ringmasters gave you?
A. Just to relax and enjoy it as much as possible. The previous ringmasters and Elaine Ficarra, executive director of the festival, built a tremendous organization here.

For more information, call 203-367-8495 or visit www.barnumfestival.com.