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Port Jefferson Village

By Alex Petroski

Like a scene from a popular HBO show, Port Jefferson was overrun with dragons for as far as the eye could see Sept. 16. The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its fourth Dragon Boat Race Festival at Harborfront Park and in Port Jefferson Harbor Saturday. The annual event features boat races, food, vendors, traditional Chinese ceremonies and customs, and musical performances.

This year 30 dragon boat teams competed in a recreational division, and four club teams squared off on the open seas in a more competitive one. Teams consisted of 20 rowers, one steersman and one drummer for the races around the inner harbor. The festival is the brainchild of Barbara Ransome, director of operations at the chamber, who said she got her inspiration after she attended a dragon boat race festival in Cape May, New Jersey, a few years back.

“We’ve got it down from an organizational perspective,” Ransome said in a phone interview after the event. “Everything went very well and very smooth.”

Ransome said she thought this year yielded larger attendance numbers — she speculated several thousand — than previous years, and said she is happy the event is growing. She said about 140 people utilized a free shuttle service provided to take attendees from their cars to the park, which was about 40 percent more than during last year’s event.

In the recreational group, a team from the Long Island School of Chinese called Huaxia Dragon took home the gold with a time of 58.06 seconds, narrowly edging Seas the Day, a team of rowers from St. Charles Hospital, who finished in 58.10 to capture silver. A New York City-area rowing club called The Collective won gold in the club division with a time of 58.27 in the final heat. The New York City Police Department rowing club came in second, finishing just two-tenths of a second behind The Collective.

Ransome said upon request from teams that competed in 2016, this was the first year racers were separated into groups based on experience levels, and she thought it was a good decision.

Port Jefferson Dragons, a Port Jefferson Village team, prepared extensively for the 2017 race, according to Ransome, so the group was bumped up as the fourth team in the club division. As a modest underdog, Port Jefferson Dragons got on the podium with a third-place finish.

“That was very impressive,” she said. “They did extraordinarily well.”

The Confucius Institute at Stony Brook University, an educational partnership between the school and China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, was once again a sponsor of the event. According to a staff member at the institute, its directors were pleased with the event.

“We basically support any cultural events in the area that promotes Chinese culture, so it makes sense,” the staff member said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent Assistant Director of Constituencies for Asian American Affairs Joanne Choi to the event as a representative on his behalf. Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Village Mayor Margot Garant were among the other elected officials also in attendance.

A maximum occupancy restriction was placed on the village-owned pier for the event, which has been found to need repairs following the 2016 race. Ransome said the guidelines were strictly adhered to, and actually made the event easier for timekeepers and organizers.

Danfords Hotel & Marina will be the site of a new business venture in Port Jeff which will allow patrons to take week-long charter trips. Photo from Christina Whitehurst

By Alex Pertoski

A new business venture slated to open in Port Jefferson Village in spring 2018 will chart a course all the way to New England.

Lime Charters, a New York-based charter company, and Aeroyacht, a yacht dealer specializing in luxury sailing catamarans, have partnered with Danfords Hotel, Marina & Spa to establish a Port Jeff location where charter boats can be rented by interested patrons to be sailed through the Long Island Sound to the New England region for week-long trips. Sailors would have the option of setting off on their own, or the company can recommend a captain to bring on board the small vessels to handle the navigation.

One of Lime Charters three vessels available for rent beginning in 2018 for those interested in sailing on week-long trips from Danfords Hotel, Marina & Spa in Port Jeff to the New England region. Photo from Bill Beasley

According to Lime Charters’ website, most captains charge between $150 and $250 per day. Depending on the season and the size of the boat, prices range from around $4,000 to $5,000 for the seven-day use of a catamaran, which is large enough to take up to 10 people. The company requires proof of sailing experience for those declining to bring along a captain, and pre-charter checks allow the company to assess sailors and ensure they are comfortable with the boat. Though the company advertises the boats can be used to sail to Rhode Island, Connecticut, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, among others, charterers are permitted to take the vessel essentially wherever they would like.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said this is the first such business ever available in Port Jeff.

Bill Beasley, the founder of Lime Charters, said in an email at a recent international boat show he received a flood of interest in an offering like this in New York.

“Up until now, folks had to go further north or south to charter a catamaran sailboat,” he said.

Beasley shed some light on why Port Jeff is an “ideal location” to set up a launching area for Lime Charters. “It’s half way between New York City and the Hamptons — just an easy car or train ride out to us … Port Jefferson is a perfect sailing harbor town with its shops, diverse restaurants and, of course Danfords. It is a perfect partner considering their central waterfront location and opportunity for charter guests to stay at either before or after their charter. We hope to attract clients who like to be pampered and Danfords certainly supports that level of service.”

One of Lime Charters three vessels available for rent beginning in 2018 for those interested in sailing on week-long trips from Danfords Hotel, Marina & Spa in Port Jeff to the New England region. Photo from Bill Beasley

Christina Whitehurst, director of sales and marketing at the hotel, said Danfords is equally excited by the natural hospitality experience partnership.

“We’ve been doing a lot of upgrades to the marina and the area, and this is proof the word has gotten around,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s just going to expose another audience to Danfords.”

Garant expressed excitement over the possibilities the charter trips could present to residents and visitors in Port Jeff for those who want to add a one-night stay before or after their charter experience.

“I love it, I think it’s fantastic,” she said of the service and its base in the village she oversees. “I think it’s an excellent way to have more activities on our waterways.”

Garant also called Danfords a perfect anchor point.

Currently, Lime Charters has a fleet of three boats, though Beasley said their plan is to add more. Each vessel has a cooking area, and they offer the option of having groceries delivered to the boat.

Lime Charters is currently taking reservations for the 2018 boating season.

Port Jefferson high school could look very different in the coming years if a $30M bond proposal is approved by the community. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jefferson School District has been asking the community to weigh in on a $30 million bond proposal to complete a litany of districtwide projects, and Monday night village leadership spoke out.

The Port Jefferson Village Board, which includes several members who previously served on the Port Jeff board of education, collectively took the position during a meeting Sept. 18 that now is not the time for the district to be asking taxpayers for permission to borrow millions for upgrades and repairs. Village Mayor Margot Garant and other board trustees cited the unclear financial future of the village and district due to pending litigation against the Long Island Power Authority.

Proposal Highlights

•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS

•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS

•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space

•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS

•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school

•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS

•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields

•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS

•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new administration headquarters

•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building

“I’m going to strongly encourage the board of education, respectfully, to postpone this until a resolution is reached with LIPA,” Garant said in a phone interview after the meeting. “I want to commend them for looking at investing in the school system to improve the quality of education. We really want to resolve this issue so this community can stop putting off the plans to invest in our facilities and education.”

The village has no official jurisdiction over the district, though a vast majority of the village’s taxpayers also pay school taxes to the Port Jefferson School District. Both entities stand to potentially lose substantial tax revenue in the coming years should a settlement or decision in the LIPA case be reached, as LIPA has contended it pays too much in property taxes to operate the Port Jefferson Power Station, now that sweeping energy-efficiency upgrades have drastically reduced the regular need for the plant.

“We have deep respect for our mayor’s viewpoints as well as the various opinions of our residents,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan said in a joint statement via email in response to the village’s position. “Our board of education and district administration have been conducting public meetings and seeking feedback through multiple venues. Our goal is to develop a final proposal for our residents’ consideration that meets our responsibility to educate our community’s children in a safe, secure and welcoming learning environment.”

Garant suggested the village board is in a uniquely qualified position to comment on the district’s proposal given each of the individual members backgrounds prior to serving the village. Trustees Bruce Miller and Larry LaPointe were previously on the board of education, Trustee Stan Loucks is a former school district athletic director and Trustee Bruce D’Abramo is a former school district facilities manager.

Village Mayor Margot Garant agreed Sept. 18 they’d like to see the school district wait on a $30M bond project. File photo by Elana Glowatz

“I think if they’re going to ask for these things they ought to ask the public to vote on them in discrete segments so that the public has the chance to say, ‘Yes, we want this but we don’t want that,’” LaPointe said during the meeting. “I hesitate to criticize another board, I know they’re trying to do what’s best for everybody. It’s just an awfully big nut.”

LaPointe’s position was similar to several community members, who during a Sept. 12 board of education meeting suggested voting on the bond proposal as an all-or-nothing referendum, rather than in smaller pieces, would make it less palatable for many taxpayers.

“I haven’t made a decision, but one of the things that will probably sway me is if this is an all-or-nothing,” resident Drew Biondo said during the board of education meeting. “If it’s all or nothing, I don’t know which way I’ll go.”

District administration presented the $30 million capital bond proposal to the board of education and the public during the Sept. 12 meeting, featuring a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school, lights for the elementary school field and many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million. If approved by the community with a vote tentatively scheduled for Dec. 5, construction would begin in 2019 and payments would be made annually beginning at about $1.5 million and concluding with a final $2.5 million installment in the 2033-34 fiscal year. The district would accrue nearly $10 million in interest over the life of the 15-year payment plan.

“Regardless of what happens with LIPA, we need to take care of the schools,” Casciano said during the last board of education meeting.

The village has reached out to set up a meeting to discuss the proposal with the district in the coming weeks. A survey soliciting public input on the proposal will remain accessible on the district website until Oct. 9.

Port Jefferson Village and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital squared off on the open seas for the eighth time Sept. 9 for the Village Cup Regatta, an annual event that features a parade, sailboat race, a reception and even remarks from actor Ralph Macchio. Representatives from both groups man vessels and race in the Long Island Sound near Port Jefferson Harbor for bragging rights and, more importantly, to raise money for cancer research. The Mather team won the 2017 incarnation of the race and proudly took the trophy back from Village Mayor Margot Garant, who had the cup since the village’s 2016 victory. In total, about $65,000 was raised for Mather’s Palliative Medicine Program and for the Lustgarten Foundation, which funds pancreatic cancer research. The event is hosted by the Port Jefferson Yacht Club.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

With the conclusion of a trial valet parking program in Port Jefferson Village, which along the way included input from members of the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District, The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, village government, the Port Jefferson Fire Department, residents, the Port Jefferson School District and restaurant owners, a resonating theme has emerged: It was a good idea that needs work if it will be brought back in 2018.

Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and PJBID president, said in a phone interview the program fell short of reaching its break-even point for  PJBID’s initial investment with the valet company. He said about 150 people used the service on average each weekend at a rate of $7 per car. When the program began Schafer said if the service drew 100 users nightly it would be a profitable venture.

“It was some sort of step towards a solution,” he said. “The upside of it is everyone who used it thought it was the best thing ever. We got praise for trying an idea like this. Hopefully next year we can go back to the table with a better plan.”

John Urbinati, owner of The Fifth Season restaurant, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a big project,” he said in a phone interview. “It was a lot of people working on it and any time you have any sort of new projects or new activities … nobody has the foresight to get it totally right the first time.”

He added the plan will be to look at ways to streamline the service in the lead up to the summer of 2018 with an eye toward improvement — not disbanding the program.

The route valets took to park cars during the summer of 2017. Image by TBR News Media

Restaurant owners who were involved in the planning of the program this past summer and others who were not said they were glad valet parking was tried as a fix to an age-old problem in Port Jeff. The service began in July after a group of business owners announced their intentions to pursue the program to the village board once PJBID reached an agreement with the private valet company and the Port Jeff school district, which allowed cars to be parked in the vacant high school lot during the summer. It concluded after Labor Day weekend.

Logistical issues occurred along the way, including complaints from residents about the route drivers would take upon exiting the municipal lot off Maple Place behind Ruvo East restaurant where customers were staged before their cars were taken to the high school; a lack of signage at the entrance of the lot off Maple Place which historically had been a two-way entrance and was repurposed as a one-way, exit only during the program’s hours of operation; traffic on the street, which is also the site of the fire department; not enough promotion of the program to make visitors aware of it; and a disruption of the regular uses of the lot behind Ruvo East, among others.

Sound Beach resident Arthur Rasmussen was critical of the program in an August letter to the editor after he was instructed to use the valet service to visit Ruvo East when he complained the staging area was blocking handicapped parking for the restaurant.

“We were so incensed by this ‘shakedown’ that we called the restaurant and cancelled our reservation and drove to a restaurant in Mount Sinai,” he said. “My wife is on a walker and that particular handicapped spot gives her easier access to the restaurant. I thought that the valet parking program was voluntary and not designed to cause hardship on handicapped seniors.”

Initially the village was not going to be involved in the operation of the program, but because the staging area is a village lot its approval was required. Restaurant owners and director of operations of The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Barbara Ransome said the program would likely benefit with more village input.

“I would like to see it continue, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said. “They have to have better [public relations], better advertising and for God’s sake more signage. There aren’t many options out there. I think this is one that could work, it’s just got to be looked at.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant and deputy mayor and trustee, Larry LaPointe, could not be reached for comment regarding the village’s involvement with the project going forward.

The program was set up to be cost neutral for the village. Had revenue exceeded the initial investment, 25 percent of profits would have gone to the valet company and the remaining 75 percent would have been split between the school district and village.

Supervisor Ed Romaine, right, announces the kick-off of the Brew to Moo program with the Port Jeff Brewing Company. Photo from Brookhaven Town

By Alex Petroski

The next time you kick back to enjoy a Party Boat IPA or Schooner Pale Ale from the Port Jeff Brewing Company, just know you’re enjoying the suds for the greater good.

Brookhaven Town announced a partnership last week between the brewery, located in Port Jefferson, the town and Double D Bar Ranch in Manorville, a haven for abused or unwanted farm animals.

A by-product of brewing beer is literally tons of spent grains, which until now in Brookhaven would be tossed in the trash and transported via municipal garbage trucks to the landfill. A new town program, called Brew to Moo, will see regular pickups of the spent grains from the Port Jeff Brewing Company that will then be transported to the Manorville ranch, which will then be mixed into feed for the livestock on the premises. The spent grains have reduced caloric content but provide protein and fiber that can supplement corn for feed, according to a press release from the town. The Port Jeff Brewing Company is just the second brewery in Suffolk County to climb onboard with the town initiative, joining BrickHouse Brewery in Patchogue, which agreed to participate in the arrangement earlier this month.

“The fact that the beneficiary in this program is rescue animals really ices the cake for us.”

— Mike Philbrick

“When the town approached us about the Brew to Moo program we were instantly on board,” said Mike Philbrick in an email, the brewer and operator of the Port Jeff establishment. “Since our opening in 2011, we have searched for a secondary use for our spent grains. Unfortunately, we have been throwing them out most of the time with the exception of a few folks who use them as fertilizer accelerants. In other parts of the country, where agriculture and livestock is more prevalent, a brewer doesn’t have any difficulty finding a farmer to source the spent grain to. Long Island’s limited amount of livestock and Suffolk’s large amount of breweries created an anomaly not really seen elsewhere.”

Rich Devoe, the operator of Double D Bar Ranch, which is a nonprofit organization, said during a phone interview the roughly 400 animals living at the ranch never go hungry, but having a steady source of food from the two breweries will allow the organization to spend its donations and money from his own pocket elsewhere, like on barn repairs and fencing. He called the arrangement “great” and “very important.”

“The fact that the beneficiary in this program is rescue animals really ices the cake for us,” Philbrick said. “You have a product that is otherwise waste, being transported by trucks on empty routes that are already on the road, feeding animals that really need it. That’s three wins, not just two. So naturally we wanted to be a part of it and we are happy to help [Supervisor Ed Romaine] make this program a success.”

Romaine (R) said the days prior to the Brew to Moo program’s inception were a missed opportunity to carry out a personal mantra he has adopted during his years at the helm of the town.

“We’re interested in reduce, recycle, reuse,” he said in a phone interview. “This may be something that would be a model project for other towns to do. I think you’ll see in the future, we’re looking at other industries that have waste that we can reuse for allied industries. We’re looking at that every single day because we want to be on the cutting edge of waste management.”

Romaine added the town plans to reach out to more breweries and ranches to gauge interest and try to get others to participate in the sustainably sound project.

By Alex Petroski

Inquiring minds of all ages arrived at the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson Aug. 21 to witness an extremely rare total solar eclipse  — or Totality 2017 as some are calling it — the likes of which hadn’t happened in North America since the 1970s, or been visible from coast to coast in almost a century. They were greeted not only with the breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, but with another: Hundreds of observers turned citizen journalists helping to accumulate scientific data to be used by researchers across the country, most of whom were barely old enough to ride in the front seat of a car, let alone drive one.

“I’ve heard a lot about it so it’s kind of incredible to be able to look and see it,” said Bella Fantauzzi, an 11-year-old from East Islip who made the trip to Port Jeff’s haven for youngsters interested in science on the historic day with her family. “I don’t know how to describe it. Something like this happens, this event, this widespread — my mom said I’m going to be in my 50s when I see [a countrywide eclipse] this happen again, so that’s incredible.”

The event attracted about 200 guests during the course of the day. Attendees were given eclipse glasses until the supply ran out, though anyone interested in observing the happening was welcome to share with other onlookers. Around the grounds of Harborfront Park outside of the Explorium, representatives from the facility explained the science behind the eclipse and instructed kids on how to assist in the collection of data. The young scientists charted the temperature, percentage of the sky covered by clouds, the color of the sky and the visibility of the sun every five minutes beginning at 2 p.m. until the conclusion of the event. That data was being accumulated for NASA.

Attendees also observed work being done by Neil Heft, the president of the Radio Central Amateur Radio Club, who in accordance with a group called EclipseMob, accumulated radio wave data using cellphones and tablets which were then transmitted to researchers in Colorado as part of a nationwide crowdsourcing data collection effort.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for young people to actually be involved in the process of making science, because I think in this climate in this day and age there’s a lot of questions about science, but here they’re witnessing something actually happening,” Angeline Judex, the executive director of the Explorium, said during the event. “We did not expect such a great turnout. It’s really a testament to how much people are interested in what’s going on around them in the environment.”

Heft said he’s not sure how the data might be applied by scientists going forward, but that’s not a unique situation for researchers to be in.

“The last time we had an opportunity to do a test like this was 1925,” he said, adding this event was a golden opportunity because the researchers weren’t as disciplined at the time regarding organization of the data as they should have been back then, in addition to swaths of new technology available now. “I can’t tell you how they’re going to use [the data], your kids will probably know and, if not them, their kids will probably know.”

Terri Randall, a board member at the Explorium and a science teacher, summed up what she hoped attendees, especially kids, would take from participating in the rare event.

“Everybody can be a scientist,” she said. “It’s not isolated to people in museums or in laboratories. So when you have an event like this you have an opportunity to really bring people together to explore, to explain, to learn, to investigate, to have their hands on true science.”

The event achieved its purpose for at least one of the young attendees.

“I’m going to learn about this,” Bella said of the eclipse. “I know I’m going to study it and research it, but I know I’m going to witness it today, so I’m pretty sure when I learn more about it, it will mean a whole lot more later on, but right now I’m kind of just excited to see it.”

Patty Lutz, manager of Fetch Doggy Boutique & Bakery. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

As it does every day in the summer, the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry lowers its huge drawbridge door to reveal a host of cars growling like they are about to stampede into the town. Instead, they file out one by one. Every car is greeted with Port Jefferson’s Main Street and its stores lined up on both sides of the road like a buffet.

Unknown to many tourists though, only a few yards from the ferry dock and Main Street, stores offer a whole host of out-of-the-ordinary services from spiritual crystals to handmade jewelry. Almost all the stores on East Main Street are owned or operated by women, and they have developed a communal sense of offbeat character. Most of the owners believe it’s what keeps them alive.

“If they want to be successful on East Main Street they have to be different and unique,” owner of Pattern Finders & Stacy’s Finds on East Main Street Stacy Davidson said during an interview. “I think at this point the stores we have now, I can’t see any of us having a problem.”

Anna Radzinsky, co-owner of The Barn. Photo by Kyle Barr

Davidson has owned Pattern Finders for 23 years, and in that time she had to reinvent herself to keep up with the times. Now her store is a boutique that sells different and unique sets of clothing, dresses, jewelry and other home items.

Many of the stores on East Main host classes inspired by what they sell. The Knitting Cove, owned by Toni Andersen and her partner Barry Burns, is one of those stores. Along with the specialty yarn offered in the shop, the store also hosts classes for experienced and beginner knitters or “knit-alongs” where customers all try to complete a design using whatever choices of yarn they want.

Breathe Inspiring Gifts sells a number of spiritual items, such as crystals, minerals, tarot cards, incense, oils and many others. A door in the shop empties into another large room where owner Jena Turner does meditation and yoga sessions every day of the week.

“Some people don’t even know this street exists — isn’t that crazy?” Turner said. “I love it, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. Main Street gets more foot traffic because there are more tourists who know of it, but there are a lot more Long Islanders aware of East Main Street.”

One consistent aspect of daily life East Main Street stores face is they do not depend nearly as much on tourists as they do on Long Islanders, specifically the regular customers that they come to know well.

Joann Maguire, the owner of Max & Millie Women’s Fashion boutique on East Main sees her store as dedicated to her regular customers. In the 13 years she’s owned the store, she said she has learned regulars keep her in business.

“Most of my customers are local residents and what I mean by that is from the Commack area or the Hamptons,” she said. “They come out here for dinner and then they find me. And then they become regulars. I’m a destination store, not a tourist store.”

In Fetch Doggy Boutique & Bakery, manager Patty Lutz is often there talking extensively with the customers she knows well.

Susan Rodgers, owner of Susan Rodgers Designs. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Last night, I was home and it was 8 [p.m.] and a customer called me regarding their dog; their dog wasn’t feeling good, and their vet had closed,” she said. “You know what I mean, like there’s no cut out. We have hours that the store is open; but, if someone needs to talk to me and they have my number, they’re always welcome to call.”

Some of the shop owners on East Main sell products produced by hand, often in their own studios. Anna Radzinsky, the co-owner of The Barn, sells custom woodwork and signs. She also takes old furniture like wardrobes and cabinets, refinishes them and puts her own designs on them. At the same time her partner, Shawn Keane, does landscaping and completed the small garden laid into the bricks just outside of her shop.

Susan Rodgers of Susan Rodgers Designs traveled the country for 15 years selling her artwork in art shows. When eventually it came time to settle down in order to sell her work and the work of her friends, she chose East Main Street because she said it feels like what she imagined a small town to be.

“I think people are tired of things being the same,” Rodgers said. “The cookie-cutter sacrificing quality, and I think people are beginning to realize, compared to big box stores, the link to an individual person.”

Business on East Main is rarely stagnant. Miranda Carfora, a young entrepreneur, said she soon plans to open a store on East Main Street called BiblioFlames that will sell books and candles inspired by books. 

“It’s really hard for independent bookstores, but I’m hoping that since I tied in my candles into the books I’ll have more customers that way,“ she said.

Carfora fits right into the scene that exists on East Main Street. Though the future for perspective small-business owners is always uncertain, Davidson’s advice for someone opening a shop on East Main Street is rather simple.

“Be unique,” she said. “You have to be unique and have what nobody else has.”

Billie Phillips, the original owner of Billie's 1890 Saloon, will retake control of the Port Jefferson property on Main Street. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

A decades-old Port Jefferson institution that has remained closed since a June 2016 fire could be moving toward reopening, thanks in large part to an agreement between Port Jefferson Village and the building owner.

Billie’s 1890 Saloon had to close its Main Street doors June 27 last year after a fire in the kitchen caused severe damage, and exposed several building code violations that required remedy before the business could be reopened. During an Aug. 7 village board meeting, Mayor Margot Garant and the board of trustees approved a resolution that should expedite the process.

Among the code violations — of which there were about 20 — from the village’s building department was a requirement for the installation of a bathroom that meets requirements laid out by the Americans with Disabilities Act. An ADA compliant bathroom would not fit on the main level of the building, which houses the bar, according to Garant, so instead, the building owner planned to move the kitchen to the basement and turn the former kitchen on the main floor into the new restrooms.

Because of the change of use of the building, an aspect of the village code was triggered requiring additional parking spaces be added. Being that no space was available on the property for the additional parking, the building owner could instead submit a payment in lieu of parking to the village, which is allowed under the code.

Instead of squaring the requirement with actual dollars, the village and building owner Joey Zangrillo entered into an agreement for Zangrillo to deed over land in the rear of the property, which is currently used for parking, over to the village. As a result, Zangrillo will essentially own the property that houses the building, and the remainder of the parcel will be deeded to the village.

“In talking with parking committee and Larry [LaPointe, deputy mayor], we find the land to be extremely valuable,” Garant said during the meeting. “You can’t really put a price point or tag on the size of the lot.”

The deal would be subject to approval by Suffolk County prior to finalization to ensure moving the kitchen to the basement is adherent to county regulations. As a result of the deal, Billie Phillips — the original business owner for more than 35 years who was not at the helm at the time of the fire but has since entered a lease agreement with Zangrillo to reopen Billie’s 1890 Saloon — said he is hoping to be ready to reopen in early 2018.

“This is a more than fair bargain from the village’s point of view,” said LaPointe, who is also a trustee, during the meeting. According to Garant, the area being acquired by the village is used as an informal parking area, though it will now have actual spaces painted and associated with municipal meters.

Brian Egan, the village attorney, explained that the difference in owning municipal parking spaces and leasing them to property owners from the village’s perspective is that it prevents disputes, confusion and potential lawsuits when property changes hands.

“Unlike every other municipality you would assume owns the municipal parking fields, we are a patchwork in that back parking lot,” he said.

Zangrillo praised Garant and the village for their hard work in helping to facilitate the deal and get the establishment back on track for reopening.

“The village has been nothing but extremely helpful to me as a landlord,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m looking forward to many, many years of a great relationship with my tenant. I’m looking to get Billie’s up and running for my concerned friends and villagers who have been asking.”

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Port Jeff business owner Joey Zangrillo during a July trip to a Kenya orphanage he hopes to help expand. Photo from Joey Zangrillo

By Alex Petroski 

Main Street in Port Jefferson and Nairobi County in Kenya are separated by 7,300 miles, but a chance meeting between a local business owner and a Kenyan lawyer has made a world of difference for needy children in the impoverished nation.

In 2016, Annette Kawira, 28, moved with her then-fiancé from Kenya to Port Jeff. One night she and her now-husband, who relocated to begin working at Stony Brook University, found themselves in Port Jeff looking for a place to eat and ended up dining at the Greek restaurant Z Pita. Owner Joey Zangrillo struck up a conversation with Kawira, who had been a practicing lawyer in Kenya. She told him about her home and about a charitable effort in which she had previously been involved. Kawira said she used to donate 10 percent of her monthly salary to a cause being undertaken by a pastor in a suburb of Nairobi, whose mission was to help orphaned and forgotten children living on the streets without proper care.

A well that was established in large part through a fundraiser at Zangrillo’s restaurant. Photo from Joey Zangrillo

According to Kawira, Pastor Hika Kamau and his wife Judy realized after several church services that when tea and bread were shared with members of the congregation, several children would appear to eat and then disappear. Kawira said Kamau was curious about what was going on with the approximately dozen children. So after one service he told the children he would gladly feed them lunch; but in exchange he asked them to introduce him to their parents. It then occurred to him many were orphans, and others had families that were either unable or unwilling to care for their children.

“He just wondered, ‘Where do these kids go during the week?’” Kawira said.

This sparked Kamau’s motivation.

In 2009, the pastor set up what would eventually evolve into the Bethsaida Orphanage, headed by the Bethsaida Community Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping needy children in the area, with the help of the Bethsaida Women’s Empowerment Group. The school, which is also home for many of the children, originated as a small dwelling built out of mud and soil on the grounds of the church for the original group of children the pastor met after services. Through word of mouth, the number of children served by the school has ballooned to more than 100, with 72 kids from 1 year old to 17 years old living permanently on the site, which has grown through the exchange of the pastor’s ancestrally inherited land.

Kawira said she was happy to donate part of her salary to help the cause.

“Every time I would give it to them, I realized what I was giving really wasn’t making a difference, because they would probably just eat, buy a few utilities — that doesn’t change the situation that they were in,” she said while sitting at a table inside Z Pita. “My interest with the kids was to just make sure whatever we do, it’s sustainable. I don’t think you can beg forever … what can we do that will empower these kids to empower themselves?”

When Kawira found herself at Zangrillo’s restaurant last year, they struck up a conversation, and the restaurant owner told her about his own charitable effort on which he had just embarked. Zangrillo founded a company called Race Has No Place, an apparel brand with a mission of breaking down barriers between people of different races. Purchasers of the apparel, upon check out, are instructed to select a charity of their choice toward which to direct 10 percent of their purchase. Zangrillo and Kawira soon realized their missions intersected and decided to team up.

Kawira explained the story behind the pastor’s mission in Kenya, and by July of this year, after a fundraiser at Z Pita, the Port Jeff business owner was on a 25-hour excursion to see the desperate area for himself.

“I’m telling you — what good food can do,” Kawira said, laughing about the lucky circumstances that led to the charitable partnership. “Good food brings people together.”

Port Jeff business owner Joey Zangrillo during a July trip to a Kenya orphanage he hopes to help expand. Photo from Joey Zangrillo

After the first fundraiser and additional money accumulated by a donation container that sits on the front counter at the restaurant year-round, enough money has been raised to begin the construction of a well at the orphanage, which will provide much-needed clean water.

“I’m never going to forget them — I’m going to make this a lifelong mission, as long as I’m alive,” Zangrillo said, reflecting on his eight-day trip to East Africa.

Zangrillo and Kawira have enlisted the help of Maureen Nabwire, a native of Kenya, who serves as a project manager for their efforts and has plans to venture to Port Jeff to establish a game plan for 2018. Plans include figuring out how much money needs to be raised and how it will be done to make the facility everything it needs to be for as many needy Kenyan children as possible.

“Annette and Joey are the kindest and most beautiful souls, and I am so glad I get to work on this initiative with them,” Nabwire said in an email. “They have marshaled the Port Jefferson community into this great cause, and I am super proud of them. They have brought the plight and needs of Bethsaida community children home to a much greater audience and the response has been immensely positive. Annette and Joey represent the society we want to have where your neighbor’s trouble or suffering is your problem. From what they have done, the home down here in Kenya is going to take care of the children without trouble, and guarantee them basic needs and a good education.”

Kawira tried to sum up what the extra attention being paid to a needy group in her home country has meant so far, and what it will mean in the future.

“We’re dealing with kids who don’t have primary resources — water, clothing and shelter,” she said. “It would be hard to explain how dire the need is until you see it.”

To learn more about the cause, visit www.facebook.com/racehasnoplace. For more information about the Bethsaida Community Foundation or to get involved, visit www.besahemi.org.

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