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St. James

William Capurso and Kerry Maher-Weisse started up the Community Association of Greater St. James in December 2016. Photos from Kerry Maher-Weisse

The hotly contested 2017 Smithtown election not only pushed forward several political issues but resulted in the birth of new civic organizations across the town.

Both the Community Association of Greater St. James and Smithtown United Civic Association have emerged and risen up over the last year, becoming fountains of energy and new ideas with the aim of transforming their downtowns and the greater Town of Smithtown into a better place for residents and businesses alike.

Civic associations “play an important role,” Smithtown’s Supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “This way before the town board makes a decision on the economic developments or otherwise, we have a sense of what the community wants, who are the taxpaying residents of this town, and what’s acceptable.”

Lifelong St. James resident Kerry Maher-Weisse, director of St. James Funeral Home, said she approached co-founder William Capurso with the idea of creating what became the Community Association of Greater St. James at a St. James Chamber of Commerce meeting in late 2016.

“I asked him, ‘Do you want to do something? I have visions for St. James. Do you want to jump on this? I would love to have you,’” Maher-Weisse said.   

The St. James civic association celebrated its one-year anniversary Dec. 16 with more than 270 family memberships behind it, according to Maher-Weisse, who serves as its president.

I commend Kerry Maher-Weisse for spearheading a group of residents to form the Community Association of Greater St. James.”

— Rob Trotta

“I commend Kerry Maher-Weisse for spearheading a group of residents to form the Community Association of Greater St. James,” said Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who has attended several of the group’s events. “I think it is great that they have solicited input from the residents and business owners, and have accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Their Summer Nights were a big success. I really feel they have gotten off to a great start and will have a very positive impact on the St. James community.”

The civic organization has initiated the St. James Farmers Market, which now runs on Saturdays from May to the end of October at the St. James Lutheran Church located on 2nd Avenue. Residents came together for the Summer Nights series on Lake Avenue that featured live bands, entertainment, food, art and crafts, and vendors to pack the downtown area. In the fall, the association hosted antique car shows to build on camaraderie built up over the summerS

“I think they have great ideas,” Smithtown Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R), also a St. James resident, said. “The town, particularly St. James, has been asleep for a while and they are waking it up.”

Maher-Weisse said the goal of the fledgling civic association isn’t just to build community, but to bring attention to key quality-of-life issues.

“We have so many great resources in St. James but some things are lacking, that I made politicians aware of,” she said. “We have to take action. That’s why making the civic association was so important both politically and eventwise to take action and start getting grant money.”

Within a year, the civic association’s president believes their activism is having an impact. Town of Smithtown officials approved funds to install new equipment at Gibbs Pond Park and Gaynor Park, both in St. James, at their Oct. 10 town board meeting. It’s the first time in more than 35 years, according to Maher-Weisse, some of the parks have seen major upgrades.

“I’m glad we made the politicians open their eyes to say, ‘St. James is here and we want our tax dollars to be used wisely and spruce up the things that need some attention,’” she said.

The Community Association of Greater St. James is not alone in its desire to draw attention to a downtown area. A smaller group of residents came together in the western part of Smithtown as the Smithtown United Civic Association, unveiling in October a detailed conception plan for what Smithtown’s Main Street revitalization should look like.

Timothy Small, president of Smithtown United and a retired engineer, said the organization’s goal is to give local residents a voice in the future of their town. It was formed in response to two events: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allocating $20 million for sewers in Smithtown and the proposed sale of the Smithtown school district’s administrative headquarters on New York Avenue.

. We in town government serve the people. We want to know and we want to hear from them.

— Ed Wehrheim

“If you look at the downtown areas of Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, they are tired looking,” Smalls said to TBR News Media in October. “There’s a lot of vacant shops and properties. We live in a wonderful town. The schools are wonderful, we love our homes, but it’s our downtown business districts that are deeply suffering.”

The Smithtown civic association leader said their conceptual revitalization plan was put together after the group spent approximately six months assessing community needs and drawing inspiration from surrounding towns, such as Huntington and Patchogue, for what they would like to see in Smithtown. The proposed design was unveiled on Facebook for public feedback, input and criticism.

Wehrheim said he spoke with Small Dec. 19 regarding the civic association’s desire to publicly present the plan at an upcoming town board meeting, possibly Jan. 25, 2018.

“I think they are having a positive impact,” the supervisor-elect said. “At least we have a sense of what they want and what they would prefer not to have near their residential community. We in town government serve the people. We want to know and we want to hear from them.”

A third organization, Nesconset Civic Association, was announced as newly formed at the Nov. 7 Smithtown Town Board meeting by Nesconset resident Peter Hanson, but was still establishing its goals. We look forward to seeing what changes take place in Nesconset in 2018.

Small business owners like Marion Bernholz, who owns The Gift Corner, above, are trying to find ways to compete with big box stores. Photo by Marion Bernholz

By Kyle Barr

For 40 minutes each morning when Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai, opens her shop she lugs out all the product she keeps on the front porch all by herself. She does it every day, hoping the colors and interesting items will flag down cars traveling on North Country Road.

Thanksgiving day she was closed, but on Black Friday she put out her flags, signs, decorations, not expecting many customers at all, she said. Black Friday is perceived as a day for gaudy sales for the bigger stores with nationwide brands, or the Amazons of the world, though it has become just the appetizer for a weekend synonymous with shopping.

Ecolin Jewelers in Port Jefferson is co-owned by Linda Baker. Photo from Linda Baker

Instead, people flooded Bernholz’s store the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the customers kept streaming in even after Black Friday was days passed.

“We were busy on Friday, way busier than we had been since the bust, when the economy went down,” Bernholz said, beaming with excitement. “Wednesday was a spike. Friday was a major spike. It was so busy Saturday that people couldn’t find parking. There was a line out the door.”

At Elements of Home, a home and gift shop in St. James less than 12 miles from Gift Corner, the situation was different. Owner Debbie Trenkner saw Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday float by with only a small bump in sales, she said.

Though she advertised, Trenkner said that she only received a moderate boost in sales that weekend with only 27 people walking through her door on Black Friday, and only about 70 Saturday when she said she expected to see hundreds.

“After speaking to other retailers or feeling through the grapevine, all major events this year, Mother’s Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, we’ve done half the amount we’ve done in the past,” she said. “People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone, it’s their lifeline, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate because this is what communities are based on.”

“People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone.”

Debbie Trenkner

The similar local stores had polar opposite experiences during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the holiday season, though businesses overall this past Small Business Saturday, an event first sponsored by American Express in 2010, did very well though they fell short of 2016 numbers in total. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 108 million consumers spent $12.9 billion Nov. 25.

Despite the slight dip from 2016, the data shows a much higher number of consumers are making the conscious decision to shop locally on the biggest spending date of the year for small businesses.

Stacey Finkelstein, an associate professor of marketing at Stony Brook University, said in a phone interview she has used psychological and behavioral economics to inform people about marketing problems, and she said a battle between instant gratification and the desire to support local stores is being waged for today’s consumers.

“Another tension for a lot of consumers who face this dilemma layered on top of this is this ethical quandary, which is ‘I want to support businesses that are consistent with my code of ethics and the values that I have as a consumer,’” Finkelstein said.

That value-based sales pitch is important, especially when it comes to the services offered. Many local businesses surveyed after this Black Friday weekend across the North Shore agreed the services they provide, whether it’s free gift wrapping or the ability to make a custom product, or even the ability to offer hands-on help to customers trying to figure out what gift is best, are the types of factors that neither online nor most large stores can match.

Fourth World Comics in Smithtown. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I think the most important thing to do besides creating an emotional experience and offering, obviously, great service is to really think about the values of those consumers in the local town and try and tap into those local values, such as if a town is really interested in sustainability, or ethically sourced food,” Finkelstein said.

One of the biggest questions that small business owners ask is whether young people are still willing to shop local. The consensus is they are the “plugged-in” generation, but that fact can be harnessed to work in favor of small business owners.

“Social issues are particularly important for a lot of millennials,” she said. “You tend to see a lot of that. I definitely don’t think millennials should be written off. I’m big into knitting, and if you ask what’s the stereotype for knitting, for example, is that grandmas knit, but actually there’s this active and large youthful contingent of knitters that are really driving and shaping that industry in a completely fascinating way. I think what it’s about is that millennials have these ethically laden values where they want to buy things that are local, that are environmentally sustainable.”

While many stores surveyed said this Black Friday weekend was “better than average” to “great,” there were several stores that did not see anywhere near the same boost in traffic. While the weather was nice, stores that didn’t meet expectations cited insufficient support from their local governments, or locations with little foot traffic, as their main deterrents.


Reactions from local store owners

Port Jefferson—Ecolin Jewelers

Co-owner Linda Baker:

We tend to run our sales to support our loyal customers, support our repeat customers. We had 20 percent off many items in the store, not all. That hasn’t been a big motivation to shop. In our industry
either they know us or they don’t.

The village was decorated nice and we had a good weekend. Black Friday for most retailers, for independent mom-and-pop retailers, has not been a big day for us. Our business is the last two weeks of the year. I think Black
Friday is when mom and dad go to look at televisions or cars — one big
purchase. It’s not a downtown thing. I don’t compare same day to same day from years before. I think there are too many variables, whether it’s the weather
or the news. Though I’d say this year was better than last year across the board.

Mount Sinai—The Gift Corner

Owner Marion Bernholz:

I don’t think Black Friday is as big of a thing anymore. We had people coming in at 10 a.m. and I asked them why they weren’t out shopping and they would say, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore.” I think people just don’t like to rush anymore, plus all the deals are available all week long, so there’s almost no point. Maybe, eventually, people will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family, that’s the hope.

Though this was one of the best Black Fridays I’ve had since the bust in 2008, I went back and I looked at the papers for how it was in 2005. I couldn’t count it all — it was like the funds were flowing like water. It’s never
going to be 2005 again.

Half the people who came in my store on Saturday had no clue [about Small Business Saturday]. We’d be like, “OK, now we’ll explain it to you. Good that you’re here, and this is what it’s about.”

Rocky Point—Rocky Point Cycle

Owner Gary Wladyka:

We didn’t advertise but had in-store deals. We had discounts on shoes and sunglasses. There were more customers that Friday because more people had Friday off.

We’re always trying to get more customers, but we’re more of a
destination shop rather than a “Let’s go take a look” type thing.

This is the beginning of the end for small business. It’s going to continue to demise with people wanting to do
everything on the internet. The way new consumers are, it’s going to be hard to grow it. We try to provide service. You’re not going to get service online.

Setauket—All Seasons at Ari’s Treasures

Owner Jeff Aston:

We have an online presence. We did very well online over the course of the weekend. The store was busy. I’m a Christmas shop, so it’s kind of the height of our season now. We were offering 20 percent off storewide, we had some 25 percent-off items, some 50 percent-off items. We definitely went along with trying to capture that audience.

We do custom sign making and engraving, and it’s a little more of a custom product. I’m not sure how Black Friday helped us with that part of the business, but overall it was a good weekend. I’d say it was comparable to last year.

People want personalization, they want customization. You have to see the expression on people’s faces when they see our work. I’ve been in the Christmas business for 40 years, and I’ve never done anything more rewarding for my customers than what I’m doing now.

Young people today push a button and they get what they want. I’ve gotten away from the similar product you will see on Amazon. The beauty of the internet is that we can put our product out online. We’re on Etsy, and for the small business person who’s creating something themselves, Etsy is the way to go.

Smithtown—4th World Comics

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Smithtown

4th World Comics (Comics, figurines and memorabilia)

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Northport—Einstein’s Attic

Owner Lori Badanes:

“We did great, it was wonderful. We offered a lot of in store promotions. We had an Elf on a Shelf here, we read a story to the kids and the kids got a notebook and a pencil. They got to fill out a wish list, then all the kids got to make an ornament. We had giveaways, and make your own putty on Saturday.

We started planning this in the summer, back in August. We do it every year.

We did better this year than other years — 17 percent better. It was a nice jump. One thing is that we offered some light ups for an outdoor event. The kids got a lot of things to take home. I feel we’re a community-based business, and we support our community every chance we get.”

Huntington—Cow Over the Moon

Owner Brian Drucker:

“I feel like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, definitely did better than previous years. I didn’t do any specific specials that I can think of offhand.

It was a mixture of new people and regulars coming through. The big thing about a store like this being here for 23 years is that we have a steady number of regulars, but I saw a good crop of new customers come in.

One of the things I also do is sports memorabilia, and Aaron Judge [who plays for the New York Yankees] is one of the hottest, hottest things in the world. He had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever in baseball, so we sold a bunch of Aaron Judge autographed memorabilia, some pretty expensive stuff.

It’s hard to explain … why we did well. You never can tell you know, there was just a lot of people walking around. The town  was pretty booming.”

Legislators have approved the initial step toward preserving the Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Suffolk lawmakers have taken the first step toward preservation of nearly 41 acres in St. James as open space.

The county legislature voted at its Nov. 21 meeting to approve a bill introduced by Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) for an appraisal of part of the Gyrodyne LLC property in St. James, also known as Flowerfield, that runs along Route 25A. The property contains freshwater wetlands and adjacent wetlands that feed into the Long Island Sound, Mill Pond in Stony Brook and Stony Brook Harbor.

“I am greatly appreciative of my legislative colleagues’ support for our effort to preserve 41 undeveloped acres of the former Gyrodyne property,” Hahn said. “With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County. I am hopeful that the owner will understand the property’s overall environmental significance and its potential to negatively impact surrounding ground and surface waters, traffic safety and overall quality of life should it be developed.”

The bill, which now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his approval, allows for the county’s planning division to assess the owner’s interest in selling the tract to the county for open space purposes. An interest by Gyrodyne would mean the county could follow its initial outreach by obtaining a real estate appraisal and additional legal and environmental reviews that are required for a potential sale from the company to the county. According to county law, if sale of the land parcel can be negotiated, funding will come from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

“With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County.”

— Kara Hahn

While preservation of the land is being considered, a conceptual development plan from Gyrodyne was approved by the Suffolk County Planning Committee Aug. 2 and was met with resistance from Stony Brook and St. James residents.

Over the summer, the property’s owner submitted an application to the Town of Smithtown to construct a 150-room hotel with restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings totaling 128,400 feet and two long-term care buildings that would have a total 220 assisted living units on the property. Many in the area raised concerns about the amount of traffic that would empty out onto Route 25A and Stony Brook Road if an exit to the Brookhaven street was made accessible on the east side.

Trotta said he’s not completely against development as he realizes the community needs businesses such as the proposed assisted living facility. However, Trotta said he understands the community’s concerns about traffic and would like to see a good amount of the property preserved. 

“It’s always about balance,” he said.

Trotta said he believes Gyrodyne will be willing to work with the community.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have it appraised and get into discussions with what the community wants, what can we put up with traffic-wise and meet somewhere in the middle,” Trotta said.

At a Nov. 15 Smithtown Planning Board meeting, Gyrodyne representatives said their own traffic studies proved residents had sound reason to be concerned about increased traffic and pointed to six local intersections that needed improvement. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017 but have yet to be reviewed. Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

Hahn said the commercial development of the land would “fundamentally change the character of the Stony Brook and St. James communities.”

“Each of us, regardless of which side of the Brookhaven-Smithtown border you reside on, is threatened by this project moving forward,” Hahn said. “For that reason, Legislator Robert Trotta and I put forward legislation to preserve these environmentally and historically important parcels from being destroyed.”

Kevin McAndrew of Cameron Engineering, presents Gyrodyne’s plans for the St. James Flowerfield property to Smithtown Planning Board Nov. 15. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Gyrodyne LLC has admitted its own  traffic study proves that St. James and Stony Brook residents have good reason to be concerned about the traffic impact of their proposed project.

Gyrodyne made a formal presentation of its future plans for the nearly 75-acre property Nov. 15 to the Smithtown Planning Board and a standing-room only crowd. The developer has proposed to subdivide the Flowerfield land in order to build a 220-unit assisted living facility, a 130,000-square foot medical office building and a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, conference space and day spa/fitness center.

“We are not looking to maximize yield here,” Richard Smith, director of Gyrodyne and a St. James resident, said. “We are looking to strike the right balance between economic development, which I think we all know the St. James community desperately needs, and to preserve and enhance the environment we all love.”

Nearly 100 residents and Brookhaven elected officials packed the meeting to make clear their opposition to the project’s traffic impact on Route 25A, Mills Pond Road and Stony Brook Road.

“Town of Brookhaven is opposed to any traffic created as a result of this proposed subdivision emptying out onto town roads and, specifically, Stony Brook Road,” said Brenda Prusinowski, deputy commissioner of planning and environment for Brookhaven Town, reading a statement for Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “This road is overcrowded now, particularly because of usage from the university, and does not need additional traffic from a project outside our town.”

“If there’s 900 jobs, that’s 900 more vehicles on the road on a daily basis.

— Laurie Kassay

Jennifer Martin, aide for Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station), echoed the supervisor’s sentiment and made clear the town is “staunchly opposed to any additional traffic” on Route 25A as well.

Mills Pond Road homeowner Laurie Kassay said she opposed the project despite promises from Gyrodyne it will create an estimated 900 new jobs and generate $90 million annually for the economy.

“The area cannot handle any more traffic,” Kassay said. “If there’s 900 jobs, that’s 900 more vehicles on the road on a daily basis.”

The developer hired Woodbury-based Cameron Engineering & Associates who performed a traffic study focusing on 16 intersections off Mills Pond Road, Moriches Road, Route 25A and Stony Brook Road surrounding the property. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017, but have yet to be reviewed.

“The concern of the traffic impact is completely understood,” said Kevin McAndrew of Cameron Engineering. “The traffic impact study has confirmed why the concern is valid. A number of the 16 intersections studied today have poor or failing conditions.”

If Gyrodyne’s plans go forward, McAndrew said the firm has proposed traffic improvements be made at six intersections. The intersection of Route 25A and Mills Pond Road should have traffic signals installed, according to the traffic study, which also suggested NYS DOT design a roundabout at the intersection of Route 25A and Stony Brook Road in addition to traffic mitigation measures at four additional intersections on Stony Brook Road.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was outraged at the suggestion of a roundabout being installed on the historic Route 25A corridor in front of the William Sidney Mount House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. He urged the planning board to reject Gyrodyne’s plans, stating that in his opinion as a scientist,  it’s not environmentally sustainable and instead encouraged Smithtown town officials to work with Brookhaven in future development of the region.

“Our communities have a long history of cooperation,” Englebright said. “I hope we don’t have to set up canons on the border. There are some really upset people on Stony Brook Road.”

Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

A rendering of what the front of the proposed new St. James firehouse would look like. Image from St. James Fire District

Residents within the St. James Fire District voted “no” Sept. 19 to tearing down the Jefferson Avenue firehouse and replacing it with a bigger and better one.

The $12.25 million capital bond proposal sought to knock down the existing 7,404-square-foot firehouse on Jefferson Avenue and build an updated 22,458-square-foot structure in its footprint. The proposal was rejected by voters, with 775 “no” votes and 459 “yes” votes.

The concept of the new firehouse — which would have been more than three times as large as the current building — served to accommodate for modern requirements of firefighters while also taking care of renovations and repairs within the pre-existing infrastructure, which sustained significant damage in an August 2016 storm.

The estimated cost of the proposed facility would have made for an approximate increase of $118 to $198 a year for taxpayers based on their home’s assessed value.

“On behalf of the entire St. James Fire District, we would like to thank those community members who came out to vote today in our bond election,” the district’s board of commissioners said in a statement. “We are disappointed that the proposal was defeated. … As commissioners, we will now regroup and begin discussions of what our next steps might be. We will continue to keep the community informed throughout the process. As always, we will continue to respond to all emergencies in the quickest manner possible, as it is our duty and privilege to protect the residents of St. James.”

Prior to the vote Sept. 19, St. James fire commissioners said they would move forward with selling the Route 25A/Lake Avenue building — which was purchased by the district for $500,000 in 2013 —  regardless of what residents’ decision was.

As they exited the voting booths, residents explained their stance on the proposal.

“I voted ‘no’ because the tax increase is too much and I was disappointed that the only plan that was put forth was a $12 million plan,” a resident who asked to remain anonymous said. “There was no B plan or C plan and I also don’t understand the sale process of the 25A building. If they’re going to sell it, then why don’t they use that money to renovate? It’s silly. Nobody needs more taxes at this point.”

Jerry Ruggieri, a 50-year resident, agreed.

“I voted ‘no,’” Ruggieri said. “I live two blocks down the road and I think it would cause havoc on Jefferson Avenue. They have two facilities that are more than enough to satisfy the town as far as fires and I don’t think we need the expense, in this day and age, creating a new fire department. We don’t need it. We’re fine.”

Victoria Johnston, however, voted “yes”.

“I just feel as though it’s in our town’s best interest to go with this new firehouse so that these guys have the best,” Johnston said. “These are people who wake up at 3 a.m. to go save your family members. They give up time with their families to come out and save yours. For a little bit more, everything could be good for them and be good for so long. I don’t get how you can say no to them.”

This version corrects the amount of “yes” and “no” votes casted.

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, works at one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program to give low to no cost Narcan to those with prescription health insurance coverage. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis on Long Island has left devastation in its wake, and as opioid-related deaths rise every year, New York State has created an additional, more affordable way to combat it. To deal with the rash of overdoses as a result of addiction, New York State made it easier for people with prescription insurance to afford Naloxone, a common overdose reversal medication.

On Aug. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced starting Aug. 9 that people with prescription health insurance coverage would be able to receive Naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, for a copay of up to $40. New York is the first state to offer the drug for such a low cost in pharmacies.

Narcan kit are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“The vast majority of folks who have health insurance with prescription coverage will be able to receive Naloxone through this program for free,” said Ben Rosen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health.

Before the change, the average shelf cost of Narcan, which is administered nasally, was $125 without prescription with an average national copay of $10. People on Medicaid and Medicare paid between $1 and $3, Rosen said.

This action on part of the state comes at a critical time. Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump (R) declared the opioid issue a national emergency, meaning that there is now more pressure on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the crisis, as well as a push to supply more funds to states, police departments and health services to help deal with the problem.

The drug is available in over 3,000 pharmacies across New York and well over 100 pharmacies in Suffolk County. This includes all major pharmacies like CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but also includes a few local pharmacies that already participate in the state Aids Drug Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage and Medicaid, according to Kathy Febraio, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, a not-for-profit pharmacists advocacy group.

The program is only available for people who either have Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance with prescription coverage. Otherwise, officials said that those who lack insurance who need access can get it through a number of free Narcan training courses.

“We think that anything that can have an affect on this crisis is a good thing,” Febraio said. “This will certainly help. We need anything that will get Naloxone into the hands of those who need it.”

While Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) likes the idea of additional access to Narcan, he is skeptical about whether those who get it know how to properly administer it.

Narcan kits are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies, like at Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

“You don’t need a PHD to know how to use it, but there is some training that would help people be more comfortable, such as how to properly use it in an emergency situation and how to store it so that it is accessible while making sure children can’t get their hands on it,” he said. “Unfortunately the epidemic is so wide spread. Everyone knows someone who is affected.”

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program, said though the business has not yet received many calls for Narcan, the state requires pharmacists to demonstrate how to use it.

“You have to counsel the patient and show them how to use it,” she said. “We were showed videos, we were given kits to practice on before we were certified to do it. I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re doing it.”

The county currently provides numerous Narcan training courses for locals, where they receive training and free supplies of the life-saving drug. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that she will be co-hosting a free Narcan training course Oct. 5 at Rocky Point High School with support from the North Shore Youth Council.

“They absolutely need to be trained,” she said. “Narcan is almost a miracle drug — it brings people back from death. However, people need to know what they’re doing so that it is administered correctly.”

Check on the New York State Department of Health website’s opioid overdose directories section for a full list of participating pharmacies.

Members of Soulfarm perform for the crowd. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The eighth annual Jewish Summer Festival at West Meadow Beach Aug. 9 brought together members of the North Shore Jewish community for a night of family fun.

Chabad at Stony Brook hosted the event that is co-directed by Rabbi Motti and Chaya Grossbaum. The rabbi said the festival was originally organized to celebrate Jewish pride and community, and like the Chabad, is open to all members of all sects of the religion. He estimated about 500 people attended this year’s festival including local residents outside of the Jewish community.

A child walks around with a face painting from Rainbow Rosie. Photo by Seth Berman/Rapid Shutter Photograph

“We focus on what unites us not what divides us,” Rabbi Grossbaum said.

This was the second year Jennifer O’Brien from Hauppauge attended the festival with her family, she said, and it was the first time she brought her 16-month-old son Everett to a Jewish cultural event. She enjoyed seeing so many familiar faces at the festival after attending other Chabad events this past year.

She said she admired the efforts of the Grossbaums and Rabbi Cohen of the Chabad regarding the festival and the religious organization. 

“No matter what your Jewish affiliation is or how much or little you are involved, the Grossbaum and Cohen families welcome everyone with such an overwhelming warm and loving sense of acceptance and togetherness,” O’Brien said. “They go above and beyond in all of their community efforts and take pride in building relationships with each individual and family.”

Tracey Mackey of Port Jefferson Station said she was unable to attend last year but her family did. She said after hearing about it she was looking forward to seeing friends and meeting new families. She said her daughter Ava, 11, helped out at the Chabad’s camp this summer and the children were so happy to see her.

Uri from St. James enjoys some cotton candy. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“It was so wonderful because they had camp all summer, and they worked together on their crafts, and it was kind of a celebration that you get to see someone you really created a bond with,” Mackey said.

Mackey echoed O’Brien’s sentiments about the feel of the festival and the Chabad.

“That’s what Rabbi Motti likes to do — bring everyone together as a community,” Mackey said, “And when you’re there, you know you belong.”

The evening included performances by the popular Jewish rock band Soulfarm, and the high-energy group Industrial Rhythm. Children were able to get their faces painted and play in a bounce house, and kosher barbecue, cotton candy and ices were served. Mackey said the event was perfectly timed to witness the sunset at the beach. Grossbaum was grateful for the various local businesses that sponsored the festival and  “without them we would not be able to produce such a beautiful event.”

The rabbi said he hoped attendees left the festival feeling inspired and empowered about the future of the Jewish community on the North Shore of Suffolk County.

“We’re a minority but when we all come together it gives everyone a sense of pride and a sense of positivity that we could be a more active community while living here,” Grossbaum said.

A girl plays on a drum. Photo by Seth Berman/Rapid Shutter Photograph

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St. James celebrated strawberry season in style this past weekend at the Strawberry Festival June 10.

Communities from across Suffolk County gathered on a wet Monday in support of the men and women who served our country to commemorate Memorial Day.

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