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Stony Brook

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.”

Youthire.org provides an easy way for Stony Brook University students to find odd jobs in the surrounding areas. Photo from Thomas Cerna

An established job resource website will now enable young adults in the Three Villages to make some extra cash, proving the adage “There’s an app for that” to be eminently true.

More than three years ago, Thomas Cerna created Youthire America to provide more opportunities for young people between 16 and 26 years old to earn cash while gaining work experience. The entrepreneur set up the website www.youthire.org where Sea Cliff, Glen Head, Glenwood Landing and Glen Cove students could connect with homeowners and business owners. Now the nonprofit organization is extending the same opportunities to Stony Brook University students and residents in the surrounding areas.

“It’s a really great way to connect kids with adults in the neighborhood, and they’re making money doing odd jobs,” Cerna said.

Although a mobile app doesn’t yet exist, the website serves as a hub offering work opportunities in four separate categories — internships, volunteer projects, traditional employment and odd jobs.

Cerna said he got the idea to partner with the university when he noticed a homeowner from Setauket posted a request. He reached out to the poster and discovered they were informed about the site by Joanna Durso, senior career counselor with the university’s career center, who lives near Cerna and was familiar with Youthire.

Brian and Travis Danoski clean out a shed after finding the odd job on www.youthire.org. Photo from Thomas Cerna

Durso said the site makes it easier for the career center to help residents who need help, especially since the school is unable to promote jobs that need to be done inside private homes on its website.

“In addition to offering SBU students another source of job listings, Youthire is helpful for us when we hear from local residents who want to hire students for household work, baby-sitting, and so on,” Durso said.

Students set up profiles on the site and are notified by email when jobs within five miles are posted. If a student is interested in a task, the homeowner receives an email and can check the student’s profile page, which includes a photograph, narrative and past work history, before contacting them.
Everyone using the site goes through a background check and screening for misdemeanors and felonies.

Cerna said he decided to start the nonprofit after
remembering the odd jobs he worked while growing up in Mamaroneck. His high school had a career services center where students could sign up for odd jobs.

The founder said he believes working at a young age
creates personal responsibility and a good work ethic, and in a society where drug use has skyrocketed, he said he feels it can keep kids out of trouble.

“It’s something that could steer a kid in the right direction for a kid going in the wrong direction,” Cerna said.

Kevin McDonagh, of Glen Head, said he used Youthire to clean out his shed. He said with his own children in college, he needed help with the big job and remembered making signs for Cerna at the sign shop where he works.

“It was a really satisfying experience,” McDonagh said. “They came in, they did the job. Not only did the job, but they were proactive in the work. I didn’t have to direct them every step of the way.”

One of the students who worked on his shed was Brian Danoski. The senior at Stony Brook University, who is studying to be an entrepreneur, said he discovered the site on his own a few years ago.

“It’s building my experience and desire for learning new things,” Danoski said.

The college student said he likes that the site easily connects him with those who need help and allows flexibility, especially with the demands of his class schedule. He said the site is also perfect for high schoolers.

“[Cerna’s] really passionate about it,” Danoski said. “That’s why it’s going to succeed because he wants the youth to get out there and do more and learn about the world.”

For more information, visit www.youthire.org.

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.

The donation made by Eugene Sayan will help with plans to renovate the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Image from Marc Alessi

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe aims to be a major hub of exploration and innovation on Long Island, not only preserving Nikola Tesla’s legacy but actively helping to inspire the inventors of tomorrow. It is now another step closer to that thanks to the generosity of a local entrepreneur greatly inspired by the Serbian-American scientist.

During a celebration of the nonprofit’s long-term vision for its Shoreham site last month at the The Ward Melville Heritage Organization Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook, it was announced that
Eugene Sayan — the founder and CEO of Stony Brook-based health care efficiency company Softheon Inc., will donate $1 million in support of the future museum, business incubator for scientific research and student-geared education facility.

Eugene Sayan, CEO of Stony Brook-based Softheon Inc. made a $1 million donation to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Photo from LinkedIn

With the donation, the center currently has $5 million of a $20 million capital campaign goal set up in March of this year. The funding will allow the center to begin phase one of its construction projects on the grounds of Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. The starting plan is to turn two abandoned buildings on the property into visitor and exhibition spaces for science education programs by next year, and renovate the historic, Stanford White-designed laboratory. Maintenance of the buildings and staff is also part of the overall budget.

“It’s truly amazing,” said Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director, a driving force behind the center’s plans. “There’s certainly worldwide interest in this place, but Eugene’s donation is validation that there’s also an interest from local innovators in making sure this gets launched.”

Sayan, an Eastern European immigrant himself whose innovative company “strives to create simple solutions to complex problems,” has, unsurprisingly, always felt a strong connection to Tesla and looked to him as a source of inspiration while building his business. When he was made aware of Wardenclyffe during a meeting with the center’s national chair of fundraising Joe Campolo and learned of the plan to build something more than just a museum in Tesla’s name, he quickly involved himself in the effort. In the wake of Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s $1 million donation to the center in 2014, Sayan wanted to be the first entrepreneur in the local area to make a significant contribution, while inspiring others to follow his lead.

“It’s an honor to support the Tesla Science Center and its celebration of the important work of Nikola Tesla,”
Sayan said in a statement. “His work and innovation have made an impact on my life, and I’m very happy that Softheon is supporting such an important initiative on Long Island.”

“Having a capability as a science center helps with sustainability. People will keep coming back for family memberships, our new exhibits, to send their kids to robotics and coding classes.”

— Marc Alessi

Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn said Sayan’s benefaction, and others like it, will serve to successfully energize the legacy and impact of the inventor of alternating current electricity.

“Mr. Sayan is giving us support when we need it most,” Alcorn said. “We hope others will see the good that this can bring and consider giving a gift of this nature as well. Not everybody has the capacity to do something like this but when people who do have that ability act in a forward-thinking way like this, it benefits all of us. This contribution will make a real difference.”

The center’s board members estimate the entirety of their planned facility will be available to the public by 2022. Upon completion of the project, they said, not only will it include a museum and an immersive science center — including a STEM education program for students, TED Talk-style lectures and workshops for emerging scientists and entrepreneurs and traveling exhibits — it will house a Makerspace program offering lab rooms and classes in areas ranging from 3-D printing to synthetic fabrication and robotics. Incubator programs will also be set up to connect startup businesses from around the world to the site. If a company meets the center’s criteria, with Tesla-oriented focuses like electrical or mechanical engineering, its owners can apply for crowdsourcing and mentorships.

Plans are also in place to work with the Department of Education to implement Tesla into the K-12 science
curriculums of surrounding school districts.

Tesla Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi at the current Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

Alessi added that because the closest major regional science center, the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, is a hike for North Shore residents, he hopes the science center will provide a similar experience for them.

“Having a capability as a science center helps with sustainability,” he said. “People will keep coming back for family memberships, our new exhibits, to send their kids to robotics and coding classes. We eventually want to be the go-to source.”

He said it’s important the center become a place that would make its namesake proud.

“If Nikola Tesla walked onto this site after it’s opened and all we had was a museum dedicated to what he was doing 100 years ago, he would be ticked off,” Alessi said. “Just having a static museum here isn’t enough. On-site innovation really honors what Tesla was doing. [Tesla] was a futurist, he saw where things would go, and that’s what can inspire the Teslas of today and tomorrow. If you bring an 8-year-old child here who gets hands-on science experience, we’re going to inspire a future scientist. We want to help people see the value of science.”

Stony Brook University students grab a cup of coffee with campus police officers during Coffee with a Cop Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Instead of handing out tickets, officers at Stony Brook University were handing out free food.

Stony Brook University police officers and students mingled over pastries and coffee on campus Oct. 4 as part of a nationwide effort to better connect officers with the citizens they serve.

Half a dozen members of the university’s police department spoke with passing students as well as faculty outside the Student Activities Center on a number of topics, from current events to police training to food, during the college’s second “Coffee with a Cop,” an initiative that began in 2011 in Hawthorne, California and was adopted by local districts last year.

Community relations team Officer Joseph Bica answers a student’s questions. Photo by Kevin Redding

“This is a great way for students to get to know a police officer as an individual,” Eric Olsen, assistant chief of police at Stony Brook University said. “The media largely groups cops as one thing and it sort of dehumanizes them. We think this is a great concept.”

Community relations Officer Jared King, a former patrol officer who regularly pulled people over and made arrests, said he was excited to show off a more down-to-earth side to the police force.

“Nobody really knows the nice side of police work, which is interacting positively with people during the day, walking the beat, meeting and talking with people,” King said. “Here, we get to meet everyone during the day and talk about what’s going on on campus, address their questions, whatever they bring to the table.”

Jhinelle Walker, an anthropology major in her second year, made the rounds to each officer and asked several questions, even asking about their uniform colors. She commended the event for “bridging a gap.”

A student and Stony Brook University campus officer have a discussion during Coffee with a Cop. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think this is a wonderful idea because often there’s a miscommunication that comes between people in the community and police officers,” Walker said. “We have to understand they’re regular people with lives. Here, students get to know who they are, what they do and can clear up misconceptions.”

A mechanical engineering major, Sagardeep Singh, said, “It’s good to get to know the cops better. They’re just trying to do their job and want to get familiarized with us students.”

Patrick Bazemore, another officer, fielded questions about recent national events and how he became an officer.

“I love dealing with people,” Bazemore said. “Everything is about communication and interaction. That’s how you move forward in life.”

This event is far from the department’s only outreach to the campus community,Olsen said. Officers regularly take part in a game night with the students and hold a one-credit citizen’s police academy, a course designed to provide insight into the daily functions and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel.

“It’s great to know how the students think of our cops,” Olsen said. “We always need to get input from people to know if we need to improve or change. And it’s a pleasure to do this style of policing.”

The show must go on. Despite the rain and chilly temperatures Sept. 30, the Stony Brook Community Church held its annual Apple Festival on church grounds. As usual, the event was filled with apple dishes, homemade soups and chili, cider and barbecued food. Attendees were also able to purchase goods from various vendors. Last but not least, apple pies and Apple Festival merchandise were available to purchase and bring home to remember the day.

On Oct. 1 more than 150 runners and walkers took to the streets of Stony Brook to participate in the Soles for All Souls 5K Run/2K Walk. Organized by All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook, the morning included live entertainment by local band Down Port, pre-race stretches led by Inspired of Port Jefferson, raffles and a ceremony where awards were presented by age group. Brendan Roller of Melville was the first to cross the finishing line in 18 minutes, 46 seconds, and East Setauket’s Leana Wiebelt was the first female to complete the race in a time of 20:39. East Setauket resident John Barker, the only participant in the 80 and older category, finished the race in 48:20 .

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Episcopal Church Runners prepare for last year’s Soles for All Souls race. Photo from All Souls

Members of a local congregation will be pounding the pavement Oct. 1 to raise funds for their historic church, one that was designed by renowned architect Stanford White in 1889.

All Souls Episcopal Church’s 90 members are inviting runners and walkers of all ages and denominations to join them as they participate in the 9th annual Soles for All Souls 5K Race/2K Walk. Dan Kerr, race and church membership chairperson, said it’s the second year he is heading up the event. His wife Susan Kerr and friend Mary Ellen Doris started the race after the late priest in charge, Mother Ann Plummer, asked members, “Why don’t you do something to get the community more active.”

Dan Kerr congratulates his wife Susan on her win during last year’s race. Photo from All Souls

Susan Kerr, the church’s head of fundraising, said Doris suggested the race, but she herself was skeptical at first if the church committee could pull it off. However, Doris had experience with running and was confident that it would be a success, and the first year they attracted approximately 100 runners.

The two organized the race together every year until Doris moved to South Carolina.  Kerr continued to chair the race until her job as a physical therapy assistant required her to work more hours. That’s when she passed the baton to her husband, and he stepped in to head up the race.

Relieved of her organizational duties, Kerr said last year at 62 years old she competed in her first race and came in first in her division in Soles for All Souls. She said as a former power walker, who began her quest to run by taking it one mailbox at a time, she believes anyone can take up running.

“Enjoy the process and compete only against yourself,” she said.

Kerr said her husband has been doing a great job organizing the race these last two years. She said he is fastidious in his organization and has taken the event to the next level and brought in more sponsors.

“He really knows how to get out there and get sponsors, advertising on the back of shirts,” she said.

Dan Kerr said approximately 120 serious and casual runners and walkers participated in last year’s race. He said his wife and Doris carefully planned the route before the first race in 2009 wanting to make sure it was exactly five kilometers and both challenging and scenic.

“The people who run it tend to be people who are serious runners,” he said. “They run in a lot of races, and they always tell us our race, although it’s small, is one of the best planned and has one of the most beautiful routes, especially when they come to the end when they come down Sand Street on the last leg and they get to run along the harbor.”

Episcopal Church
Runners prepare for last year’s Soles for All Souls race. Photo from All Souls

The church’s senior warden Steven Velazquez has run in the race for five years along with his daughter Veronique, while his wife Suzanne helps at the event. He said the fundraiser brings the members of the church together as they promote and work on it, and Dan has been doing a phenomenal job.

“It connects our small church together, it binds us together,” Velazquez said.

He said many children run in the race, and now that they’re getting older, keeping up with them is becoming more challenging. While he used to run on a regular basis and participate in Northport’s Great Cow Harbor 10K Race, he broke his leg a few years ago and hasn’t been able to run as much in recent years.

“I’m not the greatest runner but I’m happy to complete it,” he said.

The race begins at 9 a.m. Oct. 1 rain or shine. To register, go to www.active.com and search for Soles for All Souls. Fee is $25 for adults and $10 for children under 18 before Sept. 24 and $30 for adults and $15 for children afterward and on the day of the race. The day will include pre-race stretching led by Inspired of Port Jefferson, and the band Down Port will perform after the race. Nonperishable food items and toiletries will be collected for the food pantry at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Selden.

All Souls Episcopal Church is opened every day to visitors and located at 61 Main St., Stony Brook.

Rabbi Aaron Benson from the North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jeff Station is drawing guests every Thursday for coffee and free advice. File photo

By Alex Petroski

Outlets for negative feedback are bountiful in 2017 America. One need not look far to find someone willing to tear down or criticize, but for residents in the Port Jefferson, Setauket and Stony Brook areas, finding a friendly face who’s ready to listen and provide constructive advice is as easy as buying a cup of coffee.

Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jeff Station began hosting regular “office hours” at Starbucks on Route 25A in Setauket earlier this year, or gatherings to discuss ideas in a comfortable, informal setting which have been dubbed Benson’s “Starbucks Schmooze.” Every Thursday, members of the NSJC congregation, or anyone else with something on their mind, are invited to the coffee shop to visit with Benson between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.

“I always liked the idea, when I was a kid, I really had this in mind, when I would see one of my teachers outside of the classroom it was always like a special treat,” Benson said during his schmooze Aug. 31. “Like, ‘Oh my goodness, they let them out of the box.’ And so I thought in today’s day and age, it would be a nice thing to be able to interact with people not inside the synagogue, to be out there and perhaps interact with people that I don’t know, and the success of it is really just if I meet a few people and connect a few people.”

Benson said typically he has between two and four visitors during a session, though he’s had as many as six guests actively engaged in conversation, and the discussion ranges from politics to relationship advice to current events and everything in between. He said the idea emerged organically because it fit in perfectly with his normal Thursday routine, which always includes a stop at The Rolling Pin, a kosher bakery, in the same shopping center as Starbucks where the rabbi supervises to ensure traditional processes and requirements are followed for the kosher designation. After that he would go to Starbucks for his caramel macchiato, then heads to St. Charles and Mather hospitals, where he volunteers as a chaplin. He decided to work the hour-long schmooze into the routine in January and hasn’t looked back since.

“If I can bounce an idea off one of those vital life questions for somebody then I am happy to help with that.”

— Rabbi Aaron Benson

JoAnne Shapiro, a regular attendee and member of the NSJC congregation, said it’s refreshing to have a personal relationship with the rabbi at her synagogue.

“I think when you think of the term rabbi, even in this day and age, people view the rabbi up there [on a pedestal],” Shapiro said. “And it just makes our rabbi much more approachable … I think the neat thing about this is that you never know what’s going to come out of the visit. It’s neat, it’s sort of like a nice way to start the day.”

Linda Miller, another member of Benson’s congregation, was attending her first schmooze Aug. 31, though she said before she left she planned on sending her husband for advice the following week. She said the visit was worthwhile not only for the advice she got from Benson regarding upcoming Jewish holidays, but also because she had a lengthy conversation with Shapiro, who she said she’d known in passing for years but couldn’t recall the last time, if ever, they had conversed for so long.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Miller said.

Benson said some of the more rewarding sessions are the ones that feature conversations which require very little of his own input. He recalled one schmooze when two attendees spent much of the hour bonding over the watch one was wearing.

The rabbi offered perspective on the importance of seeking help and guidance in challenging times, be it religious advice or otherwise.

“I can’t tell you to believe in particular stories, but everybody in the world has to have a set of stories that tells them about how you decide on priorities in life,” he said. “What do you do when you fall in love? What do you do when you fail? What do you do when you lose someone important? Religion provides those stories for you, but everyone has those sorts of questions. Everyone confronts those sorts of issues and everyone needs help with that. So if I can bounce an idea off one of those vital life questions for somebody then I am happy to help with that.”

BEACH FUN Jay Gao captured this gorgeous image on July 29 at West Meadow Beach in his hometown of Stony Brook using a Nikon D750 camera. He writes, ‘It had been cloudy all day long. After dinner, I heard from the TV that the sun would be out and sunset would be beautiful. At once, I grabbed my camera and headed to the beach.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

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