Tags Posts tagged with "Chris Mellides"

Chris Mellides

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George, Linda, Stefan and Dawn Karatzas gather in front of James Cress Florist on Main Street in Smithtown. Photo by Jan La Roche

By Chris Mellides

Founded in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century, James Cress Florist has flourished and become a fixture on Smithtown’s Main Street since the 1960s. 

Photo by Jan LaRoche

With their fingers on the pulse of a bustling suburban street in a prominent Long Island town, new owners George and Linda Karatzas always admired the James Cress name and its storied legacy. Their vow is to keep the integrity of the popular flower shop that broke ground in 1903 without sacrificing on quality or service.

The old James Cress business was housed in a 13,000-square-foot building on the corner of Main and Bellemeade Avenue, and George Karatzas admits that moving his location a few doors down to 127 E. Main St. and into an 18,180-square-foot establishment was no easy task. Despite this, the Karatzas family is wholly optimistic. The move date initially occurred on Aug. 18.  

“It’s happening,” George Karatzas said on the day of the move, “Flowers are here, I’m slowly bringing the computers over, and I’m ready to put the phone lines into this new location.”

“Once all the product is here and computers are operational, we’re going to be doing business out of the new location,” he added. 

James Cress has grown since the Karatzas purchased the iconic Smithtown location in December 2021. With the expansion, James Cress now serves Long Islanders with two other shops that can be found in Port Jefferson Station as well as Woodbury.

Overseeing the operations of three individual stores is a huge undertaking and one that was further complicated by the pandemic and the shops’ lack of employees, despite there being over 50 staff members at this time.    

“It’s quite a task with today’s COVID still happening,” Karatzas said. “If we don’t have employees with COVID issues, we have staffing problems. We’re having a very difficult time recruiting new help. That is a problem across the board.”

Asked what measures he can take to stymy this looming problem, the florist said, “There really isn’t much you can do other than reaching out more on social media platforms.” The focus, he continued, is on “expanding the reach” of James Cress. 

The award-winning flower shop provides same-day flower deliveries for just about any occasion. These occasions include weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, parties of any stripe and themed events, where a wide array of flowers and bouquets are needed to spruce up a special day.  

“The event business is busy,” Karatzas said. “There are [times] where we have eight events over the weekend, it’s a lot. I would have to say that the weddings during the summer months — where business is normally slower because there are no holidays and whatnot — we’re busy doing weddings. There are no two ways about it. Valentine’s Day is a big one for us.” 

While it’s not exactly known when James Cress himself launched the Smithtown storefront, designer and senior employee Kevin Henchey estimates that the old building was purchased by Cress sometime in the early 1960s and quickly became a prominent location serving patrons in and around the surrounding area. Henchey has been with James Cress for the last 40 years, according to the Karatzas family.  

Photo by Jan LaRoche

The entirety of the upstairs floor of the new James Cress building was perfect for showcasing a dedicated bridal showroom, since the space is considerably larger than the last, according to George Karatzas. 

“We took the first half of the top level, and we rented it. That is going to be the bridal showroom where brides can come in and do their consults like we’ve been doing for the past 30-some-odd years,” Karatzas said. 

No matter the occasion, the Karatzas understand the importance of the James Cress name and are equally determined to provide unmatched service across all three locations. With George Karatzas stating that it would have been a shame to see the Smithtown location close and was happy to relocate the storefront instead of shuttering its doors for good. 

“So, really at the end of the day, Linda and I don’t want to lose the legacy of James Cress,” Karatzas said. “We’re going to continue it and my son Stefan is on board with me and my daughter Dawn is also helping us out.” 

He added that he wants “to continue with our relationship with the customer base that we currently serve. And give them a more modern facility for the walk-in traffic that’s on Main Street.”

Warmer winters are likely contributing to the steady rise of tick populations and the spread of tick-borne diseases in the area. Illustration by Kyle Horne @kylehorneart
By Chris Mellides

As winters on Long Island become milder due to climate change, the existing tick problem on Long Island will likely intensify.

Already, municipalities along the North Shore have engaged the public to discuss the dangers of ticks and consider possible remedies. 

During a Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees meeting July 5, one concerned resident said, “Another child just got bit by a lone star tick and she can’t eat meat for the rest of her life.”

The meat allergy in question is Alpha-gal syndrome. AGS is a tick-borne disease commonly transmitted by lone star ticks, which are commonly carried by deer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The instances of the prevalent Lyme disease have nearly doubled in the years 1991-2018, based on findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the climate becomes warmer, the size of tick populations and the spread of tick-borne diseases are projected to increase. 

Village trustee Rebecca Kassay, whose background is in environmental community outreach, is well aware of the problem that these pests pose to the larger community. She considers recent public interest in tick activity to be worth the board’s attention. 

“As time goes on and as climate change is affecting our area, one of the effects is these more mild winters,” Kassay said. “When there’s not a deep freeze for a prolonged period of time, the ticks don’t have that die-off like they used to and, as that happens, we’re seeing a steady increase throughout Long Island and the Northeast of tick populations.”

Wooded areas and athletic fields are more prone to being havens for these external parasites that are carried by wild animals like mice and deer and typically affect mammals, though other organisms are also fair game to these blood-feeding, eight-legged insects. 

“I’m going to be looking into messaging, making sure that there’s accurate information that gets out to parents,” Kassay said, adding, “What are ticks? What are the dangers of [them]? And how important it is to regularly check for ticks both on their children and themselves?”

Barbara Sakovich, Port Jeff clerk, shared that while the village does not spray for ticks, private homeowners are permitted to spray their own properties.

Referring to the July 5 meeting, Sakovich said in a statement, “Deputy Mayor Snaden, as well as an attendee in the audience, discussed tick tubes and that they can be somewhat effective to manage the tick problem in the mice population.” The village clerk added, “A lint roller can be effective in removing ticks from clothing after being outside.” 

The New York State Department of Health lists several diseases known to be carried by ticks. However, the severity of symptoms has raised a number of eyebrows. Lyme disease is the most common but anaplasmosis, rickettsiosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia are also contracted via bioactive molecules in tick saliva.

Tick bites affect parents and children alike, and the Port Jefferson Village website recommends that afflicted residents should “call your physician as soon as possible so appropriate preventative treatment can be given.”

“There’s a vigilance and an awareness that needs to be spread and hopefully our community will not be learning about these things through personal experience,” Kassay said. “Rather, [we need] neighbors talking to neighbors and parents talking to parents and sharing this information so that through information we can prevent other children from suffering [from AGS].”

By Chris Mellides

[email protected]

Concerned local property owners were joined by members of Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and other representatives to block the planned subdivision by Gyrodyne to repurpose the 63-acre Flowerfield site. A legal challenge was filed April 26 to overturn the March 30 preliminary subdivision approval by the Town of Smithtown Planning Board.

The application proposal from Gyrodyne included a multistory 125-room hotel along with 250 assisted living housing units, 175,000 square feet of office space, parking to accommodate over 2,000 cars and a 7-acre sewage plant. 

Among those who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference on the corner of Mills Pond Road and Route 25A outside of Flowerfield were local attorney Joseph Bollhofer; Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook); legal counselor E. Christopher Murray; and Judy Ogden, Head of the Harbor village trustee and neighborhood preservation coalition spokesperson. 

“Our lawsuit has been filed and the decision to file this litigation against the Smithtown government was not made lightly,” Bollhofer said. “Like many of you, I love this town. I grew up here, my wife was born in St. James. In the 1970s, I did my Eagle Scout project for the benefit of the people in this town.”

Bollhofer went on to say that the “Smithtown government is doing a very good job” yet its handling of the Gyrodyne application has been bungled. “It’s been our hope that we are able to preserve this property,” he added. “We’ve been doing our best to get the people involved with this to come together to try and find a way to get the money to pay Gyrodyne fair compensation for this open space.”

Representing Three Village Civic Association was Herb Mones. “Smithtown has to go back and review its determinations on this property,” he said, while also saying that in the opinion of many in the civic association, the Town of Smithtown did not pay close enough attention to the law that required them to “carefully review what the buildout would mean to the surrounding community.”

Living just 600 feet up the road from Flowerfield, Ogden spoke on behalf of residents in the communities of both St. James and Head of the Harbor. Together, Ogden said community members have been speaking publicly against the Gyrodyne subdivision application for the past two years.

“We’ve been speaking at public forums, at Zoom meetings, writing letters and sending emails at every opportunity that has been provided to express our concerns with the proposed Gyrodyne megadevelopment,” she said. “But no matter what we say or how many people show up, our voices have been ignored.”

For more than a year, opponents to the subdivision application have said that the environmental impacts of changes Gyrodyne made to its original plan after the initial environmental review was completed have not been evaluated and “did not comply with state law,” according to a press release issued on the day of the event.

“The role of government is to show leadership, which represents all people of the community and follows a comprehensive plan steering development in the right direction, while preserving and enhancing the nature of our community and natural resources,” said Ogden.

Musican Bryan Gallo performs for winery-goers. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Beyond a gravel-strewn parking lot, a weathervane perched atop a rustic old potato barn stands tall and shines in the warmth of the weekend sun at Clovis Point winery and vineyard.

The neatly trimmed lawn below is home to a number of red tables and chairs that are occupied by families whose children play on the green grass beside the expansive grapevines that stretch for yards.

With the sunlight gleaming on high, I wipe the sweat from my forehead and casually pull down the brim of my hat to allow my eyes to adjust to the brightness of the outdoors. A gray oak barrel once used to age red wine now serves as a makeshift table and a temporary resting place for my camera equipment.

I pull a barstool close to the aged barrel and wait patiently to meet Kelly Bruer, Clovis Point’s general manager, for a chat and a tour of the facilities.

Kelly Bruer, Clovis Point’s general manager. Photo by Chris Mellides
Kelly Bruer, Clovis Point’s general manager. Photo by Chris Mellides

Bruer makes his way from the tasting room nestled inside the 150-year-old building. As I stand to face him, he greets me with a smile and a firm handshake. He asks me if I’m a wine enthusiast, but to his surprise, I tell him that I’d much rather prefer a stout beer or a frothy IPA.

“Sit down, sit down. Be relaxed, it’s a winery,” says Bruer. “Do you want some wine?”

“No, thank you, but I appreciate the offer.”

“Are you sure?” he asks. “I’ve got a nice, light wine that’s good to introduce beer drinkers to.”

After some more convincing I finally accept, and Bruer arranges for a glass of white wine to be brought to the table. At first sip, the effervescent blend tastes crisp with clean fruity notes, rounding out an overall full-bodied flavor.

“The wine that you’re having there is fermented and then it goes to the bottle and it rests a bit; it’s kind of a seasonal wine and we do it every year,” says Bruer. “It’s crisp and it’s light and it’s chardonnay, and if I didn’t tell you it was chardonnay you probably wouldn’t know it.”

A high-ranking vineyard and winery located on the North Fork of Long Island, Clovis Point first opened its tasting room in 2007. Much of the walls and beams of the tasting room and surrounding property remain unchanged since the 1920s and were preserved during the eventual repurposing of the structure.

Long Island’s long, warm summers and cooling breezes permeating from the neighboring Long Island Sound and Atlantic Ocean make for the perfect maritime climate. And the glacial soils unique to the East End have allowed vineyards like Clovis Point and the other 56 Long Island winemakers to be the largest producers of European grapes in the Northeast, according to the Official Website of the Long Island Wine Council, www.liwines.com.

“It can be a difficult balance for the musician and I do respect that, because I know it’s not just a matter of walking in the door and putting a guitar over your shoulder…these guys practice and
put time into it and that’s an important part for people to realize.” — Kelly Bruer, Clovis Point’s general manager

While the well-versed general manager of Clovis Point has held many titles in the past, including working as a journalist, a sous chef and a commercial lender, he admits to having always been drawn to the North Fork and its vineyards.

“I grew up here on the North Fork, and when I was 12 years old I started working at vineyards over the course of a few summers,” said Bruer. “I never thought I’d come back, but it’s exciting. I wake up in the morning and come to work, and I work in a beautiful vineyard.”

When he took the job as general manager in January of 2011, Bruer was thrust into taking on multiple roles, including a position in operations and in event planning.

Sharing similar responsibilities is Alicia Ekeler, the tasting room director at Lieb Cellars, another North Fork winery with a tasting room located on the estate. Like Bruer, the duties she undertakes can be tiring, but Ekeler believes those duties are rife with their own rewards.

“Three days of my workweek are spent planning all the tasting room events, managing the ongoing music schedule, staffing and scheduling,” says Ekeler. “On the weekends, I am in the tasting room making sure everything is operating smoothly and that our guests are leaving happy.”

And when her guests leave happy, Ekeler is happy. She says that she’s been in this role for just more than a year, but that she’s been with Lieb Cellars for almost two.

The crowd lines up at the counter of Clovis Point winery and vineyard. Photo by Chris Mellides
The crowd lines up at the counter of Clovis Point winery and vineyard. Photo by Chris Mellides

Something else that Bruer and Ekeler share  outside of their study of the culinary arts is their enthusiasm towards working with local musicians and affording them the opportunity to perform at their respective vineyards.

When selecting artists to feature at Clovis Point’s tasting room events, Bruer says that while originality and playing skill are important, it is vital for scheduled performers to understand that their live music should only add to the warm atmosphere rather than become the main focus of the day’s event.

“Explaining the wine and introducing people to the wine, that’s the more important thing,” says Bruer. “It can be a difficult balance for the musician and I do respect that, because I know it’s not just a matter of walking in the door and putting a guitar over your shoulder … these guys practice and put time into it and that’s an important part for people to realize.”

No stranger to Long Island’s winery scene, local musician Bryan Gallo shuffles into Clovis Point’s tasting room patio and examines his playing space. While sipping wine from a tulip-shaped glass he turns to face his audience.

Donned in black horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid button-down shirt, Gallo cheerily greets the crowd at Clovis Point. The Suffolk County native has performed at the vineyard several times over the last three years, so for many of the vineyard’s guests, this wasn’t the first time they’ve been introduced to Gallo and his music.
After tuning his jet-black acoustic guitar, he begins to play original song selections from his 2014 full-length album titled “Party Guest.” Gallo’s playing style combines alternative country-rock with wistful pop music elements.

As he strums his guitar, he’ll occasionally pepper in a bluesy harmonica to accent some of his songs. A sheet music stand faces Gallo and just beyond it are CD copies of his first major album release, along with a mailing list and tip jar that rest on the floor by his feet.

Friends and family joined together to share in Sunday’s performance at Clovis Point. Among those in attendance were vineyard club member and Setauket resident Steven Krinsky.

“We’ve been members of Clovis Point for the past seven or eight years, and we love the wine, we love the owners, and we love the staff. It’s a perfect trifecta,” says Krinsky. “The live music just adds another dimension [and] I think Bryan’s music goes perfectly with the wine and the whole experience of being at a vineyard.”

“It’s a very artistic feel in that you have the chance to spread your wings and do what you need to do and the people at the wineries are incredibly responsive to it.” — Bryan Gallo, Musician

At Lieb Cellars, live performances were first introduced in the winter of 2012 with the launching of the Friday Night Music Series. The series sticks to a rotating schedule featuring local musicians preforming a range of diverse genres from folk rock to opera sung in duet, according to Ekeler.

“We launched it as something for locals to do in the off-season; a chance for them to enjoy the space when it is not bursting at the seams as it tends to be in the high season,” says Ekeler. “We really try to explore different genres so that there is something for everyone every month, and it does not get repetitive.”

Like Clovis Point, Lieb Cellars receives many requests from musicians who are interested in performing at the winery, but those that are booked to play are often chosen because their playing styles are quieter and more relaxed to better suit the tasting room atmosphere.

For active musicians like Gallo, wineries are the perfect venue to learn how to engage with different kinds of audiences, while maintaining authenticity as an artist and receiving deserved compensation for live performances.

“I’ll always reach out to the wineries. Whether the [guests] plan on me being here or not, I feel like it’s always a really good synergistic relationship,” says Gallo. “People have picked up albums of mine because they’re interested, and they ask me ‘Well, when are you playing at Clovis again, or when are you playing at any of the wineries again?’ There’s a relationship there that just works.”

The unique relationship struck between musicians and the vineyards that embrace them is one that remains strong, and one that Gallo believes will endure well into the future.

“We don’t live in a small place, [Long Island] is a hundred plus miles back and forth from either end, so you can play a show out east and go out west the next day and you’re covering brand new ground,” says Gallo. “But out here, it’s just good. It’s a very artistic feel in that you have the chance to spread your wings and do what you need to do and the people at the wineries are incredibly responsive to it.”

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Rich Zayas Jr. works his girlfriend’s tattoo. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

The intermittent sound of buzzing machinery rattles off like machine gun fire, while guitar riffs and drum work pour from the sound system of the Inked Republic storefront at Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore.

Inked Republic is a retail store that doubles as a tattooing and piercing parlor owned and operated by Tattoo Lous — a company established in 1958 that has several shops scattered across Long Island.

Inside Inked Republic, apparel featuring tattoo-inspired designs sits on shelves and hangs from racks, and opposite them is an array of custom guitars that are proudly displayed on the far wall of the shop.

The work of Jay Mohl. Photo from Mohl
The work of Jay Mohl. Photo from Mohl

Just past a roped-off motorcycle emblazoned with skulls and a Lou’s company logo is the shop’s live tattooing area. The first of two work stations belongs to Rich Zayas Jr., a 36-year-old Long Beach native living in Bay Shore, who works for Tattoo Lou’s and who has been tattooing professionally for just under four years.

Zayas is of average height and has long hair tucked underneath a black baseball cap that he wears backwards. His loose-fitting, black T-shirt has an oversized print of some original artwork drawn by Dmitriy Samohin, an artist from Ukraine, that features a skull design with octopus tentacles.

He and his girlfriend, Melissa Ann White, make their way to his workstation, passing the front desk where the glow of warm neon lights casts a shimmering bright blue hue onto the piercing supplies and tattoo aftercare products shelved behind glass displays.

Zayas says that he started work on White’s back tattoo in 2012, and that it was finally time to finish it. The design: a Day of the Dead-themed sugar skull girl wearing a cowl.

As he begins prepping his station, Zayas reaches for the bottom shelf of his stickered tackle box to reveal a rainbow assortment of tattoo ink in the neighborhood of 200 bottles. “It’s totally normal for artists to have this much,” says Zayas.

A tattoo parlor operating inside a mall is a recent phenomenon. “Irish” Jay Mohl, 45, owns Irish Jay Tattoo in Miller Place and is an artist with 23 years tattooing experience. He recalls a different time when first getting his start in the industry back in 1992.

“When I first started, it was a completely different business; there was a different mentality and it was a very rogue profession,” says Mohl. “You had a whole different segment of people that came in here. They were drinking and crazy, and you had total outlaws coming in, and now it’s not crazy anymore; it’s very normal.”

Now that tattooing has gone mainstream, body art is no longer a choice of expression solely for outlaws and drunks with criminal records. People from all walks of life, who value the beauty of art and the freedom of self-expression, have made and continue to make the leap into body modification. With the practice having become more culturally accepted, more people are seeking quality artists, and the demand for custom tattoos has risen.

“[Tattooing] is so culturally accepted right now, it’s almost like a rite of passage,” said Mohl. “I think it’s become a new way of people expressing themselves, and with the popularity of it on TV and all the media and everything like that, it really has opened the door for a lot of people.”

Work by Lake Ronkonkoma tattoo artist Stacey Sharp. Photo from Sharp
Work by Lake Ronkonkoma tattoo artist Stacey Sharp. Photo from Sharp

Mohl isn’t alone, as more and more artists have noticed this trend and understand the changes affecting the industry as a whole.

Zayas understands this shift, and his employment at a retail and tattooing hub nestled in a shopping mall shows just how far the industry has come. Years ago, a mall would have been the unlikeliest of places to get tattooed, but things have undoubtedly changed, with artists adapting to new customer demands for convenience and greater accessibility.

“Being in the mall kind of closes that weird stigma gap in between things to where you can have the lady that’s shopping in Lord and Taylor or Macy’s come in and maybe have something that was done bad years ago…fixed or covered up,” Zayas said. “Or maybe [she can] get that first tattoo that she’s been petrified about forever.”

When it comes to the kind of art being tattooed, themes and the art itself range anywhere from lettering to hyperrealism. Deciding on the right design and its placement will always be dependent on the client’s tastes, personality and life experiences.

Stacey Sharp, a 42-year-old tattoo artist working at InkPulsive Custom Tattooing in Lake Ronkonkoma, said that people who get tattooed do so to express themselves and to connect with others, and sometimes certain events in a person’s life can heavily influence their choice in art.

“Life-changing experience I think is a big one — a birth, a death, something that’s profound,” says Sharp. “There are a lot of people that say, ‘I normally wouldn’t do this, but I feel like this is a momentous occasion and I have to keep that with me all of the time.’”

On the other hand, Sharp also acknowledged there are people who have always known what they’ve wanted to get tattooed.

“Other people, they know from a very young age like, ‘Hey, this is what I’m going to get done … and I know that I want to have these marks,’” said Sharp.

Now that spring is here, artists say that they expect a bump in business. And while the winter season sees serious collectors taking advantage of shorter wait times, the warmer weather allows people showing more skin a reason to flash some new ink.

“Summer and spring are always the biggest, and I think it’s just because people are showing more skin,” says Mohl. “It’s almost like they’re priming themselves all winter, working out in the gym … and it’s kind of like a new paint job on a car; people want to get it, and they want something to show.”

As far as tattoo tips are concerned, artists agree that researching a new artist or shop and planning ahead are things that customers should do before booking time in a chair to undergo a lengthy session.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew; I get a lot of people that do that a lot,” Zayas said. “If you want to get a sleeve for your first tattoo, you totally can, but just find a decent artist that is going to work with you and design you a cool custom piece.”

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Kim Revere of Kings Park In the kNOw speaks at the drug forum. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

A grassroots advocacy group from Kings Park continued its quest to keep kids away from drugs last week with an informative forum flanked by a star-studded list of guest speakers.

Students attending William T. Rogers Middle School in Kings Park joined their parents at the school gym Wednesday night, March 4, in welcoming the speakers who assembled for the annual preventing destructive decisions forum.

Hosted by Kings Park In the kNOw (KPITK), a grassroots drug outreach and prevention organization, the forum served as an opportunity for parents and their children to become better educated on the perils of alcohol and drug addiction.

Opening the event, a member of the school faculty addressed parents and students who sat opposite a large stage and offered words of encouragement for the young members of the audience.

“Hopefully we can impress upon you tonight how much we love you and how much your families love you and the importance of the actions that you take at this level while you’re here with us at the middle school,” said the one faculty member, before introducing the night’s speakers.

The first speaker at the podium was Kim Revere, a volunteer for KPITK since 2007 and a mother of four. She described getting involved with the organization because of the growing drug problem gripping our communities and the difficulties she faced at home with her 27-year-old son, who at the time was struggling with heroin addiction.

“What Kings Park In the kNOw does is we try to bring educational programs into the schools and into the community to keep parents educated and educate kids as to what the trends are and try to have kids make positive decisions in their lives,” Revere said. “This town is growing and kids are dying. My son has been to rehab nine times; he is finally on the right track. He’s 27 years old and I will not trust him until the day I die. No matter how good he does. I don’t want another parent to live with that pain,” she added.

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) was also in attendance and drew from his 25-year background in law enforcement to discuss the lasting impact that narcotics have on local communities.

“I used to say you put the police radio on the counter and when it went off 90 percent of those calls coming out of there are drug or alcohol related,” Trotta said. “Whether it be domestic abuse, a car accident, a robbery or a theft, people break into houses to get stuff to sell to get drugs. They’re not going to be paying their mortgage with it.”

Trotta also delivered an overview of Suffolk County’s Social Host Law and New York State’s 911 Good Samaritan Law passed in 2011, which according to the legislator is a “great law” that states that if you are in a situation involving illicit substances and someone with you is in immediate danger that you should “call 911, and you will not be arrested” through implication.

Rounding out the forum were presentations from Thomas’ Hope founder and drug prevention advocate Linda Ventura, and Kym Laube, executive director of Human Understanding and Growth Services.

Ventura lost her son Thomas to drug addiction in March 2012, when he died from a heroin overdose. Since then she’s been making routine trips to Albany to push for change in the area of addiction treatment services and to better define how we should combat drug use in New York State. On the one-year anniversary of her son’s death, she launched Thomas’ Hope, a nonprofit foundation that promotes drug awareness, prevention and advocacy.

As executive director of HUGS, Laube recognizes the risks that are present for young people and that the unfortunate circumstances that shook Ventura’s household with the loss of her son are becoming increasingly common as drug use grows in popularity throughout Long Island and across the country.

Through the HUGS program she actively seeks to promote social growth among children and adolescents through leadership programs and retreats and allow them to bond and have fun in the absence of drugs and alcohol.

“All of our activities are meant to have kids feel like they are a part of something and a part of something bigger,” Laube said. “So, that we become just as fun of an activity as maybe some of the other high risk choices that are out there.”

Taking time to address the night’s event, Laube reminded parents and students that while beneficial, the real challenge presented to prevention experts and lecturers who engage with an audience is the impact of their messaging over the long term. In order for lasting change to occur, a large community effort is important and necessary, according to Laube.

“We know that unless we begin to have consistent messaging all throughout, that it’s just one night of information,” said Laube. “So what we encourage communities to do is to really begin to bring about that community-level change and to have events regularly and often, and have parenting sessions and get better programs in schools for kids so it moves beyond just this one-shot event.”

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Take members of the Smithtown Town Board, dress them up in 17th century garb and the rest is history.

Officials commemorated the town of Smithtown’s 350th anniversary sponsored by the Smithtown 350 Foundation Tuesday with the opening of a time capsule and were joined by residents who braved the snow to attend the event at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

Town historian Bradley Harris hosted the night’s proceedings and was joined onstage by Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and his colleagues who wore elaborate 17th century period clothing and read passages from the Richard Nicolls Patent of 1665 — which outlined instructions for governance under English rule of what are now the states of New York and New Jersey.

Throughout the presentation Harris and those town officials that participated onstage engaged in playful

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides
Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

banter and delivered light-hearted jokes that often got a rise out of the Long Islanders who watched from their seats.

As the night progressed, Harris often pulled from the pages of history and delivered facts about the founding of Smithtown that those in attendance might not have otherwise known.

Despite the witty quips and wisecracks exchanged in the theater room of what used to be a local cinema, the 71-year-old historian and Saint James resident was quite serious and resolute about the importance of preserving history and the passion he holds for his community.

“This town is very interesting because it started with one man’s dream to carve out a niche for himself where he would be his own master and I think that’s [Smithtown founder] Richard Smith in a lot of ways,” Harris said. “He’s left us so many things to venerate.”

During the course of the event, eyes were drawn to a 50-year-old milk can worn with age, which sat to the far right of the stage. The dirtied metal time capsule was originally buried in 1965, and thanks in large part to the town Engineering Department, which had a precise map of its location, its contents were ready to be shared for the first time with audience members.

Town officials and residents were on their feet and the excitement filling the room was palpable. With a hard crack of a hammer, the time capsule was forced open and placed on the long table, where Vecchio and his colleagues were seated.

Among the contents contained within the milk can were: two dusty hats, a phonebook, a local newspaper, a flyer advertising tercentenary pageant tickets and an assortment of aged coins.

James Potts a resident of Smithtown, who has lived in the area for 63 years, was among those in attendance. Potts’ father was the town surveyor, and, due to this, Potts claims to have a very strong knowledge of the town’s history.

Asked about the night’s presentation, Potts said he was very happy with how things shaped up.

“As you can see from how the theater filled up, it shows you the extent of the connection in this town with the residents and basically the pride in the town that they live in,” said Potts.

While he enjoyed the event, Potts expressed some disappointment with the contents of the time capsule and felt as though there could have been more items included that could have better illustrated what life was like on Long Island in the early 1960s.

Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides
Town Board members played along with Smithtown’s 350th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, dressing up in outfits similar to those when the town was first founded. Photo by Chris Mellides

Also expressing his dismay with the time capsule finds was Harris, who as a historian expected a lot more.

“It was the era of Kennedy’s assassination, and I would’ve thought there would have been some commentary on that, but there was nothing and that’s a little disappointing,” said Harris. “The guys who made up the time capsule certainly were trying to stir interest in the past and they did that, but what we learned tonight was very limited.”

Ramones band member visits Book Revue

Marky Ramone poses with his memoir. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Long Islanders filled Book Revue storefront in Huntington Tuesday night for a special appearance from Marky Ramone, drummer of the seminal punk band the Ramones.

Born Marc Steven Bell, the 62-year-old Brooklyn native spent 15 years drumming for the iconic band and has played with a variety of musicians dating back to his high school years. He is the only surviving member of the iconic group, and visited the North Shore to take part in a Q&A session before signing memorabilia and copies of his new autobiography, “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As A Ramone.”

Leading to the night’s event, roughly 100 rabid Ramones fans anxiously awaited Bell’s arrival. Among them was Smithtown resident Cynthia Cone, 42.

Cone said that when she was a teenager, she dated a drummer who turned her on to the Ramones, and it wasn’t long before she was hooked.

“Their shows were so high-energy,” said Cone. “If you listen to their bootlegs, it’s almost like you hear the countdown, and then it takes you a second to register what they’re even playing because they were so raw.”

Despite not achieving the success they deserved while the band’s original members were still alive, Cone said there’s no denying the Ramones’ impact.

“You hear so many bands like Rage Against the Machine, and even hip hop artists [credit] the Ramones. They were just such a huge influence across the board.”

Bell started playing drums in 1971 for the hard rock group known as Dust and would later audition for New York Dolls before working with Wayne “Jayne” County and Backstreet Boys. Later, he played with Richard Hell and the Voidoids, joining the band for the recording of their first record, “Blank Generation.”

In 1978, while drinking cheap beer at the legendary dive bar and venue CBGB, Bell was approached by bassist and soon-to-be band mate Douglas Glenn Colvin, also known as Dee Dee, and was asked to play drums for the band.

Asked about being on the road with the Ramones, Bell shared his experience touring America in the band’s van and likened it to being trapped in a floating mental institution on wheels.

“We had our trusty Ford Econoline 15-passenger van and we all had our assigned seats, Bell said. “We had a lot of quality time together and we were all different individuals — maybe that’s why the music was so great.”

Later, Bell discussed his band’s role in the 1979 Roger Corman-produced cult classic, “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School,” a musical comedy in which rebellious teens get even with their school principal against the backdrop of Ramones musical performances scattered throughout the film.

“[Film director] Allan Arkush came to New York and saw us play [and] he loved it. We toured our way from the east to west coast in 1979 and the next thing we knew, it was ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll High School,’” Bell said. “Making the movie was interesting [and] it was pretty funny seeing four aliens, me, Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee, in the movie amongst the normals.”

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Linda Ventura memorializes her late son Thomas by putting her face at the forefront of the ongoing battle to curb illegal drug use and its unintended consequences. Photo from Linda Ventura
Linda Ventura memorializes her late son Thomas by putting her face at the forefront of the ongoing battle to curb illegal drug use and its unintended consequences. Photo from Linda Ventura

By Chris Mellides

The legislative office building in Albany hums with activity as concerned Long Island parents and members of the addiction treatment community prepare to convene with state assemblymen and insurance company executives for a roundtable discussion.

King’s Park residents Linda Ventura and Maureen Rossi, who both endured the long drive to the state capital the previous night, break away from their group moments before the meeting and casually walk to the nearest bathroom.

Inside the brightly lit lavatory, where toilet paper lines the old tiled floor, Ventura reaches into her purse and retrieves a piece of Tupperware, like she has many times before, and together with Rossi the two of them pray.

Ventura, a mother of three, watched helplessly as her eldest son Thomas succumbed to his heroin addiction two years ago. And now his ashes, tucked neatly inside that plastic container, serve as a reminder of why she tirelessly works toward spreading opiate awareness and tirelessly lobbies for political change. For such efforts Linda Ventura has been selected as one of the People of the Year by this paper.

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association, was among those concerned parents and addiction treatment advocates who joined the dozens of insurance executives at the round table meeting.

He recalls the tension choking the room and the moment a state legislator asked Ventura to make her case for why she thinks insurance companies are handling treatment coverage poorly.

“Linda opened her purse, took out a Tupperware, put it on the table and said, ‘This is my son Thomas. This is what outpatient treatment looks like.’ And the room was stunned,” said Reynolds. “You know I’ve seen it all and done it all and heard it all, and it left me and everybody else in the room speechless.”

Reynolds says that he met Ventura roughly two years ago through a mutual contact and that his work with her became much more focused when they started their legislative push.

“She has been at the forefront of our push for a number of bills in Albany. The thing about Linda is that addiction messed with the wrong mom,” Reynolds said.

Ventura, 54, was born and raised in Oceanside and moved to Kings Park in 1993, where she’s continued her work as a financial advisor.

In March 2012, her son Thomas died from a heroin overdose. He was 21. In the years leading up to his death, Ventura says that a tumultuous family life had put stress on her children.

“My mom and dad passed and my ex-husband’s mom passed. Every year we lost one of them and him and I were going through a divorce,” Ventura said. “So there was a lot of loss, tremendous loss in the family and Thomas was especially sensitive.”

At 15 years old, Thomas began smoking marijuana and drinking beer, and by his senior year of high school Ventura recognized that her son had a problem with prescription painkillers. During the fall after his graduation, Thomas went to his first rehab.

That’s when Ventura said she realized how difficult it was to get insurance coverage for her son’s treatment.

“While he was covered under his dad’s policy, the family as a whole was entitled to one stay at a rehab. So we used that the first time that he went. It was then covered under me,” Ventura said. “We heard things through the next few years and [were told] that he’s not high enough for treatment, which still boggles my mind.”

In order to receive continued coverage for treatment services, Thomas had to continually fail at outpatient services before he could be approved for more comprehensive residential treatment, according to Ventura, who claims that this rule was “insane.”

After her son’s fatal overdose, Ventura said she knew that she needed to bring awareness to the opiate problem affecting Long Islanders, and help to change how insurance providers offer coverage to families seeking help for their sons and daughters struggling with addiction.

On the one-year anniversary of her son’s death, she launched Thomas’ Hope, a nonprofit foundation that promotes drug awareness, prevention and advocacy. Through this effort, Ventura has spoken at numerous events to raise awareness and has raised money to assist families battling with substance abuse.

During a Thomas’ Hope fundraiser Ventura met Maureen Rossi, chairperson of Kings Park in the kNOw (KPITK), a grassroots nonprofit designed to help eradicate illegal drugs from the Kings
Park Community.

“From the first time I heard Linda speak, I knew she had the gift — she has an outstanding ability to reach people,” Rossi said. “I was impressed with her work and shortly after I hired her to speak at our annual Preventing Destructive Decisions event. Linda’s actions and words move mountains.”

Together, Ventura and Rossi joined parents and community leaders in what would be several legislative visits to Albany.

Late this spring, they pushed for passage of Senate Bill S4623, which would reign in the insurance companies and force them to pay for treatment when it’s warranted. That bill and a number of others passed the state Senate and will go into effect April 1, 2015.

County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) represents Suffolk’s 13th District, has followed Ventura’s work with KPITK and has recognized the impact she’s made on the local community and on New York state as a whole.

“She went up to Albany and she got 13 different pieces of legislation passed, and the most important one is that insurance companies will be paying for treatment programs,” Trotta. “She’s driven, she’s smart, capable and she knows what’s going on. She’s really led the charge.”

Ventura said she hopes to see a sober high school brought to Long Island this year that would serve as “a place kids can come back to and be treated differently when they come out of rehab.” She also said she plans to discuss prescription protocol and the need for better education among medical professionals who prescribe controlled substances when she returns to Albany.

When it comes to stomping out the heroin and opiate epidemic on Long Island Ventura said it’ll have to be done as a group effort.

“New York and Long Island is the epicenter of the epidemic, which is something we should not be proud of,” Ventura said. “We can’t legislate ourselves out of it and we can’t police our way out of it. Those things are important measures to take, but everybody’s got to step up to the plate.”

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Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta holds a copy of a troubling letter sent to over 200 recipients operating home furnishing businesses in Suffolk County. Left to right: Ralph Mondrone, Natalie Weinstein, Robert Trotta and Charlie Gardner. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Housed in a building that was originally a vaudeville theater built in the early 1900s, Uniquely Natalie is a St. James-based consignment store catering to shoppers looking for affordable home and office furnishing.

Its owner, Natalie Weinstein, launched this space last year as a designer-driven shop adjoining the headquarters of Natalie Weinstein Design Associates — a full-service interior design firm.

Aside from contending with the challenges of owning her own business, Weinstein was recently served with some bad news from the county.

In a letter dated Oct. 27, Weinstein and several other small business owners with storefronts operating in Suffolk County were introduced to county code Chapter 563-106-A, which among other things states it is unlawful for any person to engage in the selling of furniture or carpets without obtaining a license.

“When I received the letter my first inclination was to say, since I’m a good law-abiding citizen, we’ve got to pay this, [but] how are we going to do this now?” said Weinstein. “This is my first retail operation … I felt it would be helpful to people who really couldn’t go to the big box stores or pay for expensive furniture and still get quality things.”

The code makes no distinction between “new, used or antique furniture,” and there are no exemptions that exist for “antique furniture dealers, churches or other nonprofit organizations.”

This means that Weinstein and others specializing in the sale of home furnishings in Suffolk County are required to apply for licensing at the initial cost of $200 with $400 needed to be paid every two years for relicensing.

Frustrated and looking for outside assistance, Weinstein reached out to Legislator Rob Trotta, who admitted his outrage over the county mandate.

“This is strictly an attack on small business,” said Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). “Over 200 letters were sent out right before the Christmas season. Downtowns are struggling, small businesses are struggling and this [code] said that you need to get a license.”

Trotta said the foundation of this law had shifted from its original intent and that this mandate was just “another attempt to hurt small business and to raise revenue.”

Aligning himself with Trotta is former Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Charlie Gardner. Gardner believes that this mandate aimed at small-business owners subverts the original intent of its legislation, which was to safeguard consumers from unlawful business practices.

“This legislation was aimed at regulating those businesses that would routinely go out of business, would take consumers’ deposits for money, fail to deliver furniture, deliver damaged furniture, and many times consumers had no recourse,” said Gardner. “Since the inception of this legislation the number of complaints dramatically decreased, but it was certainly not aimed at antique stores, antique dealers [or] roadside vendors.”

Gardner, who is now chair of the Government Relations Committee for the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said if any of his town members were burdened with the mandate, he would suggest they appear before the Legislature to vent and demand that the legislation revert to its original intent.

In an attempt to resolve this issue, Trotta asked legislative counsel to draft legislation that would clarify the definition of “antique dealer” and “seller” and save Weinstein and others from additional hardship.

“I believe that the original intent of the law was to protect consumers when primarily furniture and carpet retailers failed to deliver the merchandise promised,” said Trotta. “Now it appears that the county is going after the small-business person who sells a few pieces of furniture and [the consumer] takes the merchandise with him or her.”