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John Tsunis

One of the 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

George Washington and the Long Island Culper Spy Ring continue to make history on the North Shore.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. One of the signs, unveiled at the end of the event, is located in front of the Brewster property.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The installation of signage and the designation comes after almost two decades of work on the part of the North Shore Promotional Alliance. The state road was chosen because President George Washington once traveled it to thank the patriots for helping him win the Revolutionary War, and it was also a route that spy Austin Roe used to pick up and deliver secret messages to military officer and spy Benjamin Tallmadge in Connecticut.

Gloria Rocchio, President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotional Alliance, said that during the days of the Culper Spy Ring in the 1700s the Brewster House was one of only a few homes, and at the time of the American Revolution, the area was occupied by 300 British troops.

“Our community was divided between Loyalist and Patriots who supported the revolution in secret,” she said. “This history is the very history of America. Our efforts over the past 17 years have been to shine a light on our American Revolution and to encourage people to visit those important sites on the North Shore where history was made — the George Washington Spy Trail, Route 25A.

In addition to thanking her fellow members of the NSPA and others for their work, Rochhio acknowledged State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for introducing a legislative resolution in both the New York State Senate and Assembly that recognizes the dedication of the trail as well as the service of the spy ring members. On the same day, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were presenting a similar resolution in congress.

Flanagan thanked those who gave up their free time to dedicate themselves to the project. The senator said he and the other local legislatures who were on hand for the event are proud of their towns.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Supervisor Ed Romaine present a proclamation to President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Gloria Rocchio, making May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“We brag about the places that we come from,” he said. “We like telling people about these types of things.”

Flanagan said he hopes that residents, as well as those who travel to the area will take advantage of the educational experiences the signs call out along the way.

When Englebright stepped up to the podium, he asked State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) to join him and said he appreciated the partnership with his neighboring assemblyman as well as Flanagan when it came to the legislative resolution that recognizes the area’s historical significance.

“This is a special place,” Englebright said. “Patriots lived here. People put their lives on the line as the first espionage ring for service to our nation.”

Englebright echoed Rocchio’s sentiments of the importance of the signs that pay tribute to the area’s history.

“The memorialization of that through this signage that Gloria referred to, is a chance for us to celebrate that reality, that wonderful beginning of our nation, the role that we played in it,” the assemblyman said. “It’s also important to give a sense of place and sense of context for this and future generations.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) presented a proclamation to Rocchio, which made May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Romaine also reflected on the historical importance of the day.

Local politicians following the enveiling of the Washington Spy Trail sign along 25A. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Today we remember our history,” he said. “Today we remember ordinary people, living ordinary lives, who were called upon to do extraordinary things.”

John Tsunis, Chairman and CEO of Gold Coast Bank and owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, introduced Harry Janson, Sr., who was wounded in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart, a medal that originated from Washington’s Badge of Military Merit. Janson, who is on the board of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, said he believed the members of the Culper Spy Ring — Tallmadge, Roe, Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster and Anna Smith Strong — were worthy of the award as well.

“The difference is the example of their bravery,” Janson said. “They performed their bravery in covert, and they took their secrets to their graves.”

Before unveiling the Washington Spy Trail sign in front of the Brewster House, Janson had the same wish as others who worked on the installation of the signage.

“We hope that many of you drive the trail and learn about these brave men and women, and what they did for our country,” Janson said.

Additional Washington Spy Trail signs include ones located on the westbound side of Route 25A at West Broadway in Port Jefferson, by the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, before the Smithtown Bull in Smithtown and at Lawrence Hill Road in Huntington Station.

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Gold Coast Bank’s Setauket branch, at the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road. Photo by Donna Newman

By Wenhao Ma

In little more than eight years, John Tsunis’ Gold Coast Bank has gone from one location in Islandia to a publicly-traded company with six branches on Long Island, and another opening in downtown Brooklyn.

Now he’s contemplating the bank’s first branch in Manhattan, because many of the customers and stockholders on Long Island are also residents of New York City.

“I don’t want to build a wall between us and New York City,” Tsunis said.

Tsunis, 65, has multiple business interests. He is not only the chairman and chief executive officer of Gold Coast Bank, but is also on the board of directors of the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association, and the founder and CEO of Islandia-based Long Island Hotels. He opened the first Holiday Inn Express franchise on Long Island in Stony Brook in 1991, which was the first in the United States.

According to Gold Coast Bank’s 2016 second quarter report, its net income reached $573,000, a 178 percent increase compared to the same quarter last year. Its assets, deposits and loans have all increased compared to 2015.

The bank also reported year-to-date net income of $991,000.

Gold Coast Bank went public in June, issuing about $9.5 million in shares.

“We are encouraged by our original investors who continue to support our community bank, as well as new investors who have come aboard,” Tsunis said in a statement.

John Tsunis is chairman and CEO of the bank. File photo.
John Tsunis is chairman and CEO of the bank. File photo.

After his first bank, Long Island Commercial Bank, was taken over by New York Community Bancorp in 2005, many clients felt the new, larger bank no longer offered a personal touch. So Tsunis created Gold Coast Bank.

“We used the same model [as we did for Long Island Commercial Bank], almost like a private bank, where we could meet with our neighbors and help them,” Tsunis said. “The bank has a tremendous opportunity to help the development of the growth and the success of the neighbors in our community.”

He said Gold Coast Bank reinvests clients’ deposits right into the community where they are located.

“You deposit money here and we don’t send it to Europe, China or South America like a multinational bank,” he said.

Tsunis remembers when he and his bank helped a Stony Brook restaurant that had trouble funding an expansion.

“That’s not a big enough fish for them,” he said, explaining why the big banks wouldn’t lend money to the restaurant. “For small banks like ours that are in our community, every fish is a big fish.”

Tsunis said he was familiar with the owners, who had been in business for a long time.

“We took that as an opportunity to support the community and a local merchant,” he said, adding that he responded right away.

Tsunis said his father worked in a restaurant in Manhattan. When the son was 12 or 13 years old, he used to go to work with his father every Saturday. His job was to bring coffee and egg sandwiches to the customers, which helped him develop a good work ethic.

Growing up, Tsunis always wanted to be a lawyer and get into the real estate business. He graduated from New York University with honors in banking and finance in 1973, and earned his doctor of law degree from Syracuse University College of Law two years later. Before long he started his own law firm with a personnel comprising himself and a secretary.

“By being a lawyer, I thought I would understand the language of the real estate world and legal world,” he said. “I have tremendous passion for whatever I did. I didn’t want to do anything just for the sake of doing it. I enjoy law, I enjoy practicing land use and I enjoy developing real estate.”

A blueprint for a happy life is what Tsunis would most like to pass on to the next generation.

“Whatever it is that you want to do,” he said, “make sure that you have a smile on your face and the passion for what you want to do because you are going to spend an awful amount of time at work.”

Tsunis is establishing a scholarship at the College of Business at Stony Brook University to help young people who want to enter the business world. He is personally donating $25,000, and the bank will add to that.

Andrew Polan, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said that Tsunis, who is a very active board member in the chamber, likes to get the community involved, recalling that two years ago Tsunis spent $1,000 on tickets to a barbecue at West Meadow Beach, and gave them out free to guests at the Holiday Inn Express.

“Currently, he wants to get all parts of our community, including the faculty, staff and maybe students of our great Stony Brook and Three Village community together to do a huge New Year’s celebration — maybe centered at the new sports arena on campus,” Polan said.

Cris Damianos, vice chairman of the bank, said that Tsunis is a charitable person and a big donor to charitable organizations, adding that he understands doing business is not a one-way street.

To help the community, Damianos said that the bank lends money not only to businesses, but to religious institutions as well.

Tsunis said he believes that his and the bank’s efforts to help the community will pay off.

“I think if we germinate those seeds, those young students, the residents of the New York metropolitan area and international students as well, will help this economy, this county, this state and country to be a better place to live,” he said.

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Gold Coast Bank’s East Setauket branch is located at 690 Route 25A. File photo

Gold Coast Bank, which calls Route 25A in East Setauket one of its homes, is cashing in with a new branch in Southampton.

The Islandia-based bank filed an application with the state Department of Financial Services and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to expand its sixth Long Island branch in the eastern Suffolk community since its launch in 2008.  The new spot is slated for 97 North Sea Road in the Southampton Village business district, adjacent to the Southampton post office.

“We are extremely pleased to announce our plans to open our sixth branch,” said John C. Tsunis, Gold Coast Bank’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Gold Coast has been highly successful since it opened for business, and this new branch serves to confirm our standing as a bank that continues to strengthen its roots in the communities we serve across Long Island.”

Tsunis said the bank recently reported its fourth consecutive year of profitability, making the move to expand an easy decision. The new Southampton location will join the Gold Coast branches across the island, including Mineola, Huntington, Farmingdale and East Setauket. And looking ahead, Tsunis said the bank had big plans for the far eastern end of Suffolk.

“With the opening of this branch, we are certain we will play a very active role in the growth in the Hamptons,” Tsunis said. “Southampton has always had a very large role to play on Long Island, serving as a beacon for business, tourism and the arts. We are excited to further extend the Gold Coast Bank footprint into this vibrant community.”

The announcement of the bank’s expansion came just weeks after another milestone announcement, when the state Department of Financial Services and the Federal Deposit Insurance Program promoted Gold Coast Bank past its new bank, or “de novo,” status. The reclassification moved the bank beyond certain state banking regulations that are typically put in place for newly formed banks.

James P. Johnis, president and chief operating officer of Gold Coast, said the bank’s $323.8 million in total assets as of the end of 2014 propelled the bank into becoming one of Long Island’s premier banking locations.

“This solidifies us as a major part of Long Island’s banking industry, and going forward, we will continue to provide customers with superior personal service while exceeding customer expectations,” he said in a statement when the bank was promoted past new bank status. “This is a major step in our history and a most positive sign of our growth and success.”