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Port Jefferson Frigate

The sign hung above the Roger’s Friage ice cream and candy shop May 26 was spray painted by an unknown person the day after it was hung. Photo by Roger Rutherford

A new banner was installed above Roger’s Frigate candy and ice cream shop in Port Jeff Tuesday, May 26. While previous politically minded banners above the candy shop expressed support for President Donald Trump (R), the latest one now reads “Impeach Cuomo.” 

A woman that Rutherford said had trespassed on the property to deface the banner. Photo by Roger Rutherford

Roger Rutherford, the general manager of Roger’s Frigate, reiterated he has no control over signs being put up because longtime Port Jefferson shop owner George Wallis owns the building. Rutherford did however support Wallis’ right to free speech. 

“He has a strong belief in protesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and his reopening plan,” the general manager said. “George is frustrated that he can’t reopen and believes that he can run business safely.”

Sometime around midday Wednesday, May 27, a person reportedly trespassed upstairs on the frigate’s property and defaced the banner with spray paint. Rutherford said the banner was temporarily removed, but was back up by the end of the day Wednesday.

“The police were called and they are currently looking for this woman who vandalized our property,” Rutherford said.

Back in February, Wallis installed a pro-Trump banner above of the frigate. Village officials said that it violated village code and fined the business owner $2,000 a day for the time it had not been taken down. 

Mayor Margot Garant said the banner is an illegal sign. 

“The sign was just put up yesterday late afternoon and our legal department is handling the situation,” she said.

Steam Room Receives Distancing Complaints Memorial Day Weekend

The East Broadway seafood restaurant was on the receiving end of a social distancing complaint earlier this week, with Suffolk County police responded to the 311 call. George Wallis is also the owner of the restaurant space. 

Rutherford didn’t know the nature of the call but said the complaint was the result of the outside dining on the restaurant’s premises. 

“They thought they were being safe by having tables six to 10 feet apart,” he said. 

Multiple posts to social media included pictures of the Steam Room’s dining area, which is enclosed but exposed to the outside, packed with sit down diners Memorial Day weekend, despite current mandates that all restaurants be restricted to takeout or pickup operations.

SCPD warned the restaurant owners that they couldn’t operate outside dining and said it could face further fines and penalties if it continued, according to Rutherford. 

Suffolk County Police confirmed the restaurant was visited a total of three times Sunday and Monday for noncompliance complaints. The restaurant removed seating after the first complaint to comply with the New York on PAUSE order, police said. They found the restaurant to be in compliance the second and third time they were called.

Garant was adamant restaurants needed to comply with the PAUSE order.

“Restaurants cannot have outside dining,” the mayor said. “We are not in Phase 3 yet, they can only do take-out [at this time] … I think what happened was unfortunate.”

The Mayor also added that the village and the Business Improvement District have given owners specific guidelines on what they’re able to do during this time. 

“We want them to operate responsibly, but we have to continue to follow these mandates if we want to get to the other side and stay open,” she said.

A throng of Trump supporters rallies in front of Roger’s Frigate Feb. 2 to support a banner the Village of Port Jefferson has said is against the code. Photo by Gerard Romano

For a village that has largely tried to stay out of the national political arena, said circus has come knocking in a big way the past few weeks. A banner stretched over the second floor above a premier Port Jeff shop takes the official motto of the United States, “In God We Trust,” instead replaces “God” with “Trump,” hung to support the president during the impeachment trial.

A throng of Trump supporters rallies in front of Roger’s Frigate Feb. 2 to support a banner the Village of Port Jefferson has said is against the code. Photo by Courtney Biondo

More than a week after the owner of Roger’s Frigate building, George Wallis, hung the sign reading “In Trump We Trust,” well over 50 presidential supporters rallied in front of the ice cream and candy shop Feb. 2 to show their solidarity for the business and President Donald Trump (R). Village of Port Jefferson officials had ordered that the banner be removed, saying the owner did not even apply for a permit to hang the sign.

People at the rally came with large American and “Trump 2020” flags, and many heads were adorned with the red “Make America Great Again” caps. Several shouted slogans first heard during the 2016 campaign, such as “Build the Wall” and “Drain the Swamp.”

Supporters of the president took the village’s order to remove the banner as a sign of bias, with many saying such an act was suppressing free speech. Wallis even came down to stand alongside the protesters in support.

The rally was joined by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) who publicly showed support for the sign and assailed the village for its stance against it.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said the business could be fined up to $2,000 if they did not remove the sign five days after it received an order to remedy from the building and planning department. Though the owner could be fined for each day he keeps up the sign after those initial five, Egan said that would be determined by a village judge. He added the total of $2,000 has been thrown around too easily, and as of now they are ticketing it for the first five days, and then after another five days. 

“The goal of village code … is compliance, not punishment,” he said. 

Though Zeldin, in comments to the crowd, repeated the message the village was wrong to fine Wallis.

“How crazy is it you would have a small business owner put up a sign, and you have local elected officials fine that small business owner $2,000 a day just to say they support the president,” Zeldin said.

Village officials continued to maintain in the days before and since the rally that the order to remove had nothing to do with the message on the sign, instead that the owner had violated code. 

Wallis had hung the same exact sign back in January 2017, after Trump’s election into office. The village had ordered the sign down then as well, but it had been taken down within a few days of being put up. This time, the sign had been up since Jan. 21, but had been temporarily taken down Jan. 28 before being put back up the day before the rally. Despite the sign being briefly taken down, the village attorney said they would still have the ability to prosecute as if it were up continuously.

Roger Rutherford, the general manager of Roger’s Frigate, said he has no control over whether Wallis puts up signs on the building he owns, however he, “support[s] his right to freely express his support for our president.” 

Wallis’ intent, Rutherford said, had always been to remove the sign by the end of the impeachment trial, which was expected to end Wednesday after the U.S. Senate voted on party lines last Friday to hear no witnesses or receive any new evidence. Zeldin had been named to Trump’s legal defense team for the trial in the Senate.

The Roger’s Frigate manager said while he supports Wallis in his rights for free speech, he also understood the village’s position.

“I’m not going to knock the mayor — I believe she was showing her committed support that the law is handed down to the fullest,” he said.

Supporters of the sign have said that the village does not take the same stance with other signs in the village, pointing to banners hung by the village itself to advertise events like Paint Port Pink and the Charles Dickens Festival. 

Trustee Kathianne Snaden has said the village is not bound by the same requirements as businesses regarding banners or signs. 

A throng of Trump supporters rallies in front of Roger’s Frigate Feb. 2 to support a banner the Village of Port Jefferson has said is against the code. Photo by Courtney Biondo

“That would be the government asking the government for permission,” she said.

Zeldin also claimed the village board had some kind of bias against the president, that if the sign had said something negative about him than village officials would have supported it. 

“[They] would be paying for that sign if it was against the president,” the congressman said.

The mayor and trustees were largely disconcerted over Zeldin’s comment, saying he is using the national attention the sign has received to score political points.

“I think they’re using it as a platform,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “As an elected, that’s a real bad posture to do toward a local community and other local officials in that community.”

Snaden said she thinks Zeldin understands the village is attempting to enforce the code.

“He’s ignoring the real issue to make his own point,” she said. “He’s not a stupid man, and he’s not ignorant, he knows what the real issue is.”

Rebecca Kassay, who owns the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson along with her husband Andrew, said she had also before applied for a permit for a banner in Port Jeff, and saw the process as “rigorous.” She sees Wallis’ disregard for the code as unfair for the rest of the village’s shop owners.

“It’s in interest of fairness for all business owners,” she said. “Whatever side of the aisle you’re on, it’s creating a huge rift in our community, it’s making people say things online they would not say to one another’s faces … this is not a matter of free speech, it’s a matter of a sign.”

Other businesses have tried to stay out of the mess, but the national attention has also vicariously put the light on shops who want no part in the controversy.

The Port Jefferson Ice Cream Cafe, which is located on the other side of Main Street, posted to its business Facebook page, saying it had “received numerous calls and messages regarding this.”

“We respect everyone’s right to free speech as long as it does not infringe on others and follows the law and village codes,” the post further said. “This is not up to us to decide and is a matter for the village.”

Rutherford said he was sorry that another business had got mixed up in the controversy.

“It wasn’t our intention to affect any other businesses,” he said.

The sign was still up at the location by press time, but even with the assumption it will be taken down, officials are worried they could go through the same song and dance come the presidential election in November. 

“It’s not the first time, it won’t be the last,” Snaden said.

This year's event will feature samplings from Danfords Wave Seafood & Steak

Save the date! The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Dan’s Papers, will host its 11th annual The Taste @ Port Jefferson at the Village Center, 101-A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson overlooking the Harborfront Park and harbor on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 6 to 10 p.m.

This year’s event will feature  samplings from Kilwins. 

In celebration, the chamber has reached out to the greater Port Jefferson restaurant community and will highlight over 20 restaurants and purveyors offering top-quality food tastings and desserts as well as samples of premium liquors, wines and beers. The event, for ages 21 and over, will feature musical entertainment by the popular band 1 Step Ahead. 

As of press time, participating businesses include Barito’s, Bliss Restaurant, C’est Cheese, Costco, Danfords Wave Seafood & Steak, Dos MexiCuban Cantina, Kilwins, Flying Pig Cafe, Haikara Sake, Twin Stills Moonshine, L.I. Pour House Bar & Grill, Locals Cafe, Manhattan Beer, MELTology Mount Sinai, PJ Brewing Co., Port Jefferson Frigate, PJ Lobster House, Slurp Ramen, Starbucks, The Steam Room, St. Charles Hospital, Tuscany Gourmet Market, Uncle Giuseppe’s and The Waterview at Port Jefferson Country Club.

Sponsors this year include St. Charles Hospital, Paraco Gas, Harbor Hot Tubs, Haikara, TGIF Rentals and Fenelon Landscapes. BNB Bank is this year’s VIP Lounge Sponsor Dan’s Papers is the media sponsor.

Tickets, which may be purchased online at www.tasteatportjeff.com, are $70 per person for general admission starting at 7 p.m. and $99 for VIP guests at 6 p.m., which includes early access by one hour, a special VIP lounge with a private seating area, speciality spirits, dishes, wine pours and more. For further details, call 631-473-1414.

The Port Jefferson Frigate became the center of a controversy over a pro-Donald Trump sign last weekend that read “In Trump we trust.” Photo by Courtney Biondo

A decades-old Port Jefferson Village candy and ice cream store became the subject of a heated political debate over the weekend, after the business owner hung a large sign reading “In Trump we trust” from the building’s façade in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration Jan. 20.

The Port Jefferson Frigate, also called Roger’s Frigate, is owned by George Wallis and has been a staple in the Port Jeff community for generations. Wallis authorized for the banner to be hung at his business Jan. 20 as a sign of support for the incoming president on Inauguration Day, according to Roger Rutherford, the general manager of the business who also maintains the property. Rutherford, who has worked at the Frigate for 20 years, said in a phone interview that Wallis declined to comment on the banner, but authorized Rutherford to comment on his behalf.

After a weekend of expressions of support and opposition from the community by phone and in the store, according to Rutherford, the banner was no longer visible as of the morning of Jan. 23. Rutherford said Wallis had planned all along to remove the banner after the weekend, despite a statement by email from Barbara Sakovich, a representative from Village Mayor Margot Garant’s office, which said an “order to remedy” was sent to the business Jan. 20 because the banner was in violation of section 250-31D(2)(iv) of the village code. Rutherford also called responses to the banner from the community “overwhelmingly positive.”

Rutherford said he and Wallis didn’t believe the code prohibited the banner, and opposition to its positioning could be attributed to an effort to target Wallis based on his political beliefs.

“Throughout the election I can drive around this entire village and see signs for presidential candidates, senators, local government — and that’s completely okay,” he said. “I think it’s targeting Mr. Wallis for his political views. I think we have a little bit of a double standard here.”

Garant, who said the phone was “ringing off the hook,” with complaints at village hall over the course of the weekend, addressed the claim the violation was issued because of the political message of the sign.

“We wrote the violation based on our code,” she said in an interview. “We try and get anybody — resident, commercial business owner, commercial property owner — to comply with the code. Putting up a sign like that knowing that it’s not going to comply with the code, the village did its job. I stand behind the village for writing the violation based on the material, the size and the way the sign was hung.”

Garant said the sign was removed in a timely manner and no further action would be required.

Rutherford added he and Wallis hope Trump “could successfully move the country forward,” and that the Inauguration Day should have been a time for the country to come together towards reaching common goals.

“It was up there in a congratulatory way,” Rutherford said of the banner.

A Facebook page was set up over the weekend calling for the community to boycott the establishment, and as of Monday morning the page had been liked by 88 people. After reaching out to the creator of the page for a comment, the page was deleted. It is not clear who was responsible for creating it. Rutherford said he and Wallis had a busy weekend business-wise, so they didn’t have a chance to see any social media response to the banner, nor did he feel the business felt any effects from the calls for a boycott. Garant said she encouraged the creator of the page to take it down.

“We’re really not concerned about it at all,” Rutherford said of the possible impact the political statement might have on business.

Another page was created Jan. 22 in support of the business.

“This page is solely intended to support the PJ Frigate and their right to political freedom without fear of repercussions, which is an American right and freedom,” a post on the page said.

A sign in support of Trump also hung from the building in the days leading up to the election, and Rutherford said the response was similarly mixed at that time.

This version was updated with comments from Margot Garant Jan. 25.