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Rocky Point

Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

The Joseph P. Dwyer Memorial Statue was installed this month by Fricke Memorials at the Rocky Point Veterans Memorial Square, standing at the crossroads of Broadway and Route 25A.

This bronze statue identifies the psychological and physical reminders that many armed forces members must endure long after they return home from the fighting. 

At one point this town park was an eyesore to the community. For many years, there was trouble at this location, and in 2011 the Town of Brookhaven permanently closed the Oxygen Bar on the property.  Led by Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), the town purchased the land for $525,000 in 2015.  

On Oct. 17, 2016, the town installed large poles that flew the American and military branch flags. 

As a longtime resident of the area, Bonner said, “It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of this worthy endeavor to honor the military efforts of Dwyer and to understand the true significance of the struggles of PTSD. This is an extremely special location to also thank our armed forces members.”  

While Bonner has been involved with many key projects, she was also instrumental in helping create the Diamond in the Pines 9/11 Memorial that was built in 2011 by VFW Post 6249 Rocky Point.

Joseph Dwyer in uniform. Photo from Dwyer family

Former state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also played a big role in securing the necessary funds for the Dwyer statue. VFW Post 6249 Comdr. Joe Cognitore said LaValle “always positively worked with veterans groups and to help our diverse needs. This statue signifies the amazing drive of LaValle to always be a true champion of support towards the past, present and future members of the military.”  

The structure that remembers Dwyer, who was a graduate of Mount Sinai High School, illustrates the vital need to help those service members who are suffering from PTSD. 

Positive sentiments were expressed by members of the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society.  Senior Tristan Duenas said, “The town did a wonderful job in replacing a poor piece of land and making it into a vital memorial to pay tribute to our veterans, especially those that have been inflicted by PTSD.”  

Junior Caroline Settepani added, “This statue demonstrates the major achievements of veterans like Dwyer that risked their lives to help people from different parts of the world.”  

Following her research, junior Madelynn Zarzycki believed “the project is also connected to the past negative treatment of the Vietnam veterans who received little support when they came home.”  

According to Zarzycki, “These veterans who fought in Southeast Asia faced a severe amount of PTSD challenges that impacted the rest of their lives. It does not matter when a soldier served in battle, these harsh experiences do not discriminate from one generation to the next.”  

Senior Chloe Fish recalled the former Oxygen Bar as a “detriment toward the beauty of this community. Now the Dwyer statue adds a new prospective of service to the downtown area of Rocky Point.”

Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

Through these daunting times, the men and women in the Armed Services have always made this nation proud of their efforts to protect, preserve and promote the ideals of this nation at home and abroad.

Earlier this month, Tommy Fricke and his workers from Fricke Memorial added a tribute to the Rocky Point Veterans Square on the corner of Broadway and 25A — another reminder of national service to local residents — through the Combat Medic Joseph P. Dwyer Statue.  

This statue of Dwyer identifies the terrible impact of post traumatic stress disorder on combat veterans that have returned home after being involved in serious fighting. Since 1915, this recognized brain trauma, from the impact of fighting on a soldier was identified as “shell shocked.”  

There was no significant counseling that was offered by the government to properly treat millions of men and women from these different conflicts. Little was offered in therapy to the veteran that had fought over the skies of Europe, or who landed at D-Day, or through the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific and Asia. 

In many cases, veterans were told to forget about their experiences, go home, get married, attend college, find a job and start a family.  

Photo by Kyle Barr

It is highly possible that many of the people who drive by the Dwyer Statue had family members who had no significant help to deal with PTSD. Some men and women had nightmares, outbursts, flashbacks and were in dire need of mental and physical attention that was not provided to them. 

According to the Veterans Administration, the most recent Gulf War veterans that served during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have been inflicted from 11-20 veterans out of every 100. During Desert Storm, the figure is 12 out of every 100 veterans have suffered from PTSD.  

And these numbers are staggering for Vietnam veterans, who at one point in their life had to deal with the enormous pressures of their service. It is estimated that at least 30% of Vietnam Veterans endured PTSD.  

This new statue focuses on the strength of American service, and the responsibilities of our government to care for all the members of the Armed Forces when they return home.  

As a child, Dwyer attended elementary school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson and graduated from Mount Sinai High School in 1994. As a young man, he enjoyed playing golf and going fishing with his friends and family. After he left high school, Dwyer moved to North Carolina with his parents and was employed at a local hospital where he transported people who needed medical treatment. 

According to his older sister Kristine, Dwyer was a peaceful man who always wanted to care for others.  When America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, after watching the assault on this nation, he tried to enlist that very day into the army but had to wait until Sept. 12. He eventually graduated from Basic and Advanced Individual Training from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he became a combat medic.  

Shortly after finishing his training, Dwyer was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he vaccinated soldiers that were deployed overseas. On Feb. 15, 2003, he married his sweetheart, Matina, in Troy, North Carolina.  

When President George W. Bush (R) ordered American soldiers to be sent to the Middle East to attack Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2003, Dwyer replaced a single mother, so that she was able to remain home with her child. He was one of the first soldiers to enter Iraq during this war with the 37th Cavalry Regiment. 

Joseph Dwyer in uniform. Photo from Dwyer family

While Dwyer told his family that he was being deployed to a hospital in Kuwait, they had no idea that he was with the leading army units that were on the road toward Baghdad — it wasn’t until the media began to run stories of his actions saving a child when they realized he was serving in Iraq.  

This well-known picture of Dwyer carrying a young child to safety was published and reported across the nation, and around the globe.  But to the day he died, Dwyer repeatedly stated that there was another combat medic that played a pivotal role in saving the life of this young boy. 

It was a difficult deployment for Dwyer who was constantly under attack, lonely and unable to sleep.  An exhausted Dwyer began inhaling computer cleaner Dust-Off to help him sleep a few hours before going back onto duty.  

On June 20, 2008, Dwyer left Iraq and traveled alone to Fort Bliss to eventually meet his wife, where they set up their home. A month later, the couple headed back to Mount Sinai, where he enjoyed the reunion with his family, friends and teachers.  

Right away, his sister realized that he was grossly underweight. He lost over 40 pounds during his time in Iraq. While Kristine cherishes the moment of seeing her brother after his deployment, she is not sure of his true joy, due to his unknown PTSD condition. 

Once he was at home, Dwyer was continually impacted by the issues of his PTSD condition. There were points that when he was driving, that Dwyer feared possible unexploded ordinances that were on the roads. He never held the feeling of personal safety, had disturbing visions, and for the rest of his life, this peaceful man had no personal peace after he served in Iraq. 

Kristine noticed a stare that developed in her brother who always wanted to be outside. Matina observed that her husband never liked going out to dinner, he closely watched the other customers, and always kept an eye on the door. Dwyer eventually gained his discharge from the service, but it was a battle to fight the government to receive his full disability compensation. During his service at home and when he left the army, Dwyer was still unable to sleep, and he continued to inhale Dust-Off.

By the end of his life in 2008, he did not have family members living with him and was unable to hold onto his own mental state. 

The picture that was widely presented across the nation and in different parts of the world was indicative of the kindness of Dwyer, even as he dealt with the horrors of his own personal concerns.

Until he passed away, it was important for Dwyer to have his story truthfully reported that presented the negatives of PTSD, and how it drastically changed the mental state of this peaceful citizen. On June 28, 2008, Dwyer died from the inhalants that he used to cope with the severity of his PTSD. 

Dwyer and his family. Photo from Dwyer family.

In speaking about the memory of her husband, Matina firmly recalls how he always sought to help others with an immense amount of love. This affection was especially demonstrated to his then two-year-old daughter who was called his “little princess.”

Meagan K. Dwyer is now 14 years old with a memory that lives on through family stories and pictures of her father.  

At the end of World War II, the historic Flag Raising at Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, was a similar picture that showed the resolve of American service overseas. 

When Ira Hayes, a marine that hoisted this flag during the earliest moments of this terrifying battle, came home, he suffered from PTSD where he drank heavily and agonized over his fellow marines and friends that died on this island. A short time later, he died from excessive drinking. 

Although Hayes passed away nearly 67 years ago, his story is connected to Dwyer. Both veterans were widely documented through a historic picture that rapidly received national acclaim from Americans across this country. 

But the hardships of PTSD never discriminate from one soldier or conflict to the next, and it is vital for this government to always perfect its ways to help combat veterans. 

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Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School fourth grader Elyanis Ramirez (left) and fifth grader Kamyla Ramirez. Photo from RPSD

Two sisters from Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point set out to collect supplies to share with the local shelters to help the animals. When fourth grader Elyanis Ramirez and fifth grader Kamyla Ramirez brought the idea to their teachers and classmates, Rocky Point pride took center stage.

The students in Mrs. Deborah Vieira and Mrs. Lisa Celentano’s fourth grade class and Mr. Dave Falcone’s fifth grade class created posters that explained the importance of helping pet shelters. Dog and cat toys, blankets, beds and food are always in demand from the shelters, and Port Jefferson-based Save A Pet was to be the beneficiary of the fundraiser. With both classes participating, the sisters were able to raise more than $50 for their cause.  

“We were so proud of them for thinking about animals in need and figuring out a way to help,” Vieira said.

 

The Eagles of Rocky Point faced a formidable Comsewogue squad in the opening week of League IV bowling action at Port Jeff Bowl Jan 14. Despite falling to the Warriors 29.5 — 3.5, Eagles head coach Anthony Vertuccio, who fields a young roster, said a bright spot on the day was senior Sean Vogel. Sean has tremendous potential this season but was also impressed by his 8th grader along with three 10th graders.

Comsewogue retakes the lanes Jan 21 on the road against Middle Country at AMF Centereach Lanes at 3:30 p.m.

The Eagles were back in action Jan. 19 where they hit the road against East Hampton at The All Star lanes in Riverhead. Results were not available as of press time.

Above photo of Comsewogue junior Steven Orland; bottom photo of Comsewogue senior Joshua Rivera.

Rocky Point Just One LI Location Dedicated to Protect NYC from Attack

The nuclear missile silo located in the Rocky Point pine barrens was one of 19 such bases meant to protect New York City from missile attack. Many locals living on the North Shore worked at this site over the decades.

By Rich Acritelli, Sean Hamilton, Carolyn Settepani and Madelyn Zarzycki

In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis came extremely close to pushing the superpowers of the United States and Soviet Union into a nuclear war. Closer to home, people went to church to light candles in the hope that a peaceful resolution would be found to prevent war. Little did our local citizens ever know about the history of Long Island, especially that of Rocky Point, in how close the Cold War was to our residents.  Within the sprawling acres of the conservation area that stretches from Miller Place, Rocky Point, Ridge, and Shoreham, was a nuclear missile silo.  

Gary Wladyka, front, and Tony Kuczewski bike through the Rocky Point Mountain Bike Trail. If one follows certain paths they can find the site of the old nuclear missile silo. File photo by Kyle Barr

This was one of 19 missile bases that were built by the U.S. military and government to ensure the protection of New York City. While it is extremely unique to have this piece of history on the North Shore, these weapon sites were also in Oyster Bay, Lloyd Harbor, Lido Beach, and Amityville. Citizens in upstate New York and northern New Jersey had these weapons in their midst which were stationed near major population centers, in the suburbs, near schools, businesses, etc. From 1945 to 1990, hostile tensions were demonstrated by the U.S. and Soviet Union in every corner of the world, and the roots to protect against the prospects of a communist attack were based within the pine barrens of Rocky Point.  

Most people never realized how close they came to being near an operational missile that was designed to fire at a moment’s notice. Later, private homes were built on the missile sites in Oyster Bay and Lloyd Harbor. In Lido Beach, where missiles were a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean, it is now the headquarters of the Long Beach School District bus depot. If you were to hike around Camp Hero in Montauk, there are many reminders of the Cold War including a radar tower and a series of military bunkers. Within our local conservation area, thousands of local mountain bikers a year have surely ridden through these numerous trails, where one is able to see the silo protruding out of the ground.   Situated around this long-removed weapon is a fence that has signs to warn the people not to enter this once classified and dangerous area.

Today, it is possible to go to this location from trails that start at the Rocky Point Route 25A Bypass. Not too far from the Broadway light, there is a straight trail that leads for a half of a mile southward. If you’re mountain biking, running or walking, you will quickly reach an open field. It is easy to observe older military roads, cement, brick gate pillars, and barbed wire fencing. It is also possible to reach this spot by traveling down Rocky Point-Yaphank Road and about three quarters of a mile south of the condominiums, there is an access road that will take you southeastern to an old parking lot. At this spot, there is a noticeable black military road that will precisely lead to one of the 250 Nike Missile sites previously present were in America.

Underground is a bunker complex area that was built some 50 feet long and 60 feet wide. Although these missile bases were organized by the U.S. Army, these bases’ functions were later handed off to the National Guard that had a full-time garrison of soldiers and reservists. In the 1960s, the soldiers that manned these sensitive weapons were paid $85 a week, purchased nearby homes and said little to their families about this vital duty.  If these weapons were to be fired in response to an attack by the Soviet Union, it was estimated that they could fly 1,600 mph, reached altitudes of 70,000 feet and had a conventional warhead and a range of about 25 miles.

As with the advent of new technology, many of these weapons were quickly considered to be obsolete.  Eventually, these military bases that were located on Long Island were closed and only the Amityville and Rocky Point sites remained open during most of the Cold War. The Ajax missile was later replaced by the Hercules that allowed for a range of 90 miles and ten kilotons of explosives (three less than what was used on Hiroshima). From 1959 to 1964, there were 56 of these powerful weapons that were stored in metal sheds in Westhampton Beach that would target any Soviet aircraft that could attack the area.  Today, this is the location of a training firing and vehicle range for the Suffolk County Police and 106th Air National Guard.  

The Rocky Point Natural Resource Management Area includes trails that take one past the location of the old nuclear site.

Many of these weapons were created to attack long range Soviet bombers targeting the highly populated areas of Manhattan. Although they were placed near the North Shore, the base at Rocky Point was completely top secret with two fences (one being electric) and guard dogs. The codes were kept in safes, and at all times there had to be two military officials to concur over the status of the codes and firing. These bases were always the center of heightened military discipline and drills.  

To keep the soldiers sharp to their own attention to detail, many of these men and women had inspections, military scenarios and trips to New Mexico, where they received advanced annual training.  It was stated in earlier stories that the missile battery at Rocky Point excelled with national army awards for preparation and was rated as one of the five top bases for these weapons in America. Not too far from the summer bungalows, baseball fields, Joseph A. Edgar Imtermediate School and the older hamlet of Rocky Point was an unknown reminder of the threats of the Cold War. While the U.S. and Soviet Union competed for domination in Berlin, Cuba, Vietnam and Afghanistan, there were many local military residents that quietly ensured the national security of this country within the trails of the Rocky Point Conservation Area.

This article was a collaboration with students in the Rocky Point High School History Honors Society and its advisor, Rich Acritelli.

How libraries look during COVID times. Photo from Comsewogue School District

Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic and schools are still adjusting. The school library, a place of solace for elementary schoolers and high school seniors alike, has had to adhere to the new and ever-changing COVID-19 protocols.

Local districts, however, have embraced the changes and have implemented new services that they never would have started if it wasn’t for the crisis.

A silver lining, school librarians across the North Shore explained how the changes have impacted them, their schools and their students.

Alice Wolcott, librarian at Elwood-John Glenn High School, said that COVID changed the landscape of public education, meaning they had to reimagine their space.

“This year we transitioned the book loan program to a digital platform, which will continue to support students’ pleasure and academic reading while still observing COVID restrictions,” she said. “Students can browse the collection online via Follett Destiny [a library management system], and if they find a title they’d like to borrow, they can request that book through our book request form.”

To adhere to COVID rules, the books are delivered in a Ziploc bag to first period teachers.

Since some students are not physically in their first period classes, the district also increased their digital library as a main focus.

Shoreham-Wading River High School librarian Kristine Hanson and Albert G. Prodell Middle School librarian Ann-Marie Kalin created an initiative to meet the need for printed books while reimagining the online presence in concert with OPALS, the open-source library system.

They created a book delivery service at their schools called BookDash, which allows students to electronically submit requests with their student ID. Then, physical books are either delivered to students at Prodell or picked up at the high school library doors at the end of the school day. The initiative is promoted through English classes, and a multitude of book recommendations are available via the OPALS pages, blogs and links.

“Kids are reliant on what’s in the catalog, books that never went out before are going out like wild,” Kalin said. “For the time being we’re making the best of it all.”

With the BookDash initiative, Kalin said students are excited to get their hands on actual books.

“So many kids are so tired of being on the screen and are desperate for that interaction with each other,” she said. “I’m seeing readers I never saw before, and there are so many requests for books. It’s very successful.”

Along with Shoreham-Wading River, other districts across Long Island are using an e-book platform called Sora, including Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point.

Monica DiGiovanni teaches Sora to third graders in Rocky Point. Photo from RPSD.

Librarian Monica DiGiovanni has been visiting classrooms, having students log into their Chromebooks. She is teaching them how to check out library books with the new service, which enables students to borrow a book and read it right on their devices. Another program, Destiny Discover, enables students to find a physical book in the library and have it delivered directly to them since their libraries are currently not open.

DiGiovanni said that their school libraries have become break rooms for teachers and classroom spaces to accommodate kids in a socially distanced way.

“The library has become an interactive thing,” she said. “Students are definitely utilizing it.”

Although Rocky Point school libraries had to reshape themselves and close the doors to students, Elwood school district was able to open the doors at the high school last week. Wolcott said that right now 15 students are allowed in the library at a time, with designated seating and other stipulations in place.

“The students are really responsive and they’re following all the protocols,” she said. “It’s great to have them back.”

She even sees students, who were not her typical regulars, interacting with the library catalog more than they did before.

“Now it’s nice they’re browsing the shelves,” Wolcott said. “They’re picking books they would not have chosen otherwise.”

Donna Fife, library media specialist at Elwood Middle School, said that early on, the district was keeping library services running smoothly, while her younger students are opting to read more.

“I am seeing names I never saw before requesting books more frequently,” she said. “I know how I feel at the end of the day ­— I would have a hard time playing video games after screen learning.”
Fife said she thinks students are looking for something tangible now that some are looking at a computer all day long.
“They’re requesting to hold a physical copy instead of looking at another screen,” she said.

Nicole Taormina, librarian at Boyle Road Elementary School in the Comsewogue school district, said that new regulars have blossomed throughout the pandemic.

“They really love browsing online,” she said. “It’s a different experience — they are really excited now because they use their Chromebooks and have their own accounts.”

Taormina said that while the changes have been different, she’s looking forward to some normalcy in 2021, and is grateful for what 2020 helped her with.

“I’ve been able to tweak things,” she said. “And the students have been able to learn things that they may have not been able to learn before.”

Also in Comsewogue, Deniz Yildirim, a librarian at Terryville Road Elementary School, said that teaching her library classes has been different compared to years past.

“It’s been a huge change,” she said. “We can’t hand out worksheets anymore, and we do a lot online to cut down on contamination. No other class can come in other than what’s assigned in this room.”

When Yildirim visits classrooms at her school now, she will deliver books that children ask her for.

“It breaks my heart that they can’t browse,” she said. “But we’re making it work.”

And she said that all school libraries have made progress in 2020 than the past 10 years.

“Publishers, authors and librarians are working very hard to make sure kids are reading,” she said. “It’s the least we can do for them during these trying times.”

Taylor Kinsley, a librarian at Minnesauke Elementary School in the Three Village school district, said their schools have been allowing browsing within the libraries.

She said students have to use hand sanitizer before and after touching the books to be sure they have clean hands, and they reorganized the setup of the library, featuring no reading carpets on the floor.

“Elementary students are always excited to have the freedom to pick the books they want,” she said.

The district sanitizes the used books and quarantines them for about a week before putting them back on the shelves.

“I think normalcy is really important for them,” Kinsley added, referring to her students. “We’re being supercautious so why take that away from them?”

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Broadway in Rocky Point is just one small main street on Long Island hoping for customers this holiday season. Photo by Kyle Barr

It was a fall shopping season like no other.

One doesn’t have to think too far back to remember the crowds you could practically surf off of during the annual season of Black Friday sales. Not so much this year, as more people stayed home to avoid potentially catching or spreading COVID-19. 

Online sales, however, have jumped tremendously. Amazon’s Prime Day started early in October, and Forbes has reported that original projections for the weekend before Cyber Monday indicated increases of online purchases compared to 2019 from 36 to 50%. Amazon has already said this year’s holiday shopping season has been the biggest in its history, contending that medium to small businesses that sell on Amazon have seen record numbers.

Meanwhile, as much as small brick-and-mortar businesses have been impacted by the ongoing pandemic, we will still have to wait and see how well they did on Small Business Saturday, a shopping holiday promoted by American Express.

Experts, from as close as the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University have expressed fear for these small shops, with expectations that close to half of businesses like restaurants could be closed by 2021. 

Alignable, a Boston-based online business referral network, reported Dec. 1 based on a poll of 9,204 small business owners that 48% fear they will not earn enough revenue this month to keep their businesses afloat. 

Main streets all over Long Island have experienced their share of woe, and while some retail owners say times remain tough, others expressed their thanks to customers who went out of their way to patronize their local mom-and-pop.

Feasts for Beasts owner Alan Ghidaleson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Feasts For Beasts

45 Route 25A, Mount Sinai

The pet store and groomer in the small outlet along Route 25A in Mount Sinai normally does not do too much for the Black Friday weekend and doesn’t have many extra sales on top of what they already do. Owner Alan Ghidaleson said things on Small Business Saturday were a bit slow.

“For brick-and-mortars, this is a tough time,” Ghidaleson said. As for the pandemic: “We’re surviving it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but we get by.”

The owner said sales start to lag after Thanksgiving, as they have for the past five years or so. However, he said his business will survive the year, and hopes for better next year.  

Tricia and Stan Niegocki of Niegocki Farms. Photo by Kyle Barr

Niegocki Farms

604 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, Mount Sinai

As the last farm in Mount Sinai, the family owned Niegocki located at the southern corner of Heritage Park has a lot riding on its shoulders as the last holdout of the area’s agricultural charm. 

It’s why co-owner Tricia Niegocki said they have been able to survive the past few months, because of the customers and locals who know and support them. For Thanksgiving, the farm sold turkeys and eggs, though on the whole more people were looking for smaller birds. The farm opened up for tree sales after Thanksgiving, and since then sales have been good.

“We have a lot of locals that love to shop local and support local,” Niegocki said. “Since we’re the last farm here in Mount Sinai, we’ve actually been blessed to have a good past couple of days.” 

She said that because Christmas trees do not have a very large margin, they did not do any sales for Small Business Saturday. Still, things on the farm do not change very much, and while other businesses were forced to close early in the pandemic, Niegocki was considered essential. She said they will be able to maintain over the winter, adding they plan to use their space to host other small shops as a pop-up mall of sorts. They have already hosted two such events over the past year.

“Most of our customers are friends, people who have become friends over the years,” the farmer said. “We are very blessed we have animals that provide us meat and eggs, so that demand will always be there.”

Cat Rosenboom, owner of Rose & Boom in Mount Sinai. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Rose & Boom Boutique

176 N. Country Road #3, Mount Sinai

Cat Rosenboom, owner of Rose & Boom in Mount Sinai and St. James, said that supporting local business is more important than ever.

“I always say to shop small,” she said. “But it’s even more true this year.”

Rosenboom, who has owned the Mount Sinai location for four years this month, opened her second store in St. James nearly six months before the stay-at-home shutdown.

“We had just opened up and then had to close the door once we started to get our name out there,” she said. 

But despite the coronavirus crisis, she said people were shopping and supporting her stores throughout the whole pandemic, by purchasing things online through her social media accounts and delivering them personally to customers close by.

“You get a personal experience here that you won’t get at a big box store,” she said. “We take pride in getting to know our customers and their families.”

She also will host local retailer pop-ups to support fellow small business owners.

“We like to help local retailers and get the word out about their business,” she said. 

Leading up to Black Friday, the shops did daily surprise sales every day in hopes to bring people in – and it worked. “We allowed 10 people in the stores at a time, and they were busy the entire day,” she said. 

— Julianne Mosher

Merrily Couture in Mount Sinai. Photo from Google Maps

Merrily Couture

340 Route 25A, Mount Sinai

Manager of the Mount Sinai formal wear shop, Krystle Weber Hughes, said times have been tough since the start of the pandemic, as so much of their business depends on formal occasions. Their stellar event, school prom, was largely canceled by every school district in the local area. They were closed during the pandemic’s height, and all their shipments were delayed. To this day they are receiving items they ordered all the way back in January.

The store doesn’t have too many discounts around the time of Black Friday, but Weber Hughes said COVID has meant they have had to clean dressing rooms every time one is used, and they have to manage their space to make sure people are socially distanced.

She said they have received some returning customers, while others are somewhat hesitant to buy anything too early before an event that may well be canceled.

“Everything really got turned upside down because of COVID,” she said. “I think people are so afraid of events being cancelled, they’re waiting until the last minute to purchase a dress.”

Weber Hughes said they are waiting for January to see how things are, as that is when their prom season starts. Once that comes around, she said they will likely know how good the year will be.

Marion Bernholz, center, the owner of The Gift Corner. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Gift Corner

157 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai

Marion Bernholz, owner of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai, has seen the impact a loyal customer base can have on a small shop for getting through a tough time.

TBR News Media has talked to Bernholz every Small Business Saturday for the past three years, and each time she has said it’s the customers who look at her as a friend and neighbor who help her survive in a time of booming online retail.

“We have been doing OK,” Bernholz said. “People have come up to me in Stop & Shop and asked if I worked at the store. They asked me, ‘Are you doing OK?’” 

But it seems word of mouth has worked for her. She said they have been receiving a host of new customers, adding that she estimates they had been ringing up 20 new customers a day from people coming to the North Shore during the summer and fall, many of whom were not able to take their usual vacations.

Tristan Whitworth, the owner of Game On in Miller Place and Smithtown

Game On

465 Route 25A, Miller Place

Tristan Whitworth, the owner of Game On, a used and refurbished video game and console retailer with locations in Miller Place and Smithtown, said he has been doing 200% to 300% better than last year, both in terms of sales and customers, which is something that to him was concerning considering just how hard it has been for so many other businesses out there. 

When businesses were forced to close, Whitworth and his business partner each came to the separate stores on the North Shore and sold some of their product online, which kept things moving.

“We’re very blessed,” he said. “We were profitable during that phase, too, while other stores couldn’t. For example, you couldn’t do anything for a nail salon. … It’s a weird feeling to have so many places struggle and then us flourish. We didn’t do anything different, we just got lucky.” 

Whitworth hosted two $1,500 giveaways to two local businesses this year. 

While Whitworth did a host of sales during last year’s Small Business Saturday, this year he tried to make it more subdued to make sure there weren’t too many people crowded close together in his store. Still, there was a steady stream of people coming into the store all day Saturday.

“We’re lucky, we sell things people really, really want right now during a pandemic when they stay home, so we really didn’t push it this year,” he said. “I didn’t want people thinking they need to come support us, because there are a lot of stores that are really actually struggling.”

Jim Donnelly, the owner of Grand Slam Tennis in Miller Place. and Commack. Photo by Kyle Barr

Grand Slam Tennis

816 Route 25A, Miller Place

Jim Donnelly, the owner of Grand Slam Tennis in Miller Place, with his main store in Commack, said his prospects for year to year are much different as a specialty shop. Small Business Saturday normally has no effect on him.

“People that enjoy specialty stores, and have all the information, they constantly come to us, we don’t have to advertise or anything,” Donnelly said. “They’re our advertisement.”

The biggest problem for him and his shop was when different municipalities closed tennis courts all over Long Island, despite the argument that tennis is one of the safer sports one could play during a pandemic, as by necessity players are well distanced. The tennis store owner said he and other tennis advocates got together to put a paper on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk arguing for tennis to be permitted, and was shortly thereafter allowed along with sports like golf. 

“We had a good summer — I hate to brag — I’m just glad I was in the right business for a pandemic, because I would hate to be the rest of these guys,” he said.

Jim and Sue Fiora, along with Misty the dog. Photo by Kyle Barr

Miller Place Bait and Tackle

834 Route 25A, Miller Place

The fishing business had some interesting ups and downs this year, according to Miller Place Bait and Tackle owners Jim and Sue Flora. Their store had to close along with many others for several months, but once they opened they found many people who had never tried fishing before were buying rods and bait. It was one of the few activities still available to people during the height of COVID.

“It’s been a good season for us because everybody went fishing,” Sue Flora said. “So many people come in saying, ‘I want to learn to fish.’ It was very good for us. They supported us through it.”

She said customers were coming into the shop on Saturday to buy products or even gift cards, specifically to support them. 

“We have a nice bunch of loyal customers — we’re really fortunate,” she said.

Jim Flora said they were doing slightly better than last year, and should be in a relatively safe place going into next year.

Flowers on Broadway owner Stephanie Navas. Photo by Kyle Barr

Flowers on Broadway

43 Broadway, Rocky Point

April was supposed to be Rocky Point flower shop Flowers on Broadway’s 20-year anniversary celebration. Owner Stephanie Navas said they are still somewhat struggling as so many weddings are still on hold while big events, which usually means big sales for florists, are much more subdued.

They have had more to do with funeral work but, despite the morbid implication, even those sales are down compared to previous years, as more funerals have become much smaller events.

“Walk-in traffic isn’t anything like it used to be,” Navas said. “We are doing more home deliveries then we did in the past, but it doesn’t quite balance out.”

While she expected to see some more traffic for Thanksgiving, especially considering more people weren’t traveling, they didn’t see too big a jump in sales. Black Friday, on the other hand, is the “absolute worst” day to be open. This year she said they made little to nothing on the biggest shopping holiday of the year. Saturday did get slightly better, and now Flowers on Broadway is trying to start its big Christmas push. 

Still, she said she’s not ready to throw in
the towel. 

“My hope is just to do as well as last year,” she said. “I’m not hoping for an increase, I’m just looking to maintain at this point.”

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Other Nearby Districts Revise Protocols/Quarantine Students

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point schools have moved to keep students for in-person learning four days a week.

Starting Nov. 30, Rocky Point middle and high school students are to go to school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday remaining as a dedicated virtual day.

The decision to push this part of the reopening plan to after Thanksgiving was made earlier this month, Nov. 4, according to a letter to parents signed by Superintendent Scott O’Brien.

“What is most important is that any change we make is done carefully, and with health and safety at the forefront,” O’Brien wrote in his letter.

The live-streaming component of what the district called “Phase II” began Nov. 9 to log into a period-by-period class schedule.

Those students who are switching to virtual from in-person learning, or vice versa, also have a start date of Nov. 30.

“With a recent increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in our district and the surrounding area, it was necessary to reallocate our transitional resources to address cleaning and disinfecting due to recent positive cases,” O’Brien wrote in his letter.

Since September, Rocky Point has seen 25 students test positive for the coronavirus while nine staff/teachers also tested positive as of Nov. 30, according to the state’s COVID Report Card.

Other neighboring districts have similar rates of infection, with school districts overall having much lower infection rates than the general populace. Shoreham-Wading River, with its plan of having students in school five days a week resulting in an infection rate of 1%, that currently being 22 students and six staff members.

The SWR district did have to close the high school and quarantine over 100 students and several staff members a month ago after two students who allegedly attended some kind of social gathering tested positive.

Still, Superintendent Gerard Poole said in a letter posted to the district website that they have revised protocols so that schools will not be closed the day a positive case is reported if contact tracing can be performed in time, along with the needed cleaning and disinfecting.

“The intent of this revision is to reduce the number of school closures,” Poole wrote. “Please know that the decision to keep a school open, as opposed to closing for a day, will always be made carefully with the health and safety of our students and staff as the priority.”

Meanwhile in Miller Place, the district said Monday the district contact traced three Miller Place High School students, one North Country Road Middle School student and one staff member from there who have all tested positive for COVID-19. None were symptomatic when last in school, and all have since been quarantined.

Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in a letter posted to the district website that the positive cases were relayed to the district through the Safe School Helpline.

“We have also been working with multiple staff members and community families who have been identified as close contacts of persons testing positive for COVID-19,” she wrote. “If required, staff have been quarantined as close contacts.”

Back to Basics in Rocky Point has been around for over four decades before its owner, Drew Henry Tyler, died earlier this year. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though he may have passed on, a local shop owner, one who helped pioneer the health foods market on Long Island, is still appearing to thank people passing by his small corner store.

Drew Henry Tyler, a resident of Shoreham Village and owner of Back to Basics in Rocky Point, passed away in June. Photo by Robert Gutowski

Back to Basics, a natural food store in Rocky Point, has been vacant for months. In its window a sign is posted: “Thanks for 43 Years.” The longtime owner of the shop, Drew Henry Tyler, 67, passed away June 8 after a battle with adrenal cancer. 

His wife of little under 28 years, Lee Frei, is a longtime resident of Shoreham village. She and her future husband originally met at the store. 

She got to know him as an honest and quiet man, but the kind of quiet that hides a unique intelligence. She said if he hadn’t passed, he would have likely still been there, manning the counter and talking to customers about anything from politics to music to yoga.

“There was so much to Drew,” she said. “He was calm and wise. I often thanked him for that.” 

Tyler grew up with his brother Rick on a chicken farm in Lake Ronkonkoma, back when the area was still mostly rural, and some of the main roads still remained dirt paths. Rick Tyler called that just your average life of “barefoot boys growing up in the woods.” 

The two were introduced to Provisions, a health food shop in Port Jefferson back in the  1970s, the brother said. Working there, the two formed a side business called Journey Foods, where the two would go into New York City, bringing back “tubs” of tofu, sprouts and other such items to sell to the still-small market of health food stores on the eastern side of Long Island, back when many wholesale distributors didn’t come out past Route 110. The brothers even got into the business of growing sprouts, which Rick said were “temperamental.” 

The two made connections with many of the health food retailers on the Island, but the brothers had a unique opportunity when the original owners of Back to Basics in Rocky Point were looking to sell.

Jane Alcorn, who now helps lead the effort to transform the Shoreham Tesla property into a museum and science incubator, started the store in 1976 with her husband and two friends. When a few years after opening, her business partners moved away, she and her husband decided to sell to the Tyler brothers, who had expressed interest in the place for a while. She thought of Drew as a “kind man — he was quiet and hardworking.”

“It was always a pleasure to go there and see how they had made some changes, but still kept the essence of the store — natural foods, and healthy and specialty products for the people of the surrounding area,” Alcorn said. “He obviously did a good job to have been in business so long. Back to Basics was one of the oldest stores in Rocky Point and, even now, I’m sure many people, like me, miss running in to pick up some special items that aren’t available anywhere nearby.”

The store was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Frei said and, after Drew passed, family came to help sell the remaining merchandise at cost.

Rick Tyler, who now lives in Pennsylvania, worked at the store for a little over a decade before moving on. As the health food market boomed, he said it got harder to compete, and they were “always fighting against the mass market and Trader Joe’s.” 

Still, despite any difficulty. Rick said his brother was the kind of man who would leave the counter to help a woman bring her purchases to the car. He was the kind of man who engendered trust, and when Rick came back to Long Island to help with closing down the shop, he and those manning the shop were greeted with a bevy of longtime customers who fondly remembered the store owner, some young enough to say they had been coming there for practically their entire lives.

“He was a very gentle, kind, smart, funny guy — he was very well liked,” Rick Tyler said of his brother.

Jan Tyler, the brothers’ mother, said the people who came to the store in those final days were coming in with both sympathy and expressions of sorrow.

“I think you couldn’t help but love Drew,” the mother said. “He tried to help everybody he could, he would drop everything and help a woman with bundles in the rain. On the whole everybody cared a great deal for him.”

Linda Stever, who worked for Drew at Back to Basics for several years, said the owner was inherently trusting of his customers and community. She wrote in a post to Tyler’s obituary that from the first day she worked for him, the man simply trusted people.

“I lived in Rocky Point for years, but I never felt such a sense of community until I worked with Drew at Back to Basics,” Stever wrote. “He was my boss, but I considered him and his wife Lee to be my friends as well. I’m thankful for knowing him.”

Tyler was well known in Shoreham village, especially as a man who was competitive on the tennis courts. Frei said he loved the “mechanics of moving,” of having motions done with expert grace. Family friend Laura Baisch wrote in a tribute to Drew that he was known for his “quiet laugh and look of complete satisfaction when he hit the perfect shot.”

Frei said he was in the village doubles finals one year, and residents would come to watch because he was so much fun on the courts. 

“His perspiration would make a heart-like mark on his shirt, and the crowd would chant, ‘I heart Drew,’” she said.

The state just announced they will be cancelling the Jan. Regents exams. File photo

State officials said the January 2021 Regents exams will be canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Announced last week, state Interim Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa, along with her administration, said they were canceling the exams at the start of next year. The decision will apply to all Regents exams that had been scheduled for Jan. 26 through Jan. 29.

Over the summer, the New York State Education Department canceled the June and August exams due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Roger Tilles, of Manhasset, who represents Long Island on the state’s Board of Regents, said the decision is only fair. 

“A lot of schools started at different times this year,” he said. “We started teaching all-remote, sometimes hybrid, Zoom classes, some in-person. How could you have one uniform test for all students?” 

According to Tilles, it is always difficult to have equity in a state uniform test. 

“Even without the pandemic, it’s inequitable because some schools have better resources and can attract certain types of teachers who have specialties that other schools don’t have,” he said. “So, the kids who are in high-needs districts are getting the same tests as students in the lowest-need schools in the state and compare those students to the other.”

Since there has been disparity in the way students have learned the last eight months, the board began thinking about how to handle the state testing early on in the year. It was officially announced on Nov. 5 that the tests would be canceled. 

“Throughout the pandemic, our priority has been the health and well-being of our students and educators,” Rosa said in a statement. “We determined the January Regents exams could not be safely, equitably and fairly administered across the state given where the pandemic currently stands. We will continue to monitor applicable data and make a decision on other state assessment programs as the school year progresses, being mindful of the evolving situation.”

And due to the cancellation, NYSED will propose modifications to the assessment requirements that students must meet in order to earn high school diplomas, credentials and endorsements at the upcoming December Board of Regents meeting. 

Dr. Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District, said she also believes this was the right decision. 

“There are inequalities in different school districts and it wasnt creating a level playing field,” she said. 

One problem Quinn said she sees in the future is because of the January cancellation, students who planned on taking the English exam will be unable to. 

“A lot of our students take the English Regents in January,” she said. “If they end up giving it in June because they canceled in January, it’ll put the students at a disadvantage and will have to take it on top of their other exams.”

A representative from Three Village Central School District said the only Regents typically taken in January is the English exam, but now the students will have to take the exam in June.

“In the past, we have had a few students re-take a Regents examination in January to improve their score, but the number of students re-taking a Regents in January has been small,” the district said in a statement. “The impact is anticipated to be minimal.”

According to the statement sent out by NYSED, the modifications apply to all students who are completing a secondary-level course of study or makeup program in January and are scheduled to participate in one or more of the January 2021 Regents exams. 

“To ensure students are not adversely impacted by the cancellation of the exams, the department will ask the Board of Regents to adopt emergency regulations pertaining to the assessment requirements that students must meet in order to earn diplomas, credentials and endorsements,” the statement said. “Under the proposed emergency regulations, students who are planning to take one or more Regents examinations during the January 2021 examination period at the conclusion of a course of study or makeup program shall be exempt from the requirements pertaining to passing such Regents examination to be issued a diploma.”

Other local districts said that due to the population size within their districts, the cancellation of the exam would not impact them. Port Jefferson, Miller Place and Rocky Point school representatives all said the decision does not affect their districts.

“There is little impact on our students in Port Jefferson, as we have very few students who take Regents exams in January during a non-COVID year,” Christine Austen, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Port Jefferson School District, said. “Any student who was enrolled in a Regents-level course last year was exempted from taking the assessment and received Regents credit towards graduation as long as they passed the course for the year. Due to the low number of students who usually take the January Regents exams, it isn’t a concern at this time.”

No decisions have been made yet by the Board of Regents regarding the June and August 2021 exams or any other state assessment programs. 

This article has been amended to better clarify the Three Village School District’s statement on the Regents cancellation.