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Roger Rutherford

Despite the chiseled blocks of ice stationed around the village, downtown Port Jefferson was red hot last weekend during the 4th annual Port Jefferson Ice Festival, hosted by the village’s Business Improvement District.

This two-day celebration took place on Jan. 28 and 29, bringing together several local institutions, dozens of small businesses and a whole lot of ice. Roger Rutherford, Port Jefferson BID president and general manager of Roger’s Frigate, summarized the boost the festival brought to storefronts.

“This is the slowest time of the year for the business community,” he said. “This is our fourth annual, and it has really taken off and turned into something spectacular.”

Making the festivities possible required significant organizational collaboration between the BID and its partners. The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce assisted by facilitating a mac ’n’ cheese crawl. 

With 12 participating restaurants, the crawl offered festivalgoers a chance to taste various cuisines from food establishments around the village. 

“This is the second year they asked us to be the administrators for the mac ’n’ cheese crawl,” said chamber executive director Barbara Ransome. “They go to 12 places. It’s four ounces of mac ’n’ cheese [per stop], so you’re talking three pounds [in all].” She added, “It’s a lot of mac ’n’ cheese.”

Thousands flocked to the village to partake in the fun, including trustee Stan Loucks who projected the weekend as one of the highest local turnouts on record.

“I have never seen so many people in our village,” he said. “The merchants were extremely happy with the crowd. They did very well this weekend, and I think it was terrific to see that many people walking around our village.”

James Luciano, owner of PJ Lobster House, reacted to the festival’s success in stimulating small businesses.

“This festival brings in a lot of business for us,” he said. “This time of year, you’re lucky to get a couple of tables for lunch and a couple of bar customers.” But, he added, “We’ve been full since we opened the door.”

Meltdown

‘The businesses were thriving, the restaurants were full.’

— Kathianne Snaden

The sizable show gave much-needed relief to storefront owners still recovering from the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost three years ago, the world and nation were shocked by the outbreak of the pandemic, leaving downtowns such as Port Jeff’s in disarray.

Indu Kaur is the owner of the Curry Club at SāGhar in Port Jefferson, an establishment that opened in February 2020, just weeks before the lockdowns. 

“We took over the business and had no idea that we were going to be shut down,” Kaur said, describing the impact of the pandemic on her business as “a huge tragedy.”

In the face of hardship, Kaur and her staff continued operations by donating meals, then reopened in the fall of that year. With a historic turnout villagewide, Kaur regarded the resurgence of the downtown businesses with delight.

“It’s so exciting to see everyone walking around, enjoying our village, enjoying the new restaurants, the new shows and our ice sculptures,” she said.

Outside Kaur’s restaurant lay a decorative ice sculpture depicting Ganesha, a Hindu deity tying into the theme of local renaissance. “Lord Ganesha is the statue that we all have faith brings prosperity, happiness and peace,” she said.

Icebreaker

Ganesha was just one of a few dozen ice sculptures displayed throughout the village. Many visitors stood and posed with the ice, which was often interactive. Some sculptures depicted animals, others tied in with the businesses for which they were custom made. 

Rich Daly, president and owner of Ice Memories, has created sculptures during each of the festival’s four iterations. He discussed the considerable effort and material that made it all possible.

“We do live carvings and have about 90,000 pounds worth of ice set up throughout town,” supplied by Riverhead-based Long Island Ice, Daly said. “Every year, we add more ice and more activities for everybody to do.”

Daly got interested in ice sculpting during culinary school, where he first received an ice carving assignment. “Once they put a chainsaw in my hands, I just never let it go,” he said.

Given how a sculpture shapeshifts and reforms during the different melting stages, the temporality and mutability of the ice medium offer both challenge and opportunity for creative expression.

“It’s a temporary art form, which makes it unique,” Daly said. “Especially on a day like today or a weekend like this, Mother Nature just doesn’t want the ice to be around,” adding, “As it melts, it just kind of changes and transforms, and it’s pretty cool.”

Daly said the process is relatively straightforward for those interested in carving ice. Blocks of ice, he said, can be acquired at most ice plants on Long Island. “It doesn’t take a crazy amount of money to buy tools,” he said. “Just have at it. Start [carving] whatever inspires you.”

Tip of the iceberg

Spring-like temperatures and melting points played a prominent role throughout the festival, with some environmentalists ringing the alarm about the threat of climate change. 

Posted along Main, a small group of protesters lined the sidewalks with signs that read: “There is no planet ‘B’” and “Be nice, save the ice.” Holly Fils-Aime, president of the local environmental group EcoLeague, discussed how the melting sculptures signal a dangerous trend. 

“The fact that these sculptures didn’t last the day because it’s so warm out here in January is a great teaching device,” Fils-Aime said.

Picketing alongside Fils-Aime was village resident Myrna Gordon, who stressed the importance of local government in identifying environmental problems and implementing science-based solutions. 

“In my own village here in Port Jefferson, I think that a lot more has to be done with environmental issues,” she said. “Having an ice festival is wonderful — bringing people to the village, helping the businesses. But we also need to focus on very, very serious issues that are happening here.”

Frozen in time

Through the ice fest, scores of people interacted with the various facets of the community. While there wasn’t an ice sculpture outside the Bayles Boat Shop, boat builders continued their work on the Resolution whaleboat project. 

“We’re in the finalizing stages of lofting,” said John Janicek, treasurer of the boat shop. After that, the buildout of the keel and stem can commence.

As the whaleboat enters a pivotal moment in its buildout process, the village is undergoing a transition of its own, moving into the post-pandemic era. With downtown thriving once again, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden gave her thoughts on these positive developments.

“It was incredible to see so many people enjoy the village this time of year,” she said. “The businesses were thriving, the restaurants were full. There were shoppers and diners, and it was great to see the comeback.”

Master ice carver Rich Daly will create ice sculptures like the one above throughout Port Jefferson Village. Photo courtesy of Rich Daly

By Melissa Arnold

Now that the holidays are over and the excitement of the new year is beginning to fade, it can seem like the dull gray of winter will last forever. But there’s still plenty to enjoy in the colder months on Long Island, and Port Jefferson is pulling out all the stops to celebrate wintertime at its first Ice Festival next weekend.

Sponsored by the village’s Business Improvement District, the Ice Festival was inspired by a similar event held about nine years ago, said Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant.

“We’ve been looking at new ways to advertise the village beyond the holiday season, and one of our members, Marianna Ketcham, approached the board with the suggestion that we revisit the ice festival idea,” Garant said. “People come to Port Jeff because of its close proximity to the water — they want to visit the harbor and take a stroll. We wanted to create an upbeat, active event that would encourage people to come out in the winter as well.”

The village’s merchants were eager to jump on board, Garant said, with special event sales. The highly anticipated Mac and Cheese Crawl sold out weeks ago, but those lucky enough to get tickets will enjoy hot and cheesy pasta samples from 18 different eateries. Some will also offer mac and cheese for purchase throughout the weekend.

“I hope all those who come to visit and shop, realize how much we appreciate their support toward small businesses on Main Street USA,” said Port Jeff BID interim president, Roger Rutherford. “Make sure you find time to come down Port for the Ice Festival to take part in the many different festivities.”

Hop on a horse-drawn carriage and enjoy the village’s icy blue lights. Take part in some marshmallow toasting at the corner of Main and E. Broadway and meet costumed characters including your favorite ice princesses and snow friends. Then warm up with some ice skating at the RINX at Harborfront Park. Periodically throughout each day, professional skaters will entertain and share their expertise with live demonstrations. 

Of course, no ice festival would be complete without an ice sculpture or two, but Port Jefferson isn’t stopping there. They’ve invited New York’s only certified master ice carver, Richard Daly of Ice Memories Inc., to create dozens of brilliant, backlit works of art for the festival.

Each participating business will have an ice sculpture on their property with a theme they’ve chosen themselves. Keep an eye out for Baby Yoda, ice skates, a giant slice of toast and more.

Visitors will also have the chance to watch Daly work. He’ll do multiple live carvings throughout the weekend, including a four-person sleigh and a 3,000-pound throne that you can actually climb on (carefully!) for pictures. Don’t be surprised if he makes it look easy — the Mastic Beach resident earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2013 as the world’s fastest ice carver. To break the record, he created 60 sculptures in just two hours, 52 minutes and 12 seconds using 18,000 pounds of ice.

“The work that Rich does is just beautiful, and the sculptures will be incredible all lit up,” said Port Jefferson trustee Kathianne Snaden. “It’s unbelievable how he can create these complex works of art from a block of ice.”

Daly carved his first ice sculpture while in culinary school at Johnson and Wales University. He developed an immediate passion for the craft and was competing on a national level just six months later. “What’s not to like about getting to play with a chainsaw and a blowtorch?” joked Daly. “I can’t even tell you how many sculptures I’ve done in a year. I’ve lost count.”

Each sculpture for the Ice Festival will begin with a sketch. They’ll be carved from 300-pound blocks of crystal clear ice that are fused together by adding a little water. Daly is bringing 25,000 pounds of ice with him for the weekend, he said. 

“I’m looking forward to doing the live carving demonstrations,” he added. “It’s fun to be able to talk with people and answer questions while I work.” 

Ideally, the village is hoping for seasonally chilly weather and even some snow for the festival. In the event of inclement weather, the event will be postponed until the weekend of Feb. 22.

“It can be challenging to be innovative with our events, especially in colder weather, but the Ice Festival really captures the season,” said Barbara Ransome, director of operations for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a great opportunity to increase foot traffic in the area and show everyone that Port Jeff is a great place to be regardless of the time of year.”

Port Jefferson’s Ice Festival will be held throughout the village on Saturday, Feb. 8 and Sunday, Feb. 9 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Join them for a weekend of winter fun! For further information, call 631-476-2363 or visit www.portjeffbid.com/ice-festival.

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The pro-Trump sign hung up Jan. 21 was the same sign the shop hung in 2017 during inauguration. Photo by David Luces

In time for the start of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump (R), a banner was hung above Roger’s Frigate candy and ice cream shop in Port Jeff reading “In Trump We Trust” on the building’s second floor. 

Barbara Sakovich, the village clerk, said the building and planning department issued a new order to remedy to the owner, George Wallis, after it was hung. The village has maintained the sign violates code 250-31D regarding signs, specifically the size and material of the sign being hung across the building’s second floor.

Frigate general manager, Roger Rutherford, did not respond to request for comment. By Wednesday, Jan. 29, the sign was still above the shop.

The clerk said she had already received some complaints as of Wednesday, but other than the violations of code, the village cannot restrict freedom of speech.

The business owner has five days from receipt of the order to remedy to remove the sign or be issued an appearance ticket and potentially face a financial penalty. Village Attorney Brian Egan said the maximum end of such a penalty could be a maximum of $2,000 per day not removed, but that would be on the extreme end for a sign violation, and could likely be less than that.

The candy store owner had put up the same sign three years ago in January 2017, during Trump’s inauguration. The banner caused several days of controversy before it was taken down. Rutherford said at the time the plan had already been to take the sign down after a few days. 

In October last year, the village board unanimously passed a resolution reducing the number of days a sign can be up before it must be removed from 30 to five. Egan said the change was to cut down on time that the board felt was too long for a violating sign to be up, especially when applying for a permit is “not burdensome.”

He added that the courts and village comply with a broad reading on the First Amendment, but municipalities such as the village have rights to impose “content neutral” regulations, such as size, material, etc. Those regulations were in place before the Frigate originally installed the sign in 2017.

Reaction on community Facebook groups was similarly divided as it was three years ago, with some congratulating the shop while others claimed they had been boycotting the shop since 2017.

Wallis has been a character in Port Jefferson for decades, and the Frigate has become a major staple within that community. The owner of the candy store, as well as the neighboring The Steam Room, has been known as a maverick in some of his past decisions on his properties, such as in 2002 when he replaced a statue of Thomas Jefferson with one of an eagle to commemorate those lost in 9/11, according to The New York Times.

Additional reporting by David Luces.

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A new video released at the end of October looks to entice more people to come and shop in Port Jeff village businesses. Photo from Port Jeff promotional video

Port Jeff and the Business Improvement District are hoping cooperation will equal better results, starting with a new hashtag, #PortJeffersonMeansBusiness.

The Village of Port Jefferson, in partnership with the BID, released a new video at the end of October looking to entice more people to come and shop in village businesses. The video includes interviews with Mayor Margot Garant, along with business owners such as Debra Bowling from Pasta Pasta, Joey Zee from Z Pita restaurant and Jena Turner from Breathe, located on East Main Street.

The video was produced by parking and mobility administrator, Kevin Wood, through his media company FPS Inc. Originally created as part of a rebranding campaign for the village, it has become a step toward a tighter working relationship between the village and BID, which for years has not exactly seen eye to eye. 

Previous BID president, Tom Schafer, the owner of Harbor Grill and Tommy’s Place in Port Jeff, stepped down after a divisive mayoral race earlier this year. Schafer had strongly endorsed Garant’s opponent, John Jay LaValle, in the past election. 

Since he has stepped down, Roger Rutherford, manager of the staple candy store Roger’s Frigate has stepped into the role of interim president. While he said he wasn’t able to speak on the topic of the BID, he directed questions to James Luciano, the owner of the PJ Lobster House. At the time of reporting, members were expecting him to be voted onto the improvement district’s board of directors Nov. 5.

The incoming board member said with a change of leadership, bringing new blood onto the BID’s board has been necessary going forward.

“We’re in it to revive the community, we just need everyone to participate.”

James Luciano

The 36-year old has owned the PJ Lobster House since he was 23 and said the BID’s board had previously been reluctant to go for new ideas.

That, he said, is changing. One new concept is a grant system, where businesses can ask for matching funds up to $1,000 for small projects, whether it’s a sign that needs fixing or a new door. The village has agreed to waive the permit and application fee when it comes to these small projects.

The BID is looking toward future advertisements, including television commercials, railroad ads and joint ads with businesses in Connecticut. They are working with Dix Hills-based Ed Moore Advertising. Luciano said more focus is on social media, working with Mount Sinai-based social media agency Social Butterfly. Instead of using its own online pages for social media content, the BID plans to go through the already active Port Jefferson accounts.

The owner of the PJ Lobster House said the BID is planning on a new initiative to allow businesses to be put on a list for social media advertising with no extra expense to them, with two posts a week and boosts paid for by the BID.

In November last year, the BID and village partnered with Qwik Ride, a company that uses electric vehicles that both residents and visitors can use for transport within the village. The service was free thanks to a sponsorship between the BID and Qwik Ride, though some residents were critical of its low ridership numbers and some residents’ difficulty calling one of its cars. Luciano said at a recent BID meeting, the group met with the CEO of Qwik Ride to air their complaints about how the program was being administered, with some vehicles moving out beyond the village and ignoring requests to put more vehicles on the road during events. The BID offered to pay extra money on a shift to keep the transportation company within the area, but they could not reach an agreement. 

Garant agreed the service was not working for what the village required: A quick, efficient transport staying within the zip code.

In the past, the mayor has criticized the BID for sitting on its funds. The current budget for the improvement district sits at around $190,000, according to officials, and it receives $68,000 every year from the businesses within the district. The current advertising campaign is earmarked for $75,000. With the planned $20,000 grant program, the budget will sit on an approximated $90,000 surplus. The mayor said around $30,000 of that budget is set aside for Port Jeff in case of heavy snowfalls, but in recent years the village has not dipped into those funds.

The village has yet to give the improvement district its $68,000 for this year, with trustees saying they wished to see more movement on projects.

“The board of trustees wanted to see more initiatives going forward,” the mayor said. “When it comes to municipal funds, it’s move it or lose it.”