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Stony Brook Village Center

Oogie by Erica R. of St. James. Photo from WMHO
‘The Groomery’ by The Groomery of Lake Grove. Photo from WMHO

Time to vote! 37 scarecrows of all shapes, sizes and characters have been erected throughout the Stony Brook Village Center for the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s 31st Annual Scarecrow Competition. 

Winning scarecrows will win cash prizes based on the number of votes they receive from the public — voting is free and is now open! Ballots can be found in all the shops. Once completed, ballots should be returned to any shop to be counted in for voting. Voting is open until Monday, Oct. 25.

The winners of the Scarecrow Competition will be announced at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s 31st Annual Halloween Festival on Oct. 29 at 3 p.m.

The sponsors of the 31st Annual Scarecrow Competition are as follows: Main Event Sponsor – the Suffolk Center for Speech and Myofunctional Therapy, the Black Cauldron Sponsor – The RJG Consulting Group, the Ghosts & Goblins Sponsor – Dr. Robert Quilty and the Candy Corn Sponsor – Gold Fish Swim School.

To learn more about the Scarecrow Competition or the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, call 631-751-2244.

Pentimento Restaurant

This week a Stony Brook Village Center icon closed its doors for the last time after 27 years in business, and residents wonder how it will ever be replaced.

At the end of July, the owner of Pentimento Restaurant, Dennis Young, began informing customers that his lease wasn’t being renewed. Frequent visitors to his establishment started a Facebook page and petition on Change.org to save the restaurant and show their support. Many even protested in front of the business and throughout the shopping center. They also rallied in front of Gloria Rocchio’s house, the president of Eagle Realty Holdings and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

Unfortunately, the owner and the board of Eagle Realty, the landlord, couldn’t come to an agreement after Young forgot to give notice about his intent to renew last year, 365 days before his lease expired as specified in the agreement.

The Village Times Herald and the TBR News Media website featured five articles within the past two months on the closing and protests, and some of the stories also appeared in The Times of Smithtown. Talking to all parties involved, hearing the different sides of the issue, it was apparent there was more to the impasse than forgetting to renew a lease. A couple of matters couldn’t even be discussed because lease negotiations between private businesses are private matters.

We are saddened that something couldn’t be worked out. Especially since Young was hoping to retire in the near future and extending the lease and being able to sell the business to someone else would have meant he could have walked away with something more in his pockets.

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the closing of Book Revue in Huntington village. Just like the iconic bookstore drew people to Huntington with its eclectic selection of books and celebrity author signings, the restaurant has done the same in the Three Village community by serving up its delicious meals and more.

As one reader wrote in a letter to the editor last week, in the last 27 years the restaurant served as the place “where we have celebrated birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and religious milestones. It’s where we have had our first dates and our first jobs.”

Regular visitors to Stony Brook Village Center would find that on the nights the restaurant was closed, the parking lot in the section of the shopping center it is located on was practically empty. When it was open, it could be difficult to find a spot.

When people come to eat in a restaurant, especially if they have to wait for a table, they’ll visit nearby stores. And, Pentimento has been a big attraction for both locals and residents from surrounding towns. As we mentioned in our editorial about Book Revue, sometimes the closing of a popular establishment can have a domino effect. We hope this won’t be the case with the village center.

We’re not quite sure what will replace Pentimento, but it will take a long time for residents to create new memories in whatever business goes into the empty space.

We thank Young, restaurant manager Lisa Cusumano and the staff for their service to the community, and we wish them all the happiness in the world.

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Photo by Rita J. Egan

The members of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization board said protesters only know part of the story about their negotiations with the owner of a popular restaurant in Stony Brook Village Center.

After Pentimento Restaurant, owned by chef Dennis Young, announced on its Facebook page at the end of July that it would be closing Sept. 30 due to their lease not being renewed with Eagle Realty Holdings, customers and former employees began protesting the decision.

Eagle Realty, which this year paid $725,000 in real estate taxes, according to President Gloria Rocchio, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the not-for-profit WMHO. The realty company leases the commercial businesses in Stony Brook Village Center as well as a few offices and residential homes surrounding the shopping center.

In the last few weeks, protesters have rallied in front of the restaurant as well as Rocchio’s home. The supporters created a Save Pentimento Restaurant Facebook page and posted a petition on Change.org.

There were also campaigns to call and email all of the board members which include Richard Rugen, chairman of the board, and trustees Mary Van Tuyl and Charles Napoli. People have been calling the WMHO office, too.

Rocchio said a couple of times a box truck and car have been parked in front of her home with Save Pentimento signs, and at a Sept. 12 protest, a person was banging a pot.

Rugen said as president, Rocchio has taken “the black eye.”

The board feels the protests exacerbated the problem instead of letting the trustees work things out with Young and his lawyer. The trustees said they were working on the issue with the owner for eight months.

“That’s what’s so frustrating,” Rugen said. “The demonstrations and so on, especially in front of Gloria’s house, have actually exacerbated the problem to the point where it was no longer viable.”

Napoli said people don’t have all the facts and the board was just trying to get clarity, while the public has labeled them “demons.” The board members said they have had a good relationship with Young through the years, and he’s always paid his rent on time. Rocchio described Young as “a wonderful chef.”

Napoli said the protests were “counterproductive.”

“It was unnecessary,” he said. “It could have been resolved, just between us and Dennis.”

Van Tuyl, who has received numerous calls at home and her business, added that the protesters know who the board members are but the trustees don’t know who the people are calling and emailing them.

“That’s a scary situation for anyone to be in,” she said.

Rocchio said it was difficult for her and board members to comment on the lease situation to the press and residents as the terms of a lease and negotiations are normally kept between the lessor and lessee. She added that each lease is for a different length of time.

“These are landlord-tenant matters that are negotiated, and you really don’t discuss in public,” Rocchio said.

Young and the restaurant’s manager, Lisa Cusumano, said in previous interviews with TBR News Media that they were supposed to notify the landlord a year before the end of the lease term about the intention to renew. Young, who wants to retire in the near future, said he forgot due to trying to keep his business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. A few months ago, someone he knew wanted to buy the business, but he was told the lease could not be extended. If Young was able to sell the business, the restaurant would remain as Pentimento, and he and Cusumano would continue to work there as well as the current staff.

The board said they were open to extending Young’s lease but not for as long as he originally asked for. When they proposed a shorter length of time, their offer was rejected by him. The board members added that they interviewed the buyer Young suggested as well as others. They suggested a couple of them to Young. However, when the potential buyers contacted the restaurant owner, he didn’t provide them with the information they needed to make an offer.

There was one more caveat, Rocchio said, as obligations in a present lease have to be fulfilled before letting another person buy a business, and the septic system needs to be replaced. Cusumano said in a Sept. 16 The Village Times Herald article that Young has maintained the septic system properly and replaced it approximately 10 years ago.

Rocchio said the current septic system had been reviewed by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services when it was installed, and the architect who designed it used the standard specification for a restaurant with 125 seats. However, according to the board, the septic system that is a dedicated system for the kitchen, interior of the restaurant and outside patio has been overtaxed. It doesn’t handle or affect the bar area or the bar bathroom.

The owner had expanded the restaurant years ago by taking over a former clothing store. While he didn’t have enough funds to finish the project, the board said Eagle Realty Holdings put up the rest of the money. In the event that he sold the business, the realty company would be repaid.

“It was to our benefit for him to sell the business,” Rocchio said.

She said with the restaurant closing at the end of the month Eagle Realty will not be paid back the money, and it will be responsible for the new septic system.

In a Sept. 16 The Village Times Herald article, Cusumano said that the restaurant’s last day would be Sept. 30.

“We walk away after 27 years with nothing,” she said.

Napoli said they were doing everything they could to help Young.

“No one on the board wants to hurt Dennis,” Napoli said. “Everyone, all the trustees, want him to get something for the restaurant. For 27 years, he has served this community very well and the community has supported him, and we’ve encouraged it. We’ve worked together. It would be only fair that he did get something.”

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Photo by Rita J. Egan

On Sept. 14, Pentimento owner Dennis Young was notified that the restaurant’s lease would not be extended, and they would have to vacate the premises as of Sept. 30, according to Pentimento’s manager Lisa Cusumano.

“We walk away after 27 years with nothing.”

— Lisa Cusumano

“We walk away after 27 years with nothing,” she said, adding now they will concentrate on continuing to serve the community until the doors close and finding jobs for their employees.

According to Gloria Rocchio, president of Eagle Realty Holdings which leases the space, Young and Cusumano were asked to stay on until an appropriate tenant could be found, but they declined. A full interview with Rocchio and some members of the board will be available on TBR News Media’s website and social media Sept. 17 and in next week’s paper.

Cusumano said they informed the staff the morning of Sept. 15, before the public was notified, so the closure notice could be announced direct from her and Young.

“We feel like we’re letting the community down by leaving,” she said, adding how the business has contributed to Ronald McDonald House, sponsored Little League and more.

She said that employees as well as their small vendors depend on the business.

Just before the restaurant was notified, Sept. 10 and 12 found a few dozen people holding protests asking Eagle Realty Holdings to extend Pentimento’s lease in Stony Brook Village Center. Two other rallies were held during the last few weeks.

On July 29, Pentimento Restaurant posted to their Facebook page that they were unable to extend the term of their lease. However, with the support of the community, which was overwhelming, Cusumano said, they found some hope.

Young and Cusumano said in an Aug. 5 The Village Times Herald article that they forgot to inform the landlord that they wanted to renew their lease last year because they were busy trying to keep their business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young, who hopes to retire in the near future, had found a party who was interested in buying the business and recently asked if he could extend the lease.

Rocchio said in a statement in August that in addition to not receiving notice about Young’s intention to renew the lease, the tenant failed “to comply with the requirement to maintain the septic system” which is described in the lease. Young said he has kept up with all maintenance and has also renovated the business through the 27 years he has operated Pentimento. In 2009, he also bought a new cesspool.

In August, Rocchio said Young’s suggested buyer and others were being interviewed to take over the spot.

As for recent protests, the rally on Sept. 10 was held in front of the restaurant, according to participant Barbara Beltrami from Setauket, and the Sept. 12 protest took place in front of Rocchio’s home.

“It was a very passionate, loud protest,” Beltrami said.

In addition to the rallies, an online petition was started to save the restaurant on Change.org. More than 3,735 people have signed it as of Sept. 15.

Photo by Heidi Sutton/2017

This October, scarecrows will once again line the walkways throughout Stony Brook Village in the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s 31st annual Scarecrow Competition! Register as an individual, group or professional and create a scarecrow masterpiece. First place winners will receive a cash prize.

Registration forms can be found at any of the shops in Stony Brook Village, or you can download it digitally from the events section of the Stony Brook Village Center website. To enter this competition, please return the completed registration form to the Ward Melville Heritage Organization – P.O. Box 572, Stony Brook, NY 11790, with the entry fee of $25 by Sept. 24. 

Vote for your favorite scarecrows between Oct. 1 and 25. Ballots can be found in all shops and eateries in Stony Brook Village and must be returned to shops no later than Oct. 25 to be counted. Winners will be notified on Oct. 26 by 5 p.m. and will be announced during the WMHO’s Halloween Festival on Oct. 29.

For more information, please call 631-751-2244.

Owner Bernice Fehringer Photo from WMHO

Chocolate Works in Stony Brook has renamed and rebranded itself to Stony Brook Chocolate to connect to the destination of Stony Brook Village. 

With over thirty years of experience as a certified chocolatier, Bernice Fehringer has crafted Stony Brook Chocolate into a shop with treats for all ages. When she took ownership of the shop two years ago, Fehringer said it was always the goal “to incorporate ‘Stony Brook’ into the name of the shop. I felt that it would be my way of connecting to the community and adding to Stony Brook as a destination.”

Stony Brook Chocolate uses only pure milk and dark Belgium chocolate in their creations. Seasonal kits to decorate at home are available all year round. This February, take-home kits include twin chocolate hearts and milk chocolate lollipops that are accompanied by candy decorations. Also available are hot chocolate bombs in flavors like peppermint, peanut butter, white, dark and milk chocolate.

Stony Brook Chocolate is located at 143 Main Street in the Stony Brook Village Center. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call their shop at 631-675-9366 or visit www.stonybrookchocolate.com.

Health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital received meals delivered by Stony Brook Village Center restaurants. Photo from Ward Melville Heritage Organization

During the pandemic, helping to feed those with food insecurities came not only from expected organizations such as food banks and church pantries but also restaurants across the North Shore. Several stepped up to the plate to help out as their dining rooms remained empty due to mandatory state shutdowns.

Whether it was the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce working with small businesses to donate food to local hospitals or nonprofits like Island Harvest facilitating meals for those who needed it, here are just a few examples of those who went above and beyond.

Long Island Cares

“We are seeing a lot of people for the first time, and I think that a lot of it’s due to unemployment, job loss, furloughs.” — Claire Fratello

Long Island Cares, the Hauppauge-based food bank, is in the business of making sure residents in Suffolk and Nassau counties don’t go hungry. According to Claire Fratello, LIC’s assistant to the CEO for administration and media relations, the nonprofit, which regularly has 374 member pantries and six satellite locations, established during the pandemic 18 emergency pop-up food distribution sites, a food-box packing center in Hauppauge to make up emergency food boxes, and a consumer-choice pantry in Bethpage, modeled after a supermarket..

From March to November, LI Cares has assisted more than 220,000 people all across Long Island, and the number of new people receiving emergency food assistance due to COVID-19 has increased to 146,919. Food insecurity is up 58% compared to 2019.

LI Cares collected enough food items to give out nearly 12 million meals throughout the pandemic.

“We are seeing a lot of people for the first time, and I think that a lot of it’s due to unemployment, job loss, furloughs,” she said.

Fratello added that LI Cares has tried something new with virtual food drives, and they have seen an approximate 33% increase in donations compared to last year.

“I think the generosity has been kind of fueled by the fact that there are people out there who know that others are struggling,” she said.

In September, LI Cares started creating food boxes for workers of a few Long Island restaurants. The owner of the restaurants expressed concern for his employees who were working less than usual and receiving fewer tips. Each week the workers have been able to pick up food boxes at LI Cares’ Huntington and Hauppauge locations.

Axis Food Pantry

Among the food pantries providing help to local residents is a new one established by Axis Church. Pastor Kara Bocchino said the church has members from all over and three locations, Port Jefferson, Medford and Patchogue, and the new food pantry operates out of the main building in Medford.

“We were sitting home thinking how we can’t just sit home when we’re an outreach-focused church,” she said.

Committed to doing something, the church members called the Patchogue-Medford school district in April, and discovered there were several families in need. Congregants donated a large amount of food and would drop off donations on Sundays. The collected food was delivered to 60 families a week and about another 60 families would pick food up at the church every Saturday.

After the school year ended, church members continued to deliver to the families. However, when the need died down, it inspired the church to start a food pantry. Bocchino said she began receiving calls from the New York State Department of Health asking if they could help deliver food to nearby residents who were quarantined. While they mostly bring food to those who live up and down the Route 112 corridor, they have also helped out those in areas surrounding Port Jefferson.

Bocchino said when she can’t deliver to a person due to distance, she connects the DOH with a church that can.

One family she delivered to was in Rocky Point. She said the drive was worth it when she learned the woman in the household was a foster mom to five children. Bocchino added that the chain Chick-fil-A donated a tray of food to the family.

After food was dropped off for a family in Selden, Bocchino found out the parents needed help buying their children Christmas presents and purchasing oil to heat their house. She said church members quickly stepped up to the plate to help them.

The pastor hasn’t been surprised by the generosity she’s witnessed from congregants and businesses.

“What happens is when people hear of a need, they’re willing to fill it,” she said. “When they don’t hear of the need, they can’t do it.”

La Famiglia, Smithtown

Teresa LaRosa leaves La Famiglia in Smithtown with food for a family member who was furloughed early on during the pandemic. The restaurant began donating meals to community members back in March. Photo by Rita J. Egan

During the pandemic, many restaurants took the lead in offering free food to seniors in their communities and delivering meals to health care workers at local hospitals.

As soon as restaurants were prohibited to provide indoor dining, La Famiglia in Smithtown posted on its Facebook page that the restaurant would donate 50 meals a day to any senior who wanted them over two days. The word spread fast, and soon regulars were stopping by to donate money, which allowed co-owner John Cracchiolo and manager Giovanni Divella to donate 150 meals that weekend.

But the donations didn’t stop there, Divella said, and the restaurant has continued giving away free meals throughout the pandemic, delivering them to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and Suffolk County Police Department’s 4th Precinct among other locations to say “thank you” to health care workers and law enforcement.

Divella said there was no question about helping out in the community during difficult times. The restaurant has stood on the corner of Jericho Turnpike and Brooksite Drive in Smithtown for 20 years.

“This community is by far the most tight-knit community I’ve ever met,” he said. “And not just Smithtown, but all the surrounding areas: St. James, Kings Park, Commack and Hauppauge.”

Divella said he and Cracchiolo didn’t think the pandemic would last this long but feel fortunate to have been able to stay open during the pandemic, even with the changes in capacity, increased cleaning and mask mandates.

“We’re learning every day to reinvent ourselves,” Divella said. “We’re learning every day to kind of go with the curve.”

Stony Brook Village Center

Thanking the health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital took a village, as restaurants in Stony Brook Village Center banded together to put together meals for health care workers during the pandemic.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization which manages the village center, said the Three Village Inn, Fratelli’s, Crazy Beans and Sweet Mama’s all took part in delivering meals to the medical professionals at Stony Brook University Hospital. In addition, The Crushed Olive, Village Coffee Market, Chocolate Works, Premiere Pastry, Brew Cheese and Penney’s Car Care delivered a variety of snacks, cheeses, pastries, cookies, drinks and much more. More than 11,000 meals and breakroom foods were distributed to SBUH from the beginning of April toward the end of June.

Rocchio said the initiative was called Stony Brook Village/Stony Brook University Hospital Healthcare Meal Program, and it began after it was discovered that a few of the restaurants in the village center were already delivering food to the hospital after receiving donations from customers. Claude Cardin, owner of Fratelli’s, spent $15,000 of his own money to deliver food to the workers.

She credited the work of the restaurants being made a little easier with generous donations to WMHO totaling $25,000 from local residents and businesses as well as people from Nassau County and out of the state.

“It was all of the community coming together as one, to take care of one cause — to care for essential workers,” Rocchio said. “It was so heartwarming.”

Ring in the holiday season with a stroll through the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s annual Promenade of Trees!      

Over 60 decorated trees currently line the walkways of the Stony Brook Village Center, 111 Main Street, Stony Brook for the WMHO’s annual Holiday Tree Competition. Voting for the competition is now open to the public through Dec. 21. Ballots can be found in the shops and restaurants within the Center.

The “favorite” tree designer will receive a $150 gift certificate to the Stony Brook Village Center and will be announced on the Stony Brook Village Center Facebook page on Dec. 22. The festive trees will be on view through Jan. 4.

Photos courtesy of the WMHO

Santa stopped by Stony Brook Dec. 6. Photo by Rita J. Egan

While the Ward Melville Heritage Organization had to hold its annual Christmas festival and tree lighting virtually this year Dec. 6, a few of the board members and their friends gathered on the Village Green at the Stony Brook Village Center, not just to see the festive lights, but also for an announcement.

Visitors to the Village Green take a photo in front of the lit spruce. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Richard Rugen, WMHO chairman, said the Village Green in the center would be renamed in honor of Jennie Melville, the mother of philanthropist Ward Melville, founder and planner of Stony Brook Village Center. Rugen said she was the one with the idea to change the then “kind of down-at-the-heels Schooner town” into what it is today, including the two-acre Village Green, even though she didn’t live to see it. 

“It’s been used now for 80 years, much more so this year with COVID,” Rugen said. “People have been able to come down and have a ball game or a card game or a sunset, whatever their little hearts desired.”

The WMHO chairman said despite the Village Green being used more than usual this past year, visitors have been respectful of the grounds.

“The trustees and the staff of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization worked very hard to keep it beautiful, and you have cooperated very well,” he said.

Rugen said after seeing so many residents enjoying the green, the board of trustees decided to name it the Jennie Melville Village Green, and in the spring, they plan to install a plaque with the new name and some history about both Melville and the open space.

Also on hand was Chris Damianos, chairman of the board and CEO of Damianos Realty Group, one of the sponsors of the tree lighting, and his family. The Norway Spruce that was lit to commemorate the holiday season Sunday is dedicated to his mother Virginia, who passed away in 2009.

“She was a strong woman,” he said. “This tree has too grown strong, tall and resolute.”

He called it a symbol of hope.

“Another symbol of hope and joy is Santa,” he said, adding that the man in red was on his way.

To the delight of attendees, Santa, who had just spent a few hours speaking to local children via Zoom in a virtual event organized by WMHO, stopped by to help light the Stony Brook Village Center tree.

During the Zoom call with Santa, children were able to request holiday presents. A mailbox has also been set up in front of the Stony Brook Post Office to send him letters this season.

In past years, hundreds of residents would line up by the post office to have their children take photos with Santa as part of WMHO’s Holiday Festival, which the pandemic made impossible this year.

The past two years the festival also featured the Legends and Spies Puppets Procession led by a New Orleans-style brass band. The puppets paid homage to former notable Three Village residents such as Ward Melville and his wife, Dorothy.

This year WMHO continues its Holiday Tree Competition. Throughout the shopping center visitors will find decorated trees.

Ballots can be obtained from businesses throughout Stony Brook village, and shoppers can vote for their favorite tree until Dec. 21.

Stony Brook Post Office

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will host a Holiday Secrets of Stony Brook Village Walking Tour on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 10:50 a.m. and again at 2:50 p.m.

Participants will experience the unheard stories of some of Stony Brook Village’s illustrious residents and customs through time. This includes “Astor Orphan” Alida Chanler Emmet and the extravagant parties that she hosted at her estate, the Mallows; the origins of the Stony Brook Village and its traditions of gift giving though the centuries; and the forgotten story of painter Ruth Hawkins Mount Seabury who was born on Christmas Day in 1808 and the only sister of the three Mount artists.

The holiday cheer can continue after the walking tour, as the Mirabelle Tavern at the Three Village Inn (c. 1751) and Pentimento Restaurant will be offering ticket holders drink or dessert specials with the purchase of food items.

Tours will leave from the Stony Brook Post Office, 111 Main St., Stony Brook. Tickets for this event are $15 per person and includes fresh hot chocolate from Stony Brook Chocolate Works. Reservations are required by calling 631-751-2244.