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Village of Port Jefferson

Rigatoni with shrimp at Pasta Pasta in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Long Island Restaurant Week has created a new spin on its yearly week-long dining event — but this year takeout will be the focus due to the precautions of COVID-19.

The event is running from Jan. 24 through 31 and select restaurants will feature a $25, $35 or $42 three-course prix fixe available for takeout. Customers are still allowed to dine in if they choose to do so.  

Steve Haweeli, president of LIRW, emphasized the importance of the changes made for the event this year.

“This campaign stresses takeout,” he said. “It’s safer from a COVID-19 standpoint, and allows restaurants to save tables for those who dine in.”

A tasty calamari appetizer at Pasta Pasta. Photo by Kimberly Brown

One of the four participating restaurants in Port Jefferson is Pasta Pasta, a popular Italian trattoria that is offering the three-course prix fixe for $35. Owner, Debra Bowling, said one of the good things to come out of the pandemic was the loyalty from her customers, and knowing the support she has from them.

“The customers would come up to order takeout and say, ‘Are we helping? Are you OK?’” she said.

Bowling added that at the beginning of the pandemic, customers would visit the restaurant and give money to the workers in the kitchen because they knew their hours were cut.

“It’s so overwhelming,” she said. “Sometimes I get choked up. It’s a very warm feeling.”

Some of her customer’s favorites include the tortelloni stuffed with six cheeses, filet mignon, wasabi calamari and the bacon-wrapped shrimp.

“We have customers that come in for the same thing every week,” Bowling added. “It’s so funny — it never changes.” 

Wave Seafood & Steak and The Club a Public Steakhouse, are also participating in LIRW. While both are operated by Crest Hospitality, the restaurants have their own ambience.

Wave Seafood overlooks the marina, and The Club a Public Steakhouse is located on a cliff over-looking the Long Island Sound. Both spots will be offering the $35 three-course prix fixe for take-out or dine in as well. 

Outdoor insulated igloos are good balance between indoor and outside dining at Danfords. Photo by Kimberly Brown

Michael Lang, vice president of food and beverage with Crest Hospitality, explained the attributes that he considers make his restaurants stand out.

“Three simple reasons — the food, the service and the views.” he said, “We provide a great experience for people who come, and for $35 this is a great opportunity if you haven’t been to our restaurants before.”

Learning to roll with the punches of the pandemic, both restaurants also provide enclosed, heated, outdoor seating. Wave Seafood offers insulated igloos to rent, which are located on the deck. 

“Every day you learn something new,” Lang said. “You learn to manage day-to-day and go with the flow to make it work as best as you can, and we have had a lot of good successes come out of that.” 

Ruvo East is the fourth Port Jefferson restaurant joining The Club, Wave and Pasta Pasta with a $35 prix-fixe menu.

To see menus or find other restaurants across Long Island participating, visit www.longislandrestaurantweek.com.

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Port Jefferson artist Jennifer Hannaford, right, along with Linda Alfin, left, revitalized the Dickens Festival mural present in front of Chandler Square just off Main Street. Photo from Hannaford

It’s a scene straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, and has been displayed every holiday season for years.

Featuring buildings covered in snow, a big decorated tree and a sign that welcomes visitors to the annual Dickens Festival in the Village of Port Jefferson, the mural was starting to look a bit worn, according to local business leaders. 

“The cutout is pretty old,” said Barbara Ransome, director of operations for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. “Businesses were saying it was looking tired and asking if anything could be done.”

With the intention to clean up the painting and make it as good as new, Ransome asked two local artists to give the decade-old mural a facelift.

Linda Alfin and Jennifer Hannaford have been spending a good part of this past year decorating different spaces throughout the village. 

It started when Ransome and chamber president, Mary Joy Pipe, recruited the artists over the summer to decorate a set of electrical boxes and turn them into aquatic scenes in an attempt to beautify downtown.

“I’ve always understood that art can be powerfully transformative for a community, but engaging in this process has been fun because I get to see the change,” Hannaford said. “People also feel like their village is being cared for and, in turn, so are they.”

Since then, the pair has done several murals together throughout the village. 

“Linda is one of the most efficient painters I have ever seen,” Hannaford said. “I cannot say enough about her work ethic. I hope more folks take advantage of the fact that they have this kind of service and talent in their own town. I have learned a great deal from her this year.”

And the work didn’t stop for the artists come earlier this month. Alfin said that when Ransome called last minute asking if they could “freshen up” the scene, the two artists jumped on it. 

“The very next day we brought the mural back to life,” Alfin said. “Everyone walking by as we were painting was thanking us for repainting the mural.”

It took just two hours on Dec. 1 to make it vibrant, while the compliments and gratitude from residents touched the Port Jefferson muralist.

“A woman came up to us and was so happy to see us sprucing it up,” Alfin said.

While the Dickens Festival was canceled this year due to the COVID crisis, the snowmen in the scene can now greet visitors with a new smile, reminding them of what can hopefully be celebrated normally again next year. 

“I’m so happy to be able to help my town look more inviting and festive with all the murals we did so far throughout the village,” Alfin said.

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Carlos Cano in his new upholstery shop in Upper Port said business has been good despite the pandemic, and the community have been more than supportive. Photo by Kyle Barr

Carlos Cano, a new face to the Port Jefferson scene, could not be happier to be where he is now.

The new shop owner of Cano Decor in Upper Port Jeff has a lot to be thankful for. Though he only opened a month and a half ago in the midst of a pandemic, and in a location more known for empty storefronts than prosperous ones, he said the community has already come out in support of him and his business.

“I’m so happy, you have no idea,” he said. “The neighbors here, they are incredible. … The town is helping me, and I want to help the town.”

Carlos Cano in his new upholstery shop in Upper Port said business has been good despite the pandemic, and the community have been more than supportive. Photo by Kyle Barr

Cano originally owned an upholstery business in the Bronx, where he serviced a lot of high-end clientele in the commercial and restaurant businesses, but because of COVID-19 there was little-to-no work available. Earlier this year, he came to the area to see his brother-in-law’s house, and he immediately fell in love with Port Jefferson village. The restaurants were great, and he enjoyed the walkable aspect to everything. Talking to the landlord of the Upper Port shop, he moved his business here and has been instead focusing more on residential work.

The difference between where he used to work and where he is now could not be more different, and Cano said it’s all for the better. Satisfied customers have even bought him presents, something that would never happen in the city.

“In the Bronx, I used to see the rats fight,” he said. “Here I see the squirrels play.”

And surprisingly, he has been seeing people come through. He’s gotten plenty of work for Thanksgiving and the holidays, and he’s been kept constantly busy since he’s opened. It’s just him and his seamstress working now, where his previous business had six employees.

Cano Decor stands out among the other empty storefront of Upper Port with his bright, cursive letterings on the windows and its floral pattern and leather furniture just behind them. 

“I want to bring that feeling — I want to create that [sensation that things are happening],” he said.

Cano has been doing upholstery practically ever since he came to the United States from Colombia when he was just 14. Now 54, the man said experts in the field are rare. One can count the number of upholstery professionals on Long Island on just one hand.

“This is a dying art,” he said. 

The owner said his business offers residential reupholstering services on furniture, car and marine, as well as curtains and services decor services for restaurants. He promotes that all his material is high quality, with his fabrics being all American made and his leathers sourced from the U.S. or Europe.

Even beyond his work with fabrics, he also wants to see about opening up the shop for quilting or sewing classes, stuff that could perhaps reinvigorate the love and art of working with furniture.

“I want to teach this to somebody — somebody that can take up the torch, in other words,” he said.

Cano Decor can be found at 1530 Main St. in Upper Port, next to Keny Barber Shop. The upholsterer can be contacted at 631-828-2346.

Brookhaven's fire marshal shows what could happen if a tree isn't properly taken care of. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Village of Port Jefferson signed an intermunicipal agreement with the Town of Brookhaven to ensure that if the village is in need of fire marshal services, the town’s marshal can step in instead.

Mayor Margot Garant mentioned there was an issue the weekend of Dec. 5 with needing immediate inspections from the fire marshal, in this case an inspection for the new Port Jeff Lobster House location. 

“We had a shortage of staff this past weekend, which was bad timing with important inspections needed from the fire marshal,” Garant said.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said the language would allow the town fire marshals to step in when their own is shorthanded or short scheduled, effectively cross designating them as village fire marshal under village code.

Egan added that the town did not ask for a reciprocal agreement with village fire marshals designated for work within the wider Brookhaven town.

“That would never realistically occur they’re so small we’re so big — they have no jurisdiction inside village without board approval,” he said.

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Alexa DeSimone brought her own creativity to bear in crafting her cookie at the Port Jeff Village Center Dec. 5. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It was a sweet day for Port Jefferson children and their families. 

On Saturday, Dec. 5, The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Cookieland event inside the Harbor Cove Room at the Village Center. 

Kids of all ages were each able to decorate two large sugar cookies with sprinkles and icing to celebrate the holiday season. 

“The chamber is encouraging shoppers to come and enjoy our beautifully decorated village,” Barbara Ransome, director of operations with the chamber, said. “We wanted to create a level of normalcy with COVID compliance, mindful of safety and mindful of the holiday spirit we all need.”

Packages of individually wrapped cookie decorating kits at the PJ Chamber Cookieland event. Photo by Julianne Mosher

For $15, La Bonne Boulangerie bakery of Port Jefferson provided the kit, with tickets available for purchase through the chamber’s website. Four tables were spread out throughout the room, with protective barriers between guests. Masks were worn at all times, and proceeds supported the chamber of commerce nonprofit. 

Holbrook resident Andrea DeSimone brought her 8-year-old daughter, Alexa, to decorate the snowman and snowflake-shaped cookies. 

“I figured it would be something fun to do,” she said. “Especially since it’s not nice outside.”

Due to the inclement weather on Saturday, a socially distanced visit from Santa surprised families inside the room, instead of the originally planned photo opportunity outside with his sleigh.

Alexa was thrilled to play with the provided decorations.

“My favorite thing is putting on the frosting and getting it all over my hands,” she said with a laugh. “I’m having so much fun today.”

Families who missed out can still get tickets for the next two events on Dec. 12 and 19, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. 

Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three, won't be playing the role of Scrooge in-person this season. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Julianne Mosher

Local theatergoers are saying “Bah Humbug” this Christmas because two of their favorite traditions will not be happening.

During the holiday season, families would gather to watch Scrooge confront the ghosts of his past, present and future. In another venue, little children would admire ballerinas in white tutus up on their toes. The Rat King would clash with the Nutcracker.

But because of the COVID-19 crisis, two staples in the Village of Port Jefferson’s art community — Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol” and Harbor Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” — have been canceled, leaving these two nonprofits hoping for a brighter 2021.

Jeffrey Sanzel, in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, is working on a new virtual play, ‘A Carol for Christmas.’ Photo by Julianne Mosher

According to Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three, between 12,000-15,000 Long Islanders have viewed their production of “A Christmas Carol” over the last 35 years.  Sanzel has portrayed the role of Ebenezer Scrooge 1,437 times. “This is the first time in 33 years I’m not doing a stage production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’” he said. “It’s a shame, but I don’t want to do anything to exacerbate the problem.”

In a pre-COVID world, the theater would run the show six days a week with anywhere from 50 to 60 performances per year. Around 30 local actors would take on multiple roles of Charles Dickens’ characters.

After speaking with the village, he and Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant considered an outdoor, socially distanced performance of the treasured production. Sanzel said they had it all figured out; it was going to be four 15-minute shows — a smaller adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” — with a minimal cast, at Harborfront Park.

“I got a cast. We went into rehearsal, and then the governor’s office told [the mayor], ‘No,’” he said.

Three weeks ago, the village received word from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office that they were not allowed to host an event outside that could draw a crowd. “I was all for it, and the actors were all set,” he said. “We were right down to discussing what they need to wear under the costumes when it’s below zero outside, socially distanced, in face shields.”

So, it was back to the drawing board. Sanzel and his team decided to create a free, virtual performance that will be filming this week. Titled “A Carol for This Christmas,” it will be available for viewing on Facebook, Vimeo and the theater’s website (www.theatrethree.com) in mid-December

“In a period of two days, I cast it, wrote it and went into rehearsal again,” he said. The 45-minute film will be set in a closed theater and features six actors playing the many roles in the story. The actors will be filmed socially distanced, in various parts of the theater, while wearing masks.

Sanzel said this would be the theater’s gift for the community. “This will be our contribution,” he said. “The actors have all donated their services because they’re just happy to be doing something.” He hopes that this event will keep the theater’s name alive and bring attention to an industry that is struggling hard throughout this crisis. “We want people to know that we understand what’s going on in the world,” he said.

This weekend would’ve marked the Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival’s 25th anniversary, an event that always kept Theatre Three busy. The announcement of its cancellation this year is devastating for the community, said Sanzel. “The Dickens Festival brings people into the village,” he said. “It’s a great weekend, and even if people aren’t seeing the show, they become aware of the show and buy tickets for the future.”

Amy Tyler
Worrell had to cancel the Harbor Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker’ this year. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Amy Tyler Worrell, who owns Amy Tyler School of Dance up the hill on Reeves Road with her husband John, agreed. “People who are coming to town can go out to dinner in Port Jeff and then come see ‘The Nutcracker’ or go shopping,” she said. “Being able to go out to ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ gets people excited.”

Worrell’s studio is celebrating its 33rd year in the Port Jefferson community. Within the school is the couple’s nonprofit, Harbor Ballet Theatre, which puts on ‘The Nutcracker’ at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School during the Dickens Festival. This would have been their 29th year.

“My family — my parents, my husband, my kids — all helped out with it,” she said. “But there are a lot of other families here who had the same experience. It’s kind of a letdown for them.”

When COVID-19 began in March, the studio needed to shut its doors and move to online classes via Zoom. They couldn’t hold their annual recital in June in-person, resulting in doing it online. During the summer, they found out they couldn’t hold their ballet in-person this December.

“The families say this kicks off their holiday season,” she said. “Some of the parents are in the show, some help backstage.”

And while ‘The Nutcracker’ is a family affair, it’s also a growing experience that students won’t be able to participate in this year. “We had seniors this year who have done the show since they were little angels,” she said. “It’s rough.”

In a pre-pandemic world, the dancers would audition in the late summer. Every weekend they’d rehearse for the big show. “I think what the kids are missing is being together and building something together,” she said.

Although things might look a little different for the arts this season, the hope is that the traditions will continue on next year.

“I think ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a story that resonates with audiences; from a six or seven-year-old, who comes for the wonder of the story … to a teenager who sees the frustration of the characters, to adults who look at their own lives and hope,” Sanzel said. “I guess the bottom line is when people look at the story and see that Scrooge can change and be better, so can we.”

Local stores are encouraging shoppers to buy local this holiday season. Photo by Julianne Mosher

COVID-19 has impacted business globally, but for local mom-and-pop shops in villages across Long Island, they have been hit twice as hard. 

Between the impact of online retailers, plus big box stores, the pandemic has made it even more difficult to make a sale. 

When people shop small, the sales tax goes right back into the local economy. The community depends on these stores to make the village look great, while also supporting a neighbor. 

That’s why on Thanksgiving weekend, Small Business Saturday immediately followed the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, with hopes to bring revenue into the smaller stores. 

All weekend long in Port Jefferson village, local shop owners gleamed with hope that customers would continue their holiday shopping “small” and keeping these businesses afloat. 

Here’s what some small business owners had to say: 

Stacy Davidson, owner of Pattern Finders/Stacy’s Finds on East Main Street. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Pattern Finders/Stacy’s Finds

128 E. Main St., Port Jefferson

Stacy Davidson, owner of Pattern Finders/Stacy’s Finds on East Main Street, said she was pleasantly surprised on Thanksgiving weekend with the amount of people shopping around.

Unique gifts can be found at the shop, including antiques, furs, evening wear and accessories. 

Davidson said while the store is most known for her vintage jewelry, they also have a large selection of new pieces as well. She said that shopping at her store gives the customer a one-of-a-kind experience.

“All of the items in a store like mine you won’t find anywhere else ¬— especially online,” she said. 

At her store, Davidson said that all of her items are packaged nicely, “so all you have to do is hand them over with a smile — no gift wrap needed.”  

Davidson added that when people shop small, they’re supporting the community. 

“I’m very encouraged from the local community who came out to support us,” she said.

Joann Maguire, owner of Max & Millie. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Max & Millie

142 E. Main St., Port Jefferson

Joann Maguire, owner of Max & Millie, a woman’s clothing boutique nestled alongside East Main Street, said that her store gives customers a personalized shopping experience that cannot compete with a big box retailer.

“You should always shop small, not just during the holidays,” she said. 

The store is known for casual, chic and trendy clothes ranging in sizes 2 to 16, accessories and unique jewelry, including a small rack of pieces from former neighbor, Susan Rodgers Designs. 

Throughout the holiday weekend, Max & Millie sponsored several discounts from Friday to Sunday, completing the deal with their famous gift wrap. 

“We support our community,” she said. “We’ve always been there for you in terms of fundraisers, now it’s time for you to support us.”

Alana Miletti, owner of Fame & Rebel. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Fame and Rebel

415 E. Main St., Port Jefferson

Alana Miletti owns two locations of her store Fame and Rebel — one on Main Street in Patchogue, and the other on East Main in Port Jefferson village — so this past weekend was double the work as shoppers flocked in.

“Small businesses give back to the community more than a big box store does,” she said. “We employ so many community members and offer one-on-one personalization for each and every shopper.”

Throughout the holiday weekend, she offered a “shop more, save more” sale, which got dozens of people into her doors.  

Known for her on-trend clothing for women, the boutiques are constantly bringing in new arrivals that will fit any style every day.

“When you support a local business, you’re also supporting your town, city and neighborhood,” she said. “Small businesses pay sales taxes to the city and county the businesses are located in, and that tax money is used to support public schools, parks, roads and sidewalks, as well as fund public service workers. Imagine your town without any small businesses — pretty scary.”

Marianna Cucchi, owner of The Soap Box. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Soap Box

18 Chandler Square, Port Jefferson

Marianna Cucchi’s store, The Soap Box, has been in the village for 13 years. 

The shop, located in Chandler Square, houses hundreds of different gifts fit for everyone’s list. From homemade designer soaps, to bath and body products, to personal care, pajamas and other unique gifts, Cucchi said the last nine months have been hard and it’s going to take a while to recover.

“Shopping small is important because it supports our community and keeps our businesses open — especially after being closed over 70 days during the pandemic,” she said. 

Throughout the big shopping weekend, The Soap Box offered sales to shoppers stopping by. While browsing, they’d stop to admire the collection of rubber ducks in hats sitting politely by the front window. Cucchi also offers custom gift wrapping for all orders, a complete one-stop shop.

“We need to keep small town America,” she said. “This is your community and we want to see it thrive.”

Kandy Muñoz, owner of The Amazing Olive. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Amazing Olive

213 Main St., Port Jefferson

For the foodie on your shopping list, Kandy Muñoz said she can provide them with a unique and tasty gift this year. The Amazing Olive has two locations,  a newer location in Patchogue run by Muñoz’s son Steven, and her original Port Jefferson spot that she’s owned since 2012. 

Known for their vast collection of olive oils, balsamic vinegars, wine vinegars, salts and rubs, the store can accommodate any taste. 

But for this holiday season, Kandy Muñoz said personalized bottle labels and gift baskets are extremely popular this year. 

“When you shop small, you’re supporting a neighborhood family,” she said. 

Port Jeff to Get Sand to Replenish East Beach

Contractors recently finished reconstruction of the Mount Sinai Jetty, and now Suffolk County plans to dredge the inlet, giving all sand to Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s finally happening.

Suffolk County now has all it needs to start dredging the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor between the two newly reconstructed jetties. It is the last piece of the puzzle before the decade-long, multimillion dollar project to repair the beleaguered inlet can be finalized.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) asked for a drum roll over Zoom at the online town meeting Nov. 19, saying she is finally able to exhale as the dredging should mean the finale to an extended saga. The harbor dredging will impact how well the Mount Sinai Harbor flushes, which is a big boon to the marine life inside, including the town’s oysters and clams at its mariculture facility.

“It’s hard to fight Mother Nature,” she said. “Frankly, I’m just happy that
it’s over.”

The town is permitting Suffolk County to complete the dredging with a total cost of $2 million. Because an increased amount of sand will be dredged than originally anticipated, the cost jumped by an additional $1 million compared to before.

“Sand is very valuable,” the councilwoman said.

The project is planned to go from December through January, according to Bonner.

Though the councilwoman said the town was originally set to receive half the dredged sand, a recent decision by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has mandated all the sand will be going to the Village of Port Jefferson to replenish its East Beach. Village Clerk Barbara Sakovich said that the amount of sand will be close to 80,000 cubic yards, provided by the county. In addition, the village is also set to receive hundreds of cubic yards a week from the Stony Brook dredging project, which has already started and is estimated to take five weeks.

Bonner expressed some disappointment that the dredging will not provide some additional sand on the marina side of the Cedar Beach peninsula.

“We’re resourceful, we’ll figure something out,” the councilwoman said, adding she wanted to thank state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) who managed to give the town a $3 million grant toward the jetty reconstruction. 

The Village of Port Jefferson has long said much of the sand that ended up on the bottom of the inlet was from East Beach, which slipped through the broken jetty. Satellite images from the 1990s until now show a dramatic decrease of beachfront lost to storms and erosion over time. 

“The dredging is great news,” PJ village Mayor Margot Garant said. “I can’t confirm it replaces all the sand [East Beach has lost], but it will certainly be a substantial renourishment.”

The jetty project was finally completed in May this year after several months of construction and many years of planning. For close to a decade, both the east and west jetty in Mount Sinai have been largely submerged at high tide, with both water and sand leaking through breaks in the stones and settling into the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor. Contractors were awarded an $8.3 million agreement in total to reconstruct both jetties.

Matthew Mazza and Jerry Varrichio flank their instructor Walter Vendura as they receive their black belts Nov. 21. Photo by Julianne Mosher

They love coming to their martial arts classes on Saturdays.

“Matt can’t wait to go to karate,” his father Jim Mazza said. “He’s disappointed when he can’t come or if there’s no class that week.”

Jerry Varrichio and Matthew Mazza sporting their new black belts. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Matt Mazza, of Smithtown, and Stony Brook resident Jerry Varrichio are both 19 and on the autism spectrum. They began their martial arts journey a decade ago at Long Island Traditional Tae Kwon Do under the leadership of grandmaster Walter Vendura, owner and head instructor of the martial arts studio. 

On Saturday, Nov. 21, both Mazza and Varrichio earned their first black belts. 

In a three-hour presentation, the two students presented their moves and skills to a small group of family and friends. They’ve been practicing two-to-three times a week, according to Vendura, since they were little kids.

Originally located in East Setauket, Vendura and his team chose to close their doors due to COVID-19 back in March, but that didn’t stop them from continuing the practice of martial arts elsewhere.

Matthew Mazza kicks a wood plant to earn his first-ever black belt. Photo by Julianne Mosher

During the summer, they began renting out space on the third floor of the Port Jefferson Village Center every Saturday. With masks on and limited in number, the students would continue to learn balance, find strength and break wood planks just as they did before. 

Vendura said he has made it his mission to welcome and train individuals of all abilities. Over his 50-year career practicing martial arts, he recently earned his own 8th degree black belt, while also training students at various levels of skills. The instructor has taught people who are blind and deaf, as well as those on the autism spectrum.

“We care about the growth of the student,” Vendura said. “We hope we can encourage them to continue the leadership within themselves, not only in martial arts but in life.”

Both families of the new black belt holders said they originally had trouble finding a studio that was accommodating and welcoming to students with disabilities. 

“They understand him,” Jim Mazza said. “It’s not just about the money — they care.”

Varrichio embraces his dad after receiving his belt. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kathleen Mazza, Matt’s mother, added that the Tae Kwon Do studio was able to reach her son on an entirely different level. 

“They have a unique skill that no one else has,” she said. “They have knowledge, patience and understanding about people on the autism spectrum.”

Josephine Varrichio agreed, saying her son has grown so much during his time practicing martial arts. 

“Despite all the obstacles and his disability, we’re so proud of him and how far he has come,” she said. “No one here ever gave up on him.”

Mazza embraces his mom after receiving his belt. Photo by Julianne Mosher

And that hard work paid off. With the accomplishment of receiving their first-ever black belts, the two had fun all the way. 

“Breaking the board was my favorite,” Matt Mazza said. “I like sidekicks and I like coming to karate.”

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James Robitsek, and Setauket Patriot supporters, rally outside Village Hall in Port Jefferson in November. File photo by Julianne Mosher

Right wing Facebook group Setauket Patriots rallied outside Village Hall in Port Jefferson Tuesday night to protest what they claim is a violation of their rights, though officials say they are following the law.

On Sept. 12, the patriots group marched from the Port Jefferson train station down Main Street to gather for a 9/11 memorial across from Village Hall, though they lacked a permit for the march. Earlier in the summer the group hosted a permitted car parade for the Fourth of July following a Black Lives Matter march down main street held in June.

Following the June and July events, the Village of Port Jefferson issued an executive order signed on July 6 by Mayor Margot Garant effectively stopping the village from signing any new permits for marches or protests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Garant had said it was in response to how many people the events were bringing, and not maintaining social distancing while doing so. The village has not granted a parade permit to any group since the moratorium was enacted.

Setauket Patriots organizer James Robitsek said he received a summons with a $1,400 constable fee and $2,800 fine 30 days after their 9/11 event.

“Because it was 9/11, it’s sacred to us,” Robitsek said. “I personally lost friends in 9/11.”

In previous events, the group that regularly supports President Donald Trump (R) on Facebook was relatively low-key in support of the president. Since then, the group has held multiple car parades down Main Street without a village permit which were explicitly pro-Trump. Such events did draw a few confrontations between counterprotesters and caravan-goers in Setauket. Some comments by leaders of these rallies have specifically mentioned Mayor Margot Garant. (To read about those mentions, click here. To read about the last Setauket Patriots caravan, click here.)

On Nov. 24, the night of their court date at village hall, members and supporters of the patriots protested with flags and music across the street from Village Hall, while in court, Robitsek asked for a full dismissal.

“It’s a violation of our civil rights,” he said. “They can’t just pick and choose who they give permits to, and that’s basically what they’ve done.”

Only 10 people were allowed in the court hearing, where Robitsek, represented by Lindenhurst-based attorney Vincent Grande III, rejected the offer of the fine and plead not guilty.

“The courts offer was to plead guilty with a conditional discharge, and to not hold any future events in Port Jeff village,” Robitsek said. “I’m looking for a dismal because I won’t be able to hold any more events in the village and I don’t want that.”

Deputy Village Attorney Rich Harris said that while Robitsek argued that other events were able to be held, like Black Lives Matter protests, the summons was simply for the one event hosted in September.
“It’s not about any about any other events,” he said. “It’s just about the Sept. 12 march.”

Robitsek said he plans on holding a 9/11 parade every year.

Grande will be filing motions by January, and Robitsek said the next court hearing should be sometime in February or March.

This article was amended to add links to previous caravans hosted by the Setauket Patriots.