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Warren Strugatch

Cindy M. Smith was over many years an enthusiastic champion of Long Island artists. She and her husband Warren Strugatch shared the art collecting bug, owning landscapes and abstractions by Ty Stroudsburg, Nan Kemp, Doug Reina and many others. In nice weather, the Stony Brook couple climbed into their white Miata, put the top down, and toured art spaces between Manhattan and Montauk. Whether they bought or not, they offered words of encouragement to artists, praising what they liked and asking where the artists would be exhibiting next.

Over time they struck up many artworld friendships. The pair frequently invited painters and other creative folks to visit them in their sprawling, sun-drenched home off Stony Brook Road where the works they collected went on display.

Cindy gave special encouragement to women artists, her husband said. “I think she realized that many women must work harder to be taken seriously as artists. She was highly empathetic to that. When she bought a painting from a female artist, she felt she was not only saying the right thing, but doing the right thing, too.”

Sadly, Cindy passed away Feb. 15 after a long battle with leukemia. The Long Island Museum has dedicated its current exhibition, “Two Centuries of Women Artists,” to her memory. On June 9th the museum held a reception for “Two Centuries,” which Joshua Ruff, the museum’s deputy director, said was one “Cindy would have loved.”

“We miss her greatly,” Ruff said, “not least because she lived her passion for the arts every day. Without passion, the arts wither. Without inclusivity, the arts deflate. She and Warren helped establish connections to some of the finest artists we have added to our campus is recent years. Their boundless energy boosted our exhibition openings, energized our concerts, and bolstered our community.”

Warren, who sponsored the reception in his wife’s memory, said that he would be leaving their house in Stony Brook as it was now “too big just for me.” A writer and consultant, he is keeping their art trove intact. He plans to transport it and much of the couple’s Midcentury Modern furniture collection to his new apartment in Astoria. 

“The walls are pretty tall” in his new apartment, he said. “I’m pretty sure there will be room for all the art we collected. Seeing the art every day helps keep Cindy in mind for me. Her enthusiasm was true and contagious.”

See video footage of the reception below.

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Pixabay photo

By Warren Strugatch

Warren Strugatch

My late wife Cindy and I made the jazz scene at Harmony Vineyards in the mid-2010s. The venue was marvelous, the music superb. We really dug young Zach, the man-bun styled bassist who held forth from Harmony’s tiny proscenium most weekends.  

Zach — first name, Keenan — stood out as both musician and band leader. Still in his 20s, his solid time evoking the legendary Ray Brown, Zach’s star was clearly on the rise. We’d walk in from the cold and listening from outside the room we’d know, from just a few notes, that Zach was on bass. 

The Harmony series ended, alas, but we kept running into this bass-playing prodigy around the North Shore. Tom Manuel, artistic director and Jazz Loft founder, entrusted him with the Loft’s Wednesday Night jam sessions. Week after week, Zach organized walk-on musicians into tight, expectation-defying ensembles. Under his direction, the guys on stage sounded like they work together all the time. On any given Wednesday night, you’d hear some of the finest jazz on Long Island. In fact, you still can.

Back in those pre-Covid days we attended delightful concerts put on by the Three Village Chamber Players. Here again was Zach playing Bach, Handel, and Teleman alongside oboes, harpsichords, and theremins.

Soon thereafter, we attended an outdoor concert by Taylor Ackley and the Deep Roots Ensemble, playing Taylor’s unique hybrid brand of prairie swing. Once more, it was Zach on bass.

By now, the man-bun was history.

Between sets, Zach mentioned he’d enrolled at Stony Brook University’s doctoral program in music performance. He said his studies were weaning him from his long-time need for audience approval; he felt now he could more readily play from what he called his authentic self and feel the music was going over with audiences. Clearly, his performances continued to blossom. 

As for getting a doctorate, he felt that would help hone his performances in all genres, while expanding his career options.

As Graduation Day approached, Zach reflected that his enrollment was a wise choice, having raised his appreciation for the nuances of chamber music even as it’s propelled him forward as a jazzman. 

“It’s all music,” he explained in a recent conversation. “I love jazz and I love chamber music. At this point in life and musical progress, I don’t feel there is all that much difference between musical styles. It’s not like jazz is pure improvisation and classical music is entirely written out. There’s substantial structure in jazz and much room for improvisation in chamber music.

He continued, “In fact, jazz really is a kind of chamber music. Musicians listen to each other and improvise together, whether it’s a jam session or a chamber recital.”

At age 34, the Miller Place native finds himself at a musical and personal crossroads.

“I really am at a precipice,” he says. “I face so many transitions. I ask myself: What comes next? Do I move further west and compete for more gigs and opportunities in jazz? Do I get more involved in classical bass playing? Do I pursue a faculty position at a university and maybe relocate to a rural area?”

The self-questioning brings him back to a comment he’s heard at SBU more than once from Ray Anderson, the jazz trombonist, teacher, and philosopher: “Let’s play, let’s have fun and maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn something.”

Zach smiles. “That’s the essence of jazz. Right there.” 

Pixabay photo

By Warren Strugatch

Warren Strugatch

The gorilla suit is gone, but three small tents and a whole bunch of unique carnival games remain, including a giant polar bear hula hoop toss. It’s all up for sale.

Martin G. Greenstein, better known as Uncle Marty, explains:

“The gorilla suit we sold 11 years ago. We had maybe 800 costumes in all. The gorilla was my favorite. We hired helpers to wear the costumes and entertain, do a little magic, things like that. There were lots of interactive games that are still in our basement.”

Here’s the back story. In the 80s, Uncle Marty helmed a go-go business, Event Pros Group, that served clients all over New York and New Jersey. In peak season, Uncle Marty juggled several corporate events at a time plus any number of weddings and bar mitzvahs. He employed dozens of people. His personal style was a mix of easy optimism and unguarded fun; P.T. Barnum meets Walter Mitty.

Tastes change. Entertainers in gorilla suits and polar bear hula hoops fell out of style. Uncle Marty and his beloved wife Dianna, who handles business operations, eventually sold off the costume collection. As they approached their 40th anniversary in the business, the couple began planning their own retirement. They wrote a succession plan but a family dispute got in the way. With no one in line to inherit the business, the Greensteins packed up their inventory and brought everything home to Lake Ronkonkoma.

With big gatherings down because of Covid, Uncle Marty has free time on his hands. He has time now to hone plenty of magic tricks, a long-time hobby. He also wrote a book called “How to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge…, and Other Stuff,” self-published in 2015.

Mr. Greenstein never anticipated a career in events, having dropped out of high school to work. After a stint helping his father at his catering business in his 20s, he saved up and bought a taxi medallion. With his hardcore Brooklyn accent and extroverted manner, he became the quintessential Nu Yawk cab driver. A casting director in the passenger seat took note, leading to a series of small roles in TV commercials.

Remember the Aleve Santa Claus spot? One year, Santa was Marty.

After a few years driving a cab, Marty sold the medallion and used the money to open a coffee shop inside Baron’s Department Store in Smithtown. When Baron’s unexpectedly closed, the Greensteins took their pots and pans and started a catering business. With the embedded instincts of a Catskills tummler, Uncle Marty became a professional smile generator, hosting thousands of social and corporate gatherings across greater New York. He hired young helpers to do interactive games, some of which are now stored in his basement awaiting new owners. 

Uncle Marty is 85 now. These days he pours his creative energy into wood sculpting, creating artworks he sells at outdoor shows. Many of his pieces are inspired by traditional Jewish themes. He’s still out there entertaining and doing events every chance he gets. 

“Making people feel good, that’s what inspires me,” he says.

With a deck of playing cards in his pocket, and a resilient bounce in his step, Uncle Marty continues to meet his daily smile quota. As for the tents and the other stuff in the basement: “I’m gonna sell ’em. I’m still busy and I’ll stay busy. Just not with tents.” 

Retirement? Not yet. Who has time for that?

METRO photo

By Warren Strugatch

Warren Strugatch

This past Easter Sunday was my first without my wife Cindy. On the little dining room table that she brought home from Europe, beneath the candy-colored mini-chandelier acquired on the same trip, I set a holiday table. I reheated crab cakes, stirred up some homemade hollandaise, and sat down to a tasty, albeit solitary, meal.  

I celebrated Easter remembering how Cindy made it festive. She made every holiday festive, none more so than Christmas. She celebrated to the max: decorating, cooking, doling out family tales about her resourceful, hard-toiling immigrant ancestors from England, Holland, Germany, and Ireland. 

I come from a Jewish family with roots in Poland and Belarus; Easter and Christmas were terra incognita. I offered immigrant stories too, plus treats like halvah and matzo brei. Of gefilte fish, the less said the better. 

On Easter, Cindy baked ham, broiled asparagus, boiled potatoes, and prepared quiche. The ham she shared with her mother, Patricia, who had come to live with us in Stony Brook. The quiche, the designated vegetarian plate, was for me. The asparagus was for all. I made matzo brei, the traditional egg and matzo casserole.

The memories of those meals and other occasions warm my heart. My beautiful wife died of leukemia in February. Her mother passed away a year earlier from heart disease. I’ve inherited many of their rituals, including Easter brunch and Christmas celebrations. Now they’re my traditions, too.

My mother-in-law Patricia Slattery, who went by Pat, grew up in the fifties on a farm in Huntington. She got a job working for lawyers while still in high school, surprising her parents. She married Larry Smith, a Navy vet returning from the Korean war, and the couple settled in Smithtown. In a way it was a homecoming, as Larry claimed descent from Smithtown founder Richard “Bull” Smith.  

He opened an auto repair shop. She stayed home to raise Cindy and her younger brother Lawrence, then went to work full-time in the 1980s. In the mid-2000s her car was hit from behind while she drove home from work. Pat suffered a stroke, never walked again, and spoke only with much effort.

Soon thereafter, Pat moved in. With nothing said out loud, Cindy became keeper of the Smith legacy. Her family’s approach to holiday celebrations was revelatory. As for me, I grew up in the Bronx and then Westchester, my home resembling a Larry David script co-written with Billy Crystal. You want a holiday? Come for Festivus. We’ll show you how to share grievances! Billy’s six Jewish relatives, hopping from photo album to photo album, alighted on ours. Hey, that’s Uncle Morty!

As Passover often coincides with Easter, Cindy took elements of one holiday and incorporated them into the other. Our first hybrid celebration almost didn’t happen. Cindy, an event planner par excellence, asked me to collect what was needed a week ahead of time. I dug into the boxes I brought from my previous life and found a menorah. What about the matzo? Well, the store was out.

Cindy: “Go find a store and buy matzo. What are you waiting for?”

I went, I shopped, I couldn’t find. The Passover shopping season was over.  Returning to Stony Brook, I opened the front door to the scent of baked ham and cooked matzo. Cindy must have hidden a box and found a recipe online.

“Happy Passover,” she said.

Cindy Smith

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook has dedicated its current exhibit, Two Centuries of Long Island Women Artists, 1800-2000, to the memory of arts patroness and community activist Cindy M. Smith, a Stony Brook resident and long-time supporter of local artists.

The sign placed near the exhibit entrance reads: “This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Cindy M. Smith, a strong advocate for the arts and historic preservation in our community.” Ms. Smith, a Smithtown native who died last month of leukemia, was a frequent visitor to the museum as well as local galleries and cultural events across Long Island.

“Cindy was a passionate advocate for the arts as well as historic preservation, and quality of life in general on the North Shore,” said Warren Strugatch, her husband. “She felt women artists faced greater obstacles to success than men, and had to work harder to achieve recognition. She would have been first on line to see the exhibition if she were still alive.”

The well-reviewed exhibition includes works by such iconic women artists as Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, as well as such contemporaries as April Gornik, Audrey Flack, and Jennifer Bartlett. The exhibition continues through Sept. 4. For more information, visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Map shows the original conceptual plans of developing the Gyrodyne /Flowerfield property in St. James. Image from Suffolk County

By Warren Strugatch

Economic development sounds good. In fact, it sounds great. Reasonable people will tolerate immense inconvenience resulting in financial betterment — for their community and for themselves. Unfortunately, the $150 million megadevelopment planned for Flowerfield, Gyrodyne’s approximately 70-acre campus along 25A in St. James, is to true economic development what a wolf is to sheep’s clothing: a mis-planned, ecologically tone-deaf cover for self-serving overdevelopment.

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When the Town of Smithtown made Gyrodyne’s subdivision application public, its details — the 150-room hotel, the 250-unit assisted living facility, and — most ominously — a 100,000-gallon-a-day sewage treatment plant sited above a vulnerable watershed — earned the immediate ire of prominent environmentalists and civic activists. Opponents vastly outnumbered supporters at the one public forum the town held, in late 2019.

Supporters, following the staunch, pro-business lead of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R), touted the project as an engine of economic growth. When plans for the subdivision were unveiled, the supervisor lauded the proposed sewer plant as a solution to perhaps the town’s most pressing economic problem, its lack of commercial sewer treatment services. Wehrheim promised to speak with Gyrodyne officials about providing sewage treatment services to the Lake Avenue business district. His remark forged a connection between wastewater treatment access for business and Gyrodyne gaining permission to build.

As a dry sewer line was installed under Lake Avenue, the supervisor’s theme was echoed approvingly by chamber presidents, business district champions and labor leaders. It certainly sounded good. Who could possibly object?

That argument, however, has been thoroughly debunked. Early this year Gyrodyne acknowledged in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it could not provide treatment services to Lake Avenue businesses nor anyone else not located on its premises. The town, however, has yet to acknowledge this reality. Many residents are still not aware that allowing Gyrodyne permission to build will not mean sewer treatment access.

Local business and labor leaders, along with town officials, continue to make the economic development argument, refocusing on job creation for residents and tax-base expansion. These are canards as well. In fact, few full-time jobs will be created. Construction jobs will be temporary and cannot by law be restricted to Smithtown residents. Most permanent jobs will be relatively low-paying hourly work in the service sector, such as housekeeping posts and positions as health care attendants. Creating high-paying jobs in industry clusters — the key definition of economic development — is not in the cards.   

As for expanding the tax base, that too is problematic. About 20 years ago, Stony Brook University — Flowerfield’s immediate neighbor to the east — acquired about three-quarters of the property through eminent domain. The moment the property was annexed by the state, it fell off the tax roll, costing the Town of Brookhaven a fortune in lost revenues. As for the prospect of the university acquiring Flowerfield’s remaining acreage, Gyrodyne has acknowledged in papers filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it’s sought to make the property more appealing to the university. The company has not ruled out the university purchasing what it left behind on the Smithtown side of the town line in 2005, similarly removing it from the tax roll.

Since the megadevelopment was proposed, opponents have documented how this project has run roughshod over environment safeguards, ignored the planning profession’s best practices, and disregarded community quality of life. In contrast, supporters have cited economic arguments, suggesting we grant developers the benefit of the doubt.

Sound economic development is indeed a strong advantage. Given the transformational nature of this project, and its planning history, can any community afford to be that trusting?

Warren Strugatch is president of Select Long Island, an economic development advisory organization.

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Stony Brook resident John Kominicki and his wife Marie on board a ferry in France. Photo from Marie Kominicki

By Warren Strugatch

In 2008, John L. Kominicki took the stage at a Melville event center and accepted the top honor a Long Island journalist can receive: the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Press Club of Long Island. Ten years earlier, Kominicki — many of us called him just that — had arrived as the new publisher and editor of the venerable Long Island Business News. Just one decade later he’d be gone, felled by cancer.

That night was prime Kominicki — adlibbing uproariously, tossing hair back from eyes, jousting with power brokers and musing about the future of journalism. Gently chiding his audience not to confuse technological advances with journalistic achievement, he evoked the spirit of Edward R. Murrow.

The latest computers, devices and means of electronic transmission — even the emergence of the internet — did not, he said, necessarily improve journalism.

“Readers, viewers and listeners expect — demand, actually — stuff that’s fast, stuff that’s splashy and stuff that’s free,” Kominicki said. “It will never end. The future is about change, however it plays out.”

“Our craft doesn’t change,” he asserted. “It is assuredly about excellence in reporting and writing and storytelling. It’s about how we inform and amaze and entertain. It’s always been about that.”

He paused, then: “Ultimately the change is no change at all.”

Flashing the slightest of smiles, he added, “Good luck with the change.”

The performance was vintage Kominicki — insightful and irreverent, articulate yet casual, a blend of media studies and rock ’n’ roll attitude.

“It is assuredly about excellence in reporting and writing and storytelling. It’s about how we inform and amaze and entertain.”

— John Kominicki

Now revered as a local journalistic icon, Kominicki had a background that was anything but conventional. Growing up in Keane, New Hampshire, he registered at Boston College as a theater major, and then dropped out and joined the U.S. Army. He served active duty not in a battlefield but as an editor of military community publications — a distinction he noted with his usual irony-laced good humor. He married a military newsroom co-worker, Marie. Next came a Hemingway-like stint as a foreign correspondent for Stars and Stripes military newspaper, where he covered among other events the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1992 he, Marie and their young daughter Anya repatriated.

Kominicki was hired as editor of a Fort Worth, Texas weekly. In 1995 Dolan Media Company hired him to helm their Oklahoma City business daily. Three years later he was transferred to Long Island. He bought a home in Stony Brook and became a Long Islander.

My introduction to Kominicki came in the spring of 1998 when he asked me to write a weekly front-page column for LIBN, as the paper is known.

“I’m going to turn this newspaper around,” he said. “Can you help me?”

It wasn’t an easy task. LIBN had fended off change for decades, deferring to advertisers and long-term subscribers and letting coverage languish. Kominicki immediately ended the favoritism to advertisers. He insisted reporters cover events and do interviews where possible in person. He demanded smart, lively writing. He edited out bias but encouraged writers to develop their own points of view.

Kominicki stayed on at LIBN until September 2013. He became a media entrepreneur, founding a website and business platform dedicated to fostering economic development. He did some occasional writing and fixed up the French farmhouse he and Marie had bought during his Stars and Stripes days as their retirement home. He was inducted into the Press Club of Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame in 2014.

We stayed in touch, sharing occasional early-morning cups of coffee at Starbucks. My wife Cindy and I cherish the memory of hosting them last summer over our backyard grill.

In April the Queens Courier newspaper chain bought the Long Island Press online publication. The publisher had heard about Kominicki and hired him to restore the Press as a monthly — almost exactly 20 years after his LIBN turnaround began. I was delighted and proud when Kominicki recruited me again to write a pair of columns. From his farmhouse in France, he edited my first four pieces then fell ill.

Kominicki showed a generation of Long Island journalists what it takes to practice genuine journalism. He demonstrated how to ask tough but fair questions, how to deflect editorial intrusions and how to deter editorial bias. Perhaps most importantly, he preserved the role of humor and decency in local journalism.

Our prayers go to Marie and Anya. John, you will long be remembered and are already sorely missed. If heaven has a newspaper, you’re editing it. May you rest in peace.

Kominicki died Dec. 5 at the age of 62.  A memorial is being planned for after the holidays.

Warren Strugatch is a journalist and consultant. He writes for The New York Times and Long Island Press, and is a partner with Inflection Point Associates in Stony Brook.