Spencer Rumsey

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Spencer Rumsey, the Long Island Press’ senior editor, has worked on dailies, weeklies and monthlies, including New York Newsday and the New York Post, the East Village Eye and the supermarket tabloid Star Magazine. Starting at the Press in 2010, he’s written award-winning stories on planning, politics and policy, to name a few topics, and he’s taken on a wide range of targets in his Press blog, Rumsey Punch.

’60s Generation Holds Key To New York Primary

Seeing Susan Sarandon exhorting Bernie Sanders supporters in New York City the other day reminded me of the time Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden were the unexpected opening act at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, Calif., back in 1979. Fonda told the restless crowd to take home the pamphlet folded on their seat and “not read it” then, but examine it at their leisure. Naturally, I can’t remember what the issue was about, and I doubt that the crowd of Deadheads had much inclination to study it further whatever it was.

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But it was very cool to see the then-most hated woman in America (“Hanoi Jane,” the conservatives dubbed her because she’d gone to North Vietnam, but nobody could ever dis her great acting ability) smiling earnestly up there on stage with her shaggy husband, Tom Hayden, who had been one of the founders of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and the lead author of its celebrated left-wing manifesto, The Port Huron Statement. Their celebrity appearance for a worthy cause gave the concert a level of gravitas that it might not otherwise have had. But did it change minds? Certainly not more than the music could.

These days the most hated woman in America is Hillary Clinton. She makes appearances with Katy Perry… Enough said.

Pop culture is not a heavy leg to stand on, as we’ve learned. Most young people these days probably don’t know who Abbie Hoffman was, but the Yippie leader took to the stage while The Who were performing at Woodstock in 1969 to rail against the unfair jailing of White Panther Party’s chairman John Sinclair. Pete Townshend didn’t appreciate the Chicago Eight defendant’s presence and whacked him with his guitar. Hundreds of thousands of people were at the concert, but it’s unlikely that more than a cadre knew what the issue was all about. Most of those watching were just enjoying the show and waiting for the next song.

I’m thinking about all this as New York is about to hold its most significant presidential primary in decades. Just the other day almost 30,000 people filled Washington Square Park for a campaign rally on behalf of the most progressive, left-wing candidate the Democratic Party has fielded since U.S. Sen. George McGovern (D-SD)—and this guy isn’t even a Democrat! It amazes me that we find a 74-year-old Brooklyn native, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), crushing his 68-year-old rival, Hillary Clinton, our former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, by double digits in polls of likely Democratic voters who were born after 1968.

The demographics of this contest are mind-blowing because it seems that the ’60s Generation, at least in New York, may hold the key to who wins the race.

Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg reported on Feb. 8 that “while Democrats under 35 are evenly divided, those 55 and older favor Clinton by 31 points.” But in a new survey released on April 13, Greenberg says, “Sanders has widened his lead among voters under 35 to a whopping 52 points, up from 17 points, while Clinton leads among voters over 55 by 22 points, although that’s down from a 39-point lead with older voters. The younger voters are feeling the ‘Bern’ but the question is will they come out and vote in large numbers, as older voters historically do?”

For the record, Susan Sarandon is a very attractive 69-year-old left-wing movie star. But I digress.

Quinnipiac University Poll’s Assistant Director Maurice Carroll says that Hillary Clinton “leads Sen. Bernie Sanders in many New York demographic groups except the young folks and very liberal voters, but it’s a huge lead among black voters that gives her a comfortable double-digit margin.” Among likely Democratic voters 18 to 44 years old, Sanders has a 55-36 percent advantage over Clinton, his April 12 survey finds, while older voters back Clinton with almost reverse numbers: 62-33 percent for 45 to 64 year olds, and 62-30 percent for those 65 and older.

The ’60s is my g-g-generation. I remember how hippies got “clean for Gene”—U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), that is—they cut their long hair and traded blue denim for sweaters and khakis. They quite literally furled their freak flag. They were never as hip as the Yippies and the other radicals who took to the streets outside the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, when Mayor Richard Daley unleashed his riot squads on the demonstrators as they chanted that “the whole world is watching” the American violence unfold on television.

The Republicans ate it up, as the Democrats came out of Illinois weak and divided, handcuffing liberal U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey and handing the White House to Richard Nixon, who profited mightily from the spectacle by marshaling the “silent majority”—those who comprise the conservative base today—to his side. Voting for the Hump was very uncool. But only those over 21 could even vote at that time—the law didn’t change until March 1971, when Nixon was starting to run for his second term against the “acid, amnesty and abortion” candidate—his supporters’ words for Senator McGovern.

I contemplate that history as I prepare to vote next Tuesday. A colleague in his 20s recently asked me if I would have supported Bernie if I were young as him. It was a hard question to answer without feeling old! Or at least, thinking: Have I gotten this square in my dotage?


“Purity will only get you so far in this world. And politics ain’t beanbag. Nobody knows that better than Hillary Clinton.”


Reportedly, Jack Weinberg, a Free Speech Movement activist in Berkeley, was the first American to say “We don’t trust anybody over 30.” By the time the slogan reached Yippie leader Jerry Rubin in New York it was: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” In 1968 came the countercultural cult film, Wild in the Streets, featuring Christopher Jones, Hal Holbrook and, yes, Shelley Winters, which turned the expression on its head.

Jones played a rock star and revolutionary wannabe named Max Frost (his estranged mom is Shelley Winters), who sings at a rally for a Kennedy-like candidate named Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook). His campaign platform is to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. But before Frost is done performing, he’s taken liberties with the agenda and improvised a new song, “Fourteen Or Fight!”

The rest of the movie is about the chaos that ensues as teenagers take it to the streets across the nation. The “old guard” is anybody over 40; 30 becomes the new mandatory retirement age, and those over 35 are sent to “re-education camps” where they’re dosed with LSD. But things actually turn out pretty groovy around the globe, as the youth revolution spreads. As Frost puts it, after he’s withdrawn the U.S. military from other countries and shipped surplus grain to starving countries for free, he’s become the leader of “the most truly hedonistic society the world has ever known.” But, dum da dum dum, there’s a backlash: At the end of the movie, Frost is confronted by kids 10 and under who want to overthrow all the old farts like him.

Once, in San Francisco, I attended a film screening to benefit striking coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky. To get inside the door you had to thread between two competing groups of protesters, about eight or so Trotskyites and the same number of Maoists, who were wearing white shirts and ties, as I recall. They were actually protesting against each other’s ideological take on how to foment working-class revolution.

They were not that keen on supporting trade unions, it turned out. I think about them now as I recall how the “Bernie Bros” regard the “Hillary Hoes.” With righteous scorn. Admittedly, she is one heck of a flawed candidate—and why she lets those Goldman Sachs speeches hang around her neck like a $675,000 albatross is beyond me.

But I do know who I will support: someone I believe will be the most effective president for the tough times ahead. And I take comfort knowing that I’m not alone, that I’m not forsaking all my “New York values,” from others who’ve gone down this road before me.

Take former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the great liberal champion of the Democratic Party, who backs Clinton but says of her opponent in Politico: “Decades ago, Sanders made a principled choice to play a valuable part in our politics—the outsider within the system.” But the former Massachusetts Congressman observed in an interview in Slate: “Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years with little to show for it in terms of his accomplishments and that’s because of the role he stakes out.”

Boy, did Sanders’ “Bros” not appreciate Frank’s words. Here’s the Barney Frank rule, as he spelled it out in his recent memoir: “If you care deeply about an issue, and are engaged in group activity on its behalf that is fun and inspiring and heightens your sense of solidarity with others, you are almost certainly not doing your cause any good.”

Purity will only get you so far in this world. And politics ain’t beanbag. Nobody knows that better than Hillary Clinton.

Hey! Ho! Ramones Rock On in Queens Exhibit

The Queens Museum looked like CBGB’s as thousands of people in leather and denim packed the main floor on Sunday to celebrate the Ramones, the legendary punk band from Forest Hills whose original, hard-hitting music remains as vibrant today as it was 40 years ago when their legendary first album was released on April 10, 1976.

The occasion was the opening of “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk,” an exhibit of signed guitars, battered Marshall amps, original albums, rare photos and an array of memorabilia lovingly organized by the Queens Museum and the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, in collaboration with Ramones Productions, Inc., JAM Inc. and Silent Partner Management, with production support by Pace Gallery. It’s co-curated by Queens Museum guest curator Marc H. Miller and Bob Santelli, executive director of the GRAMMY Museum.

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The project has been years in the making, explained Miller, whose last show at the museum was dedicated to Louis Armstrong, who also resided in Queens.

“In the end it all came together,” Miller told the Press as he gazed at the crowd waiting to get into the special galleries, culminating in a 60-minute film of the band’s ’77 London concert. “I got the opportunity to do the show I wanted here.”

He selected the objects and picked their spots.

“Curating is about rejecting stuff as much as it is about what you’re putting in,” Miller said. “With the Ramones, there were a gazillion photographers, and everybody has their favorite photograph so the trick is not to get seduced by a photograph that only stands by itself. I always like having little stories within the exhibition.”

This exhibit runs at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens until July 31, when everything is packed up and moved to L.A., where it will be on display from Sept. 16, 2016 through March 2017. Visitors to the Queens show can take away a great map of the Ramones’ New York City, drawn by John Holstrom, that shows their roots as well as important landmarks in their life. On the flip side is an illustrated account of their career and lasting influence.

Over the years the band’s mantra “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” could be heard blaring over the sound system in nearby Shea Stadium and later at Citi Field when the Mets—or their fans—needed a lift. But the refrain wouldn’t last long, depending on the action on the field. Here at the Queens Museum, the cultural contribution of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy get their full due with a tribute that honors them for their legacy and influence. Talk about New York values, what other band embodies it better than the Ramones?

Their self-titled debut album, recorded at Plaza Sound Studios on the 7th floor of Radio City Music Hall, introduced the world to the uncompromising music known as punk. Recorded in three days for a total cost of $6,400, the first album raced through 14 songs in 29 minutes. Despite its seminal influence, it actually took years until it went gold, in part because at the time of its release rock radio stations did not know how to handle its ground-breaking, genre-defying style.

But the Ramones found a receptive audience—and they never looked back.

As the exhibit’s brochure relates, the Ramones’ “minimalist tunes, slapstick lyrics, buzzsaw guitars, and blitzkrieg tempo became the wellspring for a new music and culture.” Their music “lifted listeners out of the bleak world described in its lyrics, providing anthems for a worldwide fellowship of the disaffected.”

It was the time of New York City’s bankruptcy, high crime and graffiti-covered subway cars, when tenement buildings were crumbling and people were scrambling in the shadows just to get by.

None of the original band survives: Joey died from lymphoma in 2001, Dee Dee overdosed in 2002, Johnny succumbed to prostate cancer in 2004 and Tommy fell to bile duct cancer in 2014. But their presence was on full display Sunday in Queens. How they’d react to all the attention is hard to say. No doubt they’d smirk.

“I don’t even know who the Ramones are!” admitted a woman who was standing near the stage where a live band was performing “The KKK Took My Baby Away” in the main hall. She’d come to the museum because WNYC had said on its broadcast that “it was the top thing to do in Queens!”

On hand for the opening was Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who was very pleased with the turnout. Outside the museum the parking lots were full and more cars were parked over the curb and on the grass. Asked what her favorite Ramones song was, Katz thought for a moment and picked two: “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Pinhead,” which is memorable for its refrain, “Gabba gabba hey!”

Nearby in the lobby entrance stood Monte A. Melnick, the band’s tour manager, who also helped compile the show’s collection. He was pumped up by the size of the crowd, which vindicated all the time and effort the organizers had devoted to making the show possible.

As Tommy Ramone, the drummer, put it in the band’s first press release, “The Ramones all originate from Forest Hills, and kids who grew up there either became musicians, degenerates or dentists. The Ramones are a little of each.”

“Hey! Ho! Lets’ Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk” runs until July 31 at the Queens Museum, at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park [exit 9P heading west off the Grand Central], 718-592-9700.

Queens Museum guest-curator Marc Miller holds the Ramones map at the opening of the exhibit on the legendary punk band.

Batteries Plus Bulbs: The Coolest Company Most Long Islanders Have Never Heard Of

I

magine one store that carries batteries of all kinds, from cell phones to cars, plus a gazillion light bulbs and an assortment of chargers, and you begin to understand what one of the nation’s fastest-growing franchises, Batteries Plus Bulbs, is all about. But wait, there’s more: It also repairs cracked iPhone, iPad and iPod screens. All under one roof.

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From a single storefront in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Batteries Plus Bulbs has expanded into 670 locations since 1988.

But there’s only one outlet on Long Island, and since 2012, it’s been run by Scott Palmer, a 42-year-old who was born and raised in East Northport, where he went to John Glenn High School. Palmer’s enthusiasm for the franchise is almost electrifying.

“I really, really, really enjoy what I do,” said Palmer, a large affable guy with an ebullient personality. “I love the store! I love the products that I sell! I love being able to give people something that they don’t necessarily know they even need!”

How Palmer got to run his own Batteries Plus is a “quite long and ridiculous” story, the proud owner explained recently. It started at a golf course in Florida where Palmer’s father-in-law was complaining that he couldn’t watch TV in the comfort of his home since his rechargeable remote’s battery had just died after he’d spent about four grand on his state-of-the-art entertainment system. First, he had gone back to Best Buy, where the expensive equipment had come from, but the sales clerks told him he was out of luck; they didn’t sell the battery or the remote. Then Palmer’s father-in-law called the manufacturer, who informed him that he had to buy a brand new one for $180 because they didn’t sell just the battery. His frustration is not hard to imagine.

“He went out of his mind,” Palmer recalled. “So he’s out playing golf with one of his buddies, who says, ‘Why don’t you just go over to Batteries Plus?’”

Talk about a fateful question. Palmer’s father-in-law had owned a chemical company in Long Island City and had recently retired to Florida. Meanwhile, Scott Palmer had been laid off from a cosmetics manufacturer in New Jersey, and he and his wife had begun looking into franchises so they could remain in the New York area. In Florida, Batteries Plus has more than 50 outlets, but few in the Northeast.

“Being from New York, he’s never heard of this before,” said Palmer. “So he goes over to Batteries Plus, and $17.99 later, he comes out with a new battery for his remote. So, he said to me, ‘This is the way to go. We’ve got to figure this out.’ That’s how I got into it.”

Batteries Plus Bulbs
Scott Palmer, proud proprietor of Batteries Plus Bulbs in Commack. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

Palmer can’t claim credit for being the original local franchise owner on Long Island.

“I’m not the first, but I am the only,” he said. In 2009 another man had opened a Batteries Plus in a stand-alone store on Rt. 110 in Huntington across from the Walt Whitman Mall, but by 2010 he was gone because, Palmer explained, he couldn’t generate enough sales to support his family and pay his landlord.

So these days, Palmer operates Long Island’s sole Batteries Plus. The nearest one in New York is in Tarrytown, although the store in Paramus, N.J., is closer as the crow flies. Palmer’s outlet is in the middle of a Commack strip mall along the north side of Jericho Turnpike between Larkfield and Town Line roads. Palmer doesn’t get much foot traffic there but the rent is “too good” for him to consider relocating. He’s open seven days a week, and he’s got three employees.

“My competition is spread out among 12, 13 different stores, which makes me unique,” said Palmer, who lists Radio Shack, P.C. Richard & Sons, Best Buy, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and local hardware stores among his competitors.

“I compete with cell phone stores because I have cell phone batteries, and they pretty much don’t,” he said. “They want to get you in there so they can sell you a new phone.”

That kind of bait and switch drives Palmer nuts.

“If people need a battery for their car, they can go to Pep Boys and sit in their waiting room watching the Jerry Springer show for three and a half hours while someone puts a battery in their car and then tries to sell them on a transmission service,” said Palmer. “Or they can just come to me, and I’ll walk out into the parking lot and I’ll put the battery in, and 10 minutes later they’re gone.”

Now that may sound like an obvious solution but what happens when the battery in your key fob is about to wear out and soon you won’t be able to unlock your car?

“People start freaking out,” Palmer said. “They call the BMW dealer, or worse, they call their Audi dealer and the dealer goes, ‘Ninety-seven dollars and we’ll change the battery.’ I do it for seven-ninety-nine. The customers walk in, I fix it, and they leave. It takes all of seven minutes—if that.”

Palmer says he loves to be stumped by customers but so far the only problem he hasn’t been able to solve easily is brand recognition. The franchise requires him to spend 4 percent of his gross on promotion but the Long Island market is problematic, given Newsday’s expensive monopoly on advertising. His budget is limited and it’s hard to make an impact.

But things have been looking up. Once you google Batteries Plus Bulbs, it won’t leave your computer screen alone. Recently, its spots showed up during the ESPN broadcast of the New York Mets’ season opener in Kansas City against the Royals. Last year Forbes’ named it one of the best franchises to own in America, and that’s good publicity.

“Our business is all about making complex things simple,” said Russ Reynolds, CEO of Batteries Plus Bulbs in a press release last year. “As the retail industry evolves, so will our business so that we maintain our relevance in this competitive and constantly changing environment.”

Scott Palmer is glad he’s along for the ride.

“You go to Home Depot to look for a light bulb and you could stand there for 15 minutes looking through things,” said Palmer. “God forbid you ask somebody in an orange smock and they go, ‘Oh, I don’t work in this department.’ Nobody ever comes into this store without being taken care of.”

Batteries Plus Bulbs is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 6231 Jericho Turnpike in Commack; the store can be reached at 631-486-6697.

John Kasich Draws Thousands to Huntington to Hear Him Defend His Uphill Campaign

About 3,000 people braved the cold rain to pack the Paramount Theater in Huntington Monday evening to hear Ohio Gov. John Kasich say that he was determined to prevent Republican frontrunner Donald Trump from becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

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Hundreds more people were turned away after spending hours online—and on the road—to be see the longshot candidate who’s trailing in the polls behind Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). At one point the line had stretched around the block, police said.

“We’ve been here for an hour and a half,” said Gail Carey, 63, who’d come from Lindenhurst, and made it to the front door in the lobby before she was told that there was no more room inside. “There were like 200 people behind us.” She was still hoping for a chance to see her favorite GOP candidate.

“I think he’s amazing,” she told the Press. Asked if she would ever vote for Trump, she called that “a laughable question.”

Carey was grateful for another woman lingering by the front door, Waed Ramadan, a 22-year-old from Farmingville, who’d shared her umbrella as the two women had waited in line outside. Ramadan said that although she was a registered Democrat, she was still undecided.

“I just wanted to see what was up,” she said. “I like that he seems normal, in terms of the Republican Party.” In a November face-off between Trump and Hillary Clinton, she’d support the latter.

Owen Marsh, 18, had driven from Scarsdale to see Kasich and struck out.

“This is the first election I get to vote in, and this is the candidate I wanted to see,” he said. “He’s a very common-sense candidate. He has a proven record and more experience than anyone else running for president.”

Marsh said he liked Kasich because the Ohio governor wouldn’t continue the partisanship that has divided Congress.

“He’s definitely someone who can compromise and get his ideas done as well as work both sides of the aisle,” said Marsh, adding that he would not support Trump if the billionaire were to get the nomination.

So far, Kasich has only won the Buckeye State, where he calls the governor’s mansion home. He is far behind in the number of delegates he’ll need to head the top of the ticket at the GOP’s convention in Cleveland later this summer. In Huntington, he insisted that he has the best shot to defeat Hillary Clinton in November, assuming that the twice-elected former U.S. Senator from New York and former Secretary of State, holds back a strong challenge from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to clinch the Democratic nomination.

Before the tallies from the April 5 Wisconsin primary are counted, Trump has 736 delegates, Cruz follows with 463, and Kasich trails far behind with 143. The winning total is 1,237 and Trump, a native New Yorker, is more than halfway there. By all accounts, Kasich needs a strong showing at the April 19 primary in New York, but a recent Quinnipiac Poll had him at 19 percent, Cruz at 20 percent and Trump at 56 percent, with only 4 percent undecided.

Earlier in the day, Kasich had appeared at Hofstra University’s David S. Mack Student Center and visited Sagamore Hill, home of Theodore Roosevelt. At the town hall he told the audience he drew strength from TR’s example of “perseverance” in the face of opposition. He also recounted that when he was a teenager he’d wrangled a chance to ask President Richard Nixon a question at a public event, but he never got around to telling the Paramount crowd what he had said.

Timing was tight because Kasich was going live at 7 p.m. with Greta Van Susteren, host of Fox News’ On the Record. At 8 p.m. it would be Bill O’Reilly’s turn for his top-rated cable news program, The Factor. Then he’d yield the screen for Megyn Kelly, who was in Wisconsin for a one-on-one with Cruz, who’s leading in the Wisconsin polls and reportedly angry that Kasich won’t bow out of the race so he could have a better shot at taking down Trump, who was set to spend an hour with Sean Hannity starting at 10 p.m.

On stage at the Paramount, Kasich sat on a stool facing Van Susteren as New Yorkers looked on. He had a long career at Fox News, which Media Matters said helped him secure the Ohio governorship in 2009 after he’d left Congress in 2001. He’s the fourth Republican presidential hopeful, after former candidates Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, with ties to Fox News, which is headed by Roger Aisles, the longtime chairman who once worked for both the Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush administrations. Kasich was a frequent guest host for The O’Reilly Factor. According to Media Matters, Kasich was paid $265,000 in 2008 for his work at Fox.

To reporters covering the Kasich campaign on Long Island, the Ohio governor said Cruz was “a smear artist.” Cruz has claimed that he’s the only viable Republican alternative to Trump. On the other hand, Trump has said that Kasich is cutting into his support.

“I’m not dropping out,” Kasich said in Huntington, because “nobody is going to have enough delegates to go to the convention and win on the first ballot.”

He still has a very uphill road to climb, and he’s counting on New Yorkers to get him one step closer. On Monday, he may have lost 17-year-old Katie Reilly from Huntington, who said her birthday is in August so she would be able to vote in November.

“I’m really upset that I didn’t get to see John Kasich tonight,” Reilly told the Press. “I don’t even get to see him after waiting an hour and a half in my home town! He should have done another show so he could have gotten more votes, because he really needs them.”

Nobody, not even the Ohio governor, would dispute that.

(Photo credit: The Paramount/Facebook)

Oyster Bay Brewery Brings New Nightlife to a Sleepy Downtown

Oyster Bay Brewing Company

T

he hamlet of Oyster Bay used to be a place where the sidewalks seemed to roll up at night. The rap was that it was the kind of downtown where cool things go to die—if they ever came alive in the first place.

But you can kiss that reputation goodbye because when the Oyster Bay Brewing Company opened the doors to its giant new digs over a month ago, there was something new in the air—and it wasn’t just the aroma of fresh hops. Now the village is literally hopping at night, and the weekends have never been the same.

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“The craft beer business is so hot that breweries are a destination in themselves,” Gabe Haim, one of the co-owners, told the Press. “So we are bringing in people who don’t normally come to Oyster Bay.”

These days they can’t keep the crowds away at the brewery, and Haim, 33, and his partner Ryan Schlotter, 34, like it that way. They opened the original brewery in 2012 but it was a tight squeeze.

In February, the company moved around the corner to a new home on Audrey Avenue that is five times the size of its cramped quarters on South Street. Instead of cramming a tasting area and brewery equipment into 1,400 square feet, the company now has 6,000 square feet to play with. The old bar was maybe eight-feet long but the new one runs 30 feet, with 24 tap lines. Instead of brewing batches of 100 gallons—the limit at their old venue—they can now make beer in thousand-gallon batches. For those keeping track, a barrel has 31 gallons. The plan this year is to make more than 2,000 barrels. When the brewery began, the most they made annually was about 500 barrels. More variety is also on tap.

“We have some new lagers that are coming out. We have some specialty beers, some double IPAs,” said Haim. “At this point, we’ve got plenty of space so the sky’s the limit.”

He and his partner, who hold down day jobs at Rallye BMW in Westbury, are very happy to see Oyster Bay’s downtown spring to life. They do their brewery work at night and on the weekends. The brew masters start practicing their craft in the morning, although the tasting room doesn’t open until 1 p.m. It closes at 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursday, but stays open an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays, while shutting down at 8 p.m. on Sundays.

“We never had this type of crowd before,” added Katie Mattner, the tasting room manager and events planner. “Now we’re getting local people who come here to hang out. People have walked in and said, ‘Whoah! Is there a party here tonight?’”

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In the past, Mattner said, “People would come in for a tasting and maybe a couple of pints and then leave. Nobody would stay more than an hour or so. But now people are here all night! So many customers have been coming to us and saying, ‘Thank God, you opened because this town really needed something.’”

By all accounts, many more people are indeed coming to Oyster Bay. They’re shopping, touring Teddy Roosevelt’s recently restored Sagamore Hill homestead nearby, and then visiting the tasting room, grabbing lunch or dinner at the restaurant next door or bringing in pizza from down the block. The brewery doesn’t offer food itself but it certainly encourages customers to BYOF, so to speak.

“For a town that I would say has been relatively sleepy for the last however many years, there’s three new restaurants opening in town,” said Haim. “I think we’ve given people some confidence in the ability of a business to survive, and part of it is with the people we bring into town.”


“The craft beer business is so hot that breweries are a destination in themselves”


Just a few doors from the brewery is the address of Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who has nothing but praise for his new neighbor.

“The newly opened location of the Oyster Bay Brewing Company is a perfect example of the entrepreneurial spirit that has kept, and will continue to keep, businesses flourishing in the Town of Oyster Bay,” said Venditto in a statement. “Since 2012, the company has become renowned for their dedication to producing the highest quality product around, while remaining true to their Gold Coast roots and staying thoroughly New York at heart. It has been a valuable addition to the Town of Oyster Bay.”

So far, the supervisor has reportedly not been seen in the new tasting room but they have a stool ready for him, just in case. On the other hand a few members of the Islanders hockey team have shown up. Haim and Schlotter are “huge” Islanders fans, and named their ale, Barn Rocker, after the Nassau Coliseum, because “rock the barn” used to be the rallying cry there. These days you can get this ale at Barclays Center in Brooklyn—and at Citi Field, too.

Having an expanded base in Oyster Bay makes it all possible.

“It’s great for us and it’s great for everybody around us, including residents and not just businesses,” said Haim. “It’s great to live in a town where your downtown is bustling.”

President Obama Picks ‘Centrist’ Judge To Fill Vacant Supreme Court Seat

Obama Merrick Garland
President Barack Obama announced his nomination of federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died at a Texas resort in February.

On a sunny day in the Rose Garden Wednesday, President Barack Obama exercised his Constitutional duty, telling those assembled at the White House he’d nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died at a Texas resort in February.

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The 63-year-old fellow Chicagoan—as both he and the president pointed out—is currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which Obama said is often regarded as “The Second-Highest Court In The Land.” Legal observers have called Garland a “centrist” and a “moderate” jurist.

“I’ve selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence,” said President Obama, noting that Garland has “earned the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle,” and just as tellingly, that “he is uniquely prepared to serve immediately.”

Obama noted that the Senate is about to take a two-week recess for the Easter break, but he will go to Capitol Hill on Thursday to ask Republicans there to give Garland a fair hearing and then schedule an up or down vote—something that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have so far refused to do.

“When they return, I hope that they’ll act in a bipartisan fashion,” said Obama. “I hope they’re fair. That’s all. I hope they are fair.”

When it was Judge Garland’s turn to speak at the podium, he was visibly moved by the occasion.

“This is the greatest honor of my life, other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago!” Garland began, pausing to hold back his emotions as he was flanked by a beaming Vice President Joe Biden and a more somber President Obama. “It’s also the greatest gift I’ve received except—and there’s another caveat—the birth of our daughters, Jessie and Becky.” He mentioned that his oldest daughter was hiking in the mountains and out of cell service range when the president called about the nomination, provoking some light laughter rippling through the audience.

“To me there could be no higher public service than serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court,” said Garland. He credited his family for getting him to this point, citing his father “who ran the smallest of small businesses from a room in his basement,” always impressing upon him “the importance of hard work and fair dealing,” and his mother, who instilled in him and his siblings “the understanding that service to the community is a responsibility above all others.”

“I know my mother is watching this on television and crying her eyes out, so are my sisters, who have supported me in every step I have ever taken,” he continued, almost doing the same. “I only wish my father were here to see this today.”

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During Garland’s confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Obama pointed out, “he earned overwhelming bipartisan praise from Senators and legal experts alike. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported his nomination. Back then, he said, ‘In all honesty, I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick Garland does not deserve this position.’ He actually accused fellow Senate Republicans trying to obstruct Merrick’s confirmation of ‘playing politics with judges.’ And he has since said that Judge Garland would be a consensus nominee for the Supreme Court, who would be very well supported by all sides and there would be no question Merrick would be confirmed with bipartisan support.”

The president noted that in 1995 a majority of Democrats and Republicans had voted to confirm Garland to appeals court, where he has now served more than 18 years. The tally was 76-23, and it’s been reported that Grassley was on the nay side.

In a brief biographical summary, Obama recounted that Garland, who was born and raised in Chicago, had gone to Harvard, graduating summa cum laude, and then onto Harvard Law School, where Garland paid his way “by working as a tutor, by stocking shoes in a shoe store, and, in what is always a painful moment for any young man, by selling his comic book collection.”

Standing beside the president, Judge Garland nodded and put his hand to his chest, drawing laughter from the crowd. “Been there!” added the president, as he continued recounting Garland’s record.

After law school, Garland clerked for two of President Eisenhower’s judicial appointees, including Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. Then Garland joined a law firm and earned a partnership within four years.

In 1989, the president said at the Rose Garden, Merrick “made a highly unusual career decision. He walked away from a comfortable and lucrative law practice to return to public service. Merrick accepted a low-level job as a federal prosecutor in President George H. W. Bush’s administration. Took a 50 percent pay cut. Traded in his elegant partner’s office for a windowless closet that smelled of stale cigarette smoke.”

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Garland’s sterling record as a federal prosecutor, where “he quickly made a name for himself going after corrupt politicians and violent criminals,” explained Obama, took him to the Justice Department, where he oversaw “every aspect of the federal response to the Oklahoma City bombing in the aftermath of that act of terror.” The 1995 attack on the Aflred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people, including many children who were in a daycare facility there.

“He led the investigation and supervised the prosecution that brought Timothy McVeigh to justice,” said Obama, praising Garland for “the pains he took to do everything by the book,” because Garland didn’t want to take any chances that “someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality.”

Recounting his experience handling the bombing investigation, Garland told the Rose Garden audience, “I saw up close the devastation that can happen when someone abandons the justice system as a way of resolving grievances and instead takes matters into his own hands.”

Reaffirming the American people’s faith in the justice system seemed to be the unofficial theme of the day.

“Of the many powers and responsibilities that the Constitution invests in the presidency, few are more consequential than appointing a Supreme Court justice—particularly one to succeed Justice Scalia, one of the most influential jurists of our time,” said Obama, who added that the members of the Supreme Court are “the final arbiters of American law. They safeguard our rights; they ensure that our system is one of laws and not men.”

Obama said that the decision whom to nominate to the Court required him to set aside “short-term expediency and narrow politics,” and he urged the Senate Republicans to do the same.

“I know it is tempting to make this nomination simply an extension of our divided politics, the squabbling that’s going on in the news every day,” the president said. “But to go down that path would be wrong. It would be a betrayal of our best traditions and a betrayal of the vision of our founding documents.”

The immediate reaction to the nomination seemed to fall along party lines.

“If Merrick Garland can’t get bipartisan support, no one can,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, New York’s senior Democrat, in a statement. “He is a thoughtful jurist with impeccable credentials who has already garnered overwhelming bipartisan support for a job that requires nearly the exact same criteria as a Supreme Court justice. He gets the impact of the Court’s decisions on hardworking Americans in the real world. We hope the saner heads in the Republican Party will prevail on Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell to do their job and hold hearings so America can make its own judgment as to whether Merrick Garland belongs on the court.”

“President Obama has done the right thing by taking the first step toward filling the vacancy on the bench and nominating someone he believes is extremely qualified for the job,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the state’s junior Democrat, in a statement. “Now it is time for the Senate to do its job, hold hearings, assess his qualifications and vote on his nomination in a timely manner. The cases before the Supreme Court are too important to go months without a justice and we owe it to the American people to hold hearings and vote on the nomination.”

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But Wendy Long, the nominee of the Republican, Conservative and Reform parties to challenge Sen. Schumer in the November election, insisted that the Senate should not act on the president’s nomination.

“Judge Merrick Garland seems like a good man,” said Long in a statement. “That does not mean he should be elevated to the Supreme Court, especially for the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, when Americans’ rights such as the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment and the expansive use of executive power to alter immigration and other laws is at stake, and especially in the midst of a contentious presidential and Senate election.

“There is no way that Obama and Chuck Schumer would allow anyone to ascend to the Supreme Court whom they were not confident would be a vote for their liberal activist agenda that has already done so much damage to our country and our Constitution,” Long continued. “It is much more decent to Judge Garland not to put him through the wringer of a confirmation process that is ultimately going nowhere.”

But New York’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat, vehemently disagreed.

“Failure to fill the vacancy would undermine the rule of law and ultimately impair the functioning of state governments within our federal system,” said Schneiderman in a statement praising the president for picking Garland. “The Senate should move forward, do its job, and hold a hearing and a vote without unnecessary delay.”

“A delay in filling the ninth seat on the nation’s highest court will impact the Court’s ability to resolve disputes when the justices are split four-four,” said David P. Miranda, president of the New York State Bar Association, which has 74,000 members, making it the largest bar association in the country.

“The late Justice Antonin Scalia made that point in declining to recuse himself in Cheney v. US. District Court for the District of Columbia,” said Miranda in a statement about the Garland nomination. “[Scalia] explained what would have happened if he recused himself while sitting on the Court of Appeals: ‘There, my place would be taken by another judge, and the case would proceed normally,’ Scalia noted. ‘On the Supreme Court, however, the consequence is different: The Court proceeds with eight Justices, raising the possibility that, by reason of a tie vote, it will find itself unable to resolve the significant legal issue presented by the case.’

“Scalia was writing about how a single case might be affected by a temporary vacancy,” explained Miranda. “The argument to fill the vacancy created by his death is even more compelling, because it impacts an entire term of cases, not just one case. Justice Scalia’s words live on after his passing. The process should move forward expeditiously.”

“This is precisely the time when we should play it straight and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves because our Supreme Court really is unique,” said President Obama at the Rose Garden announcement. “It’s supposed to be above politics. It has to be—and it should stay that way.”

Then he paused.

“To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise? That would be unprecedented,” Obama said. “To suggest that someone who has served his country with honor and dignity, with a distinguished track record of delivering justice for the American people, might be treated as one Republican leader stated, as a political piñata? That can’t be right!”

Whether the Senate will take up the nomination remains to be seen. The president said he hopes that Judge Garland can take his seat on the Court by the fall.

For The Whitmore Group’s James Metzger, It All Started With A Brooks Brothers Suit

James Metzger The Whitmore Group
James Metzger, chairman and CEO of Garden City-based The Whitmore Group, Ltd.

Two years after he’d graduated from Hofstra University as a history major in 1983, All-American athlete James Metzger—the future chairman, CEO and founder of The Whitmore Group, Ltd., in Garden City—was still tending bar in Bethpage when his determination to dress for success finally paid off. His friends had thought he was nuts when he spent the money he’d saved from serving drinks to buy thousand-dollar Brooks Brothers suits, but the last laugh was on them.

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That Metzger would later launch one of Long Island’s leading insurance brokerage firms was the farthest thought from his mind the day he stood on line at Brooks Brothers. He had already landed a sales job in the insurance industry but was making more money tending bar one night a week, so he was reluctant to give it up. In that same line of customers he saw one of his largest potential clients, whom he’d already pitched, and here they had something in common.

“We were both buying the same tuxedo,” Metzger recalls, with a laugh.

Within two weeks, he’d landed the account.

But it was what happened next that ultimately changed his life. It was a typical, busy Friday night, and Metzger was working behind the bar, when he spotted the same client come walking in. Thinking fast to create a favorable impression, Metzger vaulted over the side to greet him.

“Jim,” said the surprised client. “What are you doing here?”

Metzger explained that he was part owner of the bar and checking out some inventory. Still improvising to keep the ruse going, Metzger quietly asked the other bartender if he wanted to work alone that night; he readily agreed, since he’d clear $500.

From a payphone near the bar, Metzger then called his boss and said he had to see him tomorrow. For the finishing touch, he bought his new insurance client a drink, still posing as a part-owner of the establishment. When he met his boss the next day, Metzger told him why he had to quit:

“I said, ‘I’m making a lot more money tending bar, but I got a job in the insurance business, and one of my largest clients came in.’ That was the last night I ever tended bar.”

He says he’s still friends with his former boss, he still buys suits off the rack at Brooks Brothers—and he claims he’s still the same size, 42 Regular.

“I was fortunate that I found a profession for which I was well-suited, literally and figuratively,” he tells the Press.

When Metzger launched The Whitmore Group in Roslyn Heights in 1989, he had three employees. Now his office is in Garden City, employing almost 90 employees, handling $140 million in premiums annually, and insuring $3 billion worth of fine art in private collections, to highlight a few noteworthy benchmarks.

“My business is 30 times the size it was when I started,” Metzger says, adding that his company is now licensed in 48 states. When he began, the funeral industry was 95 percent of his firm’s commercial property and casualty insurance offerings, but today it’s about 15 percent.

“We have a very large niche in personal insurance, health insurance, life insurance and estate planning,” he explains.

The Whitmore Group has also expanded into real estate, construction, and the hospitality industry. Metzger chose the name for his company when he stopped one day at a pharmacy in Westchester during a business trip upstate, and happened to pick up a list of the 400 richest men in America.

“I liked three names: Cambridge, Hamilton, and a guy named Jerome Whitemore III,” he recalls.

The first two were already taken by corporations, so he selected the third and changed the spelling to Whitmore. He added “Ltd.” to the company, he says, “so it sounded British!”

To anyone who asked about its origins, Metzger would explain that Whitmore was “the name of a gentleman on the board of a Fortune 500 company who was from Liverpool, England, and that he was my financial backer!” Metzger laughs. “That’s the story I tell people.”

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Metzger grew up in Melville and first made his mark in sports as a star athlete at Half Hollow Hills High School in Dix Hills, where he was the school’s all-time leading scorer and rusher as a running back on the varsity football team. He also started for the varsity basketball team when they were in the county playoffs. In 1977, the year he graduated high school, he won the Lt. Ray Enners Award as Suffolk County’s outstanding lacrosse player. In further recognition of his prowess, he was the only high school athlete picked to play in both the North-South All-Star Football game and the North-South All-Star Lacrosse game. As a sophomore at Hofstra University, Metzger was named to the 1980 Division 1 All-American lacrosse team.

He claims that he weighs today what he weighed when he played lacrosse at Hofstra.

“I think if I put my uniform on today I would look the same, but I wouldn’t have the same results!” he says, admitting that he’s cut back on working out and is focused more on maintaining a healthy diet, although he insists his knees are still “perfect.”

As for the business outlook on Long Island, he’s bullish.

“We’re in challenging times, but there are a lot of opportunities on Long Island,” says Metzger. “But you better be up for the game, because it’s ultra-competitive. You’re in the major leagues here.”

Metzger says that The Whitmore Group is one of the last privately held firms of its size, and for now, he’d like to keep it that way.

“One of the keys to the relative success I’ve had is that I hire people smarter than me…who have expertise in areas in which I don’t,” he says. “I rely on them and I get out of their way. I respect them and I appreciate them, and I’m willing to suffer the consequences if I’ve misjudged them. I trust my instincts, and my instincts have been good to me.”

Metzger says he’s made many mistakes in his career, but he’s benefitted from them, too.

“You learn more from your mistakes and your losses than from your victories,” he says. “I truly believe that!”

And James Metzger has the winning record to prove it.

Long Island Municipalities That Get It Right: What Do They Know That Others Don’t?

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman

Across the Island some municipalities are clearly ahead of the pack. These communities possess the good fortune to have visionary leaders, courageous council members and the right combination of assets, infrastructure and drive to make a difference in people’s lives.

When you look for local role models, a few stellar examples quickly come to mind: Jack Schnirman, Long Beach city manager; Paul Pontieri, mayor of Patchogue; Francis X. Murray, mayor of Rockville Centre; and state Sen. Jack Martins, the former mayor of Mineola. They didn’t all face the same problems, but these guys knew how to get it right.

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For Long Beach, Jack Schnirman faced a daunting challenge. As city manager, he wasn’t an elected leader but he was responsible for getting all the parties on board so he could right the city’s precarious finances. He inherited a $14.7 million deficit and he turned it around so now the city has a $7 million fund balance. Long Beach just got its eighth consecutive positive credit action from Moody’s. Not only did they upgrade the city’s bond rating, they gave the city a positive outlook going forward.

By comparison, Nassau County is under the control of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) because of its chronic failure to balance the books. The Town of Hempstead’s credit rating has been downgraded many times, and Moody’s just withdrew its rating for the Town of Oyster Bay due to irregular filings—town officials say a computer broke down—and Standard & Poor’s is contemplating doing the same. In the town’s defense, a withdrawal is not the same as a downgrade, but it’s not an encouraging sign. Both ratings agencies have given the Town of Oyster Bay until the end of March to get its financial filings in order before they issue their ratings.

“We are proud to be one of the municipalities moving in the right direction,” said Schnirman.

On his watch, Long Beach declared a fiscal crisis, working with the city’s employees to achieve some contract concessions and downsize the workforce. Then came Superstorm Sandy. Still, by all accounts, Long Beach has managed to rebound—and been rewarded by consecutive good bond ratings. Schnirman praises the city council for “fiercely advocating for the resources to rebuild our city the right way with stronger infrastructure to protect ourselves from future storms.”

To Schnirman’s credit, he navigated the city through the aftermath while staying within Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax cap of either a 2-percent limit or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. In Long Beach, the allowable tax increase is .47 percent because inflation is so low.

“The challenge is that it caps revenue but it doesn’t cap expenses,” he explained. “Many of the fixed costs go up every year far greater than the size of the cap, so it necessitates constantly making cuts and difficult choices and being creative in order to live within it.”

But Schnirman has been able to make it work.

Handout: Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman
Handout: Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman

“Jack has brought exceptional professionalism to the management of the city’s finances, and the repair and development of its infrastructure,” said Lawrence C. Levy, executive dean at Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies. “He was one of the heroes of Sandy.”

Looking around the Island, Levy singles out Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray for what he’s done for his community.

“Fran Murray is one of those mayors who has come to realize that the future of the village lies in making even better use of a strong downtown,” explained Levy. “He has understood that a lot of people want to move to Rockville Centre, but not everybody wants to live in a traditional, single-family house. They want rental apartments. They want to be able to walk to restaurants, to the movie theater.”

Murray’s solution was to go vertical to solve the parking problem as well as add more apartments. Critics said Murray’s plan calling for more density was untenable, making the dire prediction that “Queensification” was about to transform their village, but it did not come to pass, as Levy observed.

“Rockville Centre could be a model for downtown development rocketing a whole village!” said Levy. And he should know, because he now calls the village home.

State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) first made waves in municipal circles when he helped transform Mineola as mayor by focusing on its downtown.

“He used to have political leaders and other supporters whispering in his ear that if he goes ahead with his proposed high rises [downtown], his promising career would come to an end,” Levy said. “He just didn’t listen. He decided this was best for the village. People would see it and the payoff would be huge.”

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They did and it was. Martins won his mayoral re-election by “an enormous margin,” Levy observed, then he won his state Senate race by defeating an incumbent Democrat and now he’s running for Congress to fill the empty seat vacated by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills). In some sense, things started looking up for Martins when he embraced high rises.

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri faced a different problem.

“I think Paul Pontieri had the hardest row to hoe,” said Levy. “He started with a village that was deeply down on its heels and almost hopeless.”

Among his initiatives in Patchogue, Pontieri brought in a cultural arts center, encouraged developers to offer relatively affordable residential options, and created a vibrant, younger feel to the downtown.

Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri
Handout: Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri

“But he had to go to war with the political and business and civic establishment,” Levy said. “He was willing to put his career and his mayoralty on the line, and he has been validated and vindicated over and over again. People often refer to him as the poster child for the new suburbia of Long Island.”

Pontieri himself puts it more humbly.

“I lived in Patchogue my whole life so I knew we had the bones and the strength to get something done,” he said. “What I saw were blighted properties that could be turned into opportunities.”

He got upgrades for the village’s sewage treatment plant to accommodate higher density. Or, as Levy put it, “He not only saw above ground—he saw below ground!”

Pontieri knew he had to revitalize the village’s downtown. “Nothing comes into a town that is empty. You need to put feet on the street,” he said. And there was another stark reality, which may sound ironic today. “We had a parking problem—there were empty spaces.” In fact, about 2,000 of them, he said.

But a decade ago in came Copper Beech Village, developed by Pulti Homes of New York, on a 5-acre site with 80 units of affordable housing—16 per acre. Suffolk County chipped in $3.3 million to help Patchogue acquire the land from the previous homeowners. Then other high-density developments started sprouting up.

“Once Pulti invested the first $5 million, it said that we’re worth investing in,” said Pontieri. “We cleaned up five acres of blighted property and put in 80 families with an average age of 38 years old.”

Young families are vital to the future, Pontieri says.

“The communities that fight this, they’re going to be the ones without the Little Leagues, because young families won’t have a place to start or invest in,” the mayor said, pointing out that his vision comes with some self-interest as well. “Someday I’m going to want to sell my house, and I’m hoping that one of these kids who’s invested in this village will look at my home and want to buy it!”

Villagers started to get with the program he laid out once they could see the caliber of the development, the attention to design and details.

“Let the developers make the money they need to make and they’ll stay with the project and give you quality,” Pontieri said. “Squeeze them too much and you end up with what you deserve.”

Can other villages do what Pontieri did with Patchogue?

“They can duplicate it,” the mayor insisted. “Don’t just listen to the gray-haired guys in the audience saying, ‘No!’ Understand that there’s a majority of the population out there that’s looking for change.”

What these leaders have in common, Levy said, is “They’ve dared to be different.”

Reimagining Retail: How Ron Koenigsberg Is Revitalizing Retail Shopping On Long Island

Ron Koenigsberg
Ron Koenigsberg, president of American Investment Properties, one of the leading niche brokerage firms in the region, is launching a new partnership, the Long Island Investment Group, to revitalize retail shopping on Long Island.

Ever since childhood when he’d watch his father survey buildings and construction sites, Ron Koenigsberg has had a passion for real estate.

Now this highly regarded commercial real estate broker, based in Garden City, has found a new outlet for his passion—repurposing retail shopping centers across Long Island.

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As the president of American Investment Properties, one of the leading niche brokerage firms in the region, Koenigsberg is launching a new partnership, the Long Island Investment Group, to “implement what’s been bothering me,” he admits, since 2005.

The revelation came to him when he was driving home about a decade ago and realized that even though he was one of the leading salesmen of shopping centers on the Island, he was still buying everything he needed online.

“I’m saying to myself: ‘I need another business because I’m finished. Retail shopping centers are not going to make it,’” he recalls. “I think I was a little bit ahead of the curve.”

Koenigsberg may have been right about that, but now the trend in retailing is much clearer, as the once-mighty giants in the retail mall world close up shop one by one.

“People who sell goods in the brick and mortar stores are not making it,” says Koenigsberg. But that doesn’t mean it’s Armageddon for retailing, or, more importantly for someone like him, the end of commercial real estate as he and his real estate peers have known it.

Instead, Keonigsberg bided his time and did his homework. He took a hard look at the Long Island landscape and saw something different—if only he could reconfigure it. He waited for his chance, and now that the economy is finally coming out of the Great Recession, he has the capital to make his move.

“We’re able to buy shopping centers at or below replacement costs,” says Koenigsberg. “We see it as a great opportunity at this very moment to be purchasing Long Island retail centers.”

He explains his modus operandi:

“We’re purchasing properties that are suffering and using our strategy to re-engineer these [poorly performing] strip centers into high-demand, service-orientated tenants that provide services, not goods,” he says.

Ron Koenigsberg
Ron Koenigsberg, president of American Investment Properties, is launching a new partnership, the Long Island Investment Group, to revitalize retail shopping centers across Long Island.

Koenigsberg finds the shopping centers that are losing their tenants, where the vacancy rates are high, that are mismanaged, and in serious need of an upgrade. Then he’ll dig deeper. Perhaps the partners no longer get along and want to sell the property, or the center is in an estate sale or a divorce proceeding. He checks out the locations and sees if he and his partners can maximize the value.

Their acquisition criteria tend to be very specific at this point. They’re looking for shopping centers with about five to 10 stores of around 10,000-square feet each, relatively small compared to a regional mall. But they want the traffic to be 20,000 vehicles a day for the property to make the cut, and the center should have a ratio of 3.5 parking spaces to every 10,000-square feet of retail.

“We’re going to walk before we run,” he says. “Eventually we’d like Long Island Investment Group to be a major player, but I think that’s a 10-year process.”

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One clear advantage Koenigsberg has with this strategy is that he doesn’t have to worry about rezoning these “tired” B- and C-grade properties. His group plans to take the shopping centers as they are, so he doesn’t have to worry about appearing before a local planning board, because he won’t need any variances. Once the site is 100-percent acquired, Koenigsberg and his partners in this venture will come in and fix up the site with their value-added upgrades, bring in new high-demand, service-oriented tenants that perform better than the current ones, and grow the net-operating income of the center over time.

“If we are able to isolate that property in Great Neck, or Roslyn, or Merrick, or East Northport, where the demographics warrant it, we’d love to raise the rent $12 to $15 per square foot,” Koenigsberg says, “but realistically we understand that we’re buying properties all over Long Island and it may result in only a $4 to $6 bump.”

For Koenigsberg, the ideal tenants bring in a lot of foot traffic. He cites urgent care centers where people seek treatment for minor medical needs, and cell phone providers where customers want their new products activated immediately. And, of course, he’s including decent food and drink establishments.

“You can’t change the experience of going out to a restaurant,” he says. “You can’t get that online!”

This new venture has barely begun, but Koenigsberg is confident it can succeed.

“What we are is a dynamic, successful, decades-old brokerage firm that sees an opportunity in this marketplace and we’re going about doing it,” he says. “Now that the economy is finally coming out of recession, we can follow our passion.”

Employment, Revenue & Economic Confidence Up On Long Island

Long Island Business Growth
Employment, Revenue & Economic Confidence Are Up On Long Island!

There’s good news on the employment front, at least on Long Island, especially compared to past years.

Long Island’s unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, was 3.9 percent in December 2015, down 0.5 percentage points from a year ago, according to Shital Patel, labor market analyst for the Long Island region at the New York State Department of Labor. Nassau County’s rate decreased by 0.4 percentage points to 3.7 percent, while Suffolk County’s rate decreased by 0.5 percentage points to 4.2 percent. By comparison, New York State’s rate was 4.7 percent and the national rate was 4.8 percent.

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Nassau County had the third-lowest unemployment rate in New York State, only Tompkins County (3.4 percent) and Columbia County (3.5 percent) were better. Since December 2014, private sector jobs in New York State grew third-most rapidly in the Nassau-Suffolk region (+1.9 percent), topped by New York City (+2.3 percent) and Orange-Rockland-Westchester (+2.1 percent).

Statewide, the sectors recording the largest job gains were educational and health services, with 73,400 more since a year ago, followed by 27,000 in professional and business services and 26,700 jobs in construction. By contrast, the government sector lost 3,800 jobs, and manufacturing shrank by 2,400 jobs.

On Long Island, the metrics show some bounce since the recession, according to several key indicators.

In the first Long Island Business Leaders Survey, sponsored by The Long Island Association and conducted by Siena College Research Institute, 31 percent of the 248 CEOs in Nassau and Suffolk who responded to the poll said they plan to hire workers this coming year, while 9 percent foresee layoffs.

“The spring is in the step of many of Long Island’s CEOs,” said Siena College Research Institute Director Don Levy. “Nearly four in ten are bullish about the future, while only one in five remain negative on the economy. Just under half, 48 percent anticipate revenue growth and 41 percent expect their profits to increase in 2016.”

“The good news here is that the CEOs are more optimistic than pessimistic,” said Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association. “They’re certainly more optimistic than they are in upstate New York.”

Law cited the 3.9-percent unemployment rate as a figure that “most regions of the country would die for,” he said. He noted that sales tax revenues were growing in both counties, whereas half the counties in New York are seeing declines.

“What I was glad to see, as a CEO myself, we recognize how valuable our workers are,” added Law. “They’re well educated and well trained. One reason the CEOs put up with some of the high costs of doing business on Long Island is because of our great workforce. They also like our environment because a bad environment is not attractive to the business community.”

The Siena Survey only polled companies with sales between $2.5 million and $200 million.

“I know it excluded a lot of small businesses,” Law acknowledged, but originally the cut-off was going to be $5 million and the LIA broadened the parameters.

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On the negative side of the balance sheet, the survey found few CEOs expressing much faith in government, whether state or local, for improving the business climate on Long Island. Ninety-two percent said that local municipalities do a poor or fair job of aiding business development here.

“I’m not defending it,” said Law. “It just takes forever to get a permit approved.”

He said there’s been progress at the county level but the local zoning boards have a lot of catching up to do.

Despite all the red tape and other hassles, a majority of Long Island businesses are committed to remaining in the region as their confidence in the economy continues to increase, according to the AVZ 2015-2016 Economic Survey & Opinion Poll. Conducted by Albrecht, Viggiano, Zureck & Company, P.C. (AVZ) in partnership with Long Island Business News, the results were formally presented at the HIA-LI 22nd Annual Economic Summit at the Hyatt Regency Long Island in Hauppauge on Feb. 11.

The survey found 63 percent of the respondents saw an increase in revenue in 2015; 61 percent forecast some increase in revenue this year; 90 percent raised their prices for products or services last year; 86 percent granted raises of up to 4 percent to their employees (6 percent gave raises of 5 to 9 percent); and 46 percent of the companies plan to hire this year. More than half of the respondents have been in business for more than 30 years; 84 percent of the businesses have been operating for more than a decade.

“The success and longevity of Long Island businesses are so vitally important,” said Terri Alessi-Miceli, president of HIA-LI, the Hauppauge Industrial Association of Long Island, whose headquarters are in the Hauppauge Industrial Park, one of the largest industrial parks in the United States. “2015 proved that Long Island businesses are committed to remaining in the region, with a substantial increase for economic confidence, which this year received its highest rating since the recession began in 2008.”

The researchers asked the respondents to rate their confidence in the Island’s economy on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most confident. The survey found that the businesses’ confidence level was 6.1 last year, compared to 4.9 in 2008. Since 1995, the highest rating was 7.2, reached in 1999 and 2000.

Looking ahead, for the second year in a row the survey found that healthcare is regarded as having the greatest potential for growth on the Island, with 43 percent of the respondents being bullish on this sector’s prospects as compared to the next sector, technology, which garnered 34 percent.

Those job findings don’t surprise Keith Banks, president of Lloyd Staffing, an employment agency based in Melville, who said that healthcare and technology are continuing to grow.

“We do have a well-trained and skilled workforce,” he said. “What we haven’t seen is a particular organization that has come here or sprouted here that has had a ‘hockey-stick’ trajectory in terms of growth in its number of employees, going from 500 employees to 1,000 employees over the course of 12 to 18 months. We just haven’t seen that type of growth around a company or around an industry since the recession.”

Banks is seeing “some momentum” in bio-tech, as companies nurtured in the Island’s incubators look to expand. “But it’s not out of the box growth,” he cautioned.

Northwell Health, formerly North Shore-LIJ, is by far the largest employer on Long Island and the largest private employer in New York State, with more than 61,000 employees. There are 31,150 employees at their hospitals and facilities in Nassau and Suffolk—and that number is rising.

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“Our workforce will continue to expand on Long Island and throughout the metropolitan area in the years ahead,” said Michael Dowling, president & CEO of Northwell Health. “Every week, between 100 and 150 new employees join Northwell Health. Our growth area continues to be in the area of outpatient services, as more and more care is delivered outside the walls of our hospitals. Moving forward, there will be a much greater focus on managing the care of the people and communities we serve, rather than only treating them when they are sick or injured.”

Nancy Engelhardt, founding director of the Energeia Partnership, the Academy for Regional Stewardship at Molloy College, says the Island’s economy is “resilient” but it’s lost a lot of high-paying jobs and filling that need “remains a challenge.” But she’s not undaunted.

“I’m very optimistic,” Engelhardt said. “I see a lot more partnerships and collaborations happening, and people coming out of their silos and talking about how to deal with a lot of the issues on Long Island together.”