Freeport's popular Nautical Mile Festival welcomed thousands of people Saturday to dozens of rebuilt businesses for the second time since superstorm Sandy ravaged the area.
Officials said the second try at boosting sales at Sandy-slammed restaurants, bars and shops along the South Shore village's famed corridor seemed to succeed. All but six of the Mile's more than 60 businesses have been renovated, village officials said.
The "businesses are back and running," said Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy, adding many shops recovered with the help of $50,000 grants from National Grid. "They have expanded, and they have modernized . . . This is the heart of the village."
The one-day festival kicked off with a ribbon-cutting attended by more than 100 people, including village and other elected officials, business owners and community leaders at Woodcleft Avenue and Front Street, the top of the Mile.
The three-decades-old festival had more than 150 street vendors, carnival games, arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, food and rides. Freeport cut the festival from two days to one in 2010.
"Business picked up really quick since May. It has been a mob scene, especially Friday nights," said Lois Howes, first vice president of the Freeport Chamber of Commerce, adding that she hopes final attendance numbers surpass last year's 75,000 people. "Hopefully, attendance will go past pre-storm levels. It might actually surpass it since it is such a beautiful day."
Owner Al DiCicco spent nearly $50,000 rebuilding Ralph's Famous Italian Ices, severely damaged by 6 feet of stormwater. Business has picked up 95 percent compared with last year at the seasonal shop, which opens from April until November, DiCicco said.
"This is much better. It is a big improvement from last year," said DiCicco, a franchisee of the shop, which has been on the Mile for 16 years. "Now, people are starting to come back to the Nautical Mile. They know businesses are open."
Candice Dumerlin, 37, and Dimitri Dumerlin, 38, enjoyed the festival with their daughters, Riley, 4 and Madison, 8. The two sisters enjoyed throwing pebbles along the waterfront near a boating dock.
"It's definitely more modernized, better, cleaner, more up-to-date and nicer," Candice Dumerlin said.