Freeport's popular Nautical Mile Festival was off to a strong restart Saturday, with more than 100,000 people patronizing dozens of businesses rebuilt after being severely damaged by superstorm Sandy.
The nearly 30-year-old festival was geared this year toward boosting sales at Sandy-slammed restaurants, bars and shops along the South Shore village's famed Nautical Mile. About 90 percent of the Mile's 58 businesses rushed to reopen for Memorial Day weekend, the start of their summer tourism season, village officials said.
"The festival is to celebrate the ability to reopen this year after seven months of hard work," said Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy, who walked along Woodcleft Canal greeting some of the more than 100 street vendors. "We only have 153 days to generate business for these stores . . . We're looking forward to a successful summer."
The one-day festival kicked off with a symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony involving more than 150 people, including village and other elected officials, business owners and community leaders at the Mile entrance at Woodcleft Avenue and Front Street. "The message is: Freeport is back, and it's going to be a great summer season," Nassau County Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) said.
Freeport reduced the festival from two days to one in 2010; last year, officials held the festival in October instead of June due to rising costs and safety concerns, then-Mayor Andrew Hardwick said at the time.
This year's festival will cost the village $100,000, for carnival rides, police, sanitation, electrical and extra security, Kennedy said.
"I can't believe some of these places are open," said Freeport native John Nuzzi, 31, who enjoyed the festival with his children Gabriella, 5, and Nicholas, 4. "This place was devastated down here, and now it's beautiful."
Otto's Sea Grill owners have spent nearly $500,000 rebuilding, after 6 feet of stormwater severely damaged the establishment. "It's been quite a ride," said Ilona Jagnow, co-owner of Otto's, the oldest restaurant on the Mile, which has been around since 1929. "It's heartwarming to have people coming back. To see the support of the people means a lot."