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How to throw a block party, Long Island style

Get the right permits, make sure the kids always have something to do and cook in waves, say Long Islanders who organize big summer bashes for their neighbors.

A waterslide at a Wantagh block party.

A waterslide at a Wantagh block party. Credit: Katherine Schilling

On weekends when the weather's warm and staying inside is not an option, some neighbors make a group effort and throw a block party. These multifamily events, which usually take place between Memorial Day and Labor Day, can be low-key, with a just grill and potluck-style provisions, or they can be elaborate, with waterslides, a bounce house and live entertainment.

First, make sure you have almost everyone on board because most towns on Long Island require a permit to hold a block party. "I go around and get all the signatures for the permit," says Chris Puglisi, 41, a sales representative from Massapequa who’s been throwing block-wide events for five years. The Town of Oyster Bay does not charge a fee for the permit, but all the residents of a block must agree for the street to be closed for the event, according to the town. Other municipalities have different rules, says Puglisi, who lives with his wife, Michelle, and two children. "In some towns, they only need 75 percent of the block to agree," he says. Also, he adds, you might have to file for a permit about a month in advance of the party. "So make  sure you get it in on time," he says.

Once neighbors agree to hold the party, it's good to talk about expenses, says Nicole Sapienza, 35, of Wantagh, who has been throwing block parties with her neighbors since 2008.

Most homeowner insurance policies generally include a liability component, but check with your insurance company to be safe. Agents recommend removing any safety or tripping hazards from your yard, such as loose garden tools or broken porch railings. If you're planning to rent any additional party equipment such as a bounce castle, make sure the company you rent from is fully licensed and insured, too, agents say, and make sure you know what their liability policy covers. Finally, if you want to be extra-cautious, some companies sell a one-day event insurance policy.

Each person on Sapienza's block pays for the food and drinks they bring, so costs stay reasonable. If they decide to rent a waterslide for the event, it costs about $100 per neighbor. "Don’t go crazy with costs," she says. "It’s fun just to get together and know your neighbors." Sapienza, who lives with her husband, Daniel, 37, and three children, says they started closing the block down after 2011, when the parties got too big for backyards. "Now I’m usually the one walking around for signatures and submitting paperwork," she says. "But making sure it’s a joint effort with a few people is a big help. Having someone organize food and drinks, having someone else organize supplies like tables and chairs and games."

For his block parties, Puglisi rents a large bounce house, which he says can cost about $500 for the day. He also hires a local baby sitter to watch the bounce house so parents can enjoy the event without worrying. Puglisi stresses that keeping children occupied throughout the day is crucial. "Make sure you have enough entertainment for kids," he says. "If there's not enough for the kids to do, it's not enjoyable for the kids, and it's not enjoyable for the parents either. I buy some balls, and some Frisbees, and hula hoops, and I encourage everyone to bring their bikes."

Food, of course, is often the main event for the adults. Sammy Gonzalez Jr., 57, has lived in Brentwood since 2002 with his wife, Ageda (Aggie) Lugo Gonzalez, and hosts a block party every July. Gonzalez, who works as union president for the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local Union 1430 and was the recently elected Suffolk County legislator for the 9th District, says his neighbors bring a wide variety of food every year. "Many people on the block are from the West Indies or they're from El Salvador," he says. "So everyone brings a dish from their country, and we have a long table."

For Puglisi, the food is the biggest part of his party. His friend Thano Fatsis, who owns the Triple Crown Diner in Queens Bellerose, comes by to help with all the cooking. "One year, we even made shrimp scampi on the grill," he says Puglisi. "One year, we had lobster." He says it is important to stagger the cooking schedule, though, so that even the cooks can enjoy the event, and there's always food. "Cook in phases," says Puglisi. "Do one course, then stop for a little while, and then an hour later do something else. Maybe burgers first, and shrimp and mussels later. Take breaks and let the food be enjoyed."

As for music, Gonzalez, who is also a singer, invites friends in his salsa band to set up in his driveway and play two or three sets. Meanwhile, Puglisi simply sets up speakers outside his house and plays music from Pandora or iTunes.

When it comes time to wrap up, get everyone to help, party throwers say. Gonzalez says his events run from about 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. until about 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., based on what the permit allows in terms of closing down the street. At the end of the day, all the neighbors — usually about 50 or 60 people — pitch in to help clean up.

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