June is senior prom time, and if you don't have a high school senior, you may feel left out -- unless you visit communities such as Lynbrook and Northport, where the whole town joins in a public pre-prom bash.
On Wednesday evening, June 24, in Lynbrook, the main drag of the shopping district closes to traffic so promgoers can be recognized. "It's kind of like a tradition in Lynbrook to go down and watch the older kids," says Makenzie Teramo, 17, who has been a spectator and this year is attending her prom. "It's very packed. A lot of people come who don't know people."
On Thursday, June 25, in the afternoon in Northport, the Village Park on the harbor downtown is the site of a public pre-prom reception. "It's a tradition that started many years ago," says Patricia Gardiner, who has helped run the festivities for years. "Northport is very big on community, and it's a great way for everyone to get involved."
Before Gabi Patick heads to Lynbrook High School's prom on June 24 at the Milleridge Cottage in Jericho, she and her date will stop in downtown Lynbrook to walk the runway. Saw horses will block off Atlantic Avenue from Stauderman Avenue to Merrick Road; spectators will stand behind them to see prom couples. "All the teachers go, everyone goes, the whole town, basically," Patick says.
Each couple is interviewed briefly by Polly Talbott, owner of Lynbrook's A La Carte Cooking School, who asks questions such as where they are headed to college. That's then televised on Lynbrook TV, the community's television station. "They make a grand entrance, a couple at a time," says Lynbrook High School principal Joseph Rainis. A DJ spins music.
It's exciting, says Gianna Dolce, 18. "You're on TV at the end . . . Basically, the whole town is watching you."
Says Vivek Shah, 18, of his experience: "Everyone's clapping. Everyone's taking pictures. You don't know where to look."
Rainis calls the event wonderful. "The fact that the Chamber of Commerce will close down the main shopping district street . . . that's a testament to their caring and their willingness to stand behind the children each year."
The festivities start at about 5 p.m., when kids arrive decked out in their prom dresses, suits or tuxedos. Everything ends by about 6:30, when kids leave for the prom site.
Closing off the street isn't a sacrifice for Vinny Sorrentino, managing partner at Angelina's Pizzeria and Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. First, he says he likes to see the kids. "Most of them come here all through high school. Now you see them all dressed up and how grown-up they've become."
And it's a boon for his business. "People come in after they watch. Everybody sits down and has dinner," he says. "A lot of people reserve tables the week before. We've been here 15 years, and every year it seems to get bigger."
The tradition indeed began in 2000, when Talbott's son was graduating and she and some other merchants got the idea of a communitywide party in front of the stores.
Says Patick's mom, Lisa: "It brings everybody together for a happy occasion."
A red carpet will await prom-goers at the Northport Village Park. Each couple will walk it before mingling on the lawn or posing for photos. "Everyone's yelling and screaming your name," says Marybeth Clarke, a senior who also attended the prom last year. "It's fun."
Patricia Gardiner, who helps organize the event, has been bringing her two daughters for years as spectators. "I brought my girls down there because it's just a nice fashion show to watch," she says. "We do have a lot of people who come down who are not associated with the school at all."
This year, Gardiner's older daughter, Margaret, is a senior and one of the promgoers. "I have a countdown on my phone till the day of prom," Margaret says. "I'm so excited." Kids can pose for photos with the harbor as a backdrop. "The scenery is really pretty. You get good pictures with your friends before you go off to college. It makes for good memories."
The Northport High School String Orchestra plays chamber music. Free hors d'oeuvres are served beneath a tent. The event is spearheaded by the Northport Parent Teacher Student Association, with local businesses donating meatballs, penne a la vodka in little cups, cookies and more. Copenhagen Bakery donates hundreds of cookies. "It's quite the event in Northport," says owner Stace Hansen.
Water is the only beverage served. "We don't want to spill anything on the girls' dresses," Gardiner says. The evening starts out with 60 cases of water, she says. "We usually run out in an hour and a half," she says. The Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force gives out packets of gum with wrappers with messages reminding kids to make good choices that night, says Susan Clarke, another event organizer.
Kids arrive a little after 4 p.m. They are on their way to the prom at East Wind Long Island in Wading River by 6 p.m.