Editor's note: All week long, Erin Geismar is profiling people around Bay Shore, from community leaders to residents she bumps into around town.
Community associations: Bay Shore-Brightwaters Chamber of Commerce president; Business Improvement District executive director; on the Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization Panel
How long have you lived in Bay Shore?
I’ve lived in Brightwaters since 1974. But I worked in Bay Shore and my whole life is Bay Shore.
What brought you here?
My husband. He wanted to be near the ocean. He had done his internship and residency at Nassau Community Medical Center and we were planning on settling in Connecticut. He realized one weekend -- as we were prepared to move -- that he could not leave the ocean. He came to Bay Shore and he thought this was a perfect place to raise a family. And it is.
What made you join the chamber?
I had a wonderful antique store in town, deLuca and Mullarkey Antiques. At that time, it was difficult. The store became the meeting place to discuss rescuing Bay Shore. People would gather there and there would be letter-writing, campaigning, anything to save this town. After six or seven years, we closed the store. During that period, they had asked me to be president of the chamber. I stayed on after that because things were working well and they asked me to. We have a very effective chamber. Our meetings bring more than 100 people. We introduce new businesses, discuss issues in town, network...
When you first moved here, what was notable about the community?
As an antique dealer, when I went to Main Street, my first impression was of this Santa Fe facade on the storefronts. I said to my husband, “You have taken me to this community that instead of capitalizing on its location on the Great South Bay, they have put cheap, unattractive Santa Fe facades on all these buildings. This is where we are living.” It was with that in mind that I developed my determination to turn this community around into the historic and picturesque community it is. When the community built the bandshell, we created a view of the water from Main Street. It’s things like that that bring the community back to its roots as a waterfront town. That was how we began to capitalize on Bay Shore as a seafaring community. That’s its whole history.
What is it that you love so much about the community?
We’re very proud of this community, of who we are, who we have been for more than 300 years. We are united in purpose and in spirit. What is most important about this community is our diversity. We celebrate that distinction. Regardless of whether a person is rich or poor, regardless of faith, race, all our children go to the same schools, they are on the same sports teams. It’s very special. The people here are exceptionally fine. They always take the opportunity to do the right thing. Not everyone can say that. We have a strength in purpose. Nothing is too difficult for us to achieve.
Can you give me any examples of that?
[The house at] 11 Maple Avenue was a boarding house, and when we realized that people were living there in slum-like conditions, we did something about it. We took care of it. But we didn’t just get it cleared out. We found places for every one of those people to live. You couldn’t imagine the support. One man came in with a blank check and said, “You use whatever you need. This should have happened a long time ago.” We helped these people build new lives and they are now part of the fabric of our community.
Our historic post office. We campaigned to save it when they wanted to close it. We wrote 7,000 letters to the postmaster general. We may not have saved it -- we’ll find out about that soon -- but we came together again to do the right thing.
A prime example is how we built the bandshell. We needed something in our community to represent its turnaround, and that’s it.
We’ve had so many projects over the years. When the Touro College of Health Sciences was located in Dix Hills and they were moving to a new location, we heard they were considering Bay Shore. We worked hard to bring it here. We took buses and we had moms and strollers and we showed up at the Legislature and paraded around with signs that said, “Bring Touro to Bay Shore.”
What challenges do you think the community faces?
I think our mission as the chamber and the BID is to carefully watch, as we’re already doing. We remain watchful of everything that is happening here. We don’t want things to go wrong now that we’ve got all these plans in place.
How would you define the character of the community?
We’re united. We’ve got an extremely good population of people and it’s unique. Here’s one more story: Many years ago, our Sinai Reform Temple had a fire there. Before they were able to build a new facility in ’63, St. Patrick Church gave them one of their buildings to use. At Mass every week, baskets would go out at our churches to raise money for Sinai until they could pay for a new building. It was another wonderful opportunity for our community to do the right thing. We have a spirit of general affection for each other.