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Great Neck Plaza mayor enjoys village, deals with challenges

Jean Celender, 57, mayor of Great Neck Plaza,

Jean Celender, 57, mayor of Great Neck Plaza, has lived in the village for 32 years. She was elected mayor in 2000 and re-elected in March to serve another two-year term. (Aug. 29, 2012) Credit: Brittany Wait

Editor’s note: All week long, Brittany Wait is profiling people around Great Neck, from community leaders to residents she bumps into around town.

Jean Celender, 57, is mayor of Great Neck Plaza, an incorporated village at the heart of the business district. She has lived in the village for 32 years. She has served as mayor since 2000 and was re-elected in March to serve another two-year term.

Community affiliations: Board of directors, Great Neck Arts Center; member, Great Neck Village Officials Association; member, Great Neck Vigilant Fire Department Negotiations Committee.

So I hear you went to Great Neck Plaza’s last concert of the summer Tuesday night in Jonathan L. lelpi Firefighters Park. How was it?

There was a light breeze, the sound of crickets and it was just an amazing last night at the park. We had 12 concerts this summer and we tried to have a really good mix of music genre. We’ve been doing this, oh gosh, maybe 26 years. What amazes me is that even in tough fiscal times we still put on these musical acts.

Tell me more about Great Neck Plaza.

Our village is small, but we’re dense. Ninety-two percent of development in the area are multifamily units. There are 148 single-family homes. We’re focused on the fact that we have a downtown, train station and we’re trying to constantly keep downtown economically vibrant. Our government works to maintain sidewalks and make it safer for pedestrians to cross streets using traffic-calming measures.

What are some of the challenges your community faces?

We’re still seeing difficult times for our retailers. We’ve seen some restaurants close. [Now-closed] Pancho’s catered to families until people just weren’t eating out as often. It’s hard to sustain a business when people just aren’t coming in regularly anymore.

What can you do about boosting business in the area?

Well, we have promenade nights in which we close streets and people come out to dine and shop. It’s casual and friendly. People have a great time in their own community. This is part of the Sept. 9 Street Fair and Autofest from noon to 5.

Give me an idea of the diversity in the community.

We do have a lot of diversity and neighborhoods to live in. We have an affordable housing project under way with 19 units up for sale [at The Maestro high rise]. We’re trying to do more. We want to help the young people who just got out of college or families just starting out.

Define the character of your community.

I think it has a very charming, historic and hometown feel. It has the feeling of quaintness. You go on the street and recognize your neighbors walking by.

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