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Holiday tradition falls victim to improved downtown economy

Olivia Sulzer, 3, from Aquebogue looks at one

Olivia Sulzer, 3, from Aquebogue looks at one of the windows decorated for the 2011 Riverhead holiday window decorating contest. More than a dozen groups typically took part in the East End Arts sponsored contest, but it was canceled for 2013 because there aren't enough empty storefronts left on Main Street. (Dec. 4, 2011) Credit: Randee Daddona

After three years, a holiday tradition has ended in Riverhead, the victim of an improved downtown economy.

East End Arts, which held an annual holiday window decorating contest to brighten up the empty stores on Main Street, has canceled the event. There just aren’t enough empty stores left to make it worthwhile, said executive director Patricia Snyder.

The windows in empty stores were given out on a first come, first served basis after landlords gave permission to let people use their storefronts for the decorating, and no permanent paints or other difficult-to-remove materials could be used.

High school clubs and community organizations, an urban gardening group and even some local businesses got into the act, and in 2011 an organization calling itself the Elf Liberation Front got a weighted first place vote of 137 points for its Occupy the North Pole display.

“I’m never surprised by the creativity in Riverhead,” Snyder said.

Ballots for the vote had to be picked up and deposited in a box at the East End Arts gallery at 133 East Main St., and Snyder said it was one way to bring in more people during the holiday season.

But now, there are only a handful of vacant store windows left -- not enough to have a real artistic competition. Instead, windows are filled with signs like “Woolworth Redevelopment, LLC” and “Coming Soon -- Goldberg’s Famous Bagels.”

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