Bob Pettersen works in a corner office with tall windows that look out onto Main Street in Bay Shore.
Everyday, he leaves his office and walks down the street for lunch.
It’s a simple luxury, but Pettersen, who grew up in Bay Shore, said there was a long period of time when he just wouldn’t do that.
“Main Street in Bay Shore was really challenged and struggling for a long time,” he said.
But Pettersen, 45, executive director of the Great South Bay YMCA, considers the job he does every day a perfect example of Bay Shore’s comeback - it’s a place where every facet of the community comes together.
The idea of bringing people together triggered the start of Bay Shore’s revitalization nearly 20 years ago, and it’s a priority that has prevailed.
On April 19, the Bay Shore School District will host the 18th annual Community Summit, which will bring representatives from more than 40 organizations under one roof to discuss the issues facing the community and form a united voice in addressing them.
Since the first summit, the event has brought together business owners, home owners, civic groups and politicians in an effort to improve the quality of life in Bay Shore.
Susan Barbash, 57, who grew up in Bay Shore, was one of the event’s first chairpersons. She said it was the idea of former school superintendent Evelyn Holman and that they expected a couple hundred people to show up.
“It ended up being well over 1,000 people,” she said. “It was standing room only. There was such a need for this.”
She said the need came from the “perfect storm” of events from the late '60s to the '80s that contributed to the downfall of Bay Shore.
The deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals in Brentwood and Central Islip released into the community a population that relied on medication and supervision. Many of those people came to Bay Shore unmedicated and unsupervised. The South Shore Mall opened, pulling many of the shops from Main Street into the shopping center and leaving the downtown desolate.
“The decline of Bay Shore took everyone a little by surprise,” Barbash said. “Things just started spiraling down and there weren’t obvious ways to combat it.”
The first move to revitalization came at the hand of Donna Periconi, the first and only president of the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Chamber of Commerce. She said her organization formed through meetings held at her antique store on Main Street. The store eventually closed, but the chamber prospered and was another driving force behind the summit.
“In the '80s, 43 percent of Main Street was closed down, the schools were not what they are now, there were a number of social problems,” Periconi said. “We took those problems and broke them down and looked at how each of the organizations could solve them.”
Barbash said having elected officials involved in the summit has been the key to its success.
“People really don’t know their politicians and politicians really don’t understand our problems,” she said. “When you have 1,000 people staring you in the face and telling you what they want, it makes it easier to do the right thing.”
She said projects that come either directly or indirectly from the summit include a letter-writing campaign to save the historic Penataquit Post Office last year, closing a decrepit boarding house and finding alternative housing for its residents, and building the bandshell at the village green.
This year’s goals include improving local roads, the remediation of the former Bay Shore Manufactured Gas Plant and the surrounding area, and improving the Sunny Brook neighborhood with street lighting, affordable housing initiatives and adding green space.
This year’s summit, chaired by Christopher Kayser, will also be an opportunity for the community to meet new leaders: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Town of Islip Supervisor Tom Croci and Bay Shore School District Superintendent Peter Dion, who will all be featured speakers.
Periconi said the “beautiful” thing about the summit, and about Bay Shore in general, is that the goal – a better quality of life – is blind to socioeconomic status.
“We are united in purpose and in spirit,” she said. “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.”