On Wednesday, Debbi Gyulay, 60, president of the Valley Stream Chamber of Commerce, joined longtime resident Mary Ann Cahill, 76, and financial adviser Lee Feinman, 63, for coffee at Sip This.
Gyulay, who has lived in Valley Stream for 55 years, is a clerical worker at Valley Stream Central High School. Cahill, a 47-year resident of the village, stays active with the chamber to honor her late husband Edward Cahill, a former village mayor who died in July 2010. Feinman, a 17-year resident, is also a member of the chamber and volunteers as treasurer of the Mill Brook Civic Association.
Tell me about business on Rockaway Avenue, the downtown business district of Valley Stream, and how it has changed throughout the years.
Gyulay: When I was a child, Rockaway Avenue was the main street to shop, and when Green Acres Mall was built, it had a negative effect and hurt small stores on Rockaway. Since then, Rockaway has never been back to its peak level of business, and of course we all want that. Things seem to be getting better, though, because I’ve noticed that there have been more stores filled up than six years ago. The street has changed, but the look of the buildings hasn’t changed since the 1960s. We still have Itgen’s Ice Cream Parlour, Sal & Vin’s [barber shop], Larry’s Pub, Mitchell’s Restaurant and Ancona Pizzeria [& Heroes].
Feinman: It [the mall] was economically disastrous for the community. The business district has a real mix of business. There’s a large concentration of beauty shops and car repair and body shops. Businesses have moved in and out over the years, but structurally, the street and buildings have looked the same.
Cahill: Ancona Pizzeria has been here since forever.
What are some of the benefits of being part of the chamber of commerce?
Gyulay: You feel that you’re a part of the community. It gives you that connection that you’re part of something.
Feinman: It gives owners the opportunity to come together and share ideas on how to market their businesses more efficiently. The owners typically use the chamber to further their voice. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie among business owners belonging to the chamber. They tend to refer customers to other local businesses if the customer can’t find something.
Overall, what do you think Valley Stream has to offer residents and visitors?
Gyulay: We have wonderful recreation programs for children to seniors, beautiful parks, we’re close to the city, and the train station is very active, so you don’t have to wait long.
How would you respond to those who say Valley Stream is unsafe?
Gyulay: It’s safe to say that the world has changed. In the 1950s and 1960s, my parents never locked their doors, but things change in every community. Bad things happen everywhere. Truth is, I don’t feel any more in danger.
Above: Valley Stream Chamber of Commerce president Debbie Gyulay, 60, left, sits at Sip This on Rockaway Avenue to the left of chamber members Mary Ann Cahill, 76, and Lee Feinman, 63. (Oct. 24, 2012)