OBMSA in the news
Whether it’s for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza, people around the country are getting ready to celebrate this holiday season. In Oyster Bay, nothing puts people in a festive spirit like the hamlet’s Holiday Stroll and Tree Lighting.
Organized by the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce, the Main Street Association, and Dawn Riley, from Oakcliff Sailing, the event was originally called the Holiday Market and focused around the bandstand. Like with everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic forced the organizers to adapt by spreading the market across Audrey Avenue as well, turning it into a “stroll” through town.
“This was enacted actually as a way to control crowds and enforce social distancing, but it has become so popular we decided to keep it,” Meredith Maus, executive director for the Main Street, explained. “This really helps our brick and mortar stores and has only served to grow the event.”
The Oyster Bay Main Street Association has been in operation for over two decades, helping to invigorate the economy while preserving the integrity of the historic hamlet. Although it’s known for its current efforts, the organization has a history of supporting local businesses.
The association was formed in 2000, and its original six-person board met at the Bookmark Café, a space now occupied by Wild Honey. Its members were brought together by David Lamb, a landscape architect with family roots in Oyster Bay, and his wife, Daria.
Lamb had spent time in Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s with George O’Neil, a village trustee, learning about the National Main Street Center program. Developed in 1977, its purpose was to economically empower historic communities and support businesses that maintain the cultural and architectural heritage of places like Oyster Bay.
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If you want the truth, so goes the adage, follow the money. But if you want the truth about Oyster Bay — along with clues to its resurgence — it’s Johnny Verrelli’s chicken cutlets you need to follow, which is interesting, not least because there is no such person. Johnny Verrelli is the nom de consume of Simeon Cruz, a short, bald man from Honduras, whose nickname comes courtesy Verrelli’s Market, where Cruz worked the deli counter for 30 years, during which time Oyster Bay lost its collective heart to his cutlet sandwiches. Eventually, Johnny, or Yanny as Cruz spells it, became a hero to those with hero cravings, and a local legend by the time the market met its pandemic-hastened demise in 2020.
"I’ve made chicken cutlets for the whole city," said Cruz with a smile when nally tracked down. "The people are crazy for them." Though chicken cutlets were all he knew — on a busy day he made 1,500 of them — Cruz quickly pivoted, opening a demolition business, Yanny Demolitions, with a Verrelli’s co-worker. Eventually, Oyster Bay missed him too much, and he was conscripted for sandwich-making at La Favorita, a nearby Italian specialty market. Until November, that is, when that closed too.
"Johnny was Verrelli’s big draw," said Meredith Maus, executive director of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association. Continued...
Despite the clouds and wind last Saturday, Santa and a few determined volunteers brought Christmas cheer to Oyster Bay. The sixth annual Holiday Market and Tree Lighting offered hundreds of people, coming from Mill Neck, Manhattan and points in between, the chance to enjoy the season and support the hamlet.
Stretching the length of Audrey Avenue, the event turned Oyster Bay into a Christmas village and bazaar. Whether it was the main event — the speeches, the lighting of the tree and Santa’s arrival — or the parents’ lounge, the ice rink, the dance performances or the holiday market stands, this year’s event was enjoyed by many.
Much of its success was owing to Dawn Riley, executive director of Oakcliff Sailing and the tree-lighting coordinator. Along with her sailors, who formed the core of the volunteers, Riley made sure the market would happen, rain or shine.
“We have fire pits, warming stations and all of the stores open, spilling their wares onto the streets for a festive setting,” she said. “At Oakcliff Sailing we know how to deal with weather, so we have foul-weather gear and umbrellas if people need them.” Continued...