GREENPOINT — It may still be balmy outside, but storekeepers along Manhattan Avenue are already planning for the frostier season ahead, banding together to try to bring back holiday lights to the commercial strip that's been mostly dark throughout the winter months since 2013.
Three shopkeepers who've been on the block for decades have now taken matters into their own hands, launching an effort to raise the $40,000 they need from stores along the block so they can string up holiday lights from Driggs Avenue to Greenpoint Avenue this holiday season — as Greenpoint residents had been accustomed to for decades prior.
"You can't just expect people to come to your shop and not give anything back," said Donna Siafakas, 59, owner of Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop, which has been in operation since the 1950s. Last year she took it upon herself last season to illuminate a small section of the street near her store.
"The whole spirit changes," she said. "It's better for the business and for the children."
The other two shopkeepers leading the charge, Edward Veneziano of Cato's Army and Navy, 62, and Nick Giannios, 49, owner of Greenpoint Floral Company were inspired by Siafakas's efforts last season and pledged to help her go from store to store to collect funds.
A holiday-lights-free commercial strip would signal a series of negative things to customers, Giannios says.
Either shop owners are "cheap and they don't want to do it, they just don't care, or you know what, they're not united, there's no driving force," Giannios said.
"All three of them are not good things — leaderless, emotionless and just traditionless."
For years, various stores or alliances had been responsible for the holiday lighting, but one by one they closed up shop — a defunct merchants association, a business alliance and for a while a now-retired shop keeper had even footed the bill himself, the store owners said.
Then in 2013, the lights went out over Manhattan Avenue when locals failed to string together the needed funds, saddening Greenpoint residents accustomed to the holiday cheer, DNAinfo reported.
The current business association in the area, the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce, only has a few members along the block with most other member businesses spread across the area, said the association's chair Elaine Brodsky.
With or without the support of the backing of the local chamber of commerce, the trio of Greenpoint storefronts are determined to bring back the lights this year, in particular for residents who've lived in the area for decades.
"From a nostalgic perspective there are long term, older residents of Greenpoint who look at the loss of light as another indication as a loss of their neighborhood," said Veneziano, whose family opened up Cato Army and Navy clothing store in 1975. "They say, 'Back in the day when the neighborhood was something else there were always lights.'"
"It becomes a bone of contention," he said.
Helen Mena, 55, a Greenpoint resident said she was happy to hear that the the local merchants were working to bring back the holiday lights.
"It's just the spirit of Christmas," Mena said.