Ridgeites raise thousands to bring annual holiday lights to Third Avenue

An old string of holiday lights on Third Avenue.
Bianca Papas

Gracious Bay Ridgeites are digging into their own pockets to salvage a decades-old tradition of stringing holiday lights along Third Avenue as it faces uncertainty due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Bay Ridge is a close-knit community that is very inspiring,” said Bianca Papas, a lifelong resident who started the online fundraiser on Monday. “Especially when things are tough everybody really does get together and try to figure it out for the greater good.”

For the past 26 years, the Third Avenue Merchants Association has covered the cost of the holiday lights, which span 30 blocks from Bay Ridge to Marine avenues. But, with many businesses unable to pay their dues to the group thanks to revenue losses stemming from the virus outbreak, the organization was unable to foot the bill this year.

“They don’t have that nest egg they have typically had at the end of the year to put up the lights,” Papas told Brooklyn Paper. “They figured out a way to stretch that money so that can be something that happens every year, this is the first year they haven’t been able to do that on their own.”

The merchants group has already put together the first half of funding needed to bring the holiday lights to fruition, thanks in large part to a major contribution from area Councilman Justin Brannan, which amounts to a grand total of $16,000.

Within two days of launching a fundraiser on Facebook, Papas raised more than $6,500 towards an $8,000 goal, which will fund the remaining portion needed to sponsor the holiday lights. As of Wednesday afternoon, Papas had upped the goal to $9,000, and brought in close to $8,500.

“It’s astounding, it’s so beautiful,” Papas said. “It is exactly what I would hope from this neighborhood.” 

Papas lent special thanks to Brannan for his role in helping to keep the holiday spirit alive on the strip.

“Justin is born and raised in Bay Ridge, these things are very meaningful for him,” Papas said, “and when he found out that the Third Avenue Merchants Association understandably didn’t have the money to do the Christmas lights, he very generously gave them a grant.”

The Bay Ridge tradition is treasured by neighborhood residents as it has marked the beginning of the holiday season since childhood for many, and is one of the few holiday traditions afforded to children growing up in the city, Papas said. 

“We don’t have a lot of that stuff growing up in places like Bay Ridge where there would be something like a ceremony,” Papas said. “There isn’t a lot of opportunity for that.” 

The lights also have an added importance during the ongoing pandemic as Papas suspects it could inspire people to begin their holiday shopping at a time when local mom-and-pop shops are struggling to stay afloat. 

“It would work as a trigger and kind of getting the wheels in motion for shopping and being supportive of our boutiques, shops, our restaurants and bars,” Papas said.

Papas, who also co-organizes an area Facebook group dedicated to supporting South Brooklyn bars and restaurants, doubled down on the importance of shopping local, citing the fate Century 21, a department store she said many believed to be invincible.

“If that can go, then everybody is in real, real danger,” Papas said. “So [I think that we should do] whatever we can do as a community to try to rally against it and help our small businesses, any way we can.”

Any money that exceeds the fundraiser’s goal will be used to sponsor a local holiday celebration later in the year, Papas said.