Bay Ridge residents flocked to the neighborhood’s streets on Friday for the second of this year’s Summer Strolls, marking a return of normalcy for area businesses and residents alike.
“I think it was a huge success,” said local business owner Bobby Daquara of the July 16 Summer Stroll.
Daquara co-owns Third Avenue’s Greenhouse Cafe alongside business partner John Keegan, which saw an influx of pedestrians taking to the streets for the event.
“It’s a step towards getting back to our lives, and it was a great night,” Daquara said.
Friday’s stroll was one of two hosted already this year by the Third Avenue Merchants Association. The business-boosting group traditionally holds four each summer — two on the avenue’s southern end, and two on the area’s northern end — though they were forced to put the annual event on hold in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s festivities are being run through the city’s Open Streets program, which were started last spring to help city dwellers best utilize open space amid the outbreak of COVID-19.
The program, overseen by the city’s Department of Transportation, coordinates with local community groups to bar vehicular traffic on specified streets at the expense of the community group. All events that aim to close off streets for pedestrians must apply under the new city program as it requires social distancing and discourages large crowds.
The Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District is also utilizing Open Streets to host “Fun on 5th.” The events — which organizers say mirror the avenue’s previous “Weekend Walks” — kicked off on Friday, June 25 and will continue on stretches of the thoroughfare on the last Friday of each month through October.
Third Avenue’s Summer Strolls have served as a smaller iteration of the beloved Third Avenue Festival, which typically draws attendees from across the borough, since they were first launched ten years ago without certainty of success, according to the former head of the avenue’s merchant association, Bob Howe.
“We didn’t know it was going to be successful or if everyone was going to leave Bay Ridge and go to the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore, and we were sitting on the corner of 82nd and Third at about 6 o’clock and there was no one on the avenue,” Howe told Brooklyn Paper, “and at that moment a family turned the corner and that’s when I realized this is going to be a great family event.”
This year’s strolls have, so far, garnered much of the same spirit — and the kickoff on July 9 spanned even farther along the avenue than in previous years, ending for the first time on Marine Avenue, and incorporating more businesses than before.
Louis Coluccio, the owner of ALC Italian Grocery, said the expansion is part of an effort to promote merchant association membership on all ends of the thoroughfare as part of the group’s revisioning — a transition he and three other small business owners are heading.
“[The transition team was] really passionate about expanding the blueprint to include everybody,” Coluccio said. “The goal right now really is to get everybody involved.”
Businesses have been especially creative with their activities and entertainment this year, Coluccio said, noting that, in addition to the gelato cart outside his shop, fan favorites included live music, DJs, and wine tastings.
The offerings attracted a number of prominent Brooklynites including US Sen. Chuck Schumer, Coluccio said. “He came over and was singing with the band,” Coluccio recounted of the Brooklyn-born politico.
On July 16, local band Head and South played an acoustic set up outside Greenhouse Cafe, drawing crowds young and old.
“There is all sorts of entertainment on the avenue, whether it’s DJs, solo singers,” Daquara said. “There is a lot going on and there is a lot to do.”
Despite the dicey weather both nights, Daquara said the Summer Stroll’s return, so far, has been a huge success.
“I thought it was great, I mean considering it was the first time that the street has been open for us on this end of the avenue,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “It is a great program to begin with. It’s a Friday night during the summer, it keeps people around in Bay Ridge until Saturday if they decide to go away that weekend.”
Daquara added that he and Keegan — both Bay Ridgeites — participate in the neighborhood’s street fairs to help attract customers not only to their business, but also to those around them.
“I think we like to be involved with anything that goes on in Bay Ridge and support it,” he said.
Not far from the eatery, Dimensions in Dance showcased more than a dozen performances outside of their 76th Street studio during the second Summer Stroll — and longtime owner Pat McGuire said it was the first time Dimensions dance students got to perform without masks on in over a year.
“I didn’t make it mandatory because we were outside, and it was wonderful,” she said. “We saw all the big smiles, it was nice to see their faces after so long.”
The dance studio participates in at least one of the Third Avenue Summer Strolls each year, McGuire said, adding that the group always tries to emulate a block party, putting out food for guests and hosting a live DJ in addition to the students’ performances.
“Everybody enjoyed themselves, we had a nice crowd here,” she said.
Fifth Avenue’s kick-off at the end of June similarly crowded the thoroughfare. The neighborhood’s first festival of the year filled from 72nd to 80th street with music, activities and people on June 25, according to the avenue’s BID.
“What we saw in the first one, people really did take to the streets, they used that space,” said Amanda Zenteno, the executive director of the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue BID. “We had put out a lot of games and activities, and we saw tons of kids and families out here.”
The BID’s event was focused on fun for the whole family, Zenteno told Brooklyn Paper, and included rock painting hosted by Bay Ridge Rocks, music from the avenue’s bar and restaurants, and even a kiddy pool for families’ furry companions outside My Natural Pet.
“In addition to having the open street environment, we are also adding some interactive elements especially for families,” Zenteno said.
The upcoming “Fun on 5th” scheduled for July 30 will have many of the same offerings, Zenteno said, as well as new things to try out as the group continues to try and outdo itself.
“Each one of these we are continuing to build and bring in a different kind of activity or a different thing to make each one a little different from the first or the last,” she said. “We are hoping we will continue to build and we can find something different from month to month.”
Each Fifth Avenue event will also be built out of community input, the BID leader said, stressing that neighbors can share what they want to see at the next one, and local organizations can feel free to sign on to offer their own activities. And, with their Open Streets events set to run through the fall, the Fifth Avenue BID plans to have different themes for each event, including a Halloween theme for the closing street fair.
“We are really listening to community input and working with organizations who like to do these things or want to provide things for the families in our community,” Zenteno said.
The next Third Avenue Summer Stroll is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 6 from 80th Street to Marine Avenue, with the fourth and final installment slated for Friday, Aug. 13 from 68th to 80th streets.