Small businesses in Greenpoint joined forces again this year to raise money for holiday decorations on Manhattan Avenue, a twist on a longtime tradition on the busy commercial street.
“It is that time of year again where during the holiday season we as a community come together to make Greenpoint as special as we have always remembered,” wrote Donna Siafakas, owner of Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop, on fundraising website GoFundMe. “For many years Manhattan Ave was lit up with street lights and decorations enticing shoppers and reminding the community of the beauty of Greenpoint.”
Manhattan Avenue had always been decked out for the holiday season, said Nick Giannios, owner of the Greenpoint Floral Shop, and it was local shop owners who organized, took donations from their neighboring store owners, and paid for the lights.
But many of them were “old timers,” he said, and as they retired or moved away, no one took up the mantle, and there were a few years where no decorations went up in Greenpoint.
Then, a few years ago, Siafkas had had enough of the barren streets, and paid for some decorations out of her own pocket.
“She had a few strands of lights, last-minute type of thing, it was like Dec. 15 or something, and she just wanted to have something on because she just felt bad,” Giannios said. “The next year, she came to me, she came to Ed and Herman and a couple other guys, and was like ‘Guys, the community was pretty upset last year that there weren’t that many lights.’”
So she, Giannios, Ed and Herman — the owners of Cato’s Army & Navy Store and Greenpoint Toys — and a few other business owners formed a little coalition to go out and gather donations from the businesses up and down the thoroughfare.
By then, Giannios said, it had been a few years since people had ponied up money for the decorations, and many were hesitant, but they did it. Last year, though, they were feeling a little guilty about prodding people for donations. It was the middle of the pandemic, pre-vaccine, and a lot of people were struggling with low revenue and not much hope in sight.
Then, someone suggested an online fundraiser, where the community could chip in.
“I mean, it was a lifesaver for us,” Giannios said.
Neighbors were more than happy to send in their donations large and small, and, because the call was circulating online and on social media, they started to get feedback. People loved the lights, and they wished they would expand a little bit past their normal northernmost point at Huron Street. The fundraiser had enough money to do it, so they expanded a few blocks further than usual.
They decided to do it again this year, hoping for — and receiving — the same outpouring of love from Greenpointers.
The online fundraiser was posted on Oct. 28 with the goal of raising $30,000 for decorations — thousands were donated in the first weekend, and by early November, more than $25,000 had been raised. Then, Siafkis posted an update: shop owners hoped the decorations would be hung and lit around Thanksgiving.
“There were people that contributed $500, $1,000, $2,000,” Giannios said. “The majority of it was people just contributing less than $100 bucks, they wanted to do it just because they wanted to feel a part of it.”
Decorations are going up thanks to the $25,000 raised and additional funds contributed by business owners, he said. They set the goal for $30,000, he said, because the city’s transportation department said they will be charging an electric bill for the decorations when all is said and done.
“Supposedly, this year, they’re going to be a little more adamant about paying for the electric bill,” he said. “That’s why we have the goal at $30,000. This way, at least, if we meet that, we’ll have some money to pay the electric bill, and, if it goes to that, we’ll have left over for next year to get started on that.”
Giannios has been working in the shop, which used to belong to his sister and brother-in-law, since it opened in 1981, and has been running it since 1995. Seeing the small donations come in drives him to keep working toward raising money and decorating the neighborhood, he said, especially when they leave comments reminiscing about the old days in Greenpoint.
“These are people that are 60, 70 years old now, and they reminisce about how they used to walk on the avenue, how they loved shopping there,” he said. “Many of them couldn’t go into the city and see the Fifth Avenue lights and the Rockefeller Center lights. Walking down Manhattan Avenue, it was their little neighborhood pride.”