Holiday displays light up southern Brooklyn despite fiscal shortfalls

Holiday displays light up three southern Brooklyn thoroughfares, even after budget shortfalls threatened to nix the arrays.
Photo by Jessica Parks

Holiday lights will adorn three commercial strips in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst this season, even after budget shortfalls from the COVID-19 pandemic nearly nixed the displays. 

One local politician, who helped fund the lights’ installation, said that the arrays will cheer up locals during the difficult year. 

“This year, little stuff like this takes on a new significance,” said Councilman Justin Brannan, who represents Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, two neighborhoods known for their larger-than-life holiday decorations. “With a lot of stuff getting cut this year because of budget restraints, I felt like this was something that was important.”

Last month, Bay Ridgeites raised $9,000 over a period of two days through an online fundraiser hosted by lifelong resident Bianca Papas to save the Third Avenue holiday lights — a 26-year tradition upheld by the Third Avenue Merchants’ Association, who could not foot the bill this year because many member businesses have fallen behind on their dues.

“This is why people call us a small town in a big city,” Brannan said about the outpouring of support from Bay Ridge residents. “I think it’s for things like this where the community takes pride and if there is a way that can help, they do.” 

The councilman covered the remaining half of the bill to light the 30 blocks between Bay Ridge and Marine avenues, and secured funding to sponsor two other commercial strip lightings in his district.

“I wanted to do what I could to keep that holiday spirit alive at a time when we could all really use some,” he told Brooklyn Paper.

This will be the second consecutive year holiday lights will be strung along the Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst thoroughfares — on 13th Avenue, between Bay Ridge Avenue and 83rd Street, and along 18th Avenue, between Benson Avenue and 64th Street — after Brannan helped resurrect the decades-old tradition last year.

The 13th Avenue lightings, completed in partnership with NIA Community Services Network, is especially important for locals, since the neighborhood’s famous “Dyker Lights” display tends to be overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.  Il Centro pitched in to sponsor the light displays on Bensonhurst’s 18th Avenue. 

“Because the way Dyker Lights have become this international phenomenon where you have people all over the country coming to see these lights, doing the lights on the avenue is sort of the thing that locals can really appreciate,” Brannan said.

Keeping the lights on this year has been more important than ever, Brannan said, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to halt many holiday traditions, such as Coney Island’s storied Polar Bear Plunge. Hanging the thoroughfares’ lights, he added, is a safe and simple way to bring some much-needed holiday cheer to the families of southern Brooklyn.

Third Avenue business owners expressed their delight in seeing the lights strewn along the thoroughfare this year, saying the initiative brings about a sense of community amid such a difficult year for small businesses faced with shutdowns.

“I love what happened with the lights,” said Louie Coluccio of ALC Italian Grocery on Bay Ridge’s Third Avenue. “Merchants realize that the community cares and appreciates the avenue and wants to see it thrive. I think it renewed everybody’s hope.”

Brannan’s office, in conjunction with groups like NIA Community Services Network and local businesses like Investors Bank, will also sponsor the lighting of two trees within his district — one at Shore Road Park, at the intersection of Shore Road and 90th Street and the other at Dyker Park, at the intersection of 86th Street and 14th Avenue. However, there will be no formal lighting ceremonies due to the ongoing pandemic.

“As a community-focused bank, we’re honored to help sponsor the colorful holiday lighting displays along the main shopping and dining streets in Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights,” said Investors Bank Senior Vice President and New York Retail Market Executive Ana Oliveira. “Our bank has supported tree lighting ceremonies in Brooklyn neighborhoods for several years, and we will continue the tradition during this holiday season. We all need a little more good cheer and glad tidings this year, and the decorations will raise our spirits and help make our holidays brighter.”

Update (Tuesday, Dec. 8): This story has been updated to include comment from Investors Bank, which also pitched in for this year’s holiday light displays in Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights.