Bay Ridge residents looking for a sense of normalcy are in luck, as the beloved Third Avenue Festival and the Ragamuffin Parade will both march into the neighborhood in October — despite some uncertainty with the spread of the Delta variant across the city.
“It is the sort of the unofficial beginning of fall,” said Louis Coluccio, owner of ALC Italian Grocery and one of the four members of the Third Avenue Merchant Association’s transition team. “We would love to see it happen safely and continue this spirit of renewal and rebirth.”
The Third Avenue Festival, scheduled for Oct. 3, and the Ragamuffin Parade, always planned the day before, were both canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the organizers are facing some concerns about their fate with the spread of the Delta variant putting a halt to the city’s reopening process.
To encourage more city dwellers to get vaccinated, lame-duck Mayor Bill de Blasio is requiring customers of indoor dining, entertainment and fitness facilities to show proof of first-dose vaccination to attend, as well as employees working in those areas, as of Sept. 13.
While the Third Avenue Festival is mostly outdoors, some restaurant owners are worried about how they will confirm the vaccination status of huge crowds who might want to dine indoors during the event, especially as it might lead to altercations with customers, similar to mask mandates.
“What, do we become policemen again?” said Bobby Daquara, co-owner of Greenhouse Cafe, adding that he does plan to participate if the event does go on. “It is a very challenging thing when someone walks in to spend money at your establishment, and you need to find more information than a doctor is allowed to give out.”
But plans for the street festival are still moving forward despite the mayor’s Aug. 3 announcement, Coluccio said, and they are ready to adapt to any changing regulations, just as small businesses did throughout the entire pandemic.
“We have to make the best of it,” he said. “We plan and we pivot, and that’s being a small business owner.”
The festival’s longtime organizer, who is putting on the event for the last time this year, said he and his volunteers are already scrambling to get ready, as they’ve had far less time than in past years.
“Normally, I start working on this in March,” said Chip Cafiero, the man behind nearly every Bay Ridge street fair for 43 years. “March, April, even into May — no festivals were allowed to happen.”
Putting on the neighborhood’s street festivals for over four decades, Cafiero has developed a network of organizations and volunteers who make the job a bit easier for him — especially Adelphi Academy on neighboring Ridge Boulevard, where he works two days a week, and which always offers their resources for the festival.
“They are allowing me to donate my two days a week to helping do the summer strolls and the festival,” Cafiero said. “They have been a part of it all along…all the posters and flyers were printed at Adelphi.”
While the festival is scheduled to run between 69th and 94th street, there aren’t any definitive attractions to share just yet, but Cafiero said event-goers can expect the usual music, rides and street vendors that have always been a staple in years past drawing thousands of attendees, many traveling from far beyond Bay Ridge.
“There are people that come from all over,” Cafiero said.
The festival guru is also involved with putting on the Ragamuffin Parade — an annual procession filling the avenue with hundreds of kids in costume, area politicians, and local civic groups — which he says will definitely return for its 50th rendition on its planned Oct. 2 date.
“It’s a great event that draws thousands of kids,” Cafiero said, adding that as soon as it’s over he and his team begin preparing for the next day’s festival.
Together, the two events bring a sense of celebration in Bay Ridge — which even with the new normalcy of outdoor dining, Coluccio is sure will draw in many locals who have missed the annual tradition.
“Even though they already have the tables out, everybody does a little extra,” he said. “It’s a tradition. A very, very Bay Ridge thing.”
These will be the last two events put on by Cafiero, who the local councilmember praised for his selfless service to the Bay Ridge community for all these years — which would have been less if he had taken Cafiero up on his offer years back.
“Chip has been the magic behind just about every street festival and parade in Bay Ridge for nearly 45 years! He gets mad at me because he wanted me to take over for him back before I decided to run for office. But I’ve learned so much from Chip,” said Bay Ridge City Councilmember Justin Brannan. “There have been so many great events that simply would not have been possible and would have never happened without Chip and his incredible hard work behind the scenes. The best part is, Chip only does it because he loves this neighborhood. He doesn’t care about the credit or the glory.”
And while he might agree he is a nice guy, don’t bother him on the day of the event, Cafiero laughed.
“I am a nice guy, I have tons of friends, but on the day of the event I have no friends,” he said. “I am focused and stay out of my way.”