On Jan. 28, on the eve of his 25th birthday, Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan had a message for those gathered at the annual meeting of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association. “I’ve felt for years, government hasn’t paid attention to such as exceptional area,” he said. “I’m looking for more direction from this group as to what I can do legislatively and financially to help Oyster Bay.”
With that, Lafazan was off to a birthday celebration dinner with his mother, turning the floor over to Meredith Maus, the association’s executive director.
Maus agreed with Lafazan’s assessment that the hamlet is ignored and shouldn’t be, especially considering its strong ties to Theodore Roosevelt. Sagamore Hill was Roosevelt’s family estate from 1885 until his death in 1919. He and his wife, Edith, are buried in Oyster Bay, at Young’s Cemetery. Maus said she doesn’t think the community capitalizes enough on that connection.
“The fact that Oyster Bay isn’t known around the world as Theodore Roosevelt’s home is mindboggling,” she said. “We’d like to build Oyster Bay’s status as a gateway community to Sagamore Hill.”
Based on the association’s annual presentation, that’s just one of its many ambitious goals. Before an audience of more than 60 people, Maus outlined the nonprofit’s mission to enhance and promote a thriving downtown while maintaining its historic integrity.
Improving parking downtown is on this year’s agenda. Maus said that plans to add angled parking along Audrey Avenue are under review to determine their feasibility.
The OBMSA will also advocate for building owners who apply for special-use permits from the town to allow for residences over restaurants. And, Maus said, a grant for $500,000 from former State Sen. Carl Marcellino will be used for brick crosswalks to highlight pedestrian crossings in the hamlet.
Garbage downtown continues to be a problem, and the association is investigating ways to reduce it, Maus said. For the short-term there is currently someone who picks up the garbage on the streets three to four times a week.
Helping the business community grow is also a goal. Visitors to Oyster Bay spend an average of $57 per person, but the hamlet needs to find a better way to attract more people, Maus said.
Like many North Shore towns, Oyster Bay is steeped in centuries of history. It was founded in 1615, and the Dutch named it for its abundance of shellfish. It played a role in the American Revolution and has a long history of shipbuilding. So it’s no surprise that OBMSA is committed to preserving and enhancing the local historic character that’s come to define the town. The association has been actively involved in providing design assistance, and in many cases grant funding for beautification projects, like building renovations and façade improvements.
Clean, charming and quaint pretty much sum up the spirit of the revitalization efforts. On that front, 2018 did not disappoint. Beginning on Memorial Day, the downtown area erupted in a burst of vibrant color thanks to the Hanging Baskets campaign. One hundred sixty-eight baskets were hung from lampposts, each sponsored by a business, individual or organization. For the holidays, 168 wreaths were hung around town, along with holiday decorations at Townsend Park.
This past year, residents might also have noticed that some of the town’s businesses got a new look. The association helped 10 different businesses design storefront signage that captured the quaint spirit of Oyster Bay’s downtown.
Roosevelt once wrote, “There isn’t any place in the world like home — like Sagamore Hill, where the things are our own, with our own associations and where it is real country.”
Throughout his life, Roosevelt involved himself in the life of the Oyster Bay community. He often walked around town, visiting friends in the shops. That spirit of community engagement is still strong. Last year, residents were invited to take part in a variety of local events planned and/or supported by OBMSA. During July and August, it offered the eighth annual Dancing in the Street event. October’s Raynham Hall Halloween Parade was a great success, despite the dodgy weather. And in December, more than 500 people crowded the downtown to enjoy a pop-up ice skating rink that was part of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce’s holiday market.
OBMSA officials say they hope that its improvements in 2018, and a promise to make other changes, will continue to boost the local economy and enhance the quality of life in this historic community.