11/17/13 8:00am
11/17/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Vines & Hops and TWS Hobby Center opened up on Main Street within the past year.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Vines & Hops and TWS Hobby Center opened up on Main Street within the past year.

It’s a lamentable story that locals are all too familiar with: downtown Riverhead was a veritable ghost town just a few years ago, with empty storefronts dotting large stretches of East Main Street.

To help counteract the sense of glum particularly felt during the holidays, East End Arts launched a campaign in 2010 that gave locals the opportunity to decorate the windows of vacant storefronts with festive scenes. The nonprofit has held a Holiday Window Decorating contest each of the past three years.

Click here to see photos from last year’s contest

But now, thanks to the recent influx of businesses to downtown Riverhead, none of that will be happening this year: Pat Snyder, the executive director of East End Arts, said the most of the storefronts she and other members of the Council would have decorated are, to the relief of many in the community, now occupied.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Nancy Reyer, left, and Allison Pressler, right, at a window display made to recognize Reyer's son, Michael.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Nancy Reyer, left, and Allison Pressler, right, at a window display made during last year’s contest to recognize Reyer’s son, Michael.

“It was our gift to the community to fill up the space, make it look nice during the holidays and encourage people to come downtown,” Ms. Snyder said. “There were vacant windows and the town we loved needed love. The windows we typically would have used are now mostly occupied by businesses, so that’s a good thing.”

Mattituck resident Mark Sisson, whose group “People for the Ethical Treatment of Elves” took second place honors in last year’s Holiday Window Decorating contest, called the change a sort of “double-edged sword.”

“On one hand, it’s great stores are filling up in downtown Riverhead,” he said. “But on the other, it’s too bad that we don’t get a chance to have this fun thing for the holidays.”

A few of the once-vacant storefronts locals used to decorate are now occupied by stores include Twin Forks Bicycles, game shop TheWarStore.com, and Vines and Hops Café, Ms. Snyder said. Twin Forks Bicycles moved into downtown Riverhead in February 2012; TheWarStore.com and Vines and Hops Café both opened their doors this year.

The former Woolworth building on East Main Street, which Ms. Snyder said also used to get the decorative window treatment, will soon bustle with activity itself. Ultimate on Main is expected to open a large gym on the building’s ground floor by the end of the year, and another tenant, Goldberg’s Famous Bagels, plans to open its doors in an adjoining space by the start of 2014.

“There’s nothing like a live, animated storefront with people inside,” Vines and Hops Café co-owner Jeff McKay said. “Having that storefront come alive with patrons – it’s a great feeling.”

ryoung@timesreview.com