Businesses, artists band together in effort to spruce up downtown

Owners of vacant storefronts in downtown Riverhead will be required to cover up any evidence of vacancy with photos, artwork or other displays under a proposed code change the Riverhead Town Board is considering.

The proposal will be subject to a public hearing at 2:15 p.m. Sept. 6.

But some downtown residents or business owners aren’t waiting for the code change to begin sprucing up downtown’s appearance.

A committee composed of Business Improvement District Management Association president Steve Shauger and executive director Diane Tucci, Digger’s owner Sheri Wirth, and developers Georgia Malone and Ike Israel have been meeting over the last few weeks to plan ways to beautify downtown storefronts. They have gotten a head start with the help of some volunteers and donations from local businesses, Ms. Tucci said.

“We pulled weeds, planted flowers and got our hands dirty to make things look better,” she said at a press conference about the beautification effort Thursday. “We found great partners to work with us on our immediate goals, which was getting buildings and sidewalks power washed and windows cleaned, in both vacant and occupied buildings.”

Crystal Clear Window Cleaning and RDZ Contracting offered their services at discount rates; Ron Fisher of Fisher Signs & Shirts donated signs; photographer Jim Lennon has donated his photographs for window displays and Ms. Malone and Mr. Israel, working with Home Depot, donated all the roses and planters recently installed on East Main Street, Ms. Tucci said, adding that there were about $2,500 in donations made to the effort.

“I was excited about the idea,” Mr. Lennon said, describing his reaction when he was contacted by Ms. Tucci. “It gives me a good sense that I’m contributing to where I live.”

Artwork on the former Rimland building. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Also, Yurt City, collaborative endeavor of artists Sheila Ross and Laura Ten Eyck, painted murals on some on the windows of a few vacant buildings, with their owners’ permission.

Bobby Hartmann, a member of the BIDMA and the owner of Mainstream House, an addiction treatment center in Riverhead, said some of the residents of Mainstream House have been volunteering to clean up downtown Riverhead three hours per week, and has been working with East End courts to get people who need community service hours to help clean up downtown.

“It feels good to be able to give back, because for so long, I took so much,” Naveen Hansen said at the press conference, noting he lives in Mainstream House and participates in the cleanup. “Doing things like this helps my self-esteem and gives me a sense of responsibility.”

Townscape, which has been doing beautification projects in Riverhead for years, is also working on the cleanup efforts downtown, Ms. Tucci said.

“This is the broken windows theory,” Supervisor Sean Walter said of the beautification efforts. “If your place looks like crap, people are going to treat it like crap.”

Top photo caption: BIDMA member Bobby Hartmann speaks at the press conference alongside local officials and business leaders. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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