Restaurateurs in Riverhead spooked by Halloween Fest

Some downtown Riverhead restaurant owners expressed frustration about losing business during last month’s annual Halloween Fest, and organizers said changes will be made next year to ensure that more parking is available for businesses.

The two events — the parade and coffin races — were originally planned for separate days, but a forecast of heavy rain forced the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association to combine them on Oct. 28. The coffin race route was also changed from Griffing Avenue to Heidi Behr Way along the Peconic Riverfront.

Diane Tucci, BIDMA’s executive director, said the event was “incredibly successful, judging by the feedback we received.”

At last week’s BIDMA meeting, however, some restaurant owners said their business suffered as a result. One even suggested holding the events elsewhere.

The parade, which BIDMA has run for three years, also had a slight change of route. The judging ceremony for parade floats was shifted from Main Street near the Suffolk Theater to the riverfront parking lot, in order to get Main Street reopened quicker.

But some restaurant owners, who are also BIMDA members, said that didn’t work.

“I wasn’t happy,” said member John Peragine, who owns PeraBell Food Bar on East Main Street. “They closed the street, and then they closed the parking lot in the back. That kind of killed me. I lost about 80 customers.”

He said there was no communication about the back parking lot being closed, adding that Saturday night is usually one of his best nights.

Dee Muma, who owns Dark Horse Restaurant, also a BIDMA member, said the change was never discussed by the group.

She said the riverfront parking lot was used for events in the past because “the place was dead. But it’s not dead anymore.”

Now, she said, there are a “whole bunch of merchants and businesses there who invested millions of dollars and are now losing the ability to use their business.”

Ms. Muma said business at her restaurant was disrupted by events 100 times last year.

She feels the BIDMA should hold more events near the train station, in hopes of reviving that area.

“I like it all and I’m all for it,” Mr. Peragine said of the events. “But on a Saturday night in the beginning of the fall when everybody slows down? Not a good thing for me. Don’t touch Friday or Saturday nights.”

Councilman John Dunleavy suggesting having the parade go the opposition direction, ending up at the courts, where the parking lots are mostly empty on weekends.

“So let’s figure out what to do better,” said BIDMA member Michael Butler, who owns the Woolworth apartments building.

“I’ll tell you, everyone that was there had fun,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

“I love the event,” Mr. Peragine said. “I don’t want it to go away, I just hope we can figure [the parking] out.”

Several BIDMA members said reversing the direction of the parade was “a great idea.”

“That’s good feedback to have,” Ms. Tucci said, adding that the BID can instruct people where to park.

The float judging only closed the area behind the former Swezey’s building, Ms. Tucci said. A portion of the riverfront lot also was closed by town police during the coffin races, she said.

“We need to move everything up, and off, so that this parking lot is our parking lot,” Ms. Muma said.

In Patchogue Village, they have security during events and people are asked whether they are coming for the event or to go to a restaurant, Mr. Peragine said. He suggest the BIDMA add a small security budget for future events.

Ms. Tucci said she had a “small number of volunteers who stepped up for this event. I probably needed about 12 more bodies.”

“The one thing is that we learn from it, and we don’t make the same mistake again,” said BIDMA member Nancy Kouris, who owns Blue Duck Bakery. “We want everyone to be busy.”

Photo caption: Participants in the coffin races last month. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

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