Editor’s Note: The initial report has since been updated for clarity at noon Oct. 17.
Small business owners on South Ocean Avenue in Patchogue Village are speaking out about the recent uptick in vandalism and criminal mischief that is negatively impacting their stores.
Suffolk County Police reports show that there has been nine reported incidents of criminal mischief on South Ocean Avenue in the last two years, specifically from Sept. 1, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2022.
Five of these reported incidents have occurred this year alone, with just one arrest confirmed on Oct. 6.
Some of the businesses along South Ocean Avenue feel their concerns are being ignored by Patchogue Village, and they want to see local officials take action.
“I feel like the village is more concerned with giving people parking tickets than the safety on the street,” said Jessica Reisert, owner of new The Cheeky Peach.
Mayor Paul Pontieri said the village has limited authority of what they can and can’t do.
“We are looking to put cameras on South Ocean Avenue, so we get a sense of what’s happening,” Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri. “We only have so many public safety officers available.”
Testimonies from South Ocean business owners
Reisert’s aerial fitness studio at 42 S. Ocean Ave. was vandalized late last month, which is the second time this has happened to The Cheeky Peach in the five months it’s been open, she said.
On Sept. 23, between 1-2 a.m., a brawl broke out on Main Street and ended in front of The Cheeky Peach, where one person was thrown through a window at the studio.
Reisert said she had no knowledge about the incident until she opened her studio at about 10 a.m. and saw the window boarded up.
“I got no phone call from the village, from the police, I had no idea,” she said. “There was blood everywhere, trailing down the road. It was a full-blown crime scene.”
Three glass panels were broken, which cost Reisert about $3,000 in damages, she said. In addition, Reisert learned the person who went through the window sustained a concussion and needed 20 stitches to close a gash across his face.
On top of the $3,000, Reisert said she was charged for the plywood the village boarded up on her broken window, a service she was not alerted about, nor consented to.
Reisert said she knew that this time she wanted to hold the individuals accountable for their actions. She contacted the village and was told the police apprehended the individuals, but let them go later that night.
To her disappointment, Reisert had to file her own police report and clean up the mess herself.
“[The police] told me to wear thick gloves,” Reisert said. “I called my dad, and he came to the rescue and helped me clean it. It was just more unfortunate than anything else.”
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Conor Swanson, owner of Bird and Bao on 58B S. Ocean Ave., said in his three years in Patchogue Village, he has dealt with two broken window incidents, the most recent happening June 5.
“I had the cops knock at my door at like 4 a.m. and told me someone had gone through the window,” Swanson said. “I had to go to Bird and Bao at 4:30 a.m. and there was glass everywhere. It shot all the way to the counter.”
Swanson had to shut down operations for the remainder of that Sunday, and it took almost two months to get a new window, due to backorder. He said the boarded-up window made it look like the restaurant was closed.
“We have only 15 seats and only eight were available,” Swanson said. “We couldn’t sit anyone by that window because of the big shards of broken glass.”
When he contacted the village about these difficulties, he said “the town did absolutely nothing.”
The first time he had his store’s window smashed was just a couple of months before his grand opening.
“I didn’t even have window insurance yet,” he said. “Either way, I have a $2,500 deductible, paid cash for the first one, cash for the second, and both cost about $1,600.”
The village boarded up Bird and Bao’s broken window following the June 5 incident without notifying Swanson, the owner said, but he added that he appreciated the service, which he was not charged for.
“The windows aren’t every weekend, but the fights are every weekend — big ones,” Swanson said. “And other than the breaking, the trash we pick up every morning from the people, it just sucks because when it happened I didn’t get a response from the town.”
David Kennedy, executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, said unfortunately incidents like this are nothing new, but the chamber offers support to those who face hardships.
He said many of the restaurant owners are aware of the issue and try to control the party crowd as best they can.
Kennedy said he would like to see a stronger police patrol presence on Main Street from midnight to the early hours of the morning when these incidents are most likely to occur.
The chamber wants to be a part of the solution, and it’s a “work in progress,” he added.
“When a business reaches out them, shows a police report, provides invoices for the work that’s being done, the Restaurant Committee has been very generous in covering those costs of the broken windows,” Kennedy said. “Our message is when you come to Patchogue, have fun, but show good behavior as well. There is always a continuing conversation, but we need to do more.”
Store owners demand action
Hot Bagels Plus across the street from Bird and Bao at 57 S. Ocean had a window broken just a few days after Swanson, on June 11. Four months after the incident, the storefront remains boarded up.
Besides broken windows, Colosso di Rodi Greek Bistro at 58D S. Ocean Ave. had its mailbox banged up and a co-owner of Supreme Printing at 10 S. Ocean Ave. had to clean graffiti from the storefront.
Some businesses complained of witnessing public urination at their doorsteps, having to clean up vomit, and other headaches.
Reisert said in speaking to other business owners, she discovered that some leave their lights on at night and have resorted to patrolling their own stores by driving past them on the weekends.
An employee at Karl Ehmer Butcher Shop said they haven’t dealt with an incident like this yet, but there is always an uncertain feeling of when they might they be next.
Lucy Moreno and Rich Myers, operators of Alterations by Lucy, ran their business at 29 S. Ocean Ave. in Patchogue Village for eight years before moving to The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River in August.
During their almost decade-long run in Patchogue Village, the pair said they experienced a broken front door, homeless people coming into the store and refusing to leave and messes left by late-night crowds. They said that they also felt unsafe coming into work.
The last straw for Lucy Moreno was an attempted carjacking she experienced, which ultimately pushed her and Myers to move.
“Some customers would come in and say they didn’t feel comfortable or safe walking around Patchogue carrying a dress across the parking lot, and it affected our business,” Myers said. “We moved out to Wading River; we have more work this time of year here than we would have if we stayed in Patchogue.”
Story continues after an Instagram post from Bird and Bao below.
Patchogue Village’s response
Pontieri said the village has been in contact with the Suffolk County Police Department and Patchogue Village Public Safety about how to address the vandalism and criminal mischief problem on South Ocean Avenue.
He said when speaking to police, they attribute these incidents to mostly an intoxicated crowd coming from the local bars.
“Unfortunately, we can’t stop drunks from getting into fights,” Pontieri said. “We are having cameras put up on South Ocean, so we can monitor some of it. I don’t know if we’ll be able to prevent it all, but we can figure out who is doing it and maybe be able to get restitution for the property owners.”
Some business owners said they believe the rash of the incidents are coming from James Joyce on 49 S. Ocean Ave. However, Reisert said, management at the bar and restaurant did not agree the claim and felt the blame should not be entirely on them.
Greater Patchogue reached out to James Joyce for comment on this issue, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
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Pontieri said he believes the restaurant and bar owners are overserving their patrons, causing them to behave disrespectfully.
“It’s a simple thing to say ‘the village isn’t helping us,’ but they’re not helping themselves when controlling their customers. It’s hard for us to control them unless they’re on the street,” Pontieri said.
Dennis Smith, executive director of Patchogue Village’s Business Improvement District, said that policing is the responsibility of Patchogue’s Public Safety, while the BID invests money into the community to make it “the best it could be” for patrons. This includes assisting public safety in obtaining cameras and installing them in the community, Smith said.
The camera they plan to set up in front of The Cheeky Peach and Karl Ehmer Butcher Shop is on back order, but once installed it will give public safety a “200-degree-view” of South Ocean Avenue and the businesses around it.
Regarding broken windows, Smith said public safety’s protocol is to first to try to get in touch with the building owner, and then it is up to the building owner to decide if they want to get the damaged windows boarded up themselves or allow the Department of Public Works to handle it.
In the event the building owner cannot be reached — whether it be in the middle of the night or another circumstance — Smith said DPW will board up the broken window to secure the area.
“There would be a charge; you have to remember it is 2 o’clock on a Sunday morning and Public Safety has to call up the DPW personnel. They have to get out of bed, come down there, do what they have to do,” Smith said. “Whatever it costs us to board up the window, I do believe that would be charged to the building owner.”
GreaterPatchogue reached out to Patchogue’s Public Safety for comment, but did not receive a reply at time of publication.
In response to business owners expressing feeling ignored, Smith said the BID tries their best to address concerns and support all of Patchogue’s business district — those on Main Street, surrounding streets, restaurants on the Patchogue River, and beyond.
“We do have cameras on Main Street, and we don’t have one yet on South Ocean Avenue, so if someone wants to categorize that as being ‘ignored,’ then I guess that would be a true statement, but it is a statement we are aware of and willing to rectify,” Smith said.
Top photo: The boarded up (and painted) window at The Cheeky Peach. (Credit: Ana Borruto).