By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Karen Fischer and her fiancee, Peter Cipriano, were walking in the middle of the street on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge Friday evening, but they didn’t have to worry about getting hit by a car.
That’s because there were no cars!
An 11-block stretch of the avenue, from 69th Street to 80th Street, was closed to vehicular traffic for four hours (6 p.m. to 10 p.m.) to accommodate foot traffic. It was all part of Summer Stroll on 3rd, an outdoor event for foodies and art lovers that was sponsored by the Merchants of Third Avenue.
With permission from the Department of Transportation, the Merchants closed down the avenue to traffic, asked restaurants to set up sidewalk cafes, and invited actors and musicians to come and entertain the crowds of pedestrians. The Bay Ridge happening was part of DOT’s Summer Streets program, a series of events in which streets are closed to vehicular traffic so that pedestrians can enjoy the summer nights.
The Merchants held four Summer Stroll Nights. Chairman Bina Valenzano and her committee set up the first two summer strolls, which took place in July, on Third Avenue between 80th and 90th streets. For the third and fourth summer strolls, on Aug. 9 and 16, the committee moved the outdoor event north, between 80th and 69th streets.
The goal was to give pedestrians leg room and to bring in business for store owners, who suffer from low sales on Friday nights during the summer, organizers said.
“Isn’t this great?” Fischer asked as she and Cipriano were strolling Third Avenue as if it was the Piazza San Marco in Venice.
There was plenty to see, hear, eat, and enjoy.
In front of Nordic Delicacies, a food store near 69th Street that specializes in goods imported from Norway, owner Arlene Rutuelo was handing out cookies and cakes. “Take a cookie,” she told a reporter as she held up a tray.
The Kings County Ramblers were performing in front of the Yellow Hook Grille, a restaurant on the corner of Third and Ovington avenues. Robert Long and Stephen Jackson, the restaurant’s owners, were standing outside their place listening to the Ramblers and smiling as patrons sat at tables in the outdoor café eating dinner. “It’s a good crowd tonight,” Long told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Last week it was raining and we still had a good crowd,” Jackson said.
Summer Stroll participants got a preview of a new production of “Les Miserables,” courtesy of Ridge Chorale/Jeff Samaha Productions, which had its actors performing songs from the musical on 77th Street. “Jeff Samaha’s people knocked them dead. Everybody loved them,” Bob Howe, president of the Merchants of Third Avenue, said.
Valenzano strolled the avenue with Christine Freglette. The two women, who are lifelong friends, are the co-owners of the Book Mark Shoppe, a book store on Third Avenue and 84th Street. “I think it’s going well,” Valenzano said, answering a reporter’s question about how the Summer Stroll was going.
There were outdoor cafes on nearly every block of the Summer Stroll route.
Howe, who noted that this was the second year the Merchants group has sponsored a Summer Stroll series, said he was pleased with the success of the event. “I think Summer Stroll has become an institution in Bay Ridge, just like the Ragamuffin Parade and the Third Avenue Festival,” he said. The Children’s Ragamuffin Parade, in which kids march along the avenue in colorful, homemade costumes, and the Third Avenue Festival, a popular street fair, are held every fall and are two of the event for which Bay Ridge is most known around the city.
Charles Otey, executive secretary of the Merchants, said the Summer Stroll was successful because of the participation of store owners who belong to the organization. “It succeeded because the members wanted it to succeed,” he said. Otey also writes a weekly law column for the Eagle called the Pro Bono Barrister.
The Merchants promoted it as a family-friendly event, Otey said. “It’s important to let people know that kids are welcome and that our avenue is a safe place,” he said.
So successful was this year’s Summer Stroll that the Merchants group is considering asking DOT for more nights next year. “We might want to do six nights instead of four,” Howe said.