By Katie McFadden
A pumpkin patch and petting zoo on Beach 116th? It may not be part of the normal fabric of one of Rockaway’s main shopping corridors but on Sunday, October 15, Beach 116th will have all of that and more as part of the first annual Beach 116th Street Fall Fest.
On Sunday, October 15, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Beach 116th Street will be closed off and transformed into a block-long fall festival with fun for the whole family. From pumpkin painting to rock climbing, a bouncy house, a petting zoo and more from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., kids will be busy on Sunday! Plus, there will be a beer truck for the adults and incoming street vendors and food trucks selling goods and goodies. And of course, Beach 116th’s merchants will be coming together to do a little something special to give back to the community and let folks know that Beach 116th has so much to offer. The day will even include live music in the afternoon. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., singers/ songwriters, Walker Hornung, Rami, John Simonelli, Frank Persico and Bobby Butler will play some tunes, followed by bands Glenn Strange at 5 p.m. and The Set Theory at 6 p.m. With all that on a fall Sunday in Rockaway, Beach 116th will be the place to be.
The first annual Beach 116th Street Fall Fest is a collaborative effort. After last summer, merchants and locals around Beach 116th Street, fed up with deteriorating conditions around the area, came together to discuss solutions at a meeting at Rogers, spearheaded by Councilwoman Joann Ariola. It would be the first of many meetings to follow over the last year. Following that meeting, at the suggestion of Ariola’s office and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, a Beach 116th Street Merchants Association and task force were formed to find ways to bring the block back and make improvements. Holiday lights strung across the street in December was one of the fruits of that labor, showing that the merchants of Beach 116th and Rockaway residents care about bringing back the block that had gained a not so positive reputation due to panhandling and other issues. After monthly meetings to find other ways to improve the block, the Fall Fest was born.
Rob Pisani, owner of Bagel & Barista Station, had recalled street festivals of Beach 116th’s past, dating back to when his son Rocco, now 14, was still in a stroller. “I thought, why can’t we bring that back?” Pisani said. The idea was proposed to Councilwoman Ariola’s office, the perfect date was set, and an effort to not only bring some fall fun to Beach 116th but to raise funds to make even more improvements to the block was set in motion. Ariola’s office, NYC Parks, the Rockaway Civic Association, Bagel & Barista, Ace Hardware, Rogers and St. James Clothing banded together to serve as the main sponsors of the event, with other Beach 116th businesses, like The Meat Up Grill and others, giving their full support in making it a success.
Pisani says the fall festival will be free for visitors but will simultaneously serve as a fundraiser for the block with various ways to raise money throughout the day. St. James Clothing has made t-shirts for the event, which will be sold on Sunday. There will also be a 50/50 raffle (no givebacks allowed). Additionally, vendors will begin to sell raffle tickets for a big $10K raffle to raise money for holiday lights on the block once again. It’s all to raise funds for simple ways to make the block better. A big part of that will be making improvements to the center medians on the block and redesigning them so folks won’t have to walk through dirt and mud surrounding the trees while trying to pay the meters or cross the street. “The medians in the middle of the block were never designed properly, so we’re trying to make it so people can walk along them without stepping in mud, plus we’ll be planting new trees and flowers to make the block look nice and keep it safe,” Matt Mazzone, owner of Mazzone Ace Hardware said.
Michael Fiore, owner of The Meat Up Grill, was happy to help in the effort to coordinate payment plans for the outside vendors for the day. Some of those include food trucks offering sausage and peppers, a variety of fun egg rolls, zeppoles, plus local vendors selling arts and crafts and other items. “I know a lot of stuff is not in our hands to make Beach 116th better, but whatever we can do to make 116th change, I’m all for and I’m happy to be involved,” Fiore said.
Michael McMahon, the owner of Rogers, who generously offers his bar to host the Beach 116th Street monthly meetings, hopes the festival showcases all of the good that Beach 116th has to offer. “I’m hoping it brings more people to the neighborhood and shows them that what we have isn’t just negative. We have a lot of positive things here. We have new stores coming, good restaurants, good bagel stores, gift shops, and things have gotten better on the block since we started these meetings. We have a lot more businesses opening and a lot of people moving here. People are sometimes scared to come to Beach 116th because of the bad vibes and the reputation for panhandling, but there’s so much more,” McMahon said.
Since being elected, Councilwoman Ariola has made it one of her missions to bring more positive attention to Beach 116th Street. The Fall Fest is one more way to accomplish that. “Through the meetings, we’ve been discussing ways to bring more attention to Beach 116th and show off this vibrant shopping area. We did Christmas lights over the holidays, and we wanted to do something for the fall to get people motivated to come to Beach 116th to shop for the holiday season, as things start to slow down after summer, and what better way than to have a fall festival with stores being showcased, kids having fun and the community coming together? I’ve made a commitment to bring new life to Beach 116th and this is all part of that promise. We know we have a lot more work to go, but we’ve come a long way from January 2021.”
Fiore hopes the festival gives Beach 116th positive exposure to folks who may not know everything the block has to offer and may entice others to fill the vacant spots on the block. “The more people come and visit, they can see the stores that are here. Believe it or not, we get so many new customers even now saying ‘I didn’t know this was here,’ so just that exposure is a great advantage, and hopefully people see there’s an interest and are willing to put their own business out here,” Fiore said. “I believe in Beach 116th Street.”
Mazzone says the Fall Fest is just the beginning of bringing back Beach 116th. “We plan on doing this every year. There’s a lot of ideas and things between Rob, Mike, myself and others. There’s a big group of retailers that are going to make a strong effort to make sure this continues,” Mazzone said.