It’s Christmastime on Third Avenue.
To some residents’ delight – and others’ chagrin – strings of vintage-looking holiday lights have been hung along the busy Bay Ridge strip.
Since going up shortly before Thanksgiving, the decorations have been on the receiving end of both fanfare and criticism as some locals embrace their old-school appearance while others have called on the Merchants of Third Avenue to do better.
“These are pitiful,” wrote one Facebook user, another remarking that they’re “even ugly at night.”
Merchants President Bob Howe told this paper that, while he understands the arguments against the avenue’s ornaments, he hopes they’ll also understand the process that goes into acquiring such neighborhood decorations.
“Our lights saga started a year ago,” Howe said, recalling a holiday season which almost ended in darkness for the strip. “Our vendor decided to double the price of our contract so we switched to a new vendor, but not until December. He said, ‘You know, you’re calling me in December – there’s not a lot to choose from.’”
And so, last year, Howe and his group went with the “Charlie Brown lights” – a nickname, he said, he uses lovingly – you see today.
Some residents have called the lights outdated. Others have compared them to those on strips like Fifth Avenue or 86th Street – both Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Many have even pointed fingers at local politicians.
“We put up the same fuzzy lights people are complaining about this season and people loved them,” Howe told this paper. “So many people said they reminded them of their childhood.”
And so, the group entered into a three-year contract with the vendor.
“Last year, we called them retro. This year, we’re calling them Charlie Brown. But, in any event, we spend thousands of dollars to light 30 blocks – it’s not easy,” Howe lamented, noting also that, acting as a merchants association as opposed to a BID, it really comes down to individual merchant participation.
“One of the benefits of having a BID is that there’s extra funding for this kind of stuff,” Howe said. “Many of the residents think that the city pays for these lights, or that we’re required to hang them, when, in reality, this came out of our pockets.”
Similarly, the group pays to light the strip four times a summer for its annual Strolls. This past March, the strip was illuminated with St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks, courtesy of funding from the Bay Ridge St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.
“It’s definitely a process,” Howe said. “But it is one that’s crucial to local business.”
Earlier this year, the Merchants took the first step in exploring the formation of a BID, which, in October, was granted funding from Councilmember
Justin Brannan. Howe, at the check presentation, also announced the formation of a steering committee made up of business owners and property owners to guide and inform the BID formation effort.
There are currently 75 BIDs in New York City. They operate under the auspices of the city’s Department of Small Business Services. Services provided by a BID — including sanitation, promotion, beautification and security — supplement city-provided services.
Becoming a BID requires baseline dues for merchants – something, Howe and other members of the association agree, could greatly benefit Third Avenue.
As for the great debate about the lights, Howe said that he did make a request to the vendor for a spruce-up.
“We did complain to the vendor that he never refurbished them,” he said, noting that some were hung haphazardly. “He has promised to make us happy. Unfortunately, at this moment, he’s hanging lights throughout the city but he has promised to come back and fix them up.”
(Since speaking with Howe, this paper has learned that residents have spotted workers replacing light-bulbs and tying up other loose ends.)
Next year, Howe said, the group would revisit the lights as a whole. Nevertheless, he hopes residents can look on the bright side.
“It’s not the brightness of the lights that count, it’s the feelings of peace, love and good will that they evoke,” he said. “Hopefully, that will resonate with people.”
Of course, some residents have already lauded the lights.
“I prefer them to LED space Christmas lights,” wrote one user.
“Stop humbuggin’,” said another.
When asked if he, himself, liked the lights, Howe laughed.
“My son actually said to me the other day, ‘Dad, I never told you but the lights look great,’” he said. “I responded, ‘That’s funny. Have you seen Facebook?’”