It’s the biggest block party in all of New York City, it’s finally coming back to Bay Ridge and you’re invited! The Third Avenue Festival — one of Bay Ridge’s grandest traditions — is back and organizers said it promises to be bigger and better than ever!
The 48th Annual Third Avenue Festival, which was canceled last year amid continuing health concerns, is “definitely, 100 percent” taking place this year, according to longtime Festival Chairman Chip Cafiero, who has been organizing the event for the past 43 years. The 25-block-long extravaganza — set for Sunday, Oct. 3 — typically draws tens of thousands of visitors from Bay Ridge and throughout Brooklyn who come to enjoy rides, games, prizes, shopping, food and drink, lots of great live entertainment and the rich atmosphere that only Third Avenue can provide.
“Unfortunately, people have been getting conflicting reports as to the status of this year’s festival,” Cafiero said. “Many are confused due to the cancellation of the Ragamuffin Parade and assume the two events are linked. They think the city shut down the parade and therefore there can be no festival. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“In fact,” Cafiero explained, “the Ragamuffin Committee made the decision not to hold this year’s parade — despite clearance from city officials — out of an abundance of caution given the information it had available at the time. We respect their decision but must emphasize that it was indeed solely their decision.”
Nevertheless, following the Aug. 20 announcement of the parade’s cancellation, Cafiero steadfastly moved ahead with existing plans to make the 48th Annual Third Avenue Festival the best and most successful yet. He noted that since August a number of outdoor events have been held successfully, responsibly and safely throughout the city.
“We just had the Feast of Santa Rosalia on 18th Avenue here in Brooklyn and we’re in the middle of San Gennaro right now taking place in the city,” he said. “People are anxious to get out and enjoy themselves after all this time and they’re going to be able to do that safely on Oct. 3. We’re going to make sure this event continues the longtime tradition of bringing families together on Third Avenue for a full day of fun and entertainment.”
This year’s festival received tremendous assistance and support thanks to Cafiero’s efforts to secure three major sponsors for the event: Councilmember Justin Brannan, Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn and the Kiwanis Club of Bensonhurst & Bay Ridge.
“Securing those sponsorships went a long way toward guaranteeing that the festival will go on and be a success,” Cafiero said. “Councilman Brannan has been a driving force behind the scenes in terms of making sure Bay Ridge comes out of the pandemic better and more prepared than ever, and he has been a huge advocate for the festival. Ben-Bay Kiwanis and Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn are both iconic Bay Ridge institutions that have great respect for the traditions of the communities in which they serve and are based. It’s so encouraging that they were all willing to support this great event and help ensure its grand return to Third Avenue.”
Brannan, who won election to Bay Ridge’s 43rd Council District seat in 2017, said he is proud to help bring back a sense of normalcy to the community.
“Bay Ridge is such a resilient community and we’ve been through so much together already,” Brannan said. “Events like the Third Avenue Festival are so important because not only do they enhance the business of the merchants along the avenue who have struggled to survive in uncertain times, but they allow local residents to come together and really showcase that unique sense of community that makes Bay Ridge so special. No matter what, we’re all in this together and it shows.”
The Kiwanis Club of Bensonhurst & Bay Ridge — founded in 1952 by late Bayside Fuel Oil Corporation owner Victor Allegretti as a means to give back to community members and organizations in need — is an affiliate of Kiwanis International and is headquartered on Third Avenue, operating out of Cebu Bar & Bistro. The Club is a new member of the Merchants of Third Avenue Civic Improvement Association, Inc. — the organization that presents the festival each year.
“We are so proud to be able to participate in and sponsor such an iconic neighborhood event,” said incoming Club President Thomas Aellis, owner of Romantique Double Diamond Limousines. “Especially since we meet regularly on Third Avenue, it was a natural fit for us to support the festival. It’s really a testament to our great and generous Club members, as this sponsorship was made possible solely through their own personal donations.”
Longtime Kiwanis Board Member Frank Naccarato, who also serves on the Board of Directors of the Federation of Italian-American Organizations of Brooklyn and the Board of Trustees of Maimonides Medical Center, spoke to this newspaper about the rich history of the Ben-Bay Kiwanis Club and Foundation.
“Service to the community has always been at the heart of Ben-Bay Kiwanis,” he said. “It is one of the area’s oldest civic organizations and its membership is made up of local residents, business owners and prominent community leaders who are all committed to serving their community with distinction and honor, working with children in need and supporting local community organizations with a shared commitment. We are so pleased to be able to raise awareness about what Ben-Bay does and to get our message out to those in need as a major supporter and sponsor of the Third Avenue Festival.”
Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn Head of School Iphigenia Romanos was equally proud to be able to be a part of this year’s event and to give back to the community Adelphi has called home since 1965.
“Adelphi — the little school of big dreams — has been a pillar of the Brooklyn community since its founding in 1863, and the Bay Ridge community in particular since the move to its iconic and historic hilltop Ridge Boulevard campus in 1965,” Romanos said.
While primarily an educational institution, Adelphi also prides itself on being an active civic organization and places a strong emphasis on service and giving.
“It’s something asked of all members of our school community and part of Adelphi’s commitment to the education of the total child,” Romanos explained. “Service plays an important role in truly preparing our students for college, career, community and life.”
Adelphi students, staff and supporters have been the heart and soul of numerous Bay Ridge civic events for many years, from volunteering at park cleanups to producing, staffing and operating the famed Haunted Halloween Walk held in Owl’s Head Park — all events organized and produced by Cafiero.
The academy’s relationship with the Merchants of Third Avenue dates back more than 20 years.
“As an active member, participant and volunteer of the Merchants of Third Avenue, Adelphi is proud to have played an important role not only in the planning and producing of this year’s festival, but in similar events both with the association and the community dating back more than 20 years,” Romanos said.
When longtime Merchants Association President Bob Howe announced that he would be stepping down in December 2020, he took steps to ensure that the association he led diligently for decades would continue, albeit with an entirely new and younger group of merchant volunteers at the helm.
Two of those dedicated merchants spoke to this newspaper about the current state of the organization, the avenue and the festival itself.
“It’s going to be an exciting day,” said Louis Coluccio, owner of ALC Italian Grocery and a Merchants of Third Avenue board member. “While it’s been difficult to stay ahead of the ever-changing guidelines and health concerns, the feedback we’ve gotten as it relates to the festival has been overwhelmingly positive. People are excited to get outdoors and welcome the fall season by celebrating this wonderful and longtime Bay Ridge tradition.”
Fellow board member Jeanine Condon, proprietor of Charmed by JLM, said she is anticipating the Oct. 3 festival to be the best one yet.
“Between all the hard work being done by Chip to secure vendors, entertainment and attractions for people to enjoy, all of the behind-the-scenes work done by Chip that no one really gets to see, and the support and assistance shown to us by our generous sponsors, this year’s festival is going to be incredible,” she said. “Third Avenue is alive and well, and the new association is dedicated to carrying on the special traditions of the past while establishing new and exciting traditions and creating a new and vibrant atmosphere on the avenue.”
While tremendous crowds are expected to fill the avenue on Oct. 3 just as in years past, Cafiero said it’s been a challenge to navigate the constantly changing health guidelines as well as misinformation and speculation being put out there by people who are not affiliated with the association or the event and, therefore, not in the know.
As festival chairman, producer and operator of the event, Cafiero said he is the sole source for information pertaining to the event he has adopted as his very own after 40-plus years at the helm.
“At times I’ve read and heard a lot of information being printed and said about the festival from people who have nothing to do with it and who have no inside information and I’ve thought to myself, ‘None of this is accurate.’ It confuses and upsets people — especially those who have been working on this event for many months,” Cafiero said. “The festival doesn’t need a boost, as some have claimed; the festival will serve as a boost to our local residents and merchants who are very much looking forward to it, just as they have for the last 48 years!”
Already there are tons of events and activities planned for the big day, and it’s up to Cafiero to place them all along the 25-block stretch. From information booths to game trailers to vendors selling everything from clothing to hot foods, the process of mapping out the festival is a painstaking one that requires months of careful attention. For Cafiero, it is a labor of love that pays off ultimately when the crowds come. That is why he is so passionate about getting the right message out, this year especially.
“I know everything there is to know about this event,” he emphasized. “My contact info is on all the printed and published materials. If you have a question, ask me. Don’t listen to scuttlebutt or rely on other sources that have nothing to do with the production of this festival and don’t have the accurate information. The festival will happen, and it will be the biggest block party in the entire city, rain or shine! I’ll see you there!”