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Oyster Festival 2009 Promises to Be Great Community Event

A perfect way to tell the story of this year’s Oyster Festival 2009 is to look at the photograph taken at the conclusion of the Oyster Festival Preview press conference on Aug. 25, and note the movers and shakers lined up along the sea wall. They are the people bringing you the 26th annual Oyster Fest, that will take place Oct. 17 and 18.

Kneeling in front representing the entertainment were: two of the Kings of the Coast pirates, Jeff Heyman and Thomas McKenna; and two Air Dogs with their handlers. Standing in the rear were: Pirate King Thomas Stanisci; Len Rothberg, Rotarian and Oyster Festival entertainment manager; Rotary President Jim Werner; Oyster Festival co-chairs Kristen Reardon and Paul Rosen; Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto; Town Clerk Steve Labriola – who helps with all the permits needed for the street fair; Cindy Smith, Oyster Festival promoter; NYS Senator Carl Marcellino who provides the advertising signage along Route 106; Tony Valpolicello, Sr., vice president of Bank of America, the major sponsor; and Jeff Clark of Cablevision, there celebrating the company’s 20th year of sponsorship; and Christine Albanese of the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Society holding a red-tailed hawk.

Representing Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who arrived later, Town Clerk Steve Labriola said how important the Oyster Festival is to the township. He said, “It acts like a showcase for the Town of Oyster Bay to the tri-state area,” with people attracted to the festival that glorifies the oyster.

The town supplies many of the support services needed for the festival to run efficiently including the trucks to carry off the waste, as well as Mr. Labriola’s office, which processes the many permits needed for the nonprofits to sell food on the street.

Rotarian, NYS Senator Carl Marcellino thanked the Rotary Club of Oyster Bay and the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce who together showcase the not-for-profit groups in the area with this fundraiser for the community. Rotary has been in charge of the 26-year-old festival since 2001. “Rotary funnels the money it earns back into the community. The money stays in the community. And our thanks go to the sponsors. Those organizations are supporting our cause – to bring money back into the community,” he said.

Tony Volpicello, Sr., vice president of Bank of America, the premier sponsor, said, “I’ve worked at the Oyster Festival for two years. It’s exhilarating and fulfilling; and we get the opportunity of working for our community; and to meet our customers – and to make new customers. I’m looking forward to a great October event.”

Rotary President Jim Werner said, “The Oyster Festival was founded for the nonprofits to operate all the food and drink booths. There is no food duplication in the foods served. [Thanks to the efforts of Food Court Chair Beverly Zembko.] Many smaller groups make enough to support their projects for the year,” he added.

Rotarians Paul Rosen and Kristen Reardon are co-chairs of the festival. “There are about 12 volunteers who are responsible for the Oyster Festival meet for one hour a month for 10 to 11 months to create the event that welcomes 200,000 people over the two-day festival. They are champions of making things happen,” said Mr. Werner.

Cindy Smith, festival promoter, added that she is in awe of the way the community comes together to create the Oyster Bay festival. Not only Rotary but members in the larger community come out and help. She said, “It’s such an incredible community effort. I’ve never seen anything like it. Last year we were really pleased to be able to say – everything runs so well, and just from a core of people sitting around a table!” A few years ago, Ms. Smith arranged for a two-hour session with food court nonprofits to learn how to partner with vendors, how to price their wares and how to run the cash register line for example. They appreciate the money it generates and they happily spend it.

Mr. Werner thanked the many sponsors that support the services needed to make the festival run smoothly. He said, “Rotary makes its money from their oysters on the half shell booth; this year they are adding mussels from the Mill Creek Tavern in Bayville; and the third source of Rotary’s funds come from the Newton Shows carnival rides and midway. Those are the areas where Rotary gets its philanthropic funds that it gives back to the community.” Last year that came to about $60,000 that benefited the community.

Len Rothberg, entertainment manager, said this year besides the Wild West Show; Stout, a homegrown band – they are bringing the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center bird exhibits for greater exposure on the waterfront area. Mel Warren will again fill two and a half tents with craftspeople selling their wares. The pirates will again provide ongoing festival entertainment.

Whole Foods will sponsor their Best in the Food Court contest. Let’s see if the Mill Neck Rod and Gun Club win for their fried oysters again.

Jeff Clark of Cablevision was proud to say this was the company’s 20th year of sponsorship at the festival.

Mr. Rothenberg said the Air Dogs will be coming back to perform their leaps into water and Scoobee Doo, the cartoon character dog, will be making an appearance. Scoobee Doo is working on a movie that is a prequel to the TV series in which he starred.

Jennifer Sappell, OF committee member, has been working on bringing new tall ships to the festival. This year, the Clipper City, a square rigger out of the South Street Seaport will be the star. A local star returning for the first time to the Jakobson Pier is the Cornell, which was made at the shipyard in 1950. Local residents who worked at the shipyard – at its heyday it had about 400 workers – will want to visit the ship.

A new feature is the expansion of LIRR connections to the festival. “We said we wanted more,” said Mr. Rothberg, “And now we are linked to the Port Jefferson branch which will meet the shuttle buses at Syosset. Hopefully that will alleviate some of the traffic on Route 106.”

Cindy Smith, festival promoter, has introduced a free Twitter account available to festival goers to keep them up to the minute on what is happening at the weekend event including contests and sponsor’s offers.