On this Saturday afternoon, downtown Riverhead was exactly the place we all want it to be. For a few hours that day, Main Street happily co-existed with Route 58 and the streets came alive and the naysayers were silenced and all was right with the world. On Saturday, from morning till late, the weather was bright and the skies were golden and people pushed strollers, and neighbors met neighbors and they stopped and they talked and they reminisced and they laughed as they hopped from shop to shop in a downtown that had for a brief shining moment come alive with the promise of spring in winter.
On Saturday, it worked as it used to, when shops cross-pollinated and people stayed downtown to enjoy lunch as a family and sip coffee and walk in the warmth of a shiny day that pushed the gray away. On this Saturday, downtown hosted the Riverhead Indoor Farmer’s Market and to see it in action was a sight to behold.
In Riverhead we can always find much to complain about but for a few hours on Saturday all was right with the world. Downtown has been up and downtown’s been down and we certainly have been swimming against the tide. So, we should enjoy these special moments when the current is with us and we can relax and enjoy our time in the sun. In the last few years, we’ve hosted fireworks on the river and we’ve shared belly laughs at the cardboard boat races. We’ve basked in the wholesome goodness of parades down Main Street with antique cars and fire trucks and brass bands and children marching proudly to the applause of all. We’ve had Mardi Gras and chalk on our sidewalks and Santa-by-boat and bonfires and cookies and cocoa. Main Street has hummed and its buzzed with the rich beat of the Blues Fest and the snap, crackle pop of the lighting of the Suffolk Theater marquee. Main Street has seen the sun rise over the river to touch the earth and warm the soil of the community garden and the last few years have seen shops open as families invest and homestead, waiting for it to all come alive again.
On Saturday, it did and downtown seemed “cool” and the place to be, as locals mingled with crew necks from Bridgehampton on streets come alive in the thaw. Anthony Meras made loads of toast and Liz Strebel ran to market for whipped cream and supplies and Michael and Danielle shouted prices across their large store. The coffee poured quickly and the register rang while families with dogs peeked in windows and talked about what downtown used to be like and how it could all come alive again.
When it was over at the market the vendors had been picked clean. The tables had been emptied, the last sample had been sampled and like farmers done with picking, Riverhead could look back with pride at its harvest and a job well done and look forward to it happening again. Believe me, downtown’s not perfect; there’s still too many missing teeth in its smile. We’re by no means a fresh-scrubbed downtown. We don’t have Sag Harbor swagger. Surely there is no shortage of those who say “no” but on this one day it all came together and we were the place we have long hoped to be.
So here’s to Ray Pickersgill and Holly Browder and Jack Wade and “the Greek” and all the rest who banged nails and worked hard because they believe. Here’s to all who for one blink of an eye showed us a downtown the way we know it can be.
As I left the market, I high-fived John Stefans, then tickled a child and I rode the crowd like a wave to the door. Caught in the hubbub I beamed with pride in my town and found myself pinned against a woman toting her four bags of cheese. As our eyes met she could have broken my good mood but she didn’t, when she barked, “This is crazy…is it always like this”? I assured her “No, downtown’s never like this” and as we parted she said with a sneer, “I’m going home for a nap!”…and as I walked away from her I smiled and thought about how downtown had just awoken from one.
Anthony Coates is a former member of the Riverhead BID Management Association board of directors. He lives in Riverhead.
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