A giddy, street festival atmosphere is building on a hot and sunny June Saturday morning at the north end of Woodcleft Avenue in Freeport. A crowd gathers. There’s a sense of elation as Mayor Robert T. Kennedy is joined by a swarm of elected officials. A red ribbon is cut, and a burst of confetti is fired into the air. Freeport’s historic Nautical Mile is celebrating its rebirth.
Just months earlier, the prospects for a comeback for the famed summer destination appeared grim. Home to dozens of seafood restaurants, crab shacks, fish markets, boutiques and bars, the Nautical Mile was devastated when Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast on October 29. The Nautical Mile sits on the Woodcleft Canal, which served as the largest working waterfront on the south shore of Long Island at the end of the 19th century. The storm surge flooded and severely damaged most businesses, and whole segments of docks were lifted and crumpled by the strength of the storm. An electrical fire leveled one restaurant and destroyed the decades-old Fiore Brothers Fish Market.
At the close of 2012, the Nautical Mile appeared battered and abandoned, and piles of broken furniture and refuse still littered the avenue. Jerry Bracco, owner of Captain Ben’s Fish Market and Bracco’s Clam and Oyster Bar declared, “The Nautical Mile has been set back 50 years in time.”
But, as the 2013 Nautical Mile Festival commenced on June 1, many revitalized businesses and patrons were asking “Sandy who?” Nearly 90 percent of the shops and restaurants in the maritime center are now restored and ready to welcome tourists. Mayor Kennedy attributed the surge after the storm to the grit and determination of small business owners, eliminating red tape and a sense of teamwork between village officials, contractors and public utilities.
For the festival, business owners seemed determined to demonstrate their resilience and to greet the public with a bounty of fresh seafood and a smile.
“There’s a sense of relief that everybody is coming back to the Mile, they haven’t forgotten us, and all the hard work that we’ve put in for the past six or seven months is paying off,” said Ilona Jagnow, proprietor of the shops at Crow’s Nest Cove and Otto’s Sea Grill, which have occupied the Nautical Mile for 85 years.
Kevin Halton and Tony Terzulli of Two Cousins Fish Market set up an outdoor seafood buffet on their dock where hungry patrons were devouring lobster rolls, shrimp salad and calamari and watching as charter cruises glided along the canal. Folks were lining up at Pip’s Ice Cream Parlor for generous double scoops of black cherry and mint ice cream. Even those who had not fully completed repairs were moving forward. The Bamboo Bar & Grill was still wrapped in Tyvek, but the staff was scurrying to prepare for an influx of afternoon patrons.
Ilona Jagnow was confidant patrons would return to Woodcleft Avenue for the food. “You can find a variety of different flavors here on the Nautical Mile in one stretch, so whatever you’re looking for is right here in Freeport,” she said. “It’s a multi-cultural, multi-flavorful taste of Long Island, and it’s the best thing we have to offer.”