Downtown Riverhead’s Unstoppable Rebirth

Long Island Aquarium
Long Island Aquarium, Tom Kochie

They say that “you know you’re from Long Island when…” you can properly pronounce names like “Quogue,” “Cutchogue” and “Aquebogue.” But the ease of saying “Riverhead” makes it much simpler to claim a Long Island birthright. What’s more, even wanna-be Islandas can discern the town’s importance just from its name: Located at the head of the Peconic River, Riverhead is the central hub between the two Forks. And, as has been the trend in recent years, Main Street Riverhead is on the rise.

Key to bringing the town back to life has been the Riverhead Business Improvement District (BID), which was formed in 1991 in an effort to foster downtown revitalization.

“The goal of the business improvement district is to bring people downtown, and in the last three years in particular, we’ve accomplished that,” says current BID President Ray Pickersgrill. Pickersgrill also owns the Robert James Salon on Main Street, and he has served as BID Management Association President since April 2010.

The BID is a special taxing district wherein taxes are levied on affected properties, and Pickersgrill uses the money collected to spur economic development in the area. Pickersgrill and the BID have been instrumental in filling abandoned downtown spaces, and they have been doing so in increasing numbers, as Pickersgrill points out that there are more restaurants on Main Street Riverhead than there are on Main Street Patchogue.

“And there are more to come,” he knowingly remarks.

In addition to an increase in the number of businesses, essential to garnering foot traffic is the variety of BID-sponsored events that bring people downtown. You have to be a unique operation to thrive on a Main Street, Pickersgrill comments, and in the same vein, the BID’s events are not of the cookie cutter variety.

“We look for events that have staying power,” says Pickersgrill. “The Riverhead triathlon was very successful—we’ve already set next year’s date at June 30, and we anticipate about 1,000 participants.”

Another popular Riverhead event is the cardboard boat race, which is held at the end of June and requires participants to paddle down the Peconic using an appropriately constructed flotation device made of only cardboard and duct tape.

Looking ahead, this year’s holiday entertainment will be amped up with ice sculptors expected to join in a daylong celebration, as Santa arrives downtown via a boat.

The festive atmosphere that has recently hugged downtown stands in stark contrast to Main Street’s long-blighted history, as past development progressed in surrounding malls and shopping centers, and traffic was drawn away from the town center.

“You’re part of a community—that’s the draw and the difference between Main Street and a strip mall,” explains Pickersgrill. Downtown is anchored by the Hyatt Place Hotel at Atlantis and the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center.

“The Hyatt definitely helps to feed Main Street with its customers,” says Pickersgrill. “And Riverhead will only get more popular once the courts open to full capacity—they’re undergoing renovation now.”

The owner and operator of the Robert James Salon on Main Street, Pickersgrill was one of the first in the new wave of businesses to come to downtown. The salon’s focus on creating an inviting, family-friendly atmosphere reflects the ideology that has come to define downtown.

Business drives business, and more and more people drive to Main Street Riverhead!

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