As anyone from North Brooklyn can attest, Manhattan Avenue is a sight to behold during the holiday season. For decades, the thoroughfare’s shops and apartments have been illuminated by massive lights each December, dangling like mistletoe over the passersby.
Thanks to the efforts of local business owners and the memories of longtime residents, the tradition continued even during the pandemic.
“We have been here for a long time, and there were always lights out on Manhattan Avenue,” explained Donna Siafakas, owner of Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop at 727 Manhattan Avenue. “I remember growing up here as a little girl and always being excited to see them.”
According to Donna, the responsibility of putting up the lights was handled by two business owners for many years. However when those owners moved out of the neighborhood, the challenge of setting up the display fell to a new generation.
“At first I decided to just put up lights on the block in front of our store,” Siafakas remembered. “We paid for it out of pocket, but it was totally worth it.”
Siafakas’s commitment to the tradition caught the attention of other business on Manhattan Avenue, including Greenpoint Florist, Cato’s Army and Navy Store, and Greenpoint Toys.
Together, these establishments have paid for lights all along the busy street for the better part of a decade.
When the pandemic arrived last year, the cost of the display was too much for the businesses to bear by themselves. As a result, Siafakas and her fellow compatriots organized a GoFundMe to help foot the bill. The response was staggeringly positive, allowing the tradition to continue.
“It was very expensive to set up the lights with the pandemic,” Siafakas said, “but so many people chipped in to help.”
The group of businesses set up another GoFundMe page this year, and the response has been even better than it was the year prior. So far the fundraiser has generated over $25,000, an amount so great that there will be leftover money to use in future years.
Donations come from many different sources, including longtime residents.
“There was one lady who had moved out of the neighborhood, but who remembered the lights from her childhood and decided to give some money,” Siafakas recalled. “There was also a Navy veteran who has lived in the neighborhood for most of his life, and was so inspired by the lights he donated $1,000.”
The largest donation by far came from Sonny Mooks, a local real estate agent who owns a number of properties in Greenpoint. Mooks donated $15,000, an amount that almost single-handedly paid for this year’s display.
Per DOT regulations, the Manhattan Avenue lights will be up for 45 days. Siafakas hopes that in future years the display can stay up longer and grows more elaborate. Either way, she and her fellow business owners are extremely grateful that the tradition has continued with such great support.
“For many years Manhattan Avenue was lit up with street lights and decorations enticing shoppers and reminding the community of the beauty of Greenpoint,” said Siafakas. “Greenpoint is the heart and soul of Brooklyn, and we couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the community.”