Articles by

Jessica DiNapoli

08/24/14 9:18am
The crowd at Harvest East End, held again at McCall Wines in Cutchogue. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

The crowd at Harvest East End, held again at McCall Wines in Cutchogue. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

When asked at the food and wine bash Dan’s Harvest East End on Saturday which New York wine was his favorite, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he could not choose.

“We love our wine in New York,” Cuomo said. “I love them all equally.” (more…)

11/16/11 8:29am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Suffolk County National Bank headquarters on Second Street in Riverhead.

To prevent its stock from being taken off a public exchange, Riverhead-based Suffolk County National Bank filed an appeal Tuesday with Nasdaq, thereby gaining more than two more weeks to file required documents and avoid the delisting process.

Because the 30-branch bank has not yet officially filed first- or second-quarter results for this year, documenting its profits and losses, it received notice from Nasdaq last week about an impending delisting action, a process that removes the institution’s stock from the public market, according to a press release. But, according to Suffolk spokesperson Doug Shaw, the bank filed an appeal Tuesday, asking NASDAQ to hold off at least until a hearing on the matter is held.

As soon as the appeal was filed, the delisting was delayed until Nov. 30, Mr. Shaw said, adding that SCNB may be able to file its first- and second-quarter results before that date arrives. If they do file all the required documentation by Nov. 30 the threat of delisting.

Better?: The bank delayed filing quarterly results for the first half of 2011 while it combed through loan files to determine whether its reserves are adequate. That review has taken longer than anticipated, forcing the bank to work on re-casting quarterly income statements dating as far back as Sept. 30, 2010, according to the release.

A panel of Wall Street executives and securities industry personnel will consider SCNB’s appeal, said Art Loomis, an Albany-based bank analyst and consultant who works with a number of East End and Long Island banks. He said the delisting threat is Nasdaq’s way of saying it has given the bank long enough to sort through its problems.

“They’re saying, ‘You told us you’re working on it, but we can’t hold the door open forever,’ ” Mr. Loomis explained.

Although SCNB has come under Nasdaq scrutiny — and was told a year ago by another regulator to shore up credit management — the effect of the loan review process and the potential delisting will have a negligible effect on local personal and business account holders, Mr. Shaw said.

“People’s experience at the bank, their safety and security, and any services they’re used to getting will be unchanged,” Mr. Shaw said. “Other than changes in the market price of the stock, we can’t control that.”

But the story is different for the bank’s investors.

SCNB’s stock price has fallen by about 64 percent since the beginning of the year, from almost $26 in January to Tuesday’s close at $9.15, according to Yahoo Finance, which tracks public markets. The price hit a low Tuesday of $8.69, according to Yahoo Finance.

Mr. Loomis said the stock price rallied Tuesday , a sign that the institution may have gotten to the bottom of its troubles.

Suffolk has not yet disclosed its methodology for allocating loan loss reserves, which are tapped when currently extended loans go bad, or how it has changed the practice, Mr. Shaw said. About $433 million in commercial real estate mortgages make up the bulk of the bank’s $1 billion loan portfolio, according to preliminary unaudited third-quarter results. Its commercial, financial and agricultural loans, made primarily to small Long Island-based businesses, totaled $214 million as of Sept. 30 and made up 22 percent of the portfolio.

Although some businesses delist from public exchanges because they’re bankrupt or have failed, Mr. Loomis said delisting from Nasdaq is not catastrophic for SCNB. The current action is a sign of a different problem at the institution, he said.

Of 200 banks headquartered in New York State, only 30 are listed on a public exchange, Mr. Loomis said. The rest are traded privately over-the-counter or on pink sheets, he said.
“The actual act of delisting, even if they went to it at that point in time, would be a blemish, not fatal,” Mr. Loomis said.

11/13/11 6:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Jean and Joe Napolitano have lived in their Calverton home for nine years.

Even with community pools and clubhouses and deluxe options like stainless-steel appliances and stone countertops, mobile and manufactured homes are selling slowly — and often at a deep discount — according to local real estate brokers.

Mobile home prices mirror the rest of the East End real estate market, said John Bagshaw, owner of Bagshaw Real Estate in Riverhead. The low prices may not be great for sellers, but they’re great for potential buyers. Many of those buyers are people over 55 or young families just starting out and looking for a stepping stone to a conventional house.

“Now is a very good time to buy, because the prices are so low,” said Maryann Iacono, a broker at Little Bay Realty in Wading River. “And this is really the end of the selling time, so people are at the point where they’re disgusted, and they’re more apt to listen to a reduced price.”

Ms. Iacono recently sold a mobile home listed for $15,000 for $6,500, though she said it required a total gut renovation. The most expensive mobile home she has sold recently went for $52,000.

“It’s not a hot item,” she said. “I’ve sold three in the past two-and-a-half months, and I’ve sold them well below market value.”

Mobile home prices in Riverhead have fallen by almost 38 percent since 2008, though more are being purchased, according to data from the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. From September 2010 through October 2011, the median price of the 84 mobile homes sold was $22,500. But from January to December 2008, the median price of the 23 mobile homes sold was $36,000.

In the down market, the 500-home Glenwood Village is still expanding and working on a high-end manufactured home subdivision called Glenwood Oaks, where units start at $199,000 and top off at $259,000, said Noreen Grossklaus, the sales/property manager for the community. The company reduced the starting price to $199,000 from $225,000 to better suit the economy, she said. The homes feature special frames and roof shingles, among other features, that make them manufactured homes, said Brian Stark, vice president of Stark Properties, which owns Glenwood Village.

Ms. Grossklaus said many of the people moving into Glenwood Oaks and the older Glenwood Village section sell their conventional homes and use the equity to move into the park, sparing themselves the expense of a mortgage. But conventional homes are also selling slowly, dragging out the time it can take to make the move into a mobile home, said Ted Hoye, the president of First Credit Corp., a company outside of Albany that helps buyers secure mobile home loans.

Mr. Hoye said standard rates for late-model mobile home mortgages start at 6.99 percent with 20 percent down. Most parks require criminal background and credit checks before allowing a new owner in.

Tomasz Gibas used owner financing to purchase his mobile home in Park View Community because he had difficulty securing a mortgage. The home was $75,000, he put down $25,000 and the prior owner financed the balance, said Mr. Gibas, a landscaper with a young family. He added that the property is no longer worth what he paid, but he hopes to eventually sell it and move.

Once a manufactured home at Glenwood is assembled and a sale can happen, closing goes very quickly, within a week, Mr. Stark said. Because community residents don’t own the land their homes sit on, there’s no deed transfer — only a title transfer, he explained. There are usually no lawyers involved, saving residents some pricey closing costs.

Homeowners also pay monthly association fees, which usually cover the lease on the land, garbage pickup and snow removal. Fees are $520 per month at Oakland Ridge in Calverton and $450 per month in Park View Community in Riverside, which are both family parks.

The homes in Glenwood Oaks feature four-foot crawlspaces, paver stone driveways and energy-efficient windows and construction.

Ornate chandeliers, interior Roman-style columns and Jacuzzi baths make the units seem more like small luxury houses than factory-ordered homes.

Those features draw potential buyers into the units, but Ms. Grossklaus also sells them based on the Glenwood community itself.

She said some conventional houses in Riverhead could be bought for prices less than or comparable to those of upgraded models at Glenwood. But Glenwood also offers residents a pool, clubhouse and activities with their peers, she said.

A sense of community drew Jean Napolitano and her husband, Joe, from their home in Central Islip to the 55-and-over Calverton Meadows community just over eight years ago.

“It’s the camaraderie. Here, everyone’s nice,” she said, adding that she and her husband organize the community’s Italian festival every year. “If we weren’t here, I would’ve retired, and then what?”

Ms. Napolitano was hesitant about leaving a conventional home for a mobile one, and checked out Leisure Village in Ridge before committing to Calverton Meadows.

“My mother said ‘So, you’re living in a trailer,’ ” and I said, ‘Ma, you have got to see, it looks like a regular house,’ ” she recalled.

The board at Park View — a cooperative in which all residents own the land together — has plans to create a sense of community by building an office, playground and clubhouse on a parcel of land they own fronting Flanders Road. Cynthia McLaughlin, the new president of the community’s cooperative board, said she plans to re-finance the mortgage on the park’s land to pay for the upgrades.

“We need to open our minds to mobile homes,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “It’s not undesirable people — it’s definitely a new trend.”

10/18/11 10:00am

JESSICA DINAPOLI PHOTO | Doug Van Slkye from Ulster Savings Bank is doing booming re-finance business now.

Mortgage interest rates have hit historic lows, but not many homeowners can snag them and save money on their monthly payments by refinancing, according to mortgage brokers and bankers.

Because the Riverhead and North Fork housing markets took a hit in the recession and ensuing economic downturn, the home appraisals required for many mortgage refinancings are coming in too low and failing to meet bank requirements, said Bill Pisani, a mortgage broker at Worldwide Capital Mortgage Corp. in Bay Shore. That means many people have lost significant equity in their homes, a roadblock that stands between them and a chance to secure today’s low rates, he said.

Mr. Pisani, whose client list spans Suffolk County, said between 70 and 75 percent of his clients are denied re-fi’s.

Chad Vanderslice, a mortgage broker with Mortgage Master in Westhampton Beach, offered this example: If a couple bought a home for $500,000 a few years ago and put down 20 percent, or $100,000, they still have a mortgage of close to $400,000. But their house is no longer worth $500,000; its value could be closer to $350,000.

Since 2007, real estate values have fallen an average of about 30 percent, or between 5 and 10 percent per year, said Barry Novick, longtime North Fork real estate broker and senior vice president at the Corcoran Group in Southold.

“The East End, especially the North Fork, has followed the national trend of decline,” Mr. Novick said.

That trend means a significant loss of equity for the couple in the above example. As a result, their loan-to-value ratio, a figure showing how much of their property is financed, is close to 95 or 100 percent. That’s one measurement in which lower is better.

In worst-case scenarios, the loan-to-value ratio could be over 100 percent, meaning that the mortgage is of greater value than the property. In the slang of the day, the home is “under water.”

“That would be 100 percent financing, and they couldn’t get it,” Mr. Vanderslice said. His re-fi denial rate is lower than Mr. Pisani’s, about 40 percent.

An loan-to-value ratio of 80 percent is a number most banks feel comfortable with, Mr. Vanderslice said.

Once the loan-to-value exceeds 90 percent, homeowners have to pay personal mortgage insurance, Mr. Vanderslice said. Mr. Pisani said mortgage insurance, which is calculated into refinanced and some first mortgages, has increased in price from .55 percent of the loan total to between 1.05 percent and 1.55 percent.

In many cases, mortgage insurance is a deal-killer, knocking down or even wiping out the monthly savings refinancing can bring, Mr. Pisani said. Plus, homeowners still have to pay closing costs on a refinanced loan.

New York State has long had some of the highest closing costs in the country — about 4.5 percent of the total loan, Mr. Vanderslice said. That means a $400,000 loan could cost about $18,000 to close, he said.

Douglas Van Slyke, a mortgage consultant at Ulster Savings Bank in Riverhead, cautions that homeowners should not rely on simple formulas to determine whether or not a reworked mortgage is right for them.

“It’s a complex formula and there is no one-size-fits-all,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. If you can get a lower payment, that in and of itself is enough.”

Mortgage interest rates recently hit levels below 4 percent because of the continued economic stagnation, and turmoil in Europe has only added more downward pressure, Mr. Van Slyke said.

He said that during last year’s mortgage re-fi boom, rates were between 4.25 and 4.75 percent, and that some people who borrowed last year have returned recently to try to lower their rates again.

Mr. Van Slyke is busy with refinances, especially because the purchase and construction markets are soft.

According to Mr. Pisani, there are some options for homeowners without enough equity for a refinance, or whose loan-to-value ratio is off. One is a Federal Housing Authority Streamlined Loan, which usually does not require an appraisal, according to a government website. An appraisal can show a decline in the value of the home in recent years, pointing out eroding equity and creating a major sticking point in most re-fi’s, Mr. Pisani said.

Another option, according to Mr. Vanderslice, is a Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) loan, designed specifically for homeowners who are under water, or whose loan-to-value is greater than 105 percent. That program, like many other re-fi’s, comes with strict credit requirements for borrowers.

To Mr. Pisani, the re-fi situation is completely unfair. It seems like only longtime homeowners — older people with established careers and grown children — are able to secure lower monthly payments on a home.

“Then you have the people in the middle, the people who their bought houses five years ago, and if they put 10 percent down, it’s gone and their house is not worth what they bought it for,” he said.

10/05/11 6:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Peter Lynch of Rockville Centre carries pumpkins to the cash register as his family watches. From left: Caris, 9, Drew, 2, Evan, 6, wife Demitra and Ross.

For those looking to cash in on Halloween, October flies by. One big misstep and the annual opportunity for generating bucks could vanish like a ghost in the night.

For North Fork farmers, sometimes all they can do is pray for clear skies on October weekends, a crucial handful of days that can make or break their fall money-making season. Other Halloween-reliant businesses — such as Darkside Haunted House in Wading River and Ye Olde Party Shoppe in Southold — may depend less on the weather, but they still have to think creatively to draw crowds each year.

After 14 years of running the ever-popular Darkside Haunted House, Mike Meola said he is now basically in competition with himself. People who have been through a haunted house once usually won’t want to come back — they know the scares and the setup.

“It’s like, been there, done that, let’s try something new,” Mr. Meola said. “But, people who haven’t been here in two years are going to be like, ‘Wow.’ ”

To change things up for returning visitors, Mr. Meola this year created a new path inside that haunted barn along Route 25A. He also expanded and updated a spooky outside section that takes up a small part of Darkside’s four acres. Instead of a walk-through maze outside, Mr. Meola has created small sets that immerse visitors in haunted environments.

The Miller Place native declined to share any figures relating to his business, but he said he has to get enough people in each year, at $20 per ticket, to be able to invest in updating the barn and maze. He also has to pay for costly radio and TV advertisements and meet payroll for his 30 actors and other staff, including makeup artists and builders.

On top of it all, he has to make it worth his time, too, because he gives up his home improvement gig from August to November each year to work solely on Darkside.

“It’s insane, you have to outlay so much money,” Mr. Meola said. “You just hope you get enough people in.”

Ye Olde Party Shoppe owner Michael Liegey nearly has a monopoly on the Southold Town costume business — national chains in neighboring Riverhead are his only competitors. But internet costume sites have forced him to tweak his business. During October he keeps his store open later, until about 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m. during the week. He also offers discounts when he can.

Even with the competition, Mr. Liegey does one-third of his entire year’s sales in an approximately month-long period when he opens up his downstairs costume vault and transforms the paper and toy shop into a Halloween roadside attraction. It’s a month that has become a sort of Black Friday for party shops.

He declined to share his annual revenue but said 1,000 people can walk in and out of his store Columbus Day weekend. Another big rush comes on the Saturday before Halloween, when frenzied shoppers searching for costumes swarm his store.

Mr. Liegey’s inventory never goes bad, unlike pumpkins, a notoriously risky crop for Long Island. Ed Harbes III, of Harbes Family Farmstand in Jamesport, said the above-average rain the last two months, coupled with Long Island’s natural humidity, has made it difficult for pumpkins, which like dry conditions.

“Even though it’s a risky crop, it’s an important, well-received crop that has our highest attendance over the course of the year,” said Mr. Harbes, who tends 50 acres of pumpkins.
Pumpkin seeds are usually planted in late June, said Al Krupski, of Krupski’s Pumpkin and Vegetable Farm, who plants 70 acres of farmland in Peconic. If they’re planted too early in June, they’ll rot, but the weather is too dry to plant them in July, he said.

“Planting is a gamble,” Mr. Krupski said.

Aquebogue farmer and greenhouse owner Jim Stakey, of Stakey’s Pumpkin Farm, abandoned growing potatoes in 1977 and cauliflower in 1982 and now has 26 acres of pumpkins. Like Mr. Harbes and Mr. Krupski, he aims to offer visitors pumpkins on the vine . But, if his pumpkins rot out because of the recent long days of rain, he will have to bring in replacements from elsewhere.

“It’s not the same,” Mr. Stakey said. “It’s not what I want to offer my customers.”

Like most crops on Long Island, pumpkins are expensive to grow, coming in at about $2,000 per acre, Mr. Stakey said.

He’s starting the busy season with a price of 59 cents per pound but may have to increase it if the crop rots and he has to ship in replacements. Mr. Harbes’ pumpkins cost 55 cents a pound, while Mr. Krupski sells them at 69 cents per pound.

“Pumpkins aren’t cheap because you have to spray for fungus,” Mr. Stakey said.

This year, Mr. Stakey is adding to his component of what’s come to be known as agri-tainment — the hybrid of pumpkin patches, hayrides, roasted corn snacks and other attractions most North Fork farmers offer — by having renowned Wisconsin-based corn maze designer Scott Skelley put QR codes in his three-acre labyrinth.

QR codes are tiny barcodes visitors can scan with their smartphones. Questions relating to pumpkin farming, U.S. geography and dinosaurs can be pre-selected by teachers or parents before kids enter the maze, Mr. Stakey said.

“It’s just an add-on, but it makes it seem better,” Mr. Stakey said. “I don’t think the real competition is doing this but we’re all in this together and there’s plenty of business out there for everyone.”

09/28/11 2:41pm
bed and breakfasts

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Lee Browning, a principal of Browning Hotel Properties, in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn on Route 58 in Riverhead promoting the hotel's wine tasting tours and packages.

Weddings and wineries have helped spark a small explosion in the number of hotels on the North Fork over the last decade, especially in Riverhead Town. But what does that mean for local bed & breakfasts?

And when is enough enough?

The market is close to saturation, according to Lee Browning, owner of Route 58’s Hilton Garden Inn. But that isn’t stopping Mr. Browning, of Browning Hotel Enterprises, from building a 140-room Marriott Residence Inn next door to his Hilton.

He’s facing competition from the new Hyatt Place East End and the recently renovated, 1970s-inspired Hotel Indigo East End.

“Once you put in 140 rooms [at the Marriott], I think that’s all the area can handle, unless you have new demand-generators,” Mr. Browning said. “Then, all you do is lower occupancy when you build more hotels.”

A demand-generator — hotel speak for a new source of business — could mean an influx of corporate visitors from local firms staying at the Marriott or Hilton, Mr. Browning said. His Hilton attracts about 80 percent leisure guests, out-of-towners mainly looking to sip reds along the wine trail, and 20 percent corporate visitors, he said.

Mr. Browning does not plan to open the doors to the Marriott until 2013, hoping that by then the economy will be stronger, further increasing demand for hotel rooms in Riverhead.

Hyatt Place East End co-owner Jim Bissett said studies he completed show that the market became saturated once his 100-room hotel opened July 1. Many weekends have been sold out at the Hyatt, he said, adding that the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center next door on East Main Street helps bring in overnight guests from New York City.

“I’m not worried about it,” Mr. Bissett said of Mr. Browning’s Marriott venture. “We’ve got eight million people 60 miles away.”

Mr. Bissett said he already has 150 weddings lined up for next year, plus other events including bar and bat mitzvahs and fundraisers.

A sign of market saturation is midweek and off-season price slashing, said Mr. Browning, who also owns the Marriott Courtyard in Ronkonkoma and another in Albany.
“When they cut rates, it means a hotel can’t reinvest in itself, and then you’ve got a rundown looking hotel,” Mr. Browning said.

For him, rates are not as important as amenities — which explains why he’s investing $100,000 in a new beauty salon and spa at the Hilton, a luxury he thinks customers will pay for. The Marriott will offer similar services, he said.

The Riverhead hotels all posted comparable room prices for a midweek reservation for one person in January, according to an online search conducted last week. Rates at the Hilton ranged from $135 to $163. Indigo East End on West Main Street offered rooms from $129 to $204, while the Hyatt’s rooms were priced at $129 to $159, though that chain also offers more expensive options that include wine and tickets to the aquarium.

Prices are higher at North Fork bed and breakfasts, which are fighting the new neon signs along Route 58 for their piece of the hospitality pie.

“What it’s done is taken away our wedding business,” said Marilyn Marks, owner of Shorecrest Bed and Breakfast in Southold, who is also president of the North Fork Bed and Breakfast Association. Her rooms go for upwards of $225 per night in season, according to her website.

Before the proliferation of Riverhead hotels, wedding guests had Ms. Marks’ five rooms all booked up to six months in advance.

That has changed, but Ms. Marks said she still has a steady flow of business. She’s adapted to the new hotel landscape by stepping up her Internet marketing campaign and using search engine optimization and social media including Trip Advisor.

Two other North Fork bed and breakfasts, the Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard and Bed and Breakfast in Cutchogue and the Bego Ezair Hotel-Gallery in Greenport, welcome competition on the theory that a rising tide lifts all ships.

“If they do well, we all do well,” said Lisa Sannino.

She and her husband plan to expand what is now only a one-bedroom operation to encompass their entire house. Their current room, which goes for between $250 and $350 per night, is booked through December, she said.

The Bego Ezair Hotel-Gallery stands out from establishments offering spas or quaint, traditional architecture and décor by immersing guests in modern artwork, said owner Marijana Bego. Giant canvases hang in each of the nine rooms, while the downstairs of the historic building features a spinning steel sculpture, paintings and a café.

Ms. Bego opened her hotel to private parties this summer and will welcome the general public next summer. Rates will be set at around $180 per night, she said.

The Hotel Indigo East End felt the sting of competition this past summer, their first operating under the InterContintal Hotels Group Chain rather than Best Western. General manager Kevin Zanfardino reported a “good, not great” season.

Mr. Zanfardino attributed that to new competition brought by the Hyatt. The Indigo is trying to compete by featuring Bistro 72, their upscale restaurant, comedy nights and live music.
Despite the crowded hospitality market, Mr. Browning has confidence in his new venture and anticipates laying the Marriott’s foundation later this fall. His business plan underwent rigorous corporate scrutiny  before being approved.

“Marriott and Hilton don’t have failures,” Mr. Browning said.

09/21/11 6:40am

PHOTOS COURTESY OF STEVE BERGER When Joe and Liz Komosinski bought this 1908 Craftsman bungalow, the sale included the house’s entire contents. Mr. Komosinski grew up nearby and clearly remembers its owner, Frank Ostroski.

When Westchester County-based interior designer Barbara Horowitz saw a small, vinyl-sided cottage overlooking Peconic Bay four years ago, she knew she would buy it.

The windblown Jamesport house at the end of a dirt road wasn’t winterized, but Ms. Horowitz saw its potential as her weekend retreat.

Now, after gutting the cottage, installing heat and air conditioning and building a gourmet kitchen, she’s opening it up to the public during the third annual Historic Jamesport House Tour this Saturday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It’s my own Shangri-la on the North Fork,” Ms. Horowitz said.

Most people who step into the cottage want to stay, she said, and feel that her home is a restful, peaceful place. The cottage boasts no particular design element, only beachy, serene colors, she said.

Ms. Horowitz tore down all the walls downstairs, transforming five dark rooms into a flowing space. She also replaced the vinyl siding with cedar shake. This year, she built a patio and interior fireplace.

Her two-story cottage was built by the paternal grandparents of house tour committee member Richard Wines. It sits next door to a similar one-story cottage built by his maternal grandparents, which Mr. Wines and his wife, Nancy Gilbert, still own. That cottage is also on the 10-house tour, as is the couple’s 1836 Greek Revival residence.

The tan-and-dark-red cottage, fronting Peconic Bay, suffered a major blow during Tropical Storm Irene, when the bulkheading washed away and a tree fell on the roof. But the interior is almost perfectly preserved as when it was built in the 1920s, Ms. Gilbert said. Dainty ceramic pieces hang in the kitchen. Some bedrooms have only one wall shielding the interior from the elements. Most modern houses have two walls shielding the interiors, Ms. Gilbert said.

The main Greek Revival portion of Ms. Gilbert’s and Mr. Wines’ home — which also features a late 18th century wing and a modern addition — ties in with the focus of this year’s house tour.

Originally located on Main Road in Laurel, the house was built by Robert N. Wilbur, a whaling captain, Mr. Wines said. Mr. Wilbur helmed a whaling ship named the Washington for James Tuthill, a Jamesport founder, he said.

Mr. Tuthill also named a major Jamesport thoroughfare, Washington Avenue, after George Washington, according to a history of the hamlet provided by Mr. Wines and Ms. Gilbert. And that area is the focus of this year’s tour.

“There’s lots of interesting houses here and we’ve done other areas,” Mr. Wines said of the focus on western Jamesport. “We like to keep the tours relatively compact so people can walk.”

Proceeds from ticket sales for the tour, as in years past, will support the Jamesport Meeting House Preservation Trust, a nonprofit organization that rehabilitated the 1731 structure on Main Road, which is rented out for weddings and other community events.

Revolutionary War re-enactor Nathan Corwin will lead costumed tours of the Meeting House on Saturday. One of Mr. Corwin’s ancestors signed the 1731 deed for the Meeting House, according to Mr. Wines.

A partially restored one-room schoolhouse, moved to the Wines-Gilbert property from Northville in 1992, will serve as a gallery for an art exhibit during Saturday’s event. Twelve local artists will hang their work on the walls of the 1872 structure, which the couple uses for Thanksgiving dinners, parties and some community meetings, Ms. Gilbert said.

Over time, Washington Avenue residents became predominantly Polish, according to the couple’s Jamesport history. In 1930, 70 percent of the homes along the street were owned by first- or second-generation Polish immigrants.

In May 2010, Joe and Liz Komosinski bought a Polish family’s Washington Avenue home, a Craftsman on property lined with well-trimmed evergreen trees, shrubs and hedges. Mr. Komosinski, a descendent of Polish immigrants who settled on the North Fork, grew up on Washington Avenue and vividly recalls the Craftsman structure, formerly occupied by the late Frank Ostroski. He jumped at the chance to own a part of his childhood memories.

“I admired the house,” Mr. Komosinski said. “I remember Frank smoking a pipe, with his hedge clippers, wearing khakis.”

When the Komosinskis bought the home, they also received all of its contents, from furniture to crystal chandeliers to a chalkboard with a 50-year-old note still intact.

In the spirit of the original homeowners — who saved everything, Mr. Komosinski said — the couple repurposed many of the remaining personal items. But they did a major overhaul in the kitchen, which had linoleum floors and a Formica-sided chimney, Mr. Komosinski said.

To warm up the cavernous downstairs space, Ms. Komosinski hung bright floral artwork painted by her mother. A painting created by Mr. Ostroski during overseas duty in the Merchant Marine is on display in another room.

“We’ve made the home ours,” Ms. Komosinski said.

09/12/11 4:48pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Victor Ozeri at the front door of his Aquebogue home with his cherished 10-ton stone lions which came from China. The granite steps to the door are inscribed with the lyrics to the Bob Dylan song 'Forever Young'.

If Victor Ozeri had to sell one of his houses — a situation the handbag magnate will likely never face — it would be his four-bedroom Manhattan penthouse.

His nearly-finished 6,000-square-foot Aquebogue mansion on the water is the Ozeri family’s for keeps.

And that’s no secret.

“May this place serve as a sanctuary for our children’s children and their many descendents,” reads a plaque near the house’s front door, flanked on either side by 1 1/2-ton Chinese lions. He named each of the three structures that make up Victorville by the Sea for his biological children, and christened a 1967 Airstream land yacht called “Lawgaw’s Lair” for his adopted Ethiopian son. His adopted Ethiopian daughter has her own houseboat, made from a FEMA trailer.

There was a road that was long and winding that led to Victorville by the Sea, and one that was obstructed by red tape — Mr. Ozeri went through a lengthy permitting process after buying the property in 2006.

But the quest for a place to truly call home was longer than that for the international businessman and philanthropist.


Mr. Ozeri, who dropped out of high school, has been on the move since he was a cabbie in Manhattan — and one of his fares helped launch his business career.

In pursuit of a hefty $20 tip in 1981, he drove the largest handbag and schoolbag maker in the U.S. to John F. Kennedy airport. Mr. Ozeri got his big tip, but also an offer to become the man’s driver. Six months later, the fare-turned-employer asked Mr. Ozeri to travel to China for two months to investigate handbag factories.

The Brooklyn native stayed in the communist country for 10 years.

After returning to the U.S., Mr. Ozeri started his own handbag design and manufacturing company, Interasian Resources. He served as CEO until he sold it three years ago to spend more time with his family. He currently sits on the company’s board of directors.

In his travels he amassed an enormous collection of art and historical artifacts that now help adorn his Aquebogue property, including a zinc frieze from Coney Island, a winged cherub from the Drake Hotel in Manhattan and posters and pig-barn doors from China. Before building Victorville, Mr. Ozeri kept the pieces in warehouses in New York City and China.

“I put together an extraordinary collection,” Mr. Ozeri said. “I knew I would build my own home.”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | In the 'China Club' in the Cabana, a Chinese wedding bedroom.

Five years ago, waiting in line for bagels, he saw a real estate listing for what appeared to be the perfect spot for his dream house. The advertisement described a one-acre property with 11 boat slips in Aquebogue.

But he was skeptical about making the transition from the Hamptons to the North Fork.

“It may as well have been Vermont,” he said.

A drive along Main Road showed him the North Fork could indeed be his new home. The property, which already had a small one-story house and guesthouse for a total of 2,200 square feet, suited his purposes.

He started construction on Victorville on Oct. 15, 2010, acting as general contractor for the project and hiring only local labor. With the help of framer Kevin Danowski of Intune Construction, Mr. Ozeri built up from the pre-existing structure.

Mr. Ozeri said Mr. Danowski  transformed the architect’s layout of the second story in one afternoon, and on the back of a napkin.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The dock out back.

“There was too much wasted space,” Mr. Danowski said of the first design for Victorville. “We made sure it was structurally sound.”

Allen Tooker, who owns Masonry Consulting Services, worked on the elaborate Colorado ledge stone siding.

“It was very large, of course,” Mr. Tooker said about the project. “It was very trying with a lot of logistics, and numbers, but it was rewarding. It came out pretty good.”

None of the three buildings is square, but Mr. Tooker said his masonry work makes them appear that way.

“He instilled a vision in me and led the effort to create a house that felt like it came out of Tuscany,” Mr. Ozeri said.

Mr. Ozeri designed much of Victorville’s interior, too. The idea for a striped kitchen ceiling wall came to him during a dream about the circus, and the “Summer of Love” room, complete with waterbed, features pictures of a bearded Mr. Ozeri at Woodstock.

Victorville’s foyer features a chandelier on a “genie lift,” said Mr. Ozeri’s electrician, Allen Hubbard, of Allen Hubbard Electrical Contracting. The lift allows the chandelier to be lowered to the ground for cleaning.

“It’s not something you do every day,” Mr. Hubbard said. “I’ve been in business 17 years, and this is the fifth I’ve installed.”

Victorville may be nearing completion, but Mr. Ozeri dreams of expanding his seaside empire with a champagne and oyster bar. He is considering buying a nearby waterfront property and setting up 14 aqua-lodges in FEMA trailers, houseboats similar to Dumoze’s Den. He would name it the “Flotel.”

“It’s a fantasy,” Mr. Ozeri said.

But, like the Victorville vision Mr. Ozeri harbored for so many years, the “Flotel” could become reality, too.

09/04/11 7:34am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Trimbles of Corchaug owners Anne Trimble, left, and Nancy Leskody with a sample of Crape Myrtle, one of the plants they suggest for fall.

There’s more to autumn gardening than sprucing up an otherwise withering flower bed or border with a few chrysanthemums.

Many gardeners, thinking the growing season ends come Labor Day, abandon colorful, fragrant blooms for traditional autumn decorations such as pumpkins, hay bales and corn stalks, said Nancy Leskody, co-owner of Trimble’s of Corchaug Nursery on Main Road in Cutchogue.

It’s a habit that dates back to the colonial era, when early American settlers planted in the spring to take advantage of the rain and harvested crops in September.

But a wealth of flowers — including Montauk daisies, asters and sedum autumn joy — bloom bright and big this month. In addition, gardeners say usually deer-resistant ornamental grasses and trees can go a long way toward beautifying a landscape as the season changes.

Trimble’s co-owner Anne Trimble suggests planting Swiss chard, cabbage, kale and other leafy vegetables to enhance a fall garden.

“It’s all about texture,” she said.

The fall is also a good time to plant trees other than beech and oak, said Jim Warner of Warner’s Nursery & Garden Shop, a 500-acre farm in Calverton. Tree tops give a final colorful show and but the roots are expanding, he said.

One of Mr. Warner’s favorite fall trees is the autumn flowering cherry, which has small, light-pink blooms that turn an orangey-red as the season progresses. The trees can grow as high as 18 to 20 feet tall, which is still small for a tree, Mr. Warner said.

Flowering pears, Japanese maples and lindens have bold fall colors ranging from garnet to reddish mahogany, he added. Japanese maples are on the smaller side, only about six to eight feet high, but are 10 to 12 feet wide. Lindens, a big shade tree, grow as high as 45 feet.

Mature tree size comes into play when envisioning and planting a garden.

“You have to think about what shape it’s going to get, and place it accordingly,” Mr. Warner said.

Marilyn Anne Marks, a landscape designer who owns the Shorecrest Bed & Breakfast in Southold, maintains a 20-foot by 200-foot garden at her inn, plus additional shade gardens and other flower beds. Tending the gardens is a chore during the summer, but keeps the property lush and colorful into the fall.

“It’s designed to bloom at any given point of the year,” Ms. Marks said.

Montauk daisies, goldenrod and rudbeckia, all perennials, are reaching full bloom right about now, she said.

Relying on such long-lasting flowers is one of her tricks of the trade. They come back year after year, helping her garden, built in 2006, require less maintenance. She also intersperses the perennials with annuals that flower until the fall’s first frost.

“I have giant verbena, and a lot of container plantings,” she said, adding that she also uses jasmine and passion vine.

To add more low-maintenance interest to her garden, Ms. Marks breaks with tradition. Rather than focusing on flowers, she adds visual interest with seed heads and dried hydrangea on the branch. When she took ownership of Shorecrest, one of the only flowers in the garden was a huge hydrangea that had been there since the 1920s.

“They start out bright blue, with giant pompon heads, almost as big as a soccer ball,” Ms. Marks said. “Then they fade to a paler color, with pink tinges, and some will go greenish or a deep pink.”

She also incorporates hydrangea paniculata, which is more treelike than its cousin, in her garden. It’s just starting to bloom, she said.

Tall, spiky agastache, a perennial herb, also blooms in the fall and adds depth and color to the back of a fall flower bed, said Alexandra Andon, a landscape designer at Timothy Coffey Landscape Contractors in Southold. The herb can grow almost five feet tall.

“It has an interesting lemony-scented leaf,” she said, adding that she’s also noticed Japanese anemones are underused in fall gardens. The anemones can be staked to grow tall or left to trail along the ground.

Ms. Andon also recommends colchicum, an autumn bulb that grows to only a few inches tall.

The fall can also be a time to prepare for winter landscapes. Ms. Trimble recommends a red twig dogwood, green and white during the growing season with bright red stems in the winter. It looks “spectacular in a snowstorm,” she said.

“The challenge is to realize that you can still plant,” Ms. Leskody said. “The sun is warm, and the ground is warm, and there’s a long growing season here.”

08/31/11 4:50am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Perry Conklin cuts up wood from a fallen limb in front of his Main Road home in Aquebogue Sunday afternoon.

Long Island property owners struck insurance gold when Hurricane Irene deteriorated into a tropical storm on its way up the coast. If the storm had remained a Category 1 hurricane, many homeowners would have had to shell out deductibles ranging from 2 to 5 percent of their home’s value, said John Brisotti of Brisotti & Silkworth in Mattituck.

“Now, it certainly has worked to their benefit,” he said.

Under hurricane deductible provisions, a home valued at $500,000 would carry a deductible of between $10,000 and $25,000. But since the storm wasn’t that bad, the standard wind damage protection kicks in, and that usually carries much lower deductibles of $500 to $1,000, Mr. Brisotti said.

Members of Allstate’s catastrophe team arrived at Elizabeth Hanlon’s Riverhead office Monday afternoon, ready to deal with a mountain of claims for property damage from Irene.

“The cavalry is here,” Ms. Hanlon said when a reporter called the offices Monday.

She said Allstate’s team will mainly process the most common post-Irene damage claims, which stem from trees falling on homes, sheds, fences and valuable lawn furniture, most of which should be covered under wind damage provisions in most homeowners’ insurance policies, she said.

The process for documenting damage and submitting a claim is important to receiving a settlement.

Ms. Hanlon recommends that homeowners take numerous pictures of the damage and call in a tree expert to assess the situation.
“[Homeowners] have to protect their homes from further damage, too,” she said. “So, if something lands on their house and they have a big gaping hole in the house, they have to get someone there to remove the tree and cover the roof damage up.”

If the tree or debris has no potential to cause further damage, leave it until a claims adjuster arrives, said Joseph Townsend of the Neefus Stype Agency, which has locations in Southold and Aquebogue. He cautioned homeowners against using uninsured servicepeople and said insurance companies will generally pay for work that prevents further damage.

“One thing you have to watch out for, because the companies are just going to pay the prevailing rate, is that you don’t overpay,” Mr. Townsend said. “People will gouge at times like this. The insurance company won’t pay more than the general cost of that service.”

Many homeowners’ policies do not cover tree removal but some companies will chip in with a reimbursement check to “be the good guys,” Mr. Townsend said.

“So definitely save your receipts,” he said, adding that companies may broaden their coverage post-tropical storm or hurricane. And, if the insurance route fails, saved receipts documenting storm cleanup and repair could always be claimed on taxes as uninsured losses, he said.

Automotive claims relating to fallen tree and limb damage and flooding have also spiked since Irene hit, Ms. Hanlon said. She has also received claims for food spoilage, but the deductible on that alone usually exceeds the value of the food, she said.

One claim missing from the bunch? Flood damage. Ms. Hanlon has a few flood damage claims, but not many. Flood insurance is provided by the federal government through independent agents, she said.

Allstate is prioritizing claims based on their severity and promises a five-day turnaround on most, Ms. Hanlon said. Some will be able to be settled via telephone alone, she said.

Fear of rate hikes should not deter homeowners from making claims, Mr. Brisotti said. Unlike car insurance, one claim will not directly impact premiums.

Long Islanders will also not see a mass hike in premiums, a scenario that occurred after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Insurance companies allow for the possibility of a disaster when they set premiums, so the claims filed this time around should not change monthly bills, he said.

“But, I suppose it could, if we have another storm like this in the near future,” he said. “Then there’s a better chance.”

Although homeowners generally will pay lower deductibles this time around, insurance companies are not hurting from helping pay for Irene damage, Mr. Brisotti said. If Irene had made landfall as a Category 2 storm, which was predicted at one point, homeowners would have had to pay higher deductibles. But the damage from a stronger storm would have been much greater and more widespread, he said. Insurance companies would be paying for extremely costly catastrophic damage like washed away homes rather than fallen trees, he said.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said.

Unlike Ms. Hanlon’s bulked-up Roanoke Avenue office, Mr. Brisotti and Mr. Townsend reported a slower pace of phone calls. They expect another round of claims after second-home owners arrive on the North Fork for Labor Day weekend, and when power and Internet service are restored to more homes.

“It’s been steady but not nearly what it was for Gloria,” Mr. Brisotti said, recalling the 1985 hurricane, to which Irene had been initially compared. “I remember that, it was unbelievable. It was all hands on deck.”