Donna Siafakas, the owner of Peter Pan Donuts & Pastry Shop (727 Manhattan Ave.) and Nick Giannios, owner of The Greenpoint Floral Company (703 Manhattan Ave.) are two long-time local residents and successful Manhattan Avenue merchants who are trying to give back the community at holiday time, but they’re learning that things ain’t the way they used to be.
Siafakas loved the holiday lights that used to signal the start of every holiday season on Manhattan Avenue. She related to me how local merchants used to all chip in and collect money for the lights as a thank you to customers who supported local businesses. In those days, Manhattan Avenue business owners were locals with families and had deep ties to the community. Years ago a civic minded local Jewish merchant used to organize the lighting drive and collected the money, which most local store owners were only to happy to contribute.
Giannos and Siafakos have tried to keep the tradition alive, but times have changed and so has the willingness of merchants to fund the holiday lights. Siafakas said that she was shocked by the resistance to contributing for the avenue lights. She does not want local shoppers to chip in, and feels that it’s a way for store owners to show their love for the community; but fewer than half the businesses have contributed so far, and some shop owners told her outright that they would not contribute because they did not celebrate the holiday season.Another group that has not ponied up money are many of the corporate chains that have grown so quickly in the last few years. Siafakas expressed frustration in particular with Rite Aid, which has two Manhattan Avenue stores, but has contributed nothing towards the lighting effort, despite taking in huge local profits. Some local banks also said that they needed clearance from their corporate management before donating. Siafakas and Giannos are reaching into their own pockets to fund the lights and it is sad that their efforts are meeting with such resistance. Hopefully, the merchants will find the money for the lights, but collecting the funds has shown these civic-minded merchants the new reality of Greenpoint business.