Xmas Lights back in Allerton

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Allerton Avenue is lighting its way out of the shadows.

If you’re strolling down the commercial strip between Bronx Park East and Laconia Avenue this holiday season, look up: you’ll see a bit of local history being made.

Christmas lights were set to go up on the buzzing stretch for the first time in over a decade on Thursday Dec. 5, thanks to a Santa Claus-sized donation from local healthcare juggernaut Centerlight.

More than just lights

“We just wanted to boost the morale on this great street,” said Gene DeFrancis, president of the Allerton International Merchants (AIM), an organization started last year that aims to bond local businesses.

But these lights bring more than mere Christmas cheer to Allerton. They also signal that the neighborhood is stepping out of Morris Park’s shadow to become a destination in its own right, local business owners said.

“This was a great neighborhood back when I was a kid, but it’s spiraled out of control,” DeFrancis said. “We’ve had enough.”

The lights, identical to those draped over the wires on Morris Park Avenue, ring in at $8,000 from vendor New York Christmas. Centerlight, which operates a nursing home and rehab center on the Allerton strip, jumped at the chance to chip in $5,000 toward the lights.

Chipping in

“The people in our facilities and in the neighborhood appreciate the festivity, so we made room in our budget,” said James O’Neill, director of Community Outreach at the center.

Sonny Vataj of Exit Realty fronted the other $3000. Now AIM, the business association, hopes that local shops will chip in to repay Vataj and contribute toward the additional $600 electric bill.

“We know that a lot of people are struggling, but we’re trying to convince them that paying is worth it,” DeFrancis said.

Vataj, who guaranteed the lights by vouching for the extra $3,000, said that he expects the other businesses will hop on board and pitch in once they see the lights welcoming visitors to the shopping strip.

Local shops that do pay toward the lights will receive an honorary sticker in their window.

“I am confident that I’ll get the money back,” he said. “ And I’ll be going door to door until I do.”

The merchant association has endured a bit of skepticism so far. The avenue’s previous merchant group disbanded in the late 90s. The nabe has since fallen into disrepair, local business owners said.

Trash piled up on the street. The avenue became less appealing for pedestrians. And the beloved Christmas lights went out.

“Having no lights sends the message to the public that we don’t care how we are seen,” said Sal Farenga, co-owner of the Farenga Brothers funeral home on Allerton and Radcliff Avenues.

Ten years later, the lights are set to be back and as bright as ever.

Updated 12:09 pm, December 9, 2013
Ben Kochman can be reached via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394
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