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Faces of the Oyster Festival: September 24, 2010

On Audrey Avenue, Back Where It All Began!

The third of a series on the people who make the Oyster Festival happen.

The Oyster Festival began on Audrey Avenue 27 years ago and although the “feast” has since moved to the waterfront, activity on the thoroughfare has never slackened the third weekend of October.

Next month nearly 100 vendors, ranging from local restaurants to out-of-town antique dealers, will again stake out space downtown, turning the avenue into a lively weekend market with a street-fair vibe. Elias Pekale Shows, well known on Long Island, will sell memorabilia and memorable knick-knacks out of bins. Painters associated with local art galleries will offer demonstrations. Neighborhood rock ‘n’ rollers will plug in their amps and wail. Entertainers will stilt-walk, sand-painters will set up and children will laugh.

Mark Fox, the restaurateur behind Canterbury Ales, handles Audrey Avenue administrative responsibilities for the festival for the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce. The Oyster Bay Rotary Club helps fund the activities, synchronizing their efforts through Mr. Fox.

He is now being assisted by chamber member Sally Robilotto. For several years Paige Dawson has been working with Mark on the project.

Earlier this year the Rotary assigned Gail Speranza, longtime Food Court co-chair as well as a Chamber member, to succeed Ms. Dawson as its liaison. Ms. Dawson is planning a household move to Connecticut.

Kristin Reardon, festival co-chair has also been contributing to the work of the liaison team, from the Rotary side.

“Audrey Avenue is a great introduction to the Festival, as thousands of people experience it on their way to the waterfront, or simply on its own,” Mr. Fox said. “It’s small and cozy and many local merchants, restaurants and other business owners are involved. So are nonprofit organizations. Audrey Avenue gives you a real feeling of being in Oyster Bay.”

Adds Ms. Speranza: “Audrey Avenue is a great entrance to the Oyster Festival.”

The two bring an array of complimentary skills to the task of coordinating the two adjoining events.

Mr. Fox, 50, was born in Rockville Centre and now lives in Plainview. He bought the eatery in 1985 and is involved in all aspects of the business including advertising, purchasing, tending bar and seating customers.

“I even cook a little,” he said.

Mr. Fox and his wife Paula live in Plainview, where they have raised two children, the younger starting college this fall. By offering their restaurant and cuisine for fundraising, the Foxes support more than two dozen local organizations including the WaterFront Center; Youth and Family Counseling of Oyster Bay-East Norwich; the Oyster Bay Jewish Center; Raynham Hall Museum; the Oyster Bay Historical Society; Doubleday Babcock Senior Center; and several schools, plus various groups and causes.

Last year he invited the Rotary Club’s Festival Committee to his restaurant for a post-event buffet dinner. The festive meal “was a delightful gesture on Mark’s part, and I know we all appreciated it,” said Paul Rosen, Oyster Festival chair.

“Our philosophy is to help support as many local organizations and fundraising events in the community as possible,” Mr. Fox said.

And, Meet Gail

Ms. Speranza, who is executive director of the Doubleday Babcock Senior Center, is new to the Audrey Avenue team, but has helped organize the Oyster Festival’s Food Court for nearly a decade.

She is a familiar face among Festival goers, serving over 400 gallons of clam chowder every year from Doubleday Babcock’s booth in the Court. They also fry up and sell several thousand clam fritters.

This year, Ms. Speranza helped launch a new program, Rotary Rides. The program provides transportation to and from medical appointments for disabled residents in the Oyster Bay – East Norwich area, replacing a service previously provided by the MTA’s Able Rides. That service was eliminated earlier this year in budget cutting.

In addition to Rotary and the Chamber Ms. Speranza is active with the Oyster Bay Interagency Council; the Oyster Bay Main Street Association’s advisory board; the National Council on Aging; and the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Long Island chapter. She also serves on the Senior Service Providers Coalition.

“I attribute my calling for working with seniors to my grandmother staying with my family throughout my childhood,” Ms. Speranza reflected. “I always loved her visits and listening to her stories.”

She has been married to her husband Joe, who owns a Manhattan hardware store, for 33 years. They have raised three children in Glen Cove, the youngest starting sophomore year in college.

Ms. Speranza said she is delighted with her new assignment, which involves such activities as coordinating and synchronizing traffic flow, permits and so on, as needs arise, between the waterfront and downtown.

“Historically, Audrey Avenue is very important to the Festival, because this is where it all began,” Ms. Speranza said. “Working together with Mark and the chamber is an important part of the process of organizing the Oyster Festival and seeing that things run smoothly.”

(Editorial material by ImageQuest Communications; photo by Jim Marino/Oyster Bay Travel.)