At the dimly lit Kombert catering hall in Oceanside on Feb. 9, the walls were lined with tri-fold cardboard displays. At first glance, the scene felt like a school science fair, but after closer inspection the theme was something else entirely.
The displays were a celebration. Some were simple collages, others elaborate constructions, but between illustrations of dentistry, architecture, real estate and marketing firms, their purpose was clear: to show that local business in Oceanside is thriving.
The occasion was the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce’s annual installation ceremony, an opportunity for local businesspeople and community leaders to gather, chat and rejoice over a successful 2017, as well as to honor those among them who gave back to the community.
"Business and community connections are always an ongoing goal," said chamber president and chiropractor Dr. Adam Kritzberg. "This evening was not only an overwhelming success to the start of another dynamic new year, but also a wonderful way to support the local community of Oceanside."
The chamber, which recently hit a 130-member milestone according to former president Maria Heller, honored one of its own, Joe Bonin, as Citizen of the Year for his charitable work in the community. As a co-manager of the family-run J. Paul’s Terrace Café in Oceanside, Bonin has hosted a number of fundraisers at the restaurant and sports bar benefitting causes such as helping veterans, combating opioid abuse and more.
Bonin also has been a School No. 3 phys. ed teacher for 18 years. “Two jobs, two kids,” he joked to the Herald, referencing his two children, Kylie and Joey.
As a soccer, basketball and baseball coach at the school, he has served as a mentor for many growing up in the community, often giving them their first chance for employment at J. Paul’s. After receiving the honor, Bonin asked everyone in the more than 100-person crowd to raise their hand if they had worked at the restaurant. Dozens went up.
He also implored those present to come to J. Paul’s on March 10, for a fundraiser benefitting Lara Mesita, the 14-year-old Oceanside High School student and School No. 3 alumna who was hit by a car and seriously injured on her way to school in September. As one of his former students, Bonin said her situation was important to him. “Lara and her family need our help,” he said.
The chamber’s purpose is twofold, according to online marketing firm entrepreneur Jillian Weston, who at 28 is one of its youngest members. “It’s for the local businesspeople to know what’s happening in the town, and it’s a place for business owners and residents to come together to solve problems.”
Thomas Cesiro, who runs an insurance agency in Oceanside, said the chamber is a great way to promote local business. “Shop with pride in Oceanside. That’s the motto of the chamber,” he said, but added that it also supports a number of community institutions such as parent-teacher associations, the Fire Department, the Kiwanis Club and Oceanside Community Service.
Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, who inducted new and returning chamber officers, spoke of the benefits of supporting the local chamber. “[Chamber members] support each other with different ideas with how to engage the community,” she said. “And we in the Town of Hempstead really want to reach out and work with our chambers to really drive home that shop local message. It’s so easy and convenient to shop online, but it’s also easy and convenient to shop downtown and support your local business, so that’s really what we want to encourage local residents to do.”
It was this patronage from the community that allowed Bonin and his family to celebrate 35 years of business in Oceanside this year, he said. The event gave an opportunity for him to thank the people that helped make the milestone possible. “I consider myself very lucky to live, teach and run a business in this amazing town where I have made many lifelong friends,” he told the crowd. “Thanks to you, this great community, for all your support over the years.”