More than 200 people had gathered their red-and-white garb for what would have been the first SantaCon in Rockville Centre on Dec. 22. But village officials expressed concerns about the event, causing bar owners to back out and event organizers to relocate the event to Long Beach. But two bar owners and a city official there told the Herald Tuesday that the West Beech Street bars that had initially agreed decided not to participate.
“I was vehemently against SantaCon coming to Rockville Centre,” said Mayor Francis X. Murray. “It’s not safe, it’s disruptive, and it’s not fair to our business owners.”
SantaCon originated in New York City, and has spread to walkable suburban areas across the tristate area. A Google search shows people bar-hopping in red suits — some seemingly drunk, passed out or being arrested.
“Everyone hears ‘SantaCon’ and there’s a negative connotation, given the reports from Manhattan,” said Mike Marra, president and chief executive officer of Unique Bar Crawls, which runs SantaCon Long Island. “We take pride in the way we run our events.”
Marra, who started marketing the event on Nov. 1, estimated that the Rockville Centre pub crawl would have attracted about 500 attendees. In a permit application submitted to the village on Dec. 10, he said he detailed plans to hire a dozen security guards from APB Security and another dozen event staffers to direct foot traffic.
The village denied the application on Dec. 12, but later discovered the company did not need a permit for the event. Still, Murray spoke out against it at a Chamber of Commerce meeting that night, after which RJ Daniels, Parlay Gastropub, Dark Horse Tavern and Bucket List — four of the eight bars that had agreed to offer specials that day — backed out.
Alexa Castaldo, manager at Parlay and Bucket List, said the sister bars initially agreed to participate in SantaCon to raise money for a cause — a portion of the proceeds would have gone to Unique Bar Crawls’ affiliated charity Toys for Hope — but dropped out “out of respect for the town and our community.”
“I was concerned about the safety of our residents, and we all want storeowners to profit during the holiday season,” Murray said. “The bar owners heard my concerns and dropped out on their own.”
On Dec. 14, Marra decided not to go forward with the event in Rockville Centre. “Those are the biggest bars that would make this an event, so we deemed it not worthy of our attendees’ time to continue with it,” he said.
In a Facebook post in the RVC Moms group, Deputy Mayor Kathy Baxley, who founded the community page, cited an increased burden on the local police, fire and public works departments as reasons for the village’s push toward canceling the event.
Rockville Centre businesses, she added, would have suffered on the last Saturday before Christmas, partially due to less available parking.
Chris Acheson, president of the Rockville Centre Chamber of Commerce, agreed. “We believe it will create disruption in the town, especially because of free parking on Saturdays, which is meant for residents to support small businesses,” he said. “Although I understand it will generate business for restaurants, the net result will be disruptive for retail, local police and the department of public works.”
SantaCon Long Island has brought thousands of attendees to Farmingdale since its inception five years ago, and raised $8,000 last year alone for Toys for Hope. This year, nearly 1,500 people donned Santa, reindeer and elf costumes on Main Street in Farmingdale, visiting several bars from 1 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 15.
Because the Farmingdale event has grown each year, Marra said Unique Bar Crawls wanted to expand to another village. He noted Rockville Centre’s nightlife and restaurants made it a good place to host SantaCon.
Marra said he gave the roughly 200 people who had bought tickets for the bar crawl several days to receive a refund. Any who didn’t seek one, he added, can use those tickets for the SantaCon in Long Beach.
“We figured why not bring a good cause [to Rockville Centre] and saw it as a good opportunity for the village,” he said. “It’s a shame that the event was shut down because of a common misconception.”