On a typical summer day, droves of people can be found buzzing around the businesses on the East Rockaway waterfront, soaking up the sun at Reel or the Lazy Lobster, or grabbing a bite at Grandpa Tony’s.
But at nearby 115 Althouse Ave., one formerly vibrant, bustling hot spot — the East Rockaway Yacht Club — stands closed, locked and dormant.
After years of trying to recover from major storms such as Irene and Sandy and to rekindle support from its declining membership, those in charge of the longtime neighborhood club informed the Town of Hempstead on June 28 that they would no longer continue their lease with the town. They decided to close a business that had been a part of the village since 1947.
“When you lose membership one by one, it’s just empty,” said Gary Williams, the yacht club’s commodore for more than four years, from 2014 through this June. “What can you do now? So you reach out and there’s no help, and then that’s that — you just have to let it go.”
Funding to operate the facility came mostly from memberships and rentals of the banquet hall, which for decades hosted fundraisers and parties. Last month, the club’s remaining members donated items to community and nonprofit organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the East Rockaway Fire Department.
Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito said that town officials were informed last month that financial circumstances would bring the club’s operations to an end. He added that the Town Board was working to issue a request for proposals for the facility “while realizing the needs of the community.”
“I will work with Mayor [Bruno] Romano and the village board,” D’Esposito said, “and I remain committed to the redevelopment of this property for the betterment of the community.”
Romano said that he and the village board anticipated working with town officials to “ensure the best for our village and the continued success of our waterfront.”
The yacht club was built by the Davison family, which ran the Grist Mill Museum for many years. The family also owned and operated Davison Boat Yard, which was razed in 2015 and developed into the Marina Pointe condominium complex on Atlantic Avenue.
Williams said he hoped the club would not be replaced with more housing, adding that he wished whoever took it over would keep it as a place where the community could gather.
“It’s a beautiful spot there,” he said. “I wish it could remain the East Rockaway Yacht Club, but it will take some doing.”
Williams said the property suffered substantial damage from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, and was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy a year later, never fully recovering. After Sandy, it remained closed until 2013.
Most recently, Williams said, the club struggled to bolster membership and the number of events decreased, which he attributed to people not realizing the facility had reopened after Sandy. He said there were also a few break-ins at the club, including one in June, when items were stolen and could not be replaced.
Williams said boaters used to park by the yacht club and enjoy their time on the water or spend an evening with friends and family during parties in the banquet hall. He said the club was a popular spot during the village’s annual Stars & Stripes Festival each September, and members would decorate their boats together for Christmas.
“I remember coming in and out of the East Rockaway Channel, tying up the boat, putting something on the grill and sitting back,” Williams said. “It’s so calm out there, and you can just reflect on a lot of things.”
He said that the water would sometimes be so still that it looked like glass. People of all ages, he said, enjoyed the club in its glory days. “I remember kids running around in the yard area,” he said. “I remember hearing the boaters’ stories. It was just beautiful.”