Despite the Chamber of Commerce’s decision to cancel its annual summer fireworks program, a group of Island residents, determined that the show must go on, has launched a GoFundMe effort to raise money for an exhibition this year.
Kelly and Brett Surerus, James Richardson and Carla Cadzin, harboring memories of the annual fireworks program at Crescent Beach, were upset to read Chamber President Art Williams’ letter in last week’s Reporter announcing that the local business organization wouldn’t be sponsoring the event this summer in what would have been its 58th year.
“All of us were really heartbroken,” Ms. Surerus said.
That’s what prompted the three friends to launch a Facebook page — “Save the Shelter Island Fireworks” — and the GoFundMe effort to raise $40,000. In the first six days the page had been up, 45 people contributed $15,100.
“It is time as a community that we do what we do best … Let’s come together and show them that you simply cannot cancel a tradition,” a message on the GoFundMe page says.
Individual contributions to date range from $5 to $5,000.
Mr. Williams has agreed to take the request from the group to a Chamber board meeting to see if members would agree to organize the event if the money can be raised. But Mr. Williams isn’t confident.
“This is a classic case of too little too late,” he said.
It’s already late in the year to secure a commitment from a fireworks company to book the event. Unless money were to flood in this week, he doubts a commitment could be arranged.
He said he’s delighted that a group of young people care enough about the event to try to keep it alive, but said money, while the main stumbling block, isn’t the only issue. Some Island restaurateurs don’t love the fireworks, complaining they don’t get sufficient business from the event.
That’s an argument Ms. Surerus doesn’t buy. While it may be true eateries don’t get a lot of business on the night of the event, many people come to the Island for the first time for the event and, discovering the charms, return for longer visits. That’s when they book rooms here, eat at local restaurants and buy goods from local stores, she said.
With costs of the local event rising each year and now estimated to be about $37,000, Mr. Williams said the Chamber of Commerce has lost money in the past three years. He reported losses at $4,800 in 2012; $3,900 in 2013; and $11,000 last year.
In 2014, the Chamber linked with the East Hampton-based Clamshell Foundation that has a nonprofit tax status and sponsors “the Great Bonac Fireworks” over Three Mile Harbor. But the effort still didn’t bring in more money and the foundation bowed out of supporting the Shelter Island fireworks in 2015, Mr. Williams said.
To revive the fireworks program, the Chamber president said he thinks it would take a few years of restructuring to ensure it would be sustainable.
But even a single year’s interruption could kill the event permanently, Ms. Surerus said.
The Chamber of Commerce hasn’t been aggressive enough, she said, in fund raising efforts. Pointing to “Winterfest,” sponsored by the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Surerus said other Chambers are stronger in their efforts to bring special events to their towns.
“The [Shelter Island] Chamber needs some fresh air,” Ms. Surerus said.
Mr. Williams declined further comment.