It has been one busy year for me at work with online classes and live work and very little time for volunteer work. I was lucky that we sold out of Christmas trees for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association Christmas Tree sale in a record 11 days! My last shift we sold the final tree and I was able to attend the fire department’s room cleaning that night. Needless to say, I have not been that active as a fire fighter this year due to work.
Still, I managed to finish everything and was able to assist the Rescue Truck as we set up the sound system and lights for the Annual Hasbrouck Heights Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting on November 26th, 2021. The parade takes place on the Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ the day after Thanksgiving and we draw a nice crowd for the Parade and then the Tree Lighting. It was really cold that evening and we had about 150 residents for the tree lighting.
The Christmas Tree at the Circle is always a welcome site at the holidays
We participated in the parade with all the equipment following Santa down the Boulevard, handled the sound system and the lights for the ceremony and kept the town safe that evening. It was a wonderful to usher in the holiday season.
The Brothers of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at the 2021 Christmas Tree Lighting
We held the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association First Annual ‘ Halloween House Decorating Contest’ on Halloween morning. I had come up with the idea last year but because there was not time to put it together, I brought the idea up to the Men’s Association at our October meeting. I had another volunteer help me out with the assistance of his daughter and in a three day period we canvased the town and came up with about ten houses each.
We then narrowed it down to five each, four of which we had picked the same houses. So on the Monday night before Halloween, we visited each of the five houses and chose the winner. We narrowed it down to three houses and then the three of us with the help of our President and his wife, picked the top house. It was a difficult decision until the final night when we visited 253 Henry Street last and saw all the ghosts and ghouls coming out of graves, vampire children playing on a swing and things that go bump in the night crawling around. This was the home of Scott and Logan Vicario.
When I knocked on his door later that evening, he was really excited about winning. Scott Vicario had told me that, “We love Halloween and we love decorating the house for the holidays.” Some of the pieces he had on the lawn looked like film set pieces and he said he ordered these items online and kept adding to his collection. What won it for him was all the ghouls trying to escape from the graves that actually moved around. It was creepy and fascinating at the same time.
In the early morning, I met my aunt for breakfast in Wood Ridge, NJ and we planned the whole morning out. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast Halloween breakfast at Blue Café at 273 Valley Boulevard in Wood Ridge, NJ.
Over a platter of French Toast and a Bacon, Egg and Cheese sandwich on a roll and her ordering an omelet (See my review on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com), we plotted our day of picture taking and showcasing the winners homes for the contest. You have to try their French Toast. It is amazing with all the cinnamon.
Blue Café is the former “Lucky Larry’s” at 273 Valley Boulevard in Wood Ridge, NJ
Breakfast at Blue Café is delicious. After we ate, it was off to present the awards.
On Halloween morning, we presented all the Honorary awards to the runners up and then presented the main plaque to Scott and Logan at noon. They were very excited and turned on all the props so that we could see them one last time. It was pretty amazing.
Scott and Logan Vicario of 253 Henry Street in front of their lawn of horror
Justin Watrel, Chairman of the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association “Halloween House Decorating Contest”, Scott and Logan Vicario and Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association Member and Judge, Pat Fass. We presented the award at noon on Halloween afternoon.
253 Henry Street was place of Ghouls and Zombie’s and things that scare you!
The decorations on the Vicario’s front yard are quite terrifying
After I finished presenting the award to the winners, I had to revisit the runners up so that we could take their pictures as well. It amazed me that so many people were not up at 11:00am in the morning. I had some time before I had to leave for Manhattan to volunteer for the Halloween Parade and I presented these awards with my aunt who was helping me take pictures that morning.
The runners up were 510 Henry Street, 85 Woodside Avenue, 82 Burton Avenue and 257 Central Avenue. The homeowners at 82 Burton Avenue and 257 Central Avenue were not home that afternoon and I returned to drop off those awards another day.
510 Henry Street in Hasbrouck Heights
510 Henry Street is owned by Mary Rose and Henry Blunda who were thrilled when they were Honorary Runners-up in the contest. Their front lawn was covered with displays of phantom riders, zombie’s and ghosts covering their lawn. “We love the holiday,” Mary Rose said. “We do this for kids,” her husband Frank added.
Mary Rose and Frank Blunda in front of 510 Henry Street in Hasbrouck Heights
Over at 85 Woodside Avenue, there was a large display of the undead walking all over the front lawn and crawling up the sides of the house. This fascinating display was creating by Lisa and Matt Fiduccia who were thrilled to be Honorary Runners-up in the contest well. Them and their two children who were preparing for an afternoon of Trick or Treating when they found out about the award.
85 Woodside Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights
The family very proudly took a picture in front of their creation. “We have a lot of fun with this on Halloween,” the couple said. The lawn seemed to come alive on Halloween morning as the sun shined on zombies and other undead walking the property.
Lisa and Matt Fiduccia and their family outside 85 Woodside Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights
The two Honorary winners were 257 Central Avenue with its interesting display of skeletons and undead crawling out of graves. The most interesting part of the display was the skeleton lemonade stand.
257 Central Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights
The home is owned by Barbara Donaigo, who we were able to give her award a few days after Halloween when she was home. “I love Halloween and decorating for it,” she told me when I presented her the award for her home.
The macabre skeletons in front of 257 Central Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights
The last home in Hasbrouck Heights to be awarded for its creative design was 82 Burton Avenue. Although the house was not decorated from head to toe, it was the displays that it did showcase plus the way the house was lit in the evening. The house had side windows similar to the “Amityville Horror” house with red lights shining through them.
82 Burton Avenue pays homage to the “Amityville Horror”. Notice the side windows
82 Burton Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights during the day
The witches outside 82 Burton Avenue guard the door and bubble, bubble
The family who owned the house were never home in the three tries so I left their award at the door. During the day, you would not have noticed it but at night the house had a mysteries glow to it.
After we finished handed out the awards with a little ceremony for each, I left for New York City to work at the Halloween Parade which I have been doing since 2014. I have been Marshalling the Performers Gate with my ‘cousin’ Mark (our families both have Colonial roots and our families had married into each others about four times 150 years ago so I tease him and call us ‘cousins’) for six years (we did not have the parade last year because of COVID-See Halloween Night 2020 on this blog).
‘Cousin’ Mark and I (the ‘Aristocrats’ at the gate of the Halloween Parade at Dominick Street) in the West Village
The weather could have not been nicer that day as it was about 68 degrees when I arrived at the parade route at 4:00pm. It started out very quiet as the volunteers arrived to check in but progressively got busier as the performers arrived for band and float assignments.
The Halloween Parade was a lot of fun this year. It was so nice to see the City come back to life for at least a day. People really came out for the parade since it was a beautiful day in the high 60’s. I was wearing a short sleeved polo until about 8:00pm. It ended up being 68 degrees that night, Not quite the 71 degrees of two years ago but still a warm night to be outside enjoying a parade.
We did not have any real problems at the gate and were finished with our assignment by 8:00pm. As we closed the gate and left the police in charge, I walked into the staging area and watched the last of the floats head uptown. It is so exciting to watch as the parade comes to life at this location. It is always so chaotic.
The beginning of the Halloween Parade is the best with the Skeleton puppets
What made this Halloween really special is that everyone was so happy to have a good time. All over New York City and the island of Manhattan, people felt they were allowed to go outside and enjoy the day.
People flooded cafes, restaurants and bars all over Lower Manhattan and Midtown and everything was so busy with people enjoying outdoor dining even at 9:00pm and mobbed every fast food restaurant and pizzeria. I have never seen so many smiles and so much joy in people’s faces as they enjoyed the warm weather and comradery on Halloween night.
Isn’t this what Halloween should be about even in the era of COVID? Still have safe fun?
The full Halloween Parade in 2021 in Greenwich Village
Memorial Day this year was rather quiet due to the ongoing COVID Pandemic so the traditional parade was cancelled.
Hasbrouck Heights had a small but tasteful ceremony at the Veteran’s Memorial Park on Terrace Avenue. The Mayor and the council said some nice words about our veterans from town and the members of the VFW were present who felt up for the ceremony.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at the Firemen’s Memorial Park on the Boulevard
After the ceremony, we had a small ceremony at the Firemen’s Memorial at the Circle on the Boulevard. Again the service was short and tasteful as we honored our fallen brothers from the department.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department saluting our fallen Brothers and Sisters
It was a nice afternoon to pay our respects for the people of our community that have done so much for us.
Well, Christmas is finally officially over for me. It was one for the books. The holiday season just came and went without much fanfare or activities. Nothing like last year which was a lot of running around visiting decorated homes or running to the next cocktail party or dinner. Those things just did not exist this year. This season was all about the outside walking tours and small get togethers.
The whole holiday season became a blur and I started to attend a lot of outdoor activities that became available. Anything to get out of the house and see people or go do something out of the ordinary. I really had to search things out.
They started closest to home. I was trying to split my time between places that were just a drive away, going back and forth to the Hudson River Valley, which gave me a change of scenery and walking the neighborhoods of Manhattan, which gave me a sense of purpose as I felt I was supporting the City by being a cheerleader for all it had to offer even in the era of COVID.
My holiday journey started with the delivery of 375 Christmas trees for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association. It was a big undertaking for a major charity that supports graduating high school seniors with scholarship money for college. I sometimes wonder if these students know what we go through to get the funds.
The trees were really nice this year
I have never seen so many Christmas Trees fly off a lot so fast. The membership of the Men’s Association got there at 9:00am and the truck arrived at 10:15am. We sold our first tree at 11:30am as we were tagging them. I stayed the entire day from 9:00am to 10:00pm when we closed the lot down for the evening. In the three shifts that I was there with the other guys, we sold 45 trees which we have never done our first day of sales.
The Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association at set-up 2020
We were completely sold out by December 11th which I have never seen before. It seemed in the era of COVID everyone reverted back to the 1970’s and wanted a fresh Christmas tree for their home. I thought this was wonderful and people could not have been more supportive to our organization.
Please read my blog on “Christmas tree sales in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ”:
Please watch the commercial I did in 2015 to sell our trees
The first week of December means “Open Houses” at some of our merchants in Downtown Hasbrouck Heights. I look forward to seeing all the Christmas merchandise being offered, all the bouquets created for the event and the beautiful Christmas windows that our florists in town have done.
Bill O’Shea’s Florist at 231 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ always has a nice gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving. This year was like no other but it did not keep a nice crowd of residents from coming out and looking over ideas for floral displays, house decorating ideas and listening to festive holiday music all while nibbling on prepackaged treats and bottled drinks.
Bill O’Shea’s has some of the nicest displays at the holidays
In a normal year, it would be hot chocolate and coffee with freshly baked goods but COVID has changed the way these businesses are run. Everything had to be prepackaged and most people at it outside as juggling and shopping with a mask on was tough.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, the same weekend we set up the Christmas Tree lot for the Men’s Association, Heights Flower Shoppe at 209 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ had their Open House and that was equally as nice.
Heights Flower Shoppe is housed in a turn of the last century home that dates back to the original founding of our downtown and has a very classic boutique look to it. The store was stocked with all sorts of Christmas decorations, homemade candies, decorative household gifts and beautiful floral displays as well as outside had decorated wreathes and grave blankets.
The homemade candies and Christmas decorations adorn the store
Like Bill O’Shea’s, there was all sorts of packaged holiday treats to enjoy including Italian sodas, small bags of homemade Christmas cookies and candies. Last year they had a nice assortment of cookies and small sandwiches with coffee, tea and punch so there are always holiday treats to nibble on too here as well.
All of Downtown Hasbrouck Heights was beautifully decorated for the holidays with wreaths on all our lamp posts, Christmas lights on the trees, merchants display windows decorated to the hilt and Christmas music playing.
Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ is always so nicely decorated for the holidays
This year because of COVID, the Annual Holiday Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting were cancelled in town but they did have a small get together at the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights to light the town Christmas tree. It was lit from Thanksgiving until the Epiphany on January 6th. It is always a beautiful site when entering town from the west side of town.
The Christmas Tree on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ
Even the little Neil Parrot playhouse, a local landmark in Hasbrouck Heights, was decorated for the holidays and was lite up at night as well.
The Neil Parrot Playhouse on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights awaiting Santa
There were several nights of my aunt and I exploring the town and driving block by block to see all the decorated homes. Hasbrouck Heights and the surrounding towns of Lodi and Wood Ridge always do a wonderful job decorating for the holidays but with everyone being home and COVID hitting the area hard, people wanted to really decorate and make this year even more festive. Between the merchants and home owners, they made this time of year in Hasbrouck Heights very festive.
Please read my blog on Visiting Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ:
I did not just celebrate Christmas in Hasbrouck Heights. I ventured into other parts of New Jersey, to New York City and my usual haunts in the Hudson River Valley but like New Jersey, New York State was on a lock down as well and all the decorated mansions and holiday gatherings were all cancelled as well. So everyone did their best to celebrate outdoors and have all sorts of tours and small get togethers. You had to move fast when reserving these events as they did fill up because everyone wanted to get out of the house and see things.
The Sinterklaas Parade that I have participated and volunteered at for so many years was cancelled because of COVID but like the Halloween Parade, the committee put together a video of the parade to share with the world. Still it did not compare to the excitement of walking down the hill with stars and music lighting up Downtown Rhinebeck, NY.
The noble Frog was to be our mascot for this year’s Sinterklaas Parade
It was not the same as the year before where the crowds kept getting larger and larger every year. The whole town came to life with activities, songs, lights and laughter but was silent that weekend except for people having dinner in town. I was able to sneak up during the week. The entire town was decorated with white lights and beautifully decorated store windows. Rhinebeck is one of those towns in the Hudson River Valley that looks straight out of a Currier & Ives woodcut.
Downtown Rhinebeck, NY at Christmas
Since all the Christmas parties and get togethers were cancelled, it gave me more time to look into other outdoor events. I went to a special “Historical walking tour at the Holidays” at the Bergen County Historical Society in River Edge, NJ. The tour was lead by Historical singer and lecturer, Linda Russell, who explained the traditions of the Dutch Christmas all while singing Colonial Christmas songs in between the talks at each historical house on the property.
The Steuben House at Christmas
Actors dressed in costumes (and masks of course-COVID is still going on) danced in the Steuben House ballroom as colonialists celebrating the holiday, Dutch housewives putting their children to bed while awaiting Sinterklaas. There was a Dutch wooden shoe with carrots for his horse outside the door and mistletoe on the ceiling.
Linda Russell performing and lecturing at the Bergen County Historical Society
There was a discussion on the Pagan traditions of bringing ‘greens’ from outside inside to have a bit of ‘live nature’ into the home. So mistletoe, pine and holly adorned homes during the winter months as these things were green and brought a bit of life into the dead of winter.
The last part of the lecture was done in front of the Campbell-Christie House with a visit from Sinterklaas himself. We had a short talk about who Sinterklaas was and his part in the holiday season. Then all the members of the tour enjoyed refreshments and got a goody bag when we left with holiday sweets. The lecture and songs were a nice way to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season.
My favorite song by Linda Russell “I saw Three Ships”
As I was finishing up the semester at the College, I was getting holiday preparations done at the house, having small gatherings of family and friends and trying to be COVID safe. I was also running in and out of the City finishing my blog on Kips Bay before the holidays started getting busier. I learned a lot of New York’s Colonial past from walking around this area of the City.
My blogs on the Walking the neighborhood of Kips Bay:
The next weekend I made my last trip of the season to Long Beach Island to visit Beach Haven and the tour the rest of the island one last time before winter set in. It had really closed down since Halloween. I expected it to be much busier with more people moving down there on a permanent basis. Driving up to the lighthouse, I saw more dark homes then lite ones.
I wanted to take one more tour of Long Beach Island to see how they celebrate Christmas at the shore. They do things very quietly in Beach Haven. I went to the Surflight Theater to see the only play I had seen since I attended Carnegie Hall last Christmas to see the play “We need a little Christmas” which I had seen advertised at the theater over the summer.
“We need a Little Christmas” at the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, NJ
After the theater, it was surprisingly warm that afternoon hovering around 58 degrees so I walked to the beach one block away and walked on the Jersey shore for my only time that year and for the first time on Beach Haven beach since 1975. It has been a long journey since that time.
The Beach Haven beach was beautiful that afternoon
The town’s Christmas trees were across the street from the theater on the square just off the downtown. Even they had a subdued Christmas at the shore and the whole event welcoming in the season was done virtually.
Christmas in Beach Haven, NJ adapted like the rest of the world
My holiday dinner was spent at the Chicken or the Egg that evening and it was really good. The menu is so extensive and innovative. It was hard to make choices.
Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream sandwich at Chicken or the Egg
Their fried chicken sandwiches are really good and their Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream sandwich should not be missed.
The Chicken or the Egg at 207 North Bay Avenue in Beach Haven
I was able to tour the whole island that afternoon before it got dark and even at twilight here and there were signs of Christmas in small trees lit in the shopping areas and decorated homes. It is an interesting place at the holidays with the waves crashing in the background.
My blog on “Exploring Downtown Beach Haven and Long Beach Island, NJ”:
The next week was finals week at the College and I had to give my final exam. The students also finished work on their case study, “Bud N’ Mud”, a simulated flower/coffee shop I had the students develop. It was interesting to see how a group of student entrepreneurs would create a store with their own ideas on how to grow the business. This project ended the Fall semester.
One of my favorite logo’s from the “Bud N’ Mud” project
With the Christmas trees selling out by December 11th, we held our annual Christmas party at the Christmas tree stand site for the Men’s Association. It was a cool not cold night and we all huddled around the fire taking alternate turns hitting the makeshift buffet table and enjoying good conversation. It was a great way to end the year successfully and there will lots of scholarships being given out at the end of the school year.
The last big event before Christmas came was the Sunday before Christmas with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department holding our Annual “Santa Around Town”. Because COVID was growing, the event was revamped from previous years and instead of stopping at sites all over town, we drove down each street in town slowly, having Santa wave and greet people who were on their lawns, driveways and porches. The residents of Hasbrouck Heights seemed touched by it and I could tell from the safety of the fire truck that the kids got a kick out of seeing Santa. People really needed the pick me up in holiday spirit at the time.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at “Santa Around Town” 2020
On the Tuesday before Christmas after I finished work with my other job I needed a break and wanted to go on a road trip to the Hudson River Valley again. I was nostalgic for Christmas’s past and decided to visit some of the towns Upstate.
I explored Downtown Woodstock first seeing their very unusual Christmas tree in the square. I have to say one thing about Woodstock, they do pick out the most interesting tree to sit in the square. It always looks more surreal than traditional. Their annual “Santa Parade” was cancelled this year as well and they did a drive by with Santa at the Woodstock Fire Department who runs the parade.
Downtown Kingston, NY was next on the list. Talk about a town in transition. In the almost three years since I have been visiting Kingston, I have never seen a downtown change so rapidly. The businesses there have gone from all this ‘hippie granola’ businesses to all these antique furniture stores and art galleries and some really expensive restaurants. One of the locals told me the new residents are “Brooklynizing” Kingston.
Still the downtown was nicely lit for the holidays and their Christmas Tree while small is nicely lit for the holidays on the edge of the downtown “Stockade” district. The Dutch Reformed Church on the other end of downtown was nicely lit with wreaths on the doors.
I crossed the river and drove to Red Hook, NY which I love. Their downtown looks like an old fashioned shopping district straight out of another Currier & Ives print. All the little stores were decorated with garland and white lights and the merchants decorated their windows to the hilt.
My last stop on my search for the perfect picturesque Hudson Valley River town was returning to Rhinebeck, NY for the day. Rhinebeck was quiet on this Tuesday evening as most of the restaurants were closed and the shops had closed for the evening. Still it was nice to walk around and admire the while lights on the trees and admire the display windows.
The Christmas lights and windows of Downtown Rhinebeck, NY
Even the way I celebrate Christmas changed this year. Instead of spending time with my family, I spent three days in Manhattan with my best friend, Maricel, at a hotel in Times Square. Neither of us had the time to travel and we both had to work in the City, her at her hotel and me working on my blogs so both of us needed the rest.
AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street
We stayed at the AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street. What the room lacked in size, it made up in the view and in the location. We were one block from Port Authority, two blocks from Times Square and within walking distance from all the Christmas attractions from Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas windows and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
While Maricel worked on Christmas Eve, I walked around the City. I saw the tree at Rockefeller Center which was loaded with people not keeping socially distanced. I admired the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue which had a New York City theme with Christmas scenes from around the City “This is how we Celebrate”.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas Themed window “Over the East River and Through the Neighborhoods to Grandfather’s House We Go”
Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree was even more special this year
I thought the windows at Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf-Goodman really lacked in creativity. Bloomingdale’s was having a bad year and Bergdorf’s had just gotten sold again (forth time since I worked there in 2004) so I did not expect much. With Lord & Taylor declaring bankruptcy earlier in the year and closing the main store on Fifth Avenue and B. Altman’s long gone and Macy’s going mechanical for the last few years, the excitement of seeing the windows has been less than enthusiastic.
Still it was nice to walk around Midtown after leaving the Rockefeller Center area and just walking around Third, Park and Madison Avenues. By 7:00pm, everything had shut down for the night and the streets were really quiet. What was eerie was when walking down Park Avenue and looking up and seeing so many dark buildings. The area looked abandoned with so many apartment lights out. I wondered where everyone went?
When Maricel got off work, I brought in dinner 9th Avenue Deli at 769 Ninth Avenue. I brought in a juicy cheeseburger and chicken fingers which we shared and then dug into. The perfect comfort food on a cool night. Christmas Eve was a mild 59 degrees and it was nice to walk around.
9th Avenue Deli at 769 9th Avenue
We just hung out the whole night and watched movies in the hotel room. I went to bed early and sunk into the wonderful Marriott hotel bed. Marriott had the best hotel beds and every time I stay at one of their hotels, I slept like a log.
Christmas Day we just relaxed in the room and I called many members of my family to wish them a Merry Christmas. While Maricel went to work, I decided to start touring neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Rose Hill and NoMAD in preparation in my walks there. It started out being a cold, cloudy day and there was barely anyone on the street. I saw a few people walking their dogs and that was about it until about 3:00pm. It them cleared up and was a mild 55 degrees until it got dark and then cooled down.
What really shocked me about Times Square was how dirty it was on the streets. They had not picked up the garbage on Christmas Eve day and did not pick it up until after Christmas Day so between the theaters being boarded up and the ply boards filled with graffiti, hotels closed and restaurants shut, the whole Theater district looked like NYC circa 1975. It was creepy how the pandemic was affecting the business of this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Murray Hill, Rose Hill, NoMAD and the Flatiron District were really quiet that morning and early afternoon. All the restaurants and stores were dark, three hotels had closed in the district and I saw just a few people milling around. Things changed as I got closer to Macy’s Herald Square.
When walking around Koreatown, which runs between Sixth and Fifth Avenues between 35th to 32nd Streets, the side streets were teeming with Korean couples and groups of family members dining in the outdoor restaurants and cafes. This neighborhood was really jumping and full of life.
As the day wore on by 5:00pm, the rest of the City came back to life and more restaurants and stores opened up. Christmas morning and afternoon were now over and I could tell that people wanted to get out of the house (probably to get away from the family celebrations). When Maricel returned, I ordered in dinner from Golden City Chinese Restaurant at 423 Ninth Avenue, one of the few neighborhood restaurants open and we our dinner in the room. The food was okay. It was nice to just eat in the room and relax.
Christmas dinner was Lemon Chicken and Fried Rice from Golden City Chinese Restaurant
We checked out at noon on the 26th and she left for work that afternoon, I headed into Brooklyn to visit the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Museum. Both were really quiet that day. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was mostly dormant for the winter and most of the garden was closed off because of COVID. The “Studio 54” exhibition had long closed at the Brooklyn Museum so I just wondered the halls and looked at some of the changes in the permanent exhibitions that they had. I left the City for home early that evening.
The last week of the holiday, I entertained family at a Lasagna and Champagne dinner I had a the house. Since I was not able to spend time at home during the holidays, my aunts came over to my house and we had a three course meal with champagne and wine. We spent the whole night laughing and enjoying the evening.
New Year’s Eve was a quiet evening at home alone talking with other friends who were staying home alone as well. Times Square was empty that evening with the exception of the 350 first responders who were invited to the ball drop. When I watched it on TV it was eerie to see it so quiet. There was no one for blocks except police guarding Times Square.
I headed back up to the Hudson River Valley again on New Year’s Day to go on two walking tours in Staatsburgh, NY at the Mills Mansion. It was the Annual “First of the Year” walking tours and it was a cool, crisp morning for a walking tour of the property. There were two tours that morning, one was on “Winter Activities in Victorian Times” with us learning about all the winter activities that the residents here enjoyed like skating , sledding, ice boating and horse drawn sleigh rides.
Staatsburgh, the Mills Mansion in the winter
The other tour later that afternoon was on “Ice Harvesting in the Hudson River Valley” , where we learned about how the ice harvesting of the Hudson River was a big business before the advent of refrigeration. Large slabs of ice were cut from the river, floated down stream and then packed in straw awaiting sale over the metropolitan area for peoples ice boxes throughout the year. It just gave me anther excuse to visit the region I love so much.
My blog on the Mills Mansion on VisitingaMuseum.com:
Another local event that was COVID safe was a driving tour through the “Holiday Lightshow” at Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ. This was the first time that the farm opened the apple and peach orchard across the street from the farm stand. I saw this display the last week it was open and even after the holidays, it was a special treat as we awaited the Epiphany.
Driving through the display only took about forty minutes but was a delight in the senses and sounds. I played the classical music station as I drove through and admired all the colorful lights on the now dormant trees while Santa’s and Snowmen winked and waved and toy soldiers lit the way through the dark field. Even the Demarest homestead was ablaze with lights.
Demarest Farms at 244 Werimus Drive in Hillsdale, NJ
My blog on “Visiting the Farms of Bergen County, NJ at Christmas”:
Don’t miss this holiday lights ride through the orchard in 2021
The holiday event I visited was the Bronx Zoo for their “Holiday Lights” event at the zoo. It was the last night of the event and I arranged for the tickets that afternoon. The zoo gave me a 30% discount to go that evening and I was on the subway ride up to the Bronx.
The Bronx Zoo Light Show
I was really impressed by the display. The entire park was decorated with white lights, with different sections of the park decorated with different themes such as jungle animals, aquatic mammals and all sorts of assorted elephants, seals, penguins, lions, tigers and bears (oh my haha). There were costumed characters to take pictures with and they even had the Bug Carousel open that evening. I got a kick out of riding this since I had not done this since I was a little kid.
The Bronx Zoo musical Christmas Tree in the old part of the zoo
In the older section of the park, they had zebras on stilts and a musical Christmas trees that had an interesting soundtrack of contemporary Christmas songs. Even though Christmas had been over now for almost two weeks, it me back into the Christmas spirit.
So there was the Christmas holidays in the era of COVID. Lots of outdoor activities in hot and cold weather. Many walking tours and more subdued events. Gone were the cocktail parties and big formal dinners and in their place were many more smaller outdoor events and communicating with nature.
Maybe we all needed to take a break from the more formal traditions and go back to the basics of family and friends. I think this was a reflective year and realizing what is important. It had not changed that much for me. I just adjusted to the times, wore a mask and got going. Staying safe and keeping others safe is what is all about.
Hours: Open Thursday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm (the last tour is at 4:00pm)/Open Monday Holidays from April 19th to October 28th. The mansion then closes to prepare for the holiday season. Closed on Thanksgiving and Easter. There are special programs from January to April so please see the website.
Admission: $8.00 for adults/$6.00 for groups and Seniors/Children under 12 are free. Special events have separate fees and can run from $8.00 to $10.00 and above.
Since my thirty-two mile walk around the Island of Manhattan, I have stayed clear of New York City for the time being while things calm down a bit. Since my walk and even on Father’s Day weekend there have been a rash of shootings and thirteen people murdered in various neighborhoods. The papers said they have not seen anything like this since the late 90’s before Rudy Giuliani became Mayor and started to clean things up in New York City. What really spooked me is that I walked through parts of Harlem that were affected the day of the shootings especially between East 145th to East 118th Streets before I got on the riverfront walkway. I still can’t believe that people would act this way at a time like this.
Still between work and the fire department keeping me busy, it has been hard to get back into the City. Phase Three is slowly being introduced in but indoor seating has been put on hold. Outdoor dining has been cautious and the museum and parks have been slow to open. I just got a email from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that they will be opening on August 25th and 26th for a ‘Members Private Night’. It will be interesting to see if that happens.
Upstate New York in Duchess County is slowly opening up with precautions and we are now entering the ‘new normal’ that I would not have even thought about when I was running around the City and Upstate during the holiday season. I glad I made the visits I made when I did. You can’t do that now.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, we have been pretty much limited on what we can do and needing exercise and to get out of the house, I have been walking to our downtown and around the blocks exploring my own town. The Hasbrouck Height Chamber of Commerce recently sponsored “A Stroll Downtown” for our residents for people to explore their downtown and visit the restaurants and stores that are open for limited business and outdoor dining. With the weather getting warmer, people are tired of getting cooped up in their homes and want to get outside and enjoy the weather (yes, we are all wearing masks when necessary).
So every evening, I walk the Boulevard, our business district in Hasbrouck Heights and over time I have really noticed a lot more of our downtown. There is an array of architecture that dates back to the late 1800’s and historical markers that I had never really noticed before.
I start my walk every evening with a turn around the corner from my home and I walk down Williams Avenue to the Boulevard which starts our small part of downtown on our side of town. What is interesting about Williams Avenue is that is was used as an escape route for George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War from the Battles in Hackensack and Paramus with the British.
The Battles in Hackensack and Paramus during the Revolutionary War
Our area of New Jersey has a very prominent place in Revolutionary War history with local battles with the British.
Washington’s forces retreated down Williams Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights after the Battle in Hackensack NJ
Before rounding Williams Avenue onto the busy Boulevard, which is a County of Bergen Road, you will pass Corleone’s Pizza at 205 Williams Avenue, one of the newest pizzeria/restaurants in Hasbrouck Heights. Their pizza and sandwiches are really good anchored by their rich Marinara Sauce and well-priced lunch specials. Outdoor dining here is rather unusual on such a busy road but makes it almost seem like you are in the City. Don’t miss their lunch specials and interesting sandwich combinations.
Walking to the downtown area is only a few blocks away passing many homes that have stood in town since the late 1800’s to the 1930’s. Hasbrouck Heights has a diversity of types of homes, so it makes walking around interesting especially if you are into historic homes and architecture.
Back in the early 2000’s, our former Mayor Rose Heck, started a beautification of the downtown area by cutting down the old trees and opening the buildings to more sun and creating a whole new landscape by bricking the new sidewalks and adding flowering cherry trees that bloom an abundance of colors in the Spring.
On the new wrought iron lampposts, we have pictures of the graduates of Hasbrouck Heights High School, who missed the last four months of school (but recently had their graduation socially distanced on the football field) and American flags that are placed for Memorial Day, Flag Day and the Fourth of July. During Christmas time, wreaths and white lights adorn them.
I always start on the right side of the Boulevard as you approach downtown. The downtown starts with the historic Corpus Christi Church at 215 Kipp Avenue. The complex with the historic parish house, which had once been a well-known doctor’s home in the late 1890’s sits between Washington Place, home to many historic Victorian homes and Kipp Avenue, the start of the business district.
The original part of the Church that was built in 1896 was moved from across the street to its current location when the parish bought the Dunstan estate in 1914. The church has been added onto twice in 1934 and 1957.
The parish house is the historic Dunstan mansion on the original estate grounds.
The business district runs from Kipp Avenue in town to the circle at Passaic Avenue. Since there are numerous businesses, I wanted to point out the ones that I have enjoyed and been a patron of for years.
Our newest Chinese restaurant, China House at 250 Boulevard, opened (ironically on March 13th when everything was shutting down) just off Kipp Avenue. This small take-out restaurant has a few small tables to dine in, which I did the first week it was open (now due to COVID-19 it is just take out). Their General Tso’s and Orange Chicken are really good. The family that runs the restaurant is really nice and has been offering opening discounts.
The nice thing about our downtown is the diversity of stores and restaurants. One of the most unique shops is the Religious Shoppe at 220 Boulevard. One of the few stores in the State of New Jersey that specializes in Catholic gifts, it has an array of merchandise from crosses to crucifixes and at the holidays there is a selection of jewelry, books, figurines, statuary and selected gifts both religious and secular.
Next to the Religious Shoppe at 220 Boulevard (the other side of the building) is Sophia’s Kitchen, a very popular Greek restaurant that opened several years ago and continues to grow in popularity. Their food and service are excellent and after many great reviews in both the local papers and on the internet has been a destination restaurant ever since. You need to wait for tables between Thursday and Saturday nights.
The Religious Shoppe and Sofia’s Mediterranean Grill during the Summer months
Their gyro sandwiches are delicious with a side of their garlic fries and they have this shrimp appetizer, the Shrimp Sanganaki, that is cooked in a tomato sauce and topped with cheese that is out of this world. Their Baklava is sweet and buttery and soaked in honey in all layers. They also have a dessert called Galactoboureko, a sweet custard wrapped in phyllo dough, that is amazing.
Crossing over Franklin Avenue to the next block, you will find a series of interesting shops with Young Fashions at 208 Boulevard, for beautiful children’s wear and Not Too Shabby at 206 Boulevard (both closed for business in June 2021) for custom made and vintage painted furniture.
Young Fashions at 206 Boulevard (Closed June 2021)
My review on LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com:
Owner Addie Carrino greets all her customers personally (now retired)
Young Fashions (now closed June 2021) is a Lilliputian dream for the well-dressed child and a favorite for grandparents and aunts and uncles all over Bergen County. This delightful store still carries quality clothing for children from infant to age 12. Owner Addie Carrino still believes that there are children that still dress nicely and provides clothing from head to toe for them. She offers complimentary pressing of items when bought and free gift wrapping.
Not Too Shabby (now closed May 2020-online business orders) is run by Addie’s daughter, Liz Carrino, who brings to life her custom painted furniture and one-of-a-kind pieces. She loves vintage furniture from the Depression era and all sorts of decorative pieces for the home and office. Take time to walk around the aisles of furniture and Knick knacks.
Not Too Shabby at 206 Boulevard (now closed 2020-Online Business)
Next to Not Too Shabby at 202 Boulevard, the new and much enlarged Dumpling Chinese Restaurant moved to from their old location at 220 Boulevard (now the home to China House). The restaurant is much bigger and brighter than their old restaurant and has lots of places to sit down. They made a wonderful Lemon Chicken and Moo Shu Pork and their dumplings are not bad too. Their Hot & Sour Soup is the best in town.
Walking further down the Boulevard I always pass the Masonic Temple at 200 Boulevard, one of the oldest buildings in Hasbrouck Heights. The Euclid Masonic Lodge has been in existence for 145 years and its stately building has been part of the downtown since anyone can remember.
As you walk to the next two blocks you will reach the Circle which is the home to many a Christmas Celebration with the annual Tree Lighting after Thanksgiving. One little unique local landmark we have is the old ‘Neil Parrot Playhouse’ that sits on the Circle and is decorated for the holidays. In 2016 a group of concerned citizens got together to have the little dollhouse, which matched the home of the old Neil Parrot business office and home of Neil Parrot, a local realtor. He used the little house to amuse children while their parents did business with him.
The Neil Parrot Playhouse on the Hasbrouck Heights Circle
The Circle at the corner of Boulevard and Passaic Avenue is the official end of the Business District and is where all holiday events take place with the Tree Lighting at the end of November and the Holiday Choir performing.
The pine trees at the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights add to a festive mood at the holidays
On the other side of the Circle from the old Neil Parrot Dollhouse is the Firemen’s Memorial where every Memorial Day and 9/11 Day, we on the fire department have our special ceremonies and events. It really is a place of reflection and a nice place to sit and think. I like to take time and look at the names of fire fighters from the past.
I like to take a break here but move on I do very quickly and I start the walk on the other side of the Boulevard.
Another nice restaurant that I enjoy going to is Heights Bar & Grill at 163 Boulevard. The restaurant is now serving outdoor diners and has delivery and take out. Still the outdoor dining is really popular. When it is open, it is the local watering hole for customers all over Bergen County who enjoy a good mixed drink, their wonderful pub food and watching the games. Their pizza and burgers are really good and cooked and seasoned perfectly. They have a nice assortment of appetizers to order when having a drink.
Walking past the Heights Bar & Grill there is a bevy of small businesses and commercial banks housed in older and modern buildings. The architecture in our downtown is a combination of old and new and old becoming new again.
A new addition to our restaurant scene and adding a little ‘hipster’ to Hasbrouck Heights is the new KTB Coffee Shop & Lounge at 183 Boulevard that just opened last year. It had been an old convenience store for years and the new owners stripped it down to the bearings where is looks like a combination of Williamsburg meets Beacon, NY. The food is reasonable and they have nice sandwiches and wraps. The nice part is when the place was open pre-COVID-19, they had entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. It was nice to hear saxophonists and guitar players rather than the usual garage bands. It gives the downtown a little diversity from all the pizzerias and Chinese take-out places.
KTB Coffee Shop & Lounge at 183 Boulevard now has outdoor dining
The next few blocks is studded with service businesses, hair salons and banks and then you have a series of restaurants some opening in recent years. On the corner of Hamilton Avenue and the Boulevard replacing the long service Carroll’s Fashion which had been that location for about thirty years. Bella Pizza opened at 193 Boulevard. The pizzeria has quickly established itself in town among the other six pizzerias we have and makes the most amazing calzones and Sicilian pies.
The Risotto House of Hasbrouck Heights, a branch of the popular Rutherford, NJ restaurant is at 203 Boulevard is one of the growing fine dining restaurants added to our downtown. It has always been busy at the holidays and in the COVID-19 era has a small outdoor dining area to sit and relax while you enjoy dishes like Shrimp Risotto and Veal Milanese.
The Risotto House of Hasbrouck Heights at 203 Boulevard
One of the nicest stores in Hasbrouck Heights especially at each of the holidays is Heights Flower Shoppe at 209 Boulevard. Their window displays are some of the best in the downtown area and are especially nice at Christmas and Easter. I love their selection of gifts at the holidays and their owner always makes special arrangements for me when visiting the cemetery. The business is housed in an old home that has been in the downtown since the 1880’s and was renovated to its beauty by the owner.
Heights Flower Shoppe is always special at the Christmas holidays
The historic Lovey’s Pizzeria at 211 Boulevard and has been in town since the early 1960’s. There is a small dining room in the restaurant and I have been partial over the years to their fried calzones and their ravioli with red sauce. The current owner bought the pizzeria from her parents who had owned it all those years.
Lovey’s Pizzeria & Ristorante at 211 Boulevard with Summer dining
One of my favorite Chinese take-out places in Hasbrouck Heights is Ho Mei Kitchen at 227 Boulevard. I enjoy many of the dishes here especially their Lemon Chicken, their House Fried Rice and their Lo Mein is the best is the best in town. Their lunch specials are really reasonable and you can order them until 4:00pm. They are like a dinner. The family who owns the place are really nice and have set up an interesting system of ordering in the COVID-19 era.
Crossing the street at Jefferson Avenue are three of the oldest businesses in town along with Lovey’s Pizzeria, Height Floral Shoppe and Young Fashions is Bill O’Shea’s Florist & Gifts at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and the Boulevard at 231 Boulevard has been opened since the 1960’s as well.
Like Heights Flower Shoppe, Bill O’Shea’s Florist & Gifts is always so nicely merchandised with the wonderful flower arrangements for a quick pickup, nice assortments of candy and stuffed animals and creative gift items for the home at the holidays. Their owners are really nice and accommodating. They also have a nice Open House at the opening of the holiday season.
The owners of Bill O’Shea’s Florist & Gifts, John and Linda Kosakowski, at their Food Drive.
Bill O’Shea’s Easter Open House 2021
The newest addition to Downtown Hasbrouck Heights is Ralph’s Ice Cream & Ices at 239 Boulevard that opened in the height of the COVID pandemic just in time to cheer a town up that really needed it. The store opened in the summer of 2020 to long lines and gave everyone an excuse to done a mask and meet their neighbors for a sweet treat. Check out their weekly posted specials.
Fisher’s Café at 245 Boulevard is another restaurant that has been in town since the 1960’s and is a popular place for breakfast and lunch with a lot of the locals who make this their place to eat. Fisher’s is very popular for their breakfast dishes and platters and is a hang out after school for the junior high and high students for their burgers and grilled cheese.
Another long-time merchant in Hasbrouck Heights is Spindler’s Bake Shop at 247 Boulevard, which had reopened after a few years of being closed by the family. The bakery has been a Hasbrouck Heights institution since the 1950’s by the current owner’s grandparents.
Ginny & Bob Spindler at their store as the next generation of bakers.
They are well-known for their butter cookies arrangements; their fresh rolls and their apple and lemon turnovers are melted in your mouth good! Don’t miss their delicious Black & White cookies and their stuffed Chocolate Chip sandwiches. The staff is always friendly and the smells of the baked goods as you enter the store are sensational.
The baked goods are so good! Don’t miss their Lemon Turnovers!
Their Lemon Turnovers are excellent!
As you pass by Spindler’s Bake Shop, you will walk the next block over and pass Kipp Avenue again to the end of the official part of the Business District and start walking back to Williams Avenue past residential and commercial properties and Corpus Christi Church again until you reach our Municipal Building.
In a small strip of stores across from our new Town Hall that was built in 2004 are two very popular restaurants, Tom Young Koong, at 305 Boulevard and Heights Pizzeria at 313 Boulevard which have both adapted to the COVID-19 era of outdoor dining and take-out/delivery.
Tom Young Koong is a very well-known destination Thai restaurant that is very busy between Thursday and Saturday nights. Their assortment of appetizers that include Chicken Satay, Curry Puffs, Fried Dumplings and Shrimp Fried Noodle are excellent and they have the most delicious Pad Thai which is wonderful with Chicken and Shrimp. The food is cooked by the owner with recipes that came from his mother. The service is always friendly and the owners are really nice.
Hasbrouck Heights Pizza (Heights Pizza to locals) at 313 Boulevard has been popular since it opened its doors almost a decade ago. Their pizza is so popular that people order it from several towns away and even during the worst storms even Hurricane Sandy, it never closed and was as busy as ever. Everything here is delicious and it is known not just for its regular Cheese Pizza but their Grandma Pizza, their Pepperoni Calzones, Specialty pies and their entrees are excellent and restaurant quality. The place is always busy, so the staff and drivers run in and out of the place. The outdoor dining is even popular from early Spring until it gets cold in October.
When arriving back at Williams Avenue, I cross the Boulevard again with Corleone’s Pizzeria in the distance and their well-lit tables. Two other businesses have been in town a long time in this series of stores.
Danson Jewelers at 201 Williams Avenue has been in Hasbrouck Heights since the 1980’s and does a nice job on repairs of watches and jewelry and has a nice selection of watches. The service is very friendly and the family that owns it gets to know their regulars.
Further down the street a new bakery opened. Two Ladies Bakery at 446 Boulevard. They specialize in Lebanese, Russian and French pastries. The bakery just opened two weeks ago so it is nice to go in and support a new business in town.
The Cream Puff I had was a little pricey for our town at $5.00. It was well baked and had a rich creamy vanilla filling. It was good but average.
The cream puffs are good but expensive
Another long service merchant who has been assisting residents for years is Heights Specialty Pharmacy (the former BeJay Drug Store) at 450 Boulevard. The staff has been here for years and is helpful to many of our senior residents. The owner’s wife runs a small gift shop both in the store and a few doors down has a separate shop.
The last merchant I pass on my way home is Jerry’s Barber Shop at 406 Boulevard, which has been here since the 1920’s when Jerry’s father ran the business. Jerry has been cutting my hair since 1988 and is one of the only people I trust to do it correctly. I even waited for trips home from Hawaii, Guam and California when I lived in those places to get my hair cut. A haircut here is still $14.00 and he does an excellent job. I highly recommend him.
Then I round the corner and am on my way home again. For such a small town, Hasbrouck Heights has the most interesting and historic downtown that few residents appreciate when you look at the history and longevity of our merchants. A few long-time merchants have closed their doors as they have either retired or COVID-19 has affected the business.
During the holiday season, the town really rolls out the welcome mat. People in town love to decorate and entertain. In this COVID era, some things have been toned down such as large parties and parades. All the Christmas concerts have been cancelled as school has been put into both virtual and life classes.
Still the spirit of the town can be felt from Halloween to the New Years as people decorate their homes and businesses welcome people to open houses and will cater to small parties of people.
Halloween in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ in 2019
In 2021, the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association started the first Annual “Halloween House Decorating Contest” to promote all the residents who decorate their homes for the Halloween holidays. We presented the award on Halloween morning to the winners at 257 Henry Street.
The first Annual “HHMA Halloween House Decorating Contest” winners with Chairman Justin Watrel
My blog on Halloween at the Parade and running the Halloween House Decorating Contest in 2021:
Every year I look forward to the Downtown Merchants Open Houses with their bright creative display windows and small indoor entertainments as people come to shop and converse with their neighbors.
Heights Flower Shop at Halloween
Hasbrouck Heights merchants know how to decorate for Halloween-Heights Flower Shop
Right before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Bill O’Shea Flowers had their annual Open House with Christmas music and lots of pre-wrapped goodies to enjoy and take home. The store was beautifully decorated with all sorts of treasures that customers could buy, I love just walking around and grabbing a snack while shopping every year.
Bill O’Shea’s Florist & Gifts is a delight at the Christmas holidays
Bill O’Shea’s Florist & Gifts welcomes you at Christmas
The weekend after Thanksgiving, Heights Flower Shoppe had their Annual Open House and it was just as spectacular. One tries to outdo the other in a friendly rivalry.
Heights Flower Shoppe has the most interesting merchandise
Heights Flower Shoppe pulls out all stops to welcome you at the holidays
My twenty-one years on the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association has done a lot to my back after years at Macy’s selling rugs as well. The Annual Christmas Tree Sale was a HUGE success this year. We sold out in less than two weeks, ending the sale on Friday night, December 11th selling a record 375 trees. We want to thank the residents of Hasbrouck Heights and the surrounding towns for their support on our Scholarship Fund event.
The Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association at the set-up being COVID safe in 2020
Things calmed down a bit in 2021. We sold out 390 trees in 11 days!
As we ready for Christmas 2020 next week and the coming of a new and hopefully better New Year, the town has done its job to cheer us up. The Annual Christmas Tree lighting was not advertised but happened anyway and welcomes people at our western border of town.
Our town Christmas tree at the Circle
The Neil Parrot playhouse is even decorated at the Circle
Downtown Hasbrouck Heights welcomes you at Christmas
Heights Flower Shop in Hasbrouck Heights at Christmas in 2021
Bill O’Shea’s in Hasbrouck Heights at Christmas time
Even though the Annual Holiday Parade was cancelled, we will still be welcoming Santa at Santa Around Town the last Sunday of December before Christmas. This Annual tradition on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department has the whole town in the Christmas spirit as Santa visits them in their own neighborhoods.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at “Santa Around Town” 2019
As the State of the New Jersey slowly opens again, I can still walk my entire downtown in the evenings and appreciate the fact that sometimes small-town living is not so bad and it is still only twenty minutes and twelve miles to Midtown Manhattan.
This is what walking is all about. Discovering things close to home.
Watch this video on our town and try to locate some of the older homes still standing.