Looking Back at 2021


 As we enter 2022, let’s take a look back at some of the things that took place in 2021. Here are some highlights from each Rockaway Times (RT) issue this year:


January 7

Locals all over took the polar plunge and one, Timmy Dunne even popped the question. A Far Rockaway couple was killed in a hit and run on New Years Day. Rockaway Youth Task Force founder and president Milan Taylor was accused of rape and abuse by former RYTF member Andrea Colon.


January 14

 A Franchise and Concession Review Committee hearing about the boardwalk concession contract got heated after NYC Parks announced they would award the contract to the owners of Riis Beach Bazaar instead of Rockaway Beach Club. Gateway National Recreation Area (Gateway) released a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) in connection with the Silver Gull Beach Club and the Breezy Point Surf Club.


January 21

As the Covid vaccine started to become more widely available, lines formed outside of vaccine sites like Beach Channel Educational Campus. A lucky pup was rescued from the bay by NYPD after Harbor Optics owners Scott and Carol DeNaro, spotted the dog struggling. Black Surfing Association led an MLK march on the boardwalk. Reverend Richard Hartley, the longtime pastor and choir director of Haven International Ministries was gearing up for his television debut on The Rev on USA Network.


January 28

Parade organizers officially announced that the 2021 Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day Parade would be cancelled as parade permits across the city were cancelled due to Covid. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced its groin construction plan after hiring contractor H&L Contracting LLC. A water main break in Broad Channel left many with brown water across the peninsula. Broad Channel got a new traffic light at 1st Road and Cross Bay Boulevard.


February 4

Winter Storm Orlena dropped 18 inches of snow and caused severe erosion on the beach. A dolphin washed up dead on Beach 123rd Street in the middle of the night. A house fire on Beach 86th Street left a three-year-old girl in critical condition. The Meat Up Grill opened its brick and mortar location on Beach 116th Street.


February 11

Longtime card store Rogoff’s was getting ready to permanently close. Councilman Eric Ulrich announced the Neponsit Home would be demolished next year. Indoor dining finally reopened at 25% capacity just in time for Valentine’s Day. Nicholas Velez, a longtime Rockaway local landed a supporting role in blockbuster hit “Judas and the Black Messiah.”


February 18

The Rockaway Times launched the Sixth Annual RT Photo Contest. Locals were getting ready to use ranked choice voting for the first time in the District 31 special election race for city council. A suspect was arrested after killing two in four separate stabbing incidents on the A train. Kimo’s was getting ready to reopen after a fire heavily damaged the Rockaway Beach restaurant in October. The city was getting ready to reopen public middle schools for in-school learning,


February 25

Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez were in town filming a Hulu show around Beach 116th Street. Ranked choice voting officially came into play in a close District 31 special election race between Selvena Brooks-Powers and Pesach Osina. Mayoral hopeful Kathryn Garcia came to visit Rockaway. Mayor de Blasio came to town for a topping off ceremony for an affordable housing building on Beach 21st.


March 4

Alarm was raised after a consulting firm suggested St. John’s Hospital should be reduced to a 15-bed micro-hospital. While the Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day parade was cancelled, locals were planning an unofficial march on the boardwalk. Black 47’s Larry Kirwan penned a 9/11 novel called “Rockaway Blue.” Design plans were unveiled for the new PS 47 in Broad Channel.


March 11

The Army Corps revealed that jetty construction would close some uptown beaches during the peak of the summer. St. John’s Hospital was granted a reprieve at the NYS Dept. of Health agreed not to reduce the hospital capacity.


March 18

NYC Restaurants were permitted to expand to 50% capacity for indoor dining. The Rockaway Theatre Company was discovered to be vandalized. Local elected officials chimed in on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment accusations.


March 25

After officially winning ranked choice voting, Selvena Brooks-Powers was sworn in as District 31’s new council member. Avoid the Day Bookstore reopened with upgrades after choosing to close due to Covid precautions. In a socially-distanced setup, locals took the plunge for Special Olympics.


April 1

Despite being up for sale, Connolly’s announced that it would be open for another summer. Independent planning consultant Paul Graziano broke down the details of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s “Planning Together” bill for Land Use issues. A new pet store, Rockaway Pet Supplies, opened in Rockaway Beach.


April 8

New community board members were announced. The Mayor announced that all beaches would open on time for the summer. Arverne East, a longtime project calling for a nature preserve, new housing, retail and more, was given the green light after completing the ULURP Process. FDNY acted quickly to extinguish a dune fire on Beach 114th After undergoing a change of ownership and major renovations, The Wharf was set to reopen.


April 15

Italian restaurant and pizza place Rocco’s of Roc Beach officially opened on Rockaway Beach Blvd. The Rockaway Times was a winner for the seventh year in a row in the New York Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. The AOH delivered the proceeds from their raffle to local organizations. The newest cat rescuer on the block Samantha Knox was taking Rockaway by storm with Itty Bitty City Kitties. The Rockaway Hotel launched the Hospitality Way program.


April 22

The community participated in a massive peninsula-wide cleanup. Rockaway’s surf schools teamed up to offer a free surf day. Ahead of the decision in the Derek Chauvin trial, Rockaway held paddle outs and a march in memory of George Floyd.

April 29

A Top 30 was named in the RT Photo Contest. Rockaway remembered beloved hairstylist Richie O’Connor after his death. Rockaway got its first tiki bar with the opening of Tiki by the Sea. The National Park Service announced Riis Park would be doubling its parking fees. A little kitten lucked out after local sanitation workers discovered it in a trash bag.


May 6

The list of new concessionaires under Rockaway Bazaar was released. Mayor hopeful Eric Adams came to Rockaway to receive an endorsement by Rockaway’s elected officials.


May 13

Three lads were at Marina 59 preparing their rowboat for an epic trek across the Atlantic to Ireland in “The Hard Way Home.” Local author Glenn Lawson released “Curtains for You.” Volunteers from NYC Ferry and NYC Economic Development Corporation joined the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy and the American Littoral Society Restoration Corps to restore a portion of parkland at the western end of the Beach 108th Street ferry landing. Reid’s Studio 28 opened where Rocco’s Hair Salon was.


May 20

Indoor mask rules were relaxed for the vaccinated. Just ahead of the concessions opening, the Beach 97th concession was sabotaged with food bombs, concrete in drains and more. St. John’s Episcopal held an evening to honor its frontline worker heroes. NurtureU Wellness celebrated its fifth anniversary in its new location.


May 27

Beaches officially opened for the season. The RT’s Top 30 photos were blown up to poster size and put on the boardwalk. Wine With Sue made a special birthday performance for Kristine at the Caruso home. The community was rallying for Olivia Benedetto as she returned home to Roxbury after a skiing accident left her paralyzed. Rockaway’s drag queen Ginger Ladd landed a residency in Manhattan. Coastal Frozen Yogurt reopened as Coastal, expanding their frozen offerings. A woman drowned during the night on Beach 17th Street.


June 3

NY Jets defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi was getting ready to return to Rockaway for the Rock the Block Funday. Itty Bitty City Kitties and others were teaming up for the Big Fix to provide free resources for Rockaway’s pets. Drone photos showed the new groins in Neponsit were already working. Suspect Michael Capece was released after assaulting a pregnant woman in Rockaway beach. New osprey chicks arrived in Jamaica Bay showing the success of the nesting program.


June 10

Beach 133rd held a celebration for Siobhan after she finished her last chemo. The community was shocked after 10-year-old Justin Wallace was shot and killed at his uncle’s home. Vincentia “Toots” Becker died just short of her 101st birthday. Jamaica Bay was seeing an increase in poaching issues, with people taking clams, crabs and horseshoe crabs during late night hours.


June 17

Rockaway was getting ready to vote in the primaries. RockStock and Barrels returned. The lads of the Hard Way Home finally began their rowboat adventure to Ireland. With Margie’s and the Greenhouse Café open, the Rockaway Hotel’s ground floor was taking shape. A community vigil was held at Challenge Preparatory Charter School for Justin Wallace.


June 24

The Rockaway Times celebrated its 7th anniversary. The primary results were in with Republican Joann Ariola and Democrat Felicia Singh in the lead for the District 32 race. A memorial started to form on Beach 81st Street and Shore Front Parkway where a motorcyclist was killed in a speeding accident.  P.S. 114 surprised Nurse Katie Diffendale at her retirement party. Tess Howley was given an Olympic-sized welcome home after returning from the Olympic Trials.


July 1

The Rockaway Times’ video of Tess Howley’s welcome home parade reached nearly 3 million people on social media. A memorial paddle out was held for Hurricane Sandy hero Dylan Smith. Motorized bikes were the hot button issue at an uptown meeting with the NYPD. The Rockaway Artists Alliance launched a membership drive to help reopen the studio. An exposé revealed how NYC lifeguards on Rockaway’s beaches were dealing with staff shortage issues due to alleged retaliation. Many in the community were upset after Pride flags on the boardwalk were torn down within a few days.


July 8

Uptown residents pushed back against a plan to add a concrete walkway from Beach 126th to Beach 149th Street. Eric Adams, Donovan Richards and others were declared winners in their Democratic primary races. Local writer Barbara Berg wrote a children’s book. The Summer Classic began.


July 15

Summer was in full swing with the Rock! Away! Summer fest, Thrilla in Camilla and a Wild Yaks album party that weekend. Rockaway was getting ready for the Cristin Mullen run. NYC Parks held a sandcastle contest.


July 22

Thrilla in Camilla was another success with Rich Pontieri winning the local grudge match. House on the Rock Church held a fundraiser to support the 101 Precinct’s Far Rockaway Community Engagement Team’s effort to bring activities to local youth.   The Rockaway Times photo contest was narrowed to a Top 10.


July 29

The legendary Frances Abbracciamento of Breezy Point died at 108 years old. The Rockaway Times was ready to hosts its Sandcastle Contest and announce the winners of the Photo Contest. John Reinhardt and his wife, Patrice’s house mixup led to them crashing the wrong party. The Rockaway Civic Association held a send-off celebration for president Noreen Ellis. Rockaway remembered the legendary Jerry Reen ahead of his memorial service.


August 5

Gina Brennan’s photo of sunset at The Wharf took the top prize in the RT Photo Contest. Bill McClernon took the top prize in the RT Sandcastle Contest. National Night Out was a success. Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato and others held a press conference to call on the governor to sign the Water Safety Commission bill. Lido Beach Butlers, a beach chair concierge service launched on Beach 108th.


August 12

The RT highlighted some long-neglected areas of Riis Park in a photo series. The RT shared the story of George Johnson becoming the best man for the boy he donated bone marrow to 25 years earlier. A new sausage and peppers truck, Delio’s was heating up in Broad Channel.


August 19

The outdoor Arverne Cinema had its first feature film. After the RT’s exposé, action was taken to clean up some of the overgrowth at Riis Park.


August 26

The Cow Parade returned with a cow on Rockaway’s own boardwalk. Rockaway was spared major effects of Hurricane Henri. As the Delta variant arrived, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called on the DOE to provide a remote schooling option.


September 2

After losing power, the lads of The Hard Way Home were forced to end their rowboat journey and be rescued off of Canada. A Zoom issue disrupted an important Belle Harbor Property Owners meeting on the proposed beach walkway.


September 9

Rockaway was readying to mark the 20th anniversary of September 11. Broad Channel hosted its annual Mardi Gras parade. Hackfarm, a DIY studio, opened in Rockaway Beach.


September 16

St. John’s Hospital escaped major damage after a rooftop fire caused evacuation. The Rockaway Artists Alliance was getting ready to reopen with “Read Desert.” Rockaway marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with memorial ceremonies and the Richie Allen Surf Classic.


September 23

The Irish Fest made a triumphant return. Bagel & Barista Station opened on Beach 116th Street The plan to demolish the Neponsit Home next year gained more steam.


September 30

At a virtual Community Board meeting, USACE, NYC Parks and the NYSDEC revealed a compromise on the uptown walkway proposal, presenting a temporary mobi-mat style walkway instead. Carlotta Peters was hosting a major yard sale to help support a Scholars’ student, James, after he suffered a stroke. Poseidon Parade made a triumphant return.


October 7

A group of locals, “The Loopers” participated in the Bike to the Beach to raise money for autism awareness. An old hydroplane from Broad Channel found its way home. Orangetheory Fitness was finally starting to move forward after two years of delays. Rockaway’s pets were blessed at the Blessing of the Animals.


October 14

The design for the new firehouse near Beach 116th was revealed at a Community Board meeting. The AOH began donating the proceeds from the Irish Festival. Team RBNY-18 were getting ready for the National Stair Climb in honor of 9/11 heroes. Dear Enchantress published a book based on her column.


October 21

Swimmer Tess Howley shattered records and brought home a gold medal in the FINA Swimming World Cup. District 32 City Council candidates Joann Ariola and Felicia Singh made their voices heard at a town hall ahead of the election.


October 28

Halloween weekend was back in full swing. The CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies’ brought college courses to the peninsula at Challenge Charter School. Rockaway marked the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.


November 4

After election day, Joann Ariola and Selvena Brooks-Powers were declared winners in their respective city council races. Lauren Marten was getting ready to run the NYC Marathon for StacheStrong in honor of her father, Ray, who has brain cancer.


November 11

The community was left shocked after the sudden passing of Democratic Assembly District Leader Lew Simon. PS 253Q was renamed The Randolph Holder School for Social Justice in honor of fallen police officer Randolph Holder. Rockaway marked the 20th anniversary of the crash of Flight 587.


November 18

A celebration of Lew Simon’s life was held at the Beach 108th hockey rink. Rockaway celebrated Veterans Day. The Rockaway Theatre Company made a triumphant return to the stage with “All Together Now!” NYC Parks presented some new ramp design proposals for the uptown beaches.


November 25

A series of 18 newly-installed speed bumps on Shore Front Parkway was the talk of the town. Next year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade honorees, including the RT’s own Katie McFadden, were announced at the Hearts and Shamrock dance. West Pond’s Living Shoreline in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge was revealed. St. Francis de Sales and West End Temple held an interfaith service for Thanksgiving and in memory of Lew Simon. Beach Dunes Eats & Arts Café opened in Edgemere.


December 2

The annual Beach 116th menorah lighting went on in memory of Lew Simon. Stockings for a Cause returned. Rogers opened its upstairs rooms as an Airbnb. Friends threw a 94th birthday celebration for Tony Sabatino at Rogers.


December 9

The Little North Pole lit up for the season. Broad Channel lit its Christmas tree for the season. Rockaway celebrated Hanukkah around town.


December 16

A year passed since the Covid vaccine first arrived at St. John’s Hospital. The Beach 116th tree was lit for the season. SFDS unveiled its new life-size nativity at its tree lighting. Action was taken at Scholars’ Academy after a student threatened to shoot up the school.


December 23

Rockaway Beach Autism Families celebrated the holidays. City Council approved 199 street co-namings including for Lew Simon, Clare Droesch, Deborah Hoyle and more. The Santa Sleigh Run came into town. Redistricting proposal maps called for splitting the peninsula into three congressional districts.


And now on to 2022! Here’s to a Happy New Year!

By Katie McFadden


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