LIVING IN / Cedarhurst's Changing `Rodeo Drive'
BY JAMES BERNSTEIN. STAFF WRITER
MEDIAN AGE: 39.8
MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME: $73,911
SCHOOL DISTRICT: Lawrence
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TODDY'S IN Cedarhurst had been open on Saturdays since the appetizer store was established in the mid-1940s.
But a decade ago, owner Jay Todman decided to close on that day. Cedarhurst, a quiet village in southwestern Nassau County, had changed dramatically. The municipality had become heavily populated by Orthodox Jews, who do not shop or spend money on Saturday, their day of prayer and rest.
"The feeling was [closing Saturday] was the right thing to do," says Todman. Business is brisker than ever, he adds. Todman, who is not Orthodox, says he had simply gone along with the times. "If the town had gone Italian, we would be selling Italian salamis right now."
A number of other stores in Cedarhurst are also now closed on Saturday, a sharp contrast to a decade ago, when Saturday was the one day of the week that Central Avenue, the village's main drag, was certain to be clogged with people and cars. Central Avenue now seems busier on Sundays, when the kosher food stores on the five-block strip are all open.
"There's a transition taking place," says Larry Gordon, a writer for Jewish newspapers and magazines, who lives in the nearby village of Lawrence. "There's been some resistance" on the part of some shoppers and merchants. "But the tide has turned."
As recently as the late 1970s, Cedarhurst was known primarily as the Rodeo Drive of the Five Towns, a place with 240 stores in a one-mile-square area. Today, there are just as many stores and they are just as tony and upscale. But there is a difference. There are more chain outlets now, including Express, Banana Republic, The Gap and Ann Taylor. There are more stores selling Jewish gift items, such as Elbaum Judaica and Judaica Plus. And, the village has become well known for its kosher food spots, including Chap a Nosh, The Gourmet Glatt Emporium and Zomick's.
"The neighborhood has changed quite a bit," says Lisa Lanese, an owner of the still-popular Mother Kelly's, an Italian restaurant that has been around for 30 years. "People don't come out as much on Saturdays as they used to. Sunday is busier than Saturday now."
To be sure, Orthodox Jews do not make up a majority of the population in Cedarhurst, but their numbers have been increasing in the last decade or so. According to real estate agents, many of the newcomers are young, and they have been attracted to the village because homes in the municipality are more affordable than in many other parts of the Five Towns, which also includes Lawrence, Inwood, Hewlett and Woodmere.
In Cedarhurst, twoand three-bedroom homes can be purchased for between $230,000 and $280,000, real estate agents say. Taxes are between $4,000 and $8,000.
Children attend the Lawrence school district, where the current enrollment is about 3,800. That number is down sharply from the mid-1980s, when about 4,300 students were enrolled. In contrast, enrollment has been steadily growing at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, an Orthodox day school that draws students from throughout Nassau, Queens and Brooklyn. There are 500 students at the HAFTR high school in Cedarhurst, says principal Daniel J. Vitow. "When I came to the high school 14 years ago, there were 120 students." Cedarhurst is also a 50-minute commute to Manhattan by railroad. And it is a five-minute ride from Kennedy Airport, a circumstance residents say is a blessing and a curse, particularly on warm spring and summer evenings when the quiet of a backyard barbecue is shattered by the roar from jet engines seemingly only a few hundred feet overhead.
An advisory board, the Town Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee, continues to monitor complaints from residents and discusses noise problems with Federal Aviation Administration officials at Kennedy. The problem could get even worse. Kendall Lampkin, the board's executive director, says the committee is "very much concerned" about recent proposals from airlines to add flights at Kennedy.
Village Mayor Andrew Parisi and other officials say the municipality has always been accommodating of change, and that the influx of Orthodox Jews has added to Cedarhurst's growing diversity. "This is like a family gathering place," Parisi says. "We've got all races and colors and creeds. Some stores are closed Saturday and open Sunday, and vice versa. It's a seven-day-a-week shopping village now."
In an effort to reflect the broadening interests of residents, the village two years ago began hosting summer concerts with an ethnic theme in a large park across from the village hall. A gazebo was built for that purpose. "We had Irish Night and Italian Night and Jewish Night," Parisi says. "We had 2,000 people out" for most of the concerts this past summer and last.
Crowds are nothing new to Cedarhurst, and parking has always been an issue. "It's terrible," says Carrie Levinson, owner of Oh Goodie, a gift store on Central Avenue. "I get nothing but complaints about the lack of parking. It's a wonderful village. It's a shame there isn't enough parking to make everybody happy."
Parisi says the village has 10 parking fields, and that since September, parking in those areas has been free on weekends. (On-street parking is still metered.) Parisi says the village is trying to better publicize the free parking.
Cedarhurst began to become heavily developed after World War II. Daryl Smallwood, the village administrator who came to Cedarhurst as a young child with her family in 1943, remembers a time when things were far different. "There were a lot of empty lots and unpaved roads" Smallwood says. "The milk was delivered by horse and wagon."
Indeed, Cedarhurst was once not even Cedarhurst. It was inhabited at the time of the American Revolution by Indians, farmers and slaves, or tenants at Rock Hall, a large plantation built in modern-day Lawrence in 1767. (The entire Five Towns area was occupied by British troops and was a Tory stronghold.)
Cedarhurst's early name was Ocean Point. It gained popularity after the arrival of rail service in 1869. One of the hottest spots was the Rockaway Hunting Club, built in Cedarhurst in 1878. The club is now situated in Lawrence, a result of boundary changes. A post office was established in 1884, and Ocean Point was renamed Cedarhurst, partly at the request of the Hunt Club. The name apparently came from the grove, or "hurst," of cedar trees surrounding the post office.
To some in the village, the changes over the years have not been as important as the quality of life.
"I live on a block that hasn't changed in 45 years," says Ruth Greenwald, whose house on Washington Avenue is near everything. "Everybody who lived here 40 years ago is still here, or their children are here. I raised three sons here. I could walk to shopping. I could walk to the train. I didn't have to be a mom who sat in the car."