Shelter Island’s ‘crown jewel’ fireworks show to return

Last year's fireworks show over the Peconic Bay, where it can be seen by spectators on Shelter Island and the North Fork. (credit: Beverlea Walz)

Last year’s fireworks show over the Peconic Bay, where it can be seen by spectators on Shelter Island and the North Fork. (credit: Beverlea Walz)

In 2015, Shelter Island residents nearly went without a tradition of more than 50 years: the Shelter Island fireworks display.

The event, which typically takes place the weekend after July 4, was canceled last March by the Chamber of Commerce, which said the show had become too costly to continue.

A small group led by Brett Surerus and other Shelter Island residents then banded together to raise the funds necessary to put on the show. By doing this, they officially took over as the event’s organizers.

They call themselves Shelter Island Fireworks Inc., and they want everyone to know that fundraising will allow the show to go on once again, in its 59th year, on Saturday, July 9. 

“[It’s] the crown jewel of Shelter Island traditions,” Mr. Surerus said.

He and his wife, Kelly, said taking over the show is a tough thing to do, but it is worth it.

The team raised $40,000 for last year’s fireworks and is on the way to reaching that goal again this year. This is the second year of a three-year contract Shelter Island Fireworks Inc. signed with Fireworks by Grucci. The organization recently gained 501c3 nonprofit status, which Mr. Surerus hopes will help with fundraising moving forward.

“We try and secure funds wherever we can,” Mr. Surerus said. “It’s pretty hard to generate $40,000.”

To that end, the nonprofit team, which also includes islanders James Richardson, Carla Cadzin and attorney Mary Dubinsky, are raising funds through several avenues.

As they did last year, they’ll host a pre-fireworks fundraiser Friday, July 8, at SALT Waterfront Bar and Grill that will feature raffles, giveaways, food and local music. They hope to book a special guest for the party as well.

Around $5,000 has been raised so far, most of it through the group’s GoFundMe page. Mr. Surerus said things have been a bit slower than last year, when there were single donors who contributed up to $5,000. But it’s still early, he said, and the group hopes to secure some of those big donors again.

In addition to putting on a good show, Shelter Island Fireworks Inc. also wants to give back to the community. This year, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Shelter Island Fire Department and Ambulance Corps, whose members volunteer their time for the event each year.

Mr. Surerus also recognized Shelter Island Town Supervisor James Dougherty as a huge supporter of the organization.

“Brett and his team did a superb job last year revitalizing our fireworks tradition,” Mr. Dougherty said in an email. “They have promised an even greater show … and I am completely confident they will come through beautifully, to the delight of all Shelter Islanders and our many summer visitors.”

Mr. Surerus said it was important to him to preserve the event because it’s the one time each year that he gets to see people he wouldn’t normally see, like former Shelter Island residents who have moved away.

No matter where they end up, he said, they always come back to Shelter Island for the show.

To make sure this year’s event tops last year, the group aims to designate a spot where food trucks and tents can set up. They’ll also sell customized firework patterns before the big show, so spectators can pay to have personal messages shot off to friends.

One feature that will be carried over from last year is the establishment of a “family zone” on Crescent Beach, in front of the lifeguard stand, and a march down the beach by the Brazil-influenced parade band Escola de Samba Boom.

In the ongoing effort to keep this tradition alive, Mr. Surerus said the organization aims for an “all things Shelter Island” approach. For example, a local artist will design the logo for T-shirts that will be sold and they’d like to get local businesses involved as event sponsors.

Mr. Surerus said he wants his two young children to enjoy the annual event as he did for many years. His wife agrees.

“How could we live here and not have something like this for the kids?” she remarked.

Ms. Surerus added that she remembers being a kid herself and walking with her parents down the big hill to the fireworks. They expect to keep this going for many years to come and have already begun planning for 2017.

“We’re pretty passionate Shelter Islanders,” Mr. Surerus said. “We don’t like to see decades-old traditions just disappear. We are here for the long term.”