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Scrooged on holiday lights last year, Morris Park tries again

Morris Park could look bleak again donations thanks to a lack of donations for its annual Christmas lights project.
Photo by David Cruz
Bronx Times

Morris Park’s annual Christmas light decorations could be “Scrooged” once again.

That’s because only 19 of the roughly 360 local businesses have donated to the project so far this year, according to Robert Ruggiero, head of the Morris Park Alliance merchant’s group. But despite the setbacks, Ruggiero intends to revive the annual Christmas lights project, which went dark in 2011, the second time in 30 years.

Since January, he’s been asking area businesses to donate for the lights that hang from lamp post to lamp post.

“Never ever have the merchants of Morris Park fully-funded the Christmas lights,” said Ruggiero, thrown off by the $100 donation.

“That’s like 20 cents a day,” said Ruggiero. His goal is to have about $36,000 for the project by the end of November.

But small businesses aren’t the only group of Grinches. Even large businesses turned Ruggiero down.

Traversing the streets of Morris Park, Ruggiero is met with the same excuses members of the Morris Park Community Association received when they spearheaded collection efforts.

“‘I didn’t know where to send the check’, ‘There’s no incentive,’” were some of the reasons Morris Park owners didn’t cut a check, according to Ruggiero.

A bad economy is another reason, he said, adding: “I empathize with that.”

Longtime storekeeper Vito Caputo of Caputo Jewelers supports the project, saying last year’s flub made every store owner “look bad”.

“We all got the blame,” said Caputo, who’s already pitched in his $100 for the lights.

But Anthony Villani, owner of Anthony’s Pizzeria, called it a ‘legal racket’.

“All you need is $25 dollars from each store,” said Villani, puzzled by the need for a large sum. He also didn’t like some “Mickey Mouse” kids going into his pizza place, begging for funds.

That approach has changed from here on in, according to Ruggiero.

No longer will solicitors go door-to-door collecting cash donations, according to Ruggiero.

“There’ll be no direct solicitations,” said Ruggiero, adding “no one touches Christmas money anymore.”

From now on contributions will only be accepted through an actual check or by logging onto the alliance’s website.

Ruggiero hopes the new safeguards will eliminate merchant’s skepticism.

Big businesses like Chase, Domino’s and Rite Aid are committing money to the project - after the Bronx Times Reporter reached out to them.

“There will be a donation from Domino’s Pizza this year,” said company spokesman Tim McIntyre.

“We’ll be happy to support the alliance,” said Chase spokesman Michael Fusco.

A Rite Aid spokesman spoke with Ruggiero, advising him to submit an official request to Rite Aid’s headquarters to see if it meets their grant criteria.

Ruggiero’s quest to fund the light project could be over soon.

A bid to turn the alliance into a business improvement district is underway, which would help provide yearly funding for the light project.

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383 or dcruz@cnglocal.com.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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