The streets of Greenport Village twinkled extra brightly this holiday season. The inaugural Winter Wonderland holiday walk united more than 65 local businesses in a spirited holiday display competition.
The contest served two purposes: bringing the community together to celebrate the season and inviting visitors downtown during a typically slow time of the year. The Winter Wonderland holiday walk was the brainchild of American Beech owner Brent Pelton and partner Alex Vinash.
“We just thought this would be a really good way to showcase the beauty of Greenport [in the winter],” Pelton told northforker in December. “It is a charming experience. You can’t get that on Amazon.”
Since purchasing the historic Stirling Square property in Greenport almost five years ago, the Manhattan lawyer has worked to bolster the community through events such as the holiday walk and charitable acts benefiting Community Action for Southold Town, a nonprofit serving low-income individuals and families on the North Fork.
In 2018, he helped the organization raise tens of thousands of dollars by sponsoring and hosting fundraisers. For his selfless dedication to area causes, Brent Pelton is northforker’s 2018 Person of the Year.
“He is so generous to the community,” said CAST executive director Cathy Demeroto. “Without the support of Brent our services would be less. He has a busy job with his law firm in New York City and he comes out here and runs a business … He could just sit back and enjoy his success, but instead he wants to give back to the community. He realizes that a community is stronger when everyone in the community is thriving.”
In 2014, Pelton bought the entire Stirling Square complex, which dates back to the 1800s, after it had sat on the market for more than a year. With no experience in restoring historically significant buildings, Pelton, who practices wage recovery law with his firm, Pelton & Associates, set out with a vision to revive the downtown destination.
“When I met Brent he was close to closing on the Square, but I had no idea what that was … I had never been on the North Fork before,” said Vinash. “I totally hated [the Square]. It was winter and it was raining, and I was like, ‘What I am doing here?’ I remember saying, ‘Why do you want this?’ It was abandoned. Now I love it.”
American Beech is now at the heart of Stirling Square, alongside a handful of other retailers. The structures were carefully remodeled to preserve original architectural elements, such as exposed beams and brick. After the renovations, the boutique hotel and restaurant, which have a modern coastal vibe, opened in the fall of 2015, offering special deals during the off-season to promote Greenport as a midwinter getaway destination. The hotel added six more suites in 2018.
“The work he has done with the whole Square has really transformed that whole area and made it a vibrant location, not only for his business but a lot of related businesses,” said Rich Vandenburgh co-owner of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. and president of the Greenport Business Improvement District Management Association. “It is very important to the village and it has continued to propel the village in the right direction.”
In May, Pelton and Vinash opened a second hotel, Aqua by American Beech in Aquebogue. Continuing in the vein of rehabbing aging structures, the 18-room hotel, located at the former Cove Place Inn on Bay Avenue, underwent extensive interior and exterior renovations ahead of its Memorial Day weekend opening.
“It’s piece by piece,” Vinash said in May. “Just like in Greenport.”
2018 also marked a successful year in innovative fundraising for Pelton and Vinash. Fashion designer Vinash debuted his 2018 Resort Collection in Greenport in June. The Argentinian-born designer — who has been featured in Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle and Vanity Fair, to name a few — unveiled more than 40 new looks at the American Legion, with ticket sales benefiting CAST.
“It was a huge success,” Demeroto said. “We had a great turnout, almost 400 people. It was different for us and different for the community. I don’t think there has ever been a New York City-style runway show in Greenport. People are still talking about it.”
American Beech also hosted the second annual Blast for CAST fundraiser in September. The two events help raise roughly $60,000 for the organization, Demeroto said.
“He truly cares,” she said. “That is special. He is not only investing in his business, he is truly investing in the local community and the North Fork. He wants to see everyone succeed.”
2014 — Holly Browder
2015 — Gerry Hayden
2016 — Gene Casey & the Lone Sharks