GROWING UP IN, AND THEN LEAVING NASSAU Would Isles move be final straw for local youths?

written by Kevin Schultz

The Islanders leaving town after a failed bid for a new arena – this is hypothetical of course, for the time being – simply put would be the team following the path of the younger part of its fan base out of Nassau County.

Sure, there’s the stereotype of old New Yorkers leaving for Florida, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the disinterest and disconnect of young, native Nassau Countiers to the place where they grew up. The 18-30 year old demographic that flees Nassau for Brooklyn, Queens, other parts of the tri-state and eastern seaboard. This is something you may not notice if you’re a busy commuter going between work and family or are walking through the Hofstra campus. But our young adults have gone missing. They’re not spending all the money from their summer jobs and/or parents in Nassau County. They’re certainly not going to school in Nassau County (see: the rise of SUNYs and Stony Brook). They’re not buying apartments in Oceanside or Great Neck (not like there were any to begin with).

Let me back track a bit and introduce myself. I’m 24-years old and commuting to the city for work via my parents’ basement. If I could afford it, I would have my own place in a minute. I grew up in Syosset for 18 years before heading to college. I couldn’t wait to get. The hell. Out. Call it being a teenager, but I bolted for college at the University of South Carolina. Had it not been for a local economy smaller than Seaford, my other out-of-state friends and I likely would have stayed and found jobs in Columbia. That’s what my high school friends who went to school in Boston did. That’s what, I figure, I would have done if I had gone to Maryland instead. Luckily for Nassau County, I didn’t have anywhere else to go. So now I’m back. And I’m ready to leave. And if you didn’t pay attention or look hard enough, you didn’t notice that my friends and I aren’t around.

Where are we?

We’re going to off-Long Island colleges, especially since the county’s flagship school is asking for private size dollars, a large factor in my decision. We’re renting apartments in Brooklyn. We’re living with our parents in Nassau, but working and drinking playing in the City when we’re not tanning in the Hamptons. Isn’t this the stereotypical Nassau upbringing? Have fun but do it somewhere else.

Why should it be that way? Why should we have to go elsewhere and spend all that money in other municipalities?

Why is it that when I walk around the mall, go to the movies (and to a lesser extent) the beach, all I see are families, high schoolers and retirees?

The fact is, there isn’t a good enough reason for my friends and I to stay in Nassau County. And what’s giving us an incentive to come back when we decide to settle down? Certainly not the property taxes and the housing prices. Definitely not the crowded beaches and highways. Whole Foods is nice, but that’s not exclusive. I’ll sure miss Bagel Boss, but I’ll survive.

But let me get to the main point. My vote will count on August 1st and it is a definitive YES. I’ve been going to Islanders games with my father since I could walk. That got me to collecting cards, which Dad credits my learning to read. Now I blog about hockey which has honed my writing skills and even landed me a paid gig at FanHouse. To say the Islanders have had a profound impact on my life would be an understatement. I’ve asked a lot of questions in this post but here’s the million-dollar one. If the new arena gets vetoed and the Islanders leave when their lease runs out, what reason do I have to stay in or come back to Nassau, aside from family?

Is there nightlife I can’t get anywhere else? No.

Are there beaches unlike anywhere else? I hate to break it to you, but there are beaches outside of the overcrowded Jones and TOBAY. And they have concerts and fireworks!

Are there quaint suburbs that I won’t find anywhere else? There are, with comparable schools and better tax rates.

So why should I come back to Nassau County?

Seriously. Why?

I’m not sitting here picking apart my home because I’m some jaded emo kid. Believe it or not, I like my home quite a bit. Sometimes to wake people up to the consequences of their actions, they need a little tough love. Right now, my county needs some tough love.

You can’t beat All-American Burger in Massapequa. There are beautiful parks all over that I love taking pictures of. And, oh yeah, my beloved Islanders. But the point is, there’s not a lot here you can’t get elsewhere – and for less money.

Lost in all the political games and partisan politics that are driving this County off a cliff faster than Thelma and Louise is the fact that the future of Nassau County isn’t as bright as its present.

Think about what’s starting to happen.

At possibly the top of the economic troubles in Nassau, 1,500 teachers lost their jobs during the recession. Not only hurting them, but that has trickled down to my generation fresh out of school who can’t beat teachers 10 years their senior for jobs, if there are even any jobs out there. Add that to everyone else just out of college, and only 55% of us nationwide are working in jobs requiring a degree (source).

OK, so the economy is tough. It’s tough everywhere, but there’s no reason not to create jobs in the hub of Nassau County by building a new arena. If the Islanders leave, it’s a double negative in that it puts everyone working in the Coliseum and probably some in the surrounding area (restaurants, bars, the Marriot) out as well.

Aside from the economics, the fun is leaving Nassau County as well. We’re already talking about how great the Jones Beach Fireworks used to be. What happens when the Nikon Theatre at the beach gets old and needs repairs? We’ll be talking about all the great concerts we used to go to.

What are we building for the future? What reasons are we giving our kids to stay here? We already don’t keep the majority of them here for college – Hofstra’s website posts a 48% out-of-state rate (Remember, that doesn’t account for enrollments from upstate). That’s an awful lot of lost kids if they’re not choosing the smaller Adelphi or CW Post. None of these schools have an undergrad class greater than 7,000 by the way. We’re outsourcing our college students not just to Maryland, Boston and Delaware but to in-state cities like Ithaca, Albany, Rochester and Stony Brook. We’ve always lost the youth to the city but in a global world where you can Skype, FaceTime and then fly across the country, we’re not keeping up. That’s a lot of kids leaving every year and we’re not giving them a good enough reason to come back.

When I asked for responses from Twitter users the other night, I got more than a few sharing my sentiments:

“You should have tons of material. #Isles and [lacrosse] only two things keeping me here. #ForReal”

“High property taxes chase away young homeowners.”

From Daniel Wernau:

“I’m a 25 year old engineer, making a significant amount more than the median NY household salary. I live in a basement apartment for the same rent I could be paying on a mortgage somewhere else. I hear about friends from college and departed colleagues about making more (25% more) money and living in areas like the Gulf coast and Houston and living in full apartments with amenities for much less than I pay. Why do I stay? The two resources nearly exclusive to Long Island: Lacrosse, and the New York Islanders.”

Others were more vocal like David Cohen, Tufts Class of 2011.

“If they move, will I ever watch hockey again? Doubtful. Will I ever come to Long Island for more than a week at a time? Probably not. But why would I? New York City is 45 minutes away. All of my friends will be living there. My brother lives there. My parents are moving there when they retire. At that point, when I have no family ties to LI, and no friends living here, why would I come back? However, are the New York Islanders, perennial laughingstock of the NHL, worth driving an extra hour to see? ABSOLUTELY.”

One of the main points these responses have in common is that the Islanders are a unique and defining characteristic in the middle of a typical American suburbia.

There’s one quote that I’ll never forget from Kate Murray, used in her effort to block the Lighthouse Project.

“Kate Murray, Hempstead’s town supervisor, cited a desire to keep the ‘suburban character of surrounding communities.’ ” – NYTimes

Regardless of whether it was just political verbage or if she truly wanted to preserve some aspect of the area that has long been lost – long gone since they built the Source Mall, Roosevelt Field Mall, Hofstra’s basketball arena, Hofstra’s upgraded football stadium, that gun shop on Hempstead Turnpike, the massive Aquatics Center in Eisenhower Park, the McMansions on top of the old Roosevelt Raceway, Target, Starbucks and Best Buy – Murray’s words speak to a larger problem, a fear that she was trying to strike in her constituents.

The impression that I get from a lot of people in Nassau County that we shouldn’t let this or that in. That we need to keep things the way they are or get back to the way they were. That we’re keeping one foot in the past while being willfully ignorant of the future all the while pretending we don’t notice the next time a Walmart goes up down the street. Maybe it goes back to all of William Levitt’s developments and the stereotypes that are associated with them. Houses all looking the same, lawns nicely cut and anyone saying or doing anything slightly out of line is looked down upon. That sure doesn’t paint a picture of a place where a sore thumb like the Islanders should be allowed to stick out.

The point is, when we lose the Islanders, we lose one of the things that makes us unique and unlike every other suburbia with endless box big stores, strip malls and a Starbucks on every corner. When the dust settles, you won’t be able to say you didn’t have a voice. In America, we usually don’t get to vote on rules and laws, only to pick the people who decide them for us. Nassau County: on August 1st, it’s your decision.

Kevin Schultz is an occasional contributor to Point Blank and has blogged about the NHL for the defunct FanHouse. Comments, questions, praise and scorn can be directed at him on Twitter @schultz88.