Bender Avenue: A Roselle Park Halloween Tradition

For years Bender Avenue has been known as Halloween Central. Roselle Park residents and people would come from out-of-town in the hundreds and sometimes thousands to go door to door along streets that had houses decorated in such a way that it felt like a block-long funhouse. But around 2010, the governing body was hearing that what started out as a labor of love was turning into a beast of burden. The general complaint from a few residents was that Bender Avenue on Halloween was being overrun by people from outside of town. Comments were made to the effect of, as one resident put it, “More and more I see less and less faces I recognize.”

It should be noted that Halloween in 2009 and 2010 fell on a Saturday and Sunday respectively, when more people than usual would be out trick-or-treating as opposed to a weekday. Then came a freak snow storm in 2011 which postponed events on Bender Avenue until November 4th which was a Friday. That year, Mayor Joseph Accardi made a conscious effort to not publicize that date so as to keep it only for Roselle Park residents. Then Superstorm Sandy hit last year which effectively canceled all Halloween activities on Bender Avenue.

Now, with a clear weather forecast for the most part, ‘Halloween Central’ is back up for discussion but the governing body has decided not only to not mention it so as not to draw attention to the event but they have made the decision to recommend that the Roselle Park Police Department not put up LED signs, light towers, or even barricades which block off some parts of Bender Avenue from vehicular traffic. This has upset some residents on Bender Avenue who, while some of them understanding the decision to not ‘promote’ Bender Avenue, feel that – at the very least – barricades should be put up to block traffic since parts of Bender Avenue have no sidewalks.

One resident, in particular, is concerned with the potential consequences of such a decision. Jeff Ceterko, who decorates his house and yard for Halloween, is concerned with the recommendation from the governing body to not automatically place barricades. He also does not support the sentiment of excluding people from out-of-town for something positive about Roselle Park that also happens to be for children.

“It’s ridiculous,” Jeff said about both issues, “If (New York City) Mayor Bloomberg said no one is allowed to come to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree or the dropping of the ball on New Year’s Eve unless you live in Manhattan, what would you say? You would tell him ‘Nonsense, I’m coming and I’m bringing my family and we’re going to enjoy ourselves.'”

In talking with Jeff, he also takes issue with a flier that was distributed on Bender Avenue by council members Andrew Casais and Charlene Storey which starts by stating that “things have gotten a little out of hand on Bender Avenue in recent years” and later mentions that “While we never want to cut down on safety measures, it seems that some of these provisions may be backfiring and making it seem like a major destination for the whole region.”

A copy of the complete letter is viewable here:

“Every person who comes in from out-of-town is going to come regardless,” Jeff said of the measures being taken by the governing body, “They didn’t get the flier. How are they going to know not to come? You’re not going to stop everyone from coming. And to purposely say you’re going to create an unsafe atmosphere in order to keep people from coming back again – and that is your plan to  reduce crowds – you’re inviting a problem that has an easy solution.”

As for residents who are complaining (most of which do not live on Bender Avenue) about the ‘outsiders’ and non-familiar faces crowding the streets, Jeff somewhat understands but brings out the point, “Yes, people from out-of-town come but that’s what makes the tradition. It’s what makes it special. Bender Avenue is known throughout the county and even the state on Halloween. It’s four hours out of the year and in all the time I’ve been doing it I have never seen any incident or trouble.”

Jeff understands the preparation and cost that goes into preparing to be a Bender Avenue house on Halloween – just this year he has already purchased 2,500 pieces of candy. Still, he knows that no one is forcing him or anyone else to take part and if people on Bender do not want to participate or don’t want to encourage it, then they can put up a sign that reads ‘no candy’ or simply turn their porch lights off. In reference to residents who felt things were becoming unmanageable, there are some who stated that expense was a factor in as well as not being able to get to their vehicles. There have been suggestions to have a townwide collection of candy donations in previous years but no organized action has yet been taken.

In speaking with Mayor Joseph Accardi, Jeff stated that the mayor provided reasons for not automatically putting up barricades which ranges from what if an ambulance needed to get through to what if someone wanted to leave during the event to Bender Avenue utilizing municipal resources. Jeff’s response to the first point was, “If the ambulance need to come in, the police would be the best prepared to not only let them in but direct people to maintain safety.”

In previous years, people on Bender were notified that they should move their cars to another street if they planned to use them between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. This year no such notice has yet been provided to residents. This brings up another issue since some blocks of Bender Avenue have no curbing. Jeff remarked, “Where are hundreds of people going to stand except for the street?”

As it relates to the use of municipal resources, Jeff commented, “[The mayor] said it isn’t a town-sponsored event. The whole town uses the resources provided for Bender. Everyone who has children brings their kids to this block and uses the resources on that day. Town resources are used for multiple other events that even fewer people  in town show up for than this. Plus, tax payers don’t have to spend a nickel on candy.”

Another suggestion proposed was to have the street put in for a permit to block off the streets as is done with block parties throughout the year. The problem with having that done would resolve the issue of excluding people from walking up and down the street, but that refusal of entry could extend to Roselle Park residents since the people holding the ‘block party’ could refuse those not invited to enter.

“I was talking with another mayor from another town,” Jeff recounted, “And he said, “‘It’s such a nice thing, you should be embracing it. The mayor should be encouraging it.’ In other towns, like Kenilworth, they are making it so people trick-or-treat in one area to have a safer and more fun time. If we had a mayor who actually embraced things instead of fought against them we could actually have something like that.”

In showing how things have swayed from a collaborative effort that included the Board Of Education and the PTA to having residents and visitors not have any barricades to prevent incidents, Jeff points out that the last time Halloween was held on Bender, there was a suggestion made to put the barricades up at 4 p.m. but the issue of the safety of young children walking around Bender right after school prompted the decision to have the barricades come up at 3 p.m. This year, Jeff, and others, feel that the governing body made the decision amongst themselves during municipal meetings instead of specifically having a ‘Halloween meeting’ where council would work with people on the block to make it  safe, make it better, and address their concerns as has been done in previous years. This year, a Neighborhood Watch meeting was held and led by councilman Michael Yakubov on October 21st which was to include a discussion of Halloween but less than five people attended since it was not directly announced to people on Bender Avenue.

Reaching out to Police Chief Paul Morrison, he responded to the issue of barricades by stating, “The Police Department will be monitoring the situation on Bender Avenue to ensure the safety of the public, in the event the safety of the public becomes a concern the Police Department does have an action plan in place and is prepared to take appropriate action in the Bender Avenue area as well as town wide to ensure the safety of the public.”

In closing, Jeff just wants everyone to enjoy themselves and to be safe. He concluded by saying, “What are people upset about? That too many children come? I know it’s crowds but keeping it safe is the main thing. This is four hours a year, once a year, from 3 to 7 o’clock. It’s a positive tradition and it’s a tradition for children. I just want everyone to have a Happy and Safe Halloween.”