For Haverstraw’s Dominguez, Community is the Family Business


Peter D. Kramer, The Journal NewsPublished 6:30 p.m. ET Oct. 24, 2017

HAVERSTRAW – Marina Gutierrez and Rafael Dominguez taught their children —  Janice and Sammy and their youngest, Emily — that you help, then you help some more. You make yourself useful. It’s why their home was the first place that Haverstraw’s Dominican community turned when they were in need. There was no language barrier, only understanding and help.

Rafael died in 2009, but the couple’s youngest daughter, Emily Dominguez, is now a village trustee, and the first woman to serve as its deputy mayor. The 47-year-old is a champion of the village where she grew up, a staunch defender and booster and a force for making it better. 

She says she took for granted the position her mother held without ever holding office.  “I never understood what it meant until I got myself involved, why the phone would ring at three in the morning looking for my mother because someone had passed away and she needed to help with the funeral and make the phone call,” she says. “She’s got a generous heart.”

Walk the village with Emily Dominguez and she’ll tell you what businesses used to be where, where the best food is, and about life growing up in Haverstraw. It is the best possible way to see a place, through the eyes of someone who clearly loves it.


Bingo, Dominoes & Causes

When Emily Dominguez was growing up, Fridays always meant Family Bingo Night at the Quisqueya Sports Club her dad helped to found to serve the village’s  Dominican community. Quisqueya (pronounced kiss-KAY-yuh) is a name for Hispaniola, the island shared by Dominican Republic and Haiti. It translates to “mother of the earth,” and is used to refer to the Dominican Republic. Her parents’ example was clearly not lost on that little girl watching bingo all those Friday nights, the girl who dreamed of being a corporate lawyer far from Haverstraw, who watched her dad play intense games of dominoes and her mother feed the hungry and take all those late-night phone calls.

In 2006, after the Seton Hall graduate had worked in marketing for Krups and Bed Bath & Beyond, Dominguez left the corporate world and started a marketing company in Haverstraw. She ran for the village board and won. And won again. She is now in her third full term as a village trustee.

That first win was thanks, Dominguez says, to her mother’s high profile in Haverstraw.

“She knew the people. The people really didn’t know me. They knew her. They’d say ‘Is that your younger daughter?’ I won because of her, but I worked to prove to the community that I believed in it, that I enjoy what I do.”

Last December, Mayor Michael Kohut stunned Dominguez by unexpectedly appointing her deputy mayor.

“Emily is very dependable,” Kohut says. “She’s got a wealth of knowledge and contacts because of her private businesses and her private interests, so she’s got a great network in the social-services non-profit community. She’s just somebody who really cares about her community. Any time there’s a cause that comes up in the community, Emily is usually involved.”

Giving Is Its Own Reward

Every town needs a Marina Gutierrez, a woman whose influence turns households that happen to be next to each other into neighborhoods, communities.

Twenty-four Thanksgivings ago, she and Pastor Joseph Dunn of Central Presbyterian Church began feeding the hungry a holiday meal. That first year, they fed four dozen people.

Dominguez now oversees Thanksgiving and Christmas luncheons, as chair of the Haverstraw Neighborhood Fund. This year, the fund plans to feed 800 people a Thanksgiving luncheon with all the trimmings. They’ll also deliver holiday meals. At the Christmas luncheon, Santa hands out gifts to 500 children.

But Dominguez’s favorite event is the Neighborhood Fund’s backpack program, held each August.

This year, more than 1,000 students got new backpacks filled with school supplies, at a barbecue at Emeline Park on the Hudson. 

“It’s two weeks before school starts and they’re excited to go back and they’re excited that they’re getting a brand-new backpack filled with supplies and the  parents are grateful,” Dominguez says. “The smiles on their faces? To me, that smile is like, ‘OK, I’m happy we could do this for you.’”

Dominguez is her mother’s daughter, a master mobilizer with connections in the non-profit world. She is vice president of the Rockland Community Foundation, secretary of United Way of Rockland County, a founding member of Women Dine for a Cause, a board member of The Center for Safety & Change. Her “day job” is running BLU RIVER Marketing and Everything Bridal, which hosts bridal shows throughout the tri-state.

Change Is Coming

The village’s streets are being repaved this fall, and the downtown sidewalks are getting a makeover, part of Kohut’s Streetscape Project that includes brick accents,  a nod to the village’s past, when brickyards dominated the landscape.
Change is coming to Haverstraw but there’s one thing Dominguez says she’s working hard to change beyond its borders, a negative perception.
“We’re not bad people,” she says emphatically. “Unfortunately, there’s a perception out there that the village is bad, but I guess people just need to understand the    culture that’s down here. Yes, people hang out in the streets. It’s who we are. We are friendly people, so give us a chance.”  It’s a topic that resonates with Kohut.
“You don’t find a lot of communities, anymore,” he says. “With the suburbanization of the Hudson Valley, people all have quarter-acre lots and half-acre lots and     maybe know the neighbor on each side of them. In Haverstraw, you know people all over, because you’re walking all over, you’re right next to people, and people have a much deeper sense of community than a lot of other places.”   The U.S. Census says the village population is about 12,000 for the 5-square-mile village.
“It’s a great place to live and work,” Dominguez says. “You’ve got every culture you can think of. Puerto Ricans were the first Hispanics to come here, followed by the Dominicans. Now you have the Central Americans. You have the Polish, the Dutch, the Irish who were here. They’ve all come to this village.” 

We Care

Dominguez has helped feed her neighbors, and has helped get kids ready for school.

She also helped Paolo Feteira and David Martinez convince people they weren’t crazy.

When they opened UNION Restaurant and Bar Latino 10 years ago, manager Feteira and chef Martinez heard plenty from their friends.

“Everybody was like ‘You’re crazy.’” Feteira says. “Haverstraw had a bad rap for a long time. We thought the only way to turn that around was to do positive things to associate the name of Haverstraw with the restaurant. We needed help and Emily is a local, from Haverstraw. And her mom is a big figure in Haverstraw in the Dominican community here. She knows who to go to when we have events or fund-raisers.”

In 2008, she coordinated We Care, an now-annual event where UNION closes for three straight nights in February or March to feed those in need. It introduced UNION to Haverstraw and showed the restaurant’s neighbors that they had a friend, a partner, someone they could count on during the recession. 

“We feed over 3,000 in three days and Emily organized all of that,” Feteira says. “It’s not just as easy as saying ‘Come. Eat for free.’ It doesn’t work like that. You really have to promote it. Every year, she reaches out to the community, to churches and non-profits to get the word out and bring the people in.”

The event led UNION to be the first restaurant to win the National Restaurant Association’s small business award, Dominguez says.

“The people have learned to trust us, to see that this is not a gimmick,” Dominguez says.

Martha Robles, executive director of Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland, crosses paths with Dominguez regularly.  “She is a genuinely passionate and committed individual, committed to the community of Haverstraw,” Robles says. “She has really been involved in so many projects. Whether it’s working with UNION Restaurant to help feed people or sitting on the United Way board and helping us determine how resources need to be allocated. She’s a real dynamo.”

Walking, Talking Haverstraw

Get Dominguez started talking about the village’s culinary offerings and you’ll be a while, as she rattles off favorites left and right, not wanting to leave anyone out. 

There are tacos at Tacos Marianita, apple pie across West Street at Bella Sophia. For Ecuadoran food, it’s La Cascada on Main Street. She’s a fan of the coconut pineapple cake at Vilma’s Bakery. The empanadas at Empanadas Monumental are worth the trip, she says. For fine dining, there’s UNION. She describes a plantain and egg breakfast from Brisas Caribenas that has you wishing it were breakfast time.

Walking the village, she proudly talks about growing up in Haverstraw.

Dominguez lives a stone’s throw from the intersection of Broadway and New Main Street that locals call “bank corners,” because two of the four corners once had banks on them.

“I always said if I ever win the Lotto, I’m going to buy the Ben Franklin building (at 14 Broadway),” she says. “That’s been my favorite building since I was a little kid. The five and dime. I remember shopping in there.”

Miller Drugs, with its iconic neon Rexall sign, is another Haverstraw fixture, next door to the Broadway building where Dominguez grew up. She owns the building now. It’s home, and home to her businesses.

“I live upstairs, so my commute is really rough,” she says with a smile.

Like any lifelong local, walking her village makes Dominguez nostalgic.

She remembers when middle-schoolers were released at lunch and went to Vito’s Pizza “for two slices and a soda for a buck and a quarter.” For dessert, they’d hit Mardoff’s Bakery or Lucas Candies. And the arcade was on Broadway.

“The shop owners knew when your lunch period was, so if you were late, they’d tell you to go back to class.”

She remembers when the village had a police force whose officers would keep an eye out for the kids. (The village police force was abolished in 2005.)

“They’d watch you grow up and, during the summer or late at night, if they’d see you somewhere where you were not supposed to be, they would tell you to go    home. By the time I got home, my mother already knew where I was.”

When the conversation shifts to the future, the deputy mayor says she hopes people give Haverstraw a chance.

“Come taste our food. Come walk the village. Come meet the people,” she says. “We’re here. If you come, you will want to come back for more.”


Since 2010, the Haverstraw Holiday Meal Committee has provided new backpacks filled with back-to-school supplies for the village’s schoolchildren. The backpacks are handed out at an August barbecue at Emeline Park. One year, they were distributed at a Rockland Boulders game. (Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News)

Haverstraw Mayor Michael Kohut stands on Main Street Aug. 31, 2016. The village is about to embark on a planned 18-month streetscape improvement project. The improvements include new sidewalks, new road surfaces, new lighting, plantings, and signage.  (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)

Emily Dominguez helped UNION Restaurant and Bar Latino organize and execute its successful We Care event, during which the restaurant opens its doors for three nights in late February and early March to feed those needing a meal. The event, started during the recession in 2008 and continuing every year since, helped the restaurant’s owners, Paolo Feteira and Jose David Martinez, demonstrate that they are part of their community. (Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News)

Emily Dominguez, 47, Village of Haverstraw deputy mayor and a local business owner photographed with Martha Robles, the director of Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland, in front of Village Hall in Haverstraw on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. 

(Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)