Hometown History – Lost Port Jefferson: The Vandall/Snyder Building
Joseph Vandall was a well-known resident of Port Jefferson and one of the village’s leading businessmen.
In 1892, he was hired as a butcher at Lester Davis’ Meat Market, located on what is now East Broadway. After purchasing Davis’ shop in 1916, Vandall found he needed more space for his growing business.
Vandall purchased land to build a modern store in 1923 and opened the following year. The building was located on the south side of East Broadway between the Harbor View Hotel and Smith’s Plumbing.
The brick and concrete structure, known locally as the Vandall Building, provided space for three shops on the first floor. A large meeting room, Vandall’s Hall, filled the entire second floor.
The Vandall Building opened in 1925 and was occupied on the ground floor by Vandall’s Meats and Groceries, Lerch’s Music Shop, and Azenaro’s Fruits and Vegetables.
While these establishments were important to the local economy, Vandall’s Hall quickly gave the building its identity. Soon a Port Jefferson landmark, the hall became “the” venue for a variety of events, including dances, fundraisers, recitals, musicals, and wedding receptions.
In February 1929, local businessmen exhibited their wares and services at Vandall’s Hall at the village’s first industrial exhibition. Sponsored by the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, the event proved so popular that another show was held in March 1930.
In one of the more unusual uses of the Vandall Building, a miniature golf course, requiring all of the space on the second floor, opened in the hall in November 1930 but closed the following year.
In 1932, the Port Jefferson Moose Lodge rented the hall and, in turn, rented the venue to other groups, reducing Vandall’s active involvement in the business.
After Vandall’s retirement in 1940, the South Bay Consolidated Water Company moved its office from Port Jefferson to what had been Vandall’s Meats and Groceries. The Suffolk County Highway Department leased the entire second floor for its quarters, ending the hall’s days as a social gathering place.
After Vandall’s death in July 1945, the Vandall Building was sold and leased to various tenants, one redefining the East Broadway property.
Max “Mac” Snyder opened an Army and Navy store in the Vandall Building on September 3, 1954, days after Hurricane Carol wreaked havoc in Port Jefferson.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1912, Snyder had moved to Brooklyn in 1932 with his wife Florence. The couple and their children later moved to Valley Stream before being drawn to Port Jefferson.
Snyder viewed the village’s downtown area near the waterfront as an ideal location for his store, believing that harbor improvements, suburbanization, population growth, road construction, and cultural tourism would bring potential buyers to Port Jefferson.
These customers found a variety of merchandise in Snyder’s store, which was stocked with clothing, shoes, fishing rods, camping gear, marine supplies, and military items.
Snyder also developed a niche market, advertising his store as a scuba diving center where sportsmen could purchase scuba gear, wetsuits, masks, fins and snorkels.
Snyder became so well known in Port Jefferson that the Vandall Building was soon referred to as “Mac Snyder’s”, supplanting the original owner’s name in the local vocabulary.
In 1968, Snyder’s Army & Navy store was still on the ground floor of his building, but the first floor was also occupied by a laundromat. The Mary Beth dress-making company, specializing in piecework, occupied the entire second floor.
While the Vandall/Snyder building had survived hurricanes, a fire on January 21, 1968 left the property in ruins. What remained was then demolished.
The fire ended a building but not a business. Just months after the fire, Snyder opened a new military and naval center in Port Jefferson at 214 Main Street, across from what was then the city of Brookhaven tax office.
The approximate site of the former Vandall/Snyder Building is now occupied by what was once Ecolin Jewellers, across from Mary Bayles Park in Brookhaven Town..
Kenneth Brady was a Port Jefferson Village historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as a member of the boards of directors of the Suffolk County Historical Society, the Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and the Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.