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Tree Lighting At Park In The Bronx Canceled Due To Panhandlers, Residents Say

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It seems the Grinch stole Christmas in Little Italy of the Bronx.

As 1010 WINS' Darius Radzius reported, the annual outdoor Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Ciccarone Park has been scrubbed this year.

"That's one thing you shouldn't really mess with -- tradition," one resident told CBS2's Hazel Sanchez.

Nearby business owners, including Monica Paciullo of Tino's Delicatessen, said they're disappointed.

"It's kind of sad because it's nice to have that tradition and to have something like that in this neighborhood," said Paciullo.

The Belmont Business Improvement District told merchants and residents at a recent community meeting that the funds for the ceremony at Ciccarone Park on Arthur Avenue are now being used to pay a security guard to deal with panhandlers in the borough's popular Little Italy.

"I just don't get it, I just don't see the need." Mike Teitel, a local grocery store owner said. "I think there's more of a need to embrace the holiday."

The Belmont Business Improvement District, which organizes the tree lighting every year, would not return 1010 WINS' or CBS2's calls for comment.

"I don't know if security really costed that much, I mean those are public records," Jerome Raguso told Radzius.

Instead, businesses in the area organized their own tree lighting scheduled for Thursday at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Those same owners say they're happy to have more security to help their customers feel more comfortable.

"When they hear that we need to hire security and stuff, people will be afraid to come down here and shop," Paciullo said.

"I think neighborhood now is better than ever before, to be honest with you," Tietel said.

On Monday, Sanchez reported there were no guards -- or panhandlers -- anywhere to be seen, but the NYPD and the parks police were patrolling the area.

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