In the digital age, it is the dream of just about every content creator to go viral, and Steven Pirozzi, a lifelong resident of the Mastic/Shirley area, found himself catapulted into the spotlight when his nostalgia-driven Facebook page, The Shirley Drive-In, began amassing thousands of followers. Pirozzi started his passion project in 2011 to share nostalgic photos and memories of the community he has lived in all his life. The page is aptly named after the iconic drive-in movie theater, which is a relic of a bygone era.
Pirozzi never expected his page to become the phenomenon that it did, but the citizen journalist really began finding his stride when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. Fortunately, he managed to never lose power during the ordeal and used the burgeoning platform to keep his followers informed about where to obtain necessities and how to stay up to date on the latest developments.
“It took me 12 years to get to 10,000 followers and six months to get to another 50,000,” Pirozzi explained about the tipping point that was a game changer for his page. This newfound internet fame has not been without some learning curves and has made him much more cognizant as to what he puts online, due to the scrutiny that inevitably comes with increased notoriety. The page now has almost 140,000 followers, with no sign of slowing momentum.
“Getting recognized is a good thing and a bad thing. People who love you will come talk to you; you then get people who hate you,” said Pirozzi of the double-edged sword of online celebrity. “I used to put up arrest reports and people saw their name up, and their family members started coming up to me,” he said of the public records that he no longer chooses to post, due to the controversy it engendered.
“I own The Shirley Drive-In. I bought the name from Town Hall,” Pirozzi explained of the dream come true for the boy who lived close enough to hide out in the woods and watch movies. “We would build a fort and hear all the speakers,” he said.
He even saw the last movie on the final night The Shirley Drive-In was open. It was fitting that the final film was the 1990 classic “Back to the Future Part III.” This science-fiction movie, which evokes both excitement for the future and nostalgia for the past, is an apt symbol for Pirozzi’s reimagined Shirley Drive-In, which features both memories as well as current events and future plans.
While the page started out focusing just on the Mastic and Shirley communities, it now, remarkably, has followers all over the world, who are learning about this area through Pirozzi’s original posts and shared content. The married father of two grown children said, “I’m a Mastic boy at heart. I grew up in Mastic and I still live in Mastic, but I started getting my voice out there. I want to be a voice for the voiceless. It might be worldwide, but it’s a community page at heart.”
The Shirley Drive-In page receives messages from all over the world. “I get emails from Spain, Germany, Holland, people all over joined. They’re talking about differences in culture, food, showing candy they can’t get here, how houses are different,” explained Pirozzi about what draws people from far and wide to the quaint community page.
One of the most remarkable people to get in touch with the Mastic resident was a Japanese teacher. He said, “I want to use your Facebook to teach about social media and how it’s viewed by different cultures. My page is being used in a Japanese class,” he said.
One thing that makes this late-bloomer’s success story bittersweet is that Pirozzi’s mother isn’t here to see the full extent of her son’s achievements reaching a worldwide audience, but she was there to see the initial spark that ignited it all.
“She was very excited that I was actually doing something,” he said. “When she would go to functions, people would say, ‘My son’s a lawyer, my son’s a doctor,’ but she would say, ‘My son, he’s got a Facebook page and he can take you all out,’” he said of her quick wit and pride in her son’s unique journey.
While the page has already far exceeded the lifelong Mastic resident’s ambitions, Pirozzi isn’t content to stop there. He has even bigger plans for expanded sales of clothing and other branded merchandise. He also hopes to someday put together a book about the history of Long Island inspired by his wildly popular Facebook page.
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