By Jano Tantongco
Traveling north from their Commack homes, Ryan Lally and Mike Rayfield found themselves in Northport Village last week.
The pair, posted up near the Northport World War II Memorial outside of the village park, stared at their illuminated smartphone screens, concentrating and tapping rapidly.
With a shout and a cheer, Lally and Rayfield celebrated. They had taken over one of the many locations spread across town that are a hotspot for players of “Pokémon Go,” a free-to-play smartphone game that has recently taken the world -- and most of Huntington -- by storm.
The concept is simple: Create an avatar in the game, but walk around the real world to find and collect Pokémon, a group of 151 fictional monsters, roaming the many streets, parks and piers.
There are also various hotspots, call them Pokéstops, situated on top of landmarks and memorials, requiring players to be out and about in order to check in to reap more Pokémon and in-game items. Other hotspots, such as the one Lally and Rayfield were at, are known as gyms, which is where players battle their monsters against each other in order to take over more territory and gain experience points for their avatar to level up.
After taking over the gym at the memorial, Rayfield, 25, explained that players must battle the current defending Pokémon with six of their own. The winner gets to claim the territory. Rayfield left one of his Pokémon to stand watch and take on any challengers.
“It’s going to get taken back,” Lally, 22, added. “They all get taken over quick.”
He was right, within minutes the gym changed hands several times.
Rayfield said he trekked from Commack to Northport in order to search for the rarer Pokémon.
“It’s that serious,” he said. Back home, he added, more of the common Pokémon are found, but Northport has been known to house the elusive Aerodactyl.
Stopping in a nearby parking lot to make a catch, Taylor Legrasta and Rachel Lenberger, also said they came from Commack to snag some rare creatures.
Legrasta suggested that those coming to the area to use an in-game item, a Lucky Egg, which doubles the amount of experience points gained, providing an easy way to level up a player’s avatar.
“I’m here every day… and at night. I’m here until 2:30 in the morning,” Legrasta, 18, said. “It’s crazy.”
She added that some of the rare Pokémon emerge after dark, including the highly sought-after Charizard.
Lenberger said, “There’s hundreds of kids that come. Here and Port Jeff are the main places.”
Legrasta added that she planned to attend a Pokémon catching and battling that was scheduled to be held in Central Park last weekend.
Local businesses have also been capitalizing on the Pokémon Go craze, often serving as pit stop locations for trainers to stop in and grab a snack or drink in between catches and battles.
Once Lisa Hodes, owner of Sweeties Candy Cottage at 142 E Main St. in Huntington, got wind that her shop was right next to a Pokéstop, she said the gears in her candy-creating mind started to turn as local players started rushing to the stop.
“We actually just finished a very busy season, so we were looking for the next best thing to try to keep business up,” she said. “Both my kids are doing it, so I just figured we should come up with a Pokémon treat.”
Hodes has created Pokémon-themed treats that players have been eager to capture. Sweeties offers brownies that feature Pokémon favorites, such as the three starting monsters, Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander. Also featured are three legendary Pokémon, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres. Then there are other favorites, like Snorlax, Diglett and Dragonite.
She also stocks larger Rice Krispies treats that look like Pokéballs, the in-game item that used to capture and house the Pokémon that players collect. The edible characters are printed with the help of her Hodes’ son, 15-year-old Quinn Blackburn, a graphic artist.
Rhodes added that she’s already received wholesale orders from spots like North Shore Farms in Commack, Kidcessories in Huntington, Gemini Deli in Melville and Denny’s Kids clothing store in East Northport.
In Huntington village, many businesses are situated on top of, or near various gyms and Pokéstops.
On Friday night, eager players lined up outside of The Paramount theater to catch Pokémon before heading inside to enjoy a show.
Up on Main Street the next night, many players flocked to Sapsuckers bar and restaurant for a pint and to collect more monsters. Sapsuckers is just steps away from a Pokéstop, and players used another in-game item, a lure module, to make the hotspot even more potent -- both in attracting Pokémon, and other players.
Local museums have also gotten in on the craze.
Last week, the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum hosted a meet up for players to and attempt to take over the gym that hangs above the 301 Main St. museum.
Similarly, Cynthia Shor, director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association at 246 Old Walt Whitman Road in Huntington Station, reports that the birthplace is a Pokéstop.
“We have been receiving game players which is wonderful because most, if not all, are younger generation visitors,” Shor said.
Erica Hellman, who is interning at the birthplace, added, “I love that the [birthplace] can play a role in this worldwide community.
“And, if we’re lucky, perhaps we can even teach some people that come here for Pokémon about Walt Whitman's early life and jubilant poetry."