Eyesore on Howard Beach creek



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Along a string of vacant properties down Hawtree Basin in Howard Beach, sit two abandoned yachts that have proven an eyesore for residents.

The office of Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder has confirmed that there are no funds to remove the sinking yachts because they pose no hazard to navigation.

“The most anyone can do is try and locate the owner of the boat,” said Jon Greenfield, the communications director for the assemblyman.

Both yachts are still tethered, therefore, still held accountable by the owner, who cannot be located.

Earlier this year in March, the local yacht club confirmed there was no blockage of navigable channels but still proceeded to remove fuel to prevent spills.

Greenfield added there are programs in place to help dispose of unwanted boats such as the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers.

Riding the International Express


Leaving Grand Central and heading east, the No. 7 “International Express” train races through the Steinway Tunnel and arrives at Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City.When the working day is done and tens of thousands of people escape from Manhattan under the East River.

The No. 7 running along IRT Flushing Line lives up to its nickname. A microcosm of the borough itself, the train car is packed with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Those who can’t afford to embark on a transcontinental odyssey can enjoy an around-the-world cultural tour in less than an hour for the price of a MetroCard. In between Queensboro Plaza and Flushing you’ll pass through Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, India, Thailand and China. And there are those people who undertake the journey twice a day just to get to work.

“It can be a stressful way to start your day sometimes, but I wake up and make it happen like everyone else,” said Jerome Strother, 37, from Woodside. Like a lot of people who work in Manhattan, Strother commutes everyday to his construction job in order to avoid the high cost of living. “The people who build the city could never afford to live there,” he says with a grin. Then the doors open at 61st street and Strother steps off onto the platform, his weathered hard hat swinging from a strap connecting to his backpack.

The people sitting next to each other look different in almost everyway. At first glance the only thing they have in common is they share the same 67-by-10 foot metal can, but it’s more than that. On this particular Wednesday evening, most of them are headed home.

“You read about everything going on in the world and people killing each other for belonging to a different sect of the same religion” said Kyra Garewal, 27, from Jackson Heights. “But throw a bunch of fundamentally different people together here and they’re more or less able to live together peacefully.”

The No. 7 on through East Elmhurst and Junction Boulevard, roaring above streets on a century-old elevated track. Looking out across the rooftops you see the lengths graffiti artists have gone in search of their canvas. Their work attracts as many pairs of eyes than if it was framed in a gallery.

The train pulls into Corona Plaza near 103rd street where the people depart and walk down onto Roosevelt Avenue. Once an Italian neighborhood but now overwhelmingly Hispanic, it’s still the place where immigrant families risk it all to start something new.

A ride on the International Express reminds one of New York’s long history with immigration, as well as offer a glimpse of its future.


The Shops at Atlas Park: A Mall Dictated By the Seasons


“This mall, it ought to be in Florida,” said Joe Keane, drawing another pull from his cigarette. Indeed, the layout of the Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale looks more suited to a southern climate than that of the brisk December evening that saw shoppers cower as they went from storefront to storefront. It also lacks the panache of more upscale malls, even though it sits in one of Queens’ more wealthy districts.


The open-air shopping center first opened in 2006 under the banner of New York’s Hemmerdinger real estate dynasty, but was in forclosure as of 2009 and was sold to California real estate investment trust Macerich 2011. It’s main problems as Keane, a 55 year-old real estate developer said, were the “lack of a flagship tenant and too much open air.” The shopping center’s biggest and most-profitable tenant according to Keane is the Regal Cinemas location, which he attributes to being “cleaner and less crowded” than that of the Queens Center Mall 2 miles away.


The lack of crowds seems a function of the cold weather, though. The open grass, that holds a Christmas tree during the holiday season, is usually inhabited by teenagers hanging out, children’s rides, and a bandstand during the warmer months. Aside from diners heading in or out of the Johnny Rocket’s, Chili’s, and California Pizza Kitchen restaurants on-site and photographers taking in the tree, foot traffic was virtually non-existent. “The only reason I’m here is because my daughter’s at a birthday party tonight,” Keane laughed as the smoke billowed from his cigarette.

Middle Village Pizzeria Nears Half-Century Mark as New York’s Pizza Landsacape Changes

Carlo’s Pizzeria in Middle Village, Queens is closing in on nearly 50 years of service, and can be still be found on the same stretch of Metropolitan Avenue, from where it served its first slice.

“My father opened the shop in ’66,” said Frank Caruana, the current head pizzaiolo at the shop. “Myself, I’ve been here for over 30 years.”

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The Simple Pleasure of a Diner Meal

Along College Point Boulevard, at the corner of 14th Road is the College Point Diner. This Greek diner, the sort that’s a staple of small towns and communities, fits nicely in the quiet confines of this neighborhood. The menu is expansive and ranges from breakfast staples like bacon and eggs to Greek gyros and a pot roast plate that every grandma in Queens would gladly eat at 4 p.m.

Diane Kordich said she visits the diner at least once or twice a month. “The food is good. It’s cheap. It’s quiet here and I know I can sit and relax.” Kordich said she usually sticks to the breakfast menu.

“Sometimes I’ll get fries with my eggs if I want something extra,” she said.

A diner counter and window into the kitchen. Brown paper bags are sitting on the counter.

The counter and kitchen window at the College Point Diner. A popular takeout spot, one large order is almost ready to go.
©Shane English

The food at the College Point Diner is solid and affordable. The portions are generous. Breakfast is served all day and quickly made to order. For $5.95 the diner offers two eggs (any style) with a generous serving of bacon, home fries and toast. I ordered eggs over easy and the yolk was creamy and perfect for dipping toast. Unfortunately, the bacon was closer to burnt than crisp. It was brittle and noticeably tasted like griddle scrapings.

I couldn’t quite finish my heaping portion of home fries but the potatoes were fresh and crispy. Even with the slightly burnt bacon, the College Point Diner serves a solid and affordable breakfast.

The generous portions continue with lunch and dinner. For $8.95, the bacon cheeseburger with fries, onion rings and coleslaw is a hearty (if not exactly healthy) meal. The burgers are fresh and cooked to order. My burger, cooked medium well, was still juicy and had a spackling of pink at the center. The melted cheddar and the lettuce and tomato were crisp and fresh. The bun was a little thin but totally serviceable.

A generous meal: A bacon cheeseburger, fries and onion rings.

A generous meal: A bacon cheeseburger, fries and onion rings.
©Shane English

The bacon, however, was as burnt as at breakfast. During breakfast, the diner was busy so it was easy to assume that my bacon had been momentarily forgotten and burnt but when I ate a late lunch, I was the only person in the restaurant.

The burgers are great, but maybe skip the bacon.

When asked about the bacon, Kordich said, “I stick to sausage. I know it’s good.”

The fries and onion rings were not freshly cut but they were fried perfectly. The onion rings were slightly crispy on the outside and sweet and juicy under the batter. The fries crisp exteriors gave way to the fluffy potato goodness inside.

The staff is friendly and polite. The same waitress served me during both of my visits. She was quick and unobtrusive, easily juggling the relatively full breakfast crowd. During the quiet afternoon, she was relaxed but still attentive, clearing my plate and refilling my water with a smile.

The diner is warm and inviting, the tables are spread so that everyone has plenty of breathing room. Across from the kitchen is a soda-fountain style bar with spinning circular stools.

The diner is decorated for Christmas: there are festive lights framing the kitchen and garland along the bar. The windows are painted with candy-canes, snowmen and wintry scenes. The windows that face the road read Merry Christmas and the outdoor awnings drip with white icicle lights.

Maria, the waitress, said that she liked serving regulars best. “They come in and they sit and I know what they want to start. It’s easy and they’re friendly.”

“We have lots of people who get take out a couple times a week,” Maria said, in addition to people who come in and eat.

Although there are diners like this in neighborhoods throughout New York City, the College Point Diner serves solid meals at even better prices. Between the menu’s variety and the staff’s quick and friendly service, it’s hard to leave without a smile.


Schmidt’s Candy: A Woodhaven Staple Since 1925 is Gearing Up for their Busiest Season


Schmidt’s Candy Store, located on 94-15 Jamaica Avenue, has been a permanent fixture of the Woodhaven neighbourhood since 1925.

“Grandpa started and he had three sons, and my father was one,” said Margie Schmidt, the inherited owner of the 90 year-old Schmidt’s Candy Store on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, Queens.

“My mother used to be able to name a candy store or ice cream parlour on every block from 75th to 95th,” said Schmidt, describing how the street’s look has changed over the years. “Now, we’re the only homemade candy store in Queens. I believe.”


Margie Schmidt, the granddaughter of the original owner, now gets up each morning, no later than 6 a.m., to begin making chocolate following the same recipe her father taught her when she began working in the store after school.

Schmidt makes almost all of the store’s candy and chocolate by herself, apart from a few jars of Swedish fish and sugarless candy.

“That’s not even chocolate,” said Schmidt, pointing despairingly at the sparse display of sugar-free chocolate.


Schmidt stores most of her chocolate and candies in old, tin ice cream containers from when the store used to offer ice cream. They stopped selling ice cream after her father developed arthritis.

While the holiday season is keeping Schmidt busier than ever, working sometimes 18-hour shifts that can begin as early as 2 a.m., she still holds doubts about the future of her nearly century old family business.

“I’m trying to stay alive, but business is bad,” said Schmidt. “I think because it is a luxury item, and where we are a blue collar neighbourhood, people have to figure out what’s a necessity. And where I think chocolate’s a necessity, most people? No.”


Schmidt has a number of seasonal offerings for the holidays, including chocolate wreaths, candy canes, chocolate Christmas trees, and chocolate gingerbread houses.

While Schmidt says she’s struggling to keep the store afloat, the loyal customers of Schmidt’s Candy Store continue to support her, even from far away.

“I tip my hat to you!,” said Aidan, a 13-year-old boy who is more commonly known by Schmidt as the red fish boy.

“He comes in here and asks every other day, can I get $2 of the red fish?,” said Schmidt describing Aidan, who by her accounts had grown at least an inch since she last saw him.


Displays of chocolate and white chocolate – a chocolate that Schmidt believes shouldn’t be sold – Santa’s at Schmidt’s Candy Store.

Schmidt describes the neighbourhood as being a blue collar, largely immigrant population that can’t always afford her luxury goods, but her customers come from as far away as Staten Island.

“She’s the best,” said Parker, 54. “Marge’s the hardest worker with the sweetest sweets.” Parker came all the way from Staten Island stock up on $30 worth of “any kind of chocolate” that day and he hopes that this batch will last him till January.


Schmidt also offers candies that are not made in-store, such as gummy worms, chocolate balls, and gummy wreaths.

Schmidt is firm in her belief that the quality of her chocolate usurps the corporate stores, or as she describes them, “frou frou stores”, higher prices and fancier presentation.


Another seasonal offering that Schmidt’s has are chocolate platters that contain 16-ounces of homemade chocolates, and sell for $30.

“Homemade. That’s the difference,” said Schmidt. “Hoity toity, I can’t do. It’s not me, and there’s nothing fancy here. But it’s good!”

And Schmidt is right, there is nothing fancy about her store. From the repurposed ice cream tin containers from when the store used to sell ice cream, to the cardboard displays, everything about Schmidt’s store is definitively pared down.


Chocolate sticks are displayed in cardboard cases at Schmidt’s Candy Store.

Her chocolate, which is perhaps why it is so popular, follows the same design mantra that Schmidt swears by: the basics.

“It’s in the ingredients. Sugar, cocoa, chocolate liqeur, cream and occasionally some nuts. That’s it,” said Schmidt. Her blue Yankees cap was generously coated with the sugary dust of that mornings marshmallow batch.

“It’s a crazy life, but then again I’m kind of crazy too!”

Seniors in Sunnyside Want Better Access to the Train

Diana Saal, 72, wants to bring better access to public transportation for seniors in Sunnyside, Queens. Photo: Devin Holt

Diana Saal, 72, wants to bring better access to public transportation for seniors in Sunnyside, Queens. Photo: Devin Holt

Diana Saal remembers it as 70 steps — way too many, she said, to reach the 7 train in Sunnyside, Queens. This reporter took a walk and counted 61 steps at the Lincoln stop, and 57 at the Bliss and Lowery stops. Still quite a hike for Saal, 72, a retired psychology professor.

“It’s really unbelievable,” Saal said. “All of Sunnyside doesn’t have access to the elevated platform.”

By access Saal means an elevator. Sunnyside sits in the largest gap between wheelchair-accessible stations on the 7 line. Anyone in the neighborhood who needs an elevator has to go to 61st Street in Woodside, or Court Square in Long Island City.

Saal would like to change that. She’s been complaining to local papers, the MTA, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. It isn’t working yet.

“Nothing has happened,” Saal said.

Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman, said in an email that the agency focuses on putting elevators at the busiest stops under its Key Stations Program.

“Given the configuration of certain stations and the age of the system, it is simply impossible or cost prohibitive to make every station accessible,” Ortiz wrote. “Focusing on the key stations allows us to focus precious resources on stations that will have the most impact.”

Ortiz pointed out that all of the city’s 5,700 buses are fully accessible. But Saal and other seniors said the buses are slow and crowded. Gertrude McDonald, 99, rides the Q60 from Flushing, which she recently moved to from Sunnyside, to Sunnyside Community Services. McDonald said the Q60 is “a disaster.”

“I was waiting for a bus the other day, and five buses — five Q60 buses passed in a row,” because they were already packed full, McDonald said.

Saal, who moved to New York from Cambridge, Massachusetts four years ago, said the lack of access is especially irritating given how good the 7 is. The Straphanger’s Campaign gave it the No. 1 spot in its 2015 subway “report card.” She has considered starting a petition, but said she was discouraged by neighbors who’ve lived in Sunnyside much longer.

“I think that people have given up on it,” Saal said. “Older people have told me, people have been petitioning for years and years, and they have always been told that there are more important priorities.”

So for now Sunnyside’s elder residents are taking the bus or the stairs. It might be 57 if you count them, but it sure feels like 70.

Click on the link below for an audio version of this story.

Corona, an overcrowded neighborhood



Lourdes lives with her husband and her two children. They have to share the apartment to pay the rent.

Lourdes lives in Corona with her husband and two children.

“Right now I am just renting out one room in my apartment. But the rent is too high and we have to rent out the other one. We will live all together in one room with my two children,” she said in Spanish.

Sharing apartments is common in Corona, a neighborhood with a large immigrant population.

Overcrowding is widely considered the main issue in this multicultural area. Recently, the organization Make the Road New York launched a report showing how immigrant communities are the most affected by overcrowding in schools.



Astoria high school students brighten up neighborhood with art

Underneath the Hell Gate Bridge between Steinway Street and 23rd Avenue, a mural depicting mythical Greek characters covers the wall next to Olympia Sports Bar and Billiards.  Medusa, with green skin, a piercing stare, and hair of colorful snakes with razor sharp teeth, is the standout portion of the painting.

Astoria, Queens--This mural featuring Greek mythical creatures can be found on Steinway Street and 23rd Avenue, next to Olympia Sports Bar and Billiards (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Astoria, Queens–This mural featuring Greek mythical creatures can be found on Steinway Street and 23rd Avenue, next to Olympia Sports Bar and Billiards (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Astoria, Queens--This mural featuring Greek mythical creatures can be found on Steinway Street and 23rd Avenue, next to Olympia Sports Bar and Billiards (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Astoria, Queens–This mural featuring Greek mythical creatures can be found on Steinway Street and 23rd Avenue, next to Olympia Sports Bar and Billiards (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Painted in 2012 by students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, in collaboration with “Lady Pink” a local street artist, the mural is a part of an initiative created in the ’90s by the New York Anti-Crime Agency to combat graffiti in the neighborhood.  Since the initiative’s start, the students have created multiple murals throughout the neighborhood that depict various themes and characters.  The use of Greek characters in this particular piece pays tribute Astoria’s large Greek community.  Astoria is home to 13,829 people of Greek ancestry, according to the American Community Survey.

Astoria, Queens--This mural titled "Great American Arts and Culture" features prominent cultural icon such as Michael Jackson (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Astoria, Queens–This mural titled “Great American Arts and Culture” features prominent cultural icons such as Michael Jackson and various Broadway plays.  It is located under the N/Q train at the Astoria/Ditmars stop (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Astoria, Queens--Characters from the Broadway musicals "Hairspray", "Phantom of the Opera, "Wicked", and "The Lion King" are depicted in this mural under the Astoria/Ditmars train stop, painted by students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Astoria, Queens–Characters from the Broadway musicals “Hairspray”, “Phantom of the Opera, “Wicked”, and “The Lion King” are depicted in this mural under the Astoria/Ditmars train stop, painted by students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Other murals by the students and Lady Pink can be found under the Astoria/Ditmars subway stop on the N/Q line and at 23rd Avenue and 33rd Street.

Astoria, Queens--Home is Where the Fantasy Is, located at 23rd Avenue and 33rd Street (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)

Astoria, Queens–Home is Where the Fantasy Is, depicting garden gnomes , fairies, and aliens, located at 23rd Avenue and 33rd Street (12/10/15, Janae Hunter)


Animals Have A True Friend in Forest Hills

Photo Credit: Vegan Outreach

Photo Credit: Vegan Outreach

Guy Grayson is a vegan activist living in Forest Hills. And he has a mission. He’s usually posted up at the corner of Austin Street and Continental Avenue in the heart of the Forest Hills business district, right at near the entrance to the LIRR stop.

“I try to get out here almost every day and pamphlet this vegan literature,” he said.

Grayson, 36, said he’s not fixed on the vegan part. Sometimes it’s just gently suggesting that people eat less meat. “I’m just trying to stop factory farming,” he said.

And overall his experience has been a positive one. “People are very nice around here for the most part even with not everyone liking this cause against factory farming because they eat meat,” he said. “If they don’t want a pamphlet they just walk by and just don’t really bother me.”

He seemed nonchalant about the less polite reactions. “Maybe once every week you’ll get someone who says a derogatory comment,” he said. It seems that the many kind reactions simply overwhelm dwelling on the naysayers.

Or perhaps it’s his passionate and frequently expressed love of where he lives. “I love this neighborhood. Sometimes when I get out here it feels like family,” he said. “Every day you see some of the same people.”

He moved back a little and said “sorry” and giggled pleasantly as someone passed by on the busy intersection. There’s a friendly sense of rootedness as he navigated his daily post.

For someone who seems so connected to the neighborhood, it’s a surprise that he’s only lived in the area for around five years. “I like it,” he said and shrugged like the situation made perfect sense for him.

He’s also deeply enchanted by Forest Hills Gardens. He talks about the upscale patch of Forest Hills with has a suburban gated community feel, tree-lined streets and lots of prime real estate with an almost religious reverence.

“It’s the most beautiful place I’ve even seen,” he said. “There’s no place like it.”

He gushed that Simon & Garfunkel lived there back in the day before he reiterated that it was most beautiful place he’d ever seen. He shook his head in awe.

Handing out flyers isn’t the only thing he wants to do. The next step for him is to expand his writing career. And he knows what he wants to tackle. ”Something I’m passionate about like animals and real issues,” he said. “Hopefully I don’t have to sell out and write about stuff I don’t care about.”