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Local businesses display their work at QEDC’s Queens Rises Higher

Creativity and dedication shine through the stories of local business owners

By Juan Arturo Trillo

[email protected]

Astoria’s Kaufman Arts District played host to Queens Rises Higher, a street market by the Queens Economic Development Corporation that allows local creators and business owners to exhibit and sell their passions and products.

Market in Astoria’s Kaufman Arts District

The market occurred on Saturday, June 25 from noon to 5 p.m., and included live music. The businesses encompassed various sectors, including art, food, and others.

Bianca, founder of Bianca’s Design Shop, said “I just aim to support and be inclusive to all.” Through Bianca’s Design Shop, she creates apparel and accessories that are inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community.

Bianca loves the sense of community which can be found in Queens, and hopes that it continues to remain inclusive.

Gisela’s small business, “Scent by Heaven,” is a small candle store that began in Forest Hills in 2019.

Talisa’s setup for Almonte Studios at the fair

However, candle making had been one of her hobbies before she started the business. It is one of her ways of expressing her creativity.

She started the business so that she could spend more time with her son, who has autism.

Now, Gisela loves that she gets to pursue a passion of hers while also dedicating time to her son.

Illustrator Talisa Almonte founded Almonte Studios, a business where she sells various art prints, earrings, stickers, stationery, and “whatever [she] can get [her] work on.”

Because Talisa does not have a brick-and-mortar store, she appreciates that the fair allows her to connect with the Queens community and other local businesses.

“There’s really no place like Queens,” Talisa said.

Thumbs down for Innovation Queens

CB1 votes down proposed $2 billion redevelopment

A rally preceding last week’s Community Board 1 meeting pitted supporters and adversaries of Innovation QNS against each other, with mixed feelings about the project that seeks to rezone five city blocks to build a mixed-use residential and commercial district in Astoria.

Some seven hours later, the board voted 24-8 in disapproval of the project, marking a setback for the proposed $2 billion redevelopment.

Before the roll call vote was called, Elizabeth Erion, co-chair of the board’s Land Use and Zoning committee, labeled the project as “unprecedented” for the western Queens community.

“We as a board over the years have supported large scale developments,” Erion said. “We supported the Astoria Cove and recently the Hallets North development and we’re open to redeveloping areas of Astoria and Long Island City, as long as the development is appropriate, is contextual and it isn’t overbearing.”

The board was first introduced to the renovation project in December 2019, whose developers include the trio of Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties, and BedRock Real Estate Partners.

Earlier in June, the board’s Land Use committee voted 7-2 to not approve the project.

Erion cited longstanding issues that the board took into consideration, including the scale of the development, size of the buildings, the density of the project, as well as economic impacts it would have on the community.

“In those early meetings, and even now, some of the issues still remain,” Erion said.

She cited a May subcommittee meeting where a consensus was reached on how to proceed with the project’s recommendation.

“We agreed at that particular meeting, that the development as was proposed, as it was presented to us, was really an inappropriate development for the community and would have an impact on it in negative ways,” Erion said.

The proposed $2 billion development would allow for the construction of 12 towers between Northern Boulevard and 37th Street, ranging from eight to 27 stories tall. The redevelopment project also calls for 725—or 25 percent—of the 2,845 units to be affordable for those making $50,000 annually, and 60 percent of units to be within the price range of area median income.

Developers also tout the creation of 3,700 construction jobs that could last up to a decade, as well as 1,700 permanent jobs created. In addition, two acres of open space for play and leisure is included in the project.

CB1 board member Katie Ellman says that more open spaces in Astoria is a good thing, but cautioned her fellow board members on what the tradeoff for that would be under this redevelopment project.

“The tradeoff of what comes with that will lead to more inequity, displacement of residents, and just a complete change of our community,” Ellman, a third-generation Astoria resident, said. “So many of us are being pushed out due to the high cost of rent and high cost of living, especially families with young children. So what do we want our community to look like in the next year, five years, ten years? A vibrant community that is diverse in backgrounds, diverse in ages and diverse in incomes. My fear with this is that it will change the entire scope of Astoria.”

She added, “I can barely afford to live here now, how many of us will be pushed out?”

Board member Andre Stith voted in favor of the redevelopment, saying that he would not allow the project to dictate what his children can or can not aspire to.

“I’m not going to tell them that just because something is new and shiny, that they can’t afford it and it’s not for them,” Stith said. “I’m going to tell my kids to go out and get.”

During the public comment section of the meeting, which ran several hours long, Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech voiced his approval of Innovation QNS, saying that the project does not include or require public funds for it to be implemented.

“There are a number of projects whose benefits do not come near Innovation QNS, that are being put forth and executed across the U.S. in places like Austin, Texas,” Grech said. “This is a great project that will create 2,000 apartments including 700 affordable homes.”

The project application will now receive a recommendation from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who has 30 days from the Wednesday, June 21 meeting to submit it. Next in the Uniform Land Use Review Process, or ULURP, the City Planning Commission will vote on the project. If approved, then it would be sent to the City Council for approval and a vote that would have lasting effects in western Queens.

Some opponents of the redevelopment plan, like Astoria resident Gil Lopez, say the ULURP process is broken, and called on their neighbors to continue to express their concerns with the developers.

“MIH (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing) and AMI (area median income) are nothing more than constructs of the real estate lobbyists,” Lopez said. “They are not affordable to the actual residents here, and that must be reformed.”

Lopez called the public engagement effort by developers as nothing more than a “PR stunt”.

“If the city and the community board want more open space, let’s take back the street we gave to Kaufman Astoria Studios and give it back to the people as a park,” Lopez said.

On Thursday, Queens Borough President Richards will hold a virtual public hearing on land use related to the proposed Innovation QNS applications.

Developers are specifically seeking a zoning map amendment, a series of three zoning text amendments and a series of zoning special permits pursuant to the large scale general development regulations in the zoning resolution.

A public live stream of the public hearing will be available at www.queensbp.org on Thursday, June 30 at 9:30 a.m.

Ruhling: The Purloined Plant

The day I moved into my house, 17 years ago, I signed up for a street tree.

The block was barren – the two trees on the corner were half dead – and I longed for sidewalk shade.

What it says.

Two years later, almost to the day, a small ornamental cherry tree appeared when I wasn’t paying attention.

Its slender trunk was held high by a pair of robust wooden stakes.

A while later, a crew came and planted a row of Belgian blocks around it.

You’re lucky, they told me, because Harry has a green thumb. Every tree he plants survives.

I erected a small metal fence to protect the trunk and planted a dozen daffodil bulbs.

As the years went by, Cherry not only survived but also flourished, creating a canopy over the concrete.

Cherry’s blooms, petite and pink, carpeted the sidewalk.

People stopped to stare and pose for selfies.

And pick and pluck.

I fought off all the pests – the fathers who let their toddlers climb its trunk and the kids from St. John’s Prep who swung on the branches until they broke — and picked up all the trash – who throws away a carton of sweet and sour pork in the middle of the night without taking a bite?

Right before the pandemic and too many tossed Chinese takeouts later, I invested in an official New York City tree guard.

That, I figured, would get to the root of all my problems.

When the guard was installed, the Belgian blocks were removed, creating a much more significant space.

I wanted to plant peonies because I love their lush, luxurious blooms, but the spot is too shady.

Through extensive research, I discovered the perfect plant: the Dwarf Sweetbox, aka sarcococca hookeriana var. Digyna “Purple Stem.”

Purple Stem, as its name indicates, is, indeed, supported by a stalk of that vibrant hue.

It also has dark green flame-shaped leaves, fragrant flowers and black-purple berries.

In the dead of winter, with the hope of spring in my heart, I ordered not only a Purple Stem but also a sister hybrid, sarcococca x confusa “Western Hills” that has laurel-like leaves and gets red berries.

Six months later, when the box arrived, Western Hills was missing; the nursery promised to send it in the next shipment.

In the meantime, I planted Purple Stem in the center of the plot, facing my front gate so I could see it.

I carefully positioned the 6-inch-high baby to catch just the right amount of sun on its little leaves.

Cherry’s canopy of shade.

Every day, I checked on Purple Stem’s progress, and at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 5, as I walked my dog, Zora, to her weekly play date with her BFF, I noticed its leaves shining in a sliver of sunlight.

When we returned, at 11 a.m., I was shocked to discover that Purple Stem had vanished without a trace.

Someone had dug the plant up – or worse yet, pulled it out of the ground by its pretty purple stem.

I’ve had people on my block do mean things to me — a decade ago, my then-neighbor poured red pepper all over our back alley to keep Zora away, chopped down my bushes and re-poured concrete on my property without permission – but this was a crime I couldn’t understand.

Purple Stem wasn’t in bloom or in berry, and if you didn’t know any better, you would think it was a weed.

Although nobody has ever dug up a plant in my front yard, I’ve caught scissors-wielding nuns from the Greek church snipping buds and a couple of passersby blithely picking bouquets.

But what kind of person goes around the neighborhood ripping plants like Purple Stem out of the ground?

And what does the thief do with them?

Are they put in a prom bouquet?

Are they potted and placed in a window?

 Will there be a ransom note?

I posted a reward poster at the scene of the crime pleading for the safe return of Purple Stem, but so far, there have been no leads.

Apparently and unfortunately, plant snatching seems to be a common thing in Astoria.

A woman on 24th Street off Ditmars Boulevard lost a newly planted blooming impatiens to a plant-napper the same morning Purple Stem was purloined.

And when I posted my loss on Reddit, I was surprised that 11,000 of my fellow Astorians took note.

And 35 commented, telling bizarre stories of begonia burglaries, azalea assaults, mum jackings and planter piracies.

None of these tales made me feel better, but they did make me feel a little less alone.

Western Hills arrived at my house four days after Purple Stem was nabbed.

I planted it under the cherry tree.

On the street side, where it’s harder for a snatcher to see.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Ruhling: The Real Estate Agent With the Key to Success

A silver BMW pulls to the curb.

A smiling Devin Navarro, classic blue suit, crisp white dress shirt, rose-gold Hublot on his left wrist, emerges, ready to seal yet another deal.

Devin’s only been a real estate agent for two years, but he’s already way ahead of the game.

Devin’s a real estate agent in NYSpace Finders’ Astoria office.

He completed the 90-hour licensure course in only two weeks, and it took him only a year to rack up the 3,000 points needed to make him eligible to become a broker, a status that will, among other things, increase his sales-commission rate. (The only reason he isn’t a broker yet is because it requires three years of experience; he has a year yet to go.)

Devin, who is 26 and who looks like a linebacker and speaks like an Oxford don, has always been passionate about everything he does, which is why it’s not surprising that he’s poured every ounce of energy into his career.

Real estate may be his current love, but it sure wasn’t his first.

Devin, who starts each day with the goal of meeting at least 10 new people, is a South Jersey kid.

He grew up in Brick, which is about nine miles from Toms River and which Devin describes as “a middle-class working town where everybody knows each other.”

And, he adds, “where I was different from all the other kids; my mother and father are Black/Puerto Rican. I was the only Hispanic-Black kid in the predominantly white community.”

Devin’s family, which eventually included a significantly younger brother and sister, was tight-knit.

“My mother had me when she was 18, so she moved back home,” he says. “We lived in the same house with my grandmother, my grandfather and my uncle.”

When he was getting ready to enter third grade, his great-grandmother died, and he and his mother moved into her apartment in Co-Op City in the Bronx.

Devin loves Astoria and can’t wait to meet you.

He was sent to a co-ed Roman Catholic elementary school on City Island.

“I didn’t really fit in there either,” he says. “The way I spoke and the way I carried myself were different.”

But he didn’t let his distinctness hold him back.

In Manhattan Village Academy, a small public high school in the Flatiron District, he created a niche for himself.

“It was very hard to get into the school, and the work was very challenging,” he says. “I was always busy with sports and activities.”

Music and dancing became his new passions.

“My mother forced me to dance,” he says sheepishly. “In particular, she wanted me to learn Salsa. I got really good at it. I traveled to competitions in Puerto Rico, on cruise ships and at festivals.”

(Devin declines to demonstrate any moves. It was, he says, such a long time ago …)

Devin spent the rest of his free time playing the drums.

“School started at 8:15 a.m., and I showed up every day at 7 to practice,” he says. “Instead of eating lunch with the other kids, I practiced, and after school, I practiced from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. when they kicked me out.”

His music teacher took note and enlisted the then 16-year-old Devin to play in his jazz band.

“My mother had to pick me up at the clubs at 1 a.m.,” he says. “When she asked me how much I got paid, I told her that I already spent the money on food.”

In college, Devin played in a band, and during his third year and much to his mother’s disappointment, he dropped out to go on tour.

Before the pandemic, he was in the restaurant industry.

“I thought I was going to be Phil Collins,” he says, grinning. “I went on the road with four of my best friends. We traveled from Maine to Florida with a trailer and a Dodge Durango, playing 25 shows in 30 days.”

When the tour ended, Devin moved back home to Co-Op City. He went back to school, this time to study computer engineering and math.

“I believe in the work ethic above all,” he says, adding that while he studied, he took a job in a restaurant, starting out as a dishwasher and working his way up to bartender/server.

“I wanted to be an entrepreneur and have my own business,” he says. “I wanted to learn everything I could about the restaurant business. The owner became my mentor.”

What he calls “Marine-style business training” paid off: The owner started a second restaurant, with Devin as manager.

Things had been going so well – Devin met his wife at the restaurant, they have two daughters who are 4 and 1, and they live in the Co-Op City apartment he grew up in – that he never envisioned doing any other type of work.

The pandemic had other ideas.

“The restaurant was closed for a year,” he says. “I knew I had to pivot, and I also knew that I could apply the skills I had learned anywhere.”

It was his mentor who connected him with the founder of NYSpace Finders.

Real estate, he says, was a logical choice because it’s a career that allows him to operate his own business while still having the security of working within a firm.

“I had to learn everything very quickly because I had no choice,” he says. “I was thrown into the fire; it was sink or swim.”

Devin has some lofty goals, and he’s more than willing to put in the eight-days-a-week work to achieve them.

“I want to be the King of Queens in the real estate world,” he says. “I want to be as big as I can be.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.comastoriacharacters.com.

Ruhling: The Bargain-Basement Buyer

Digging through the big, brimming bins, Sam Kirby – “that’s Kirby like the pink Nintendo character,” he likes to say — unearths a treasure.

Sam’s the manager of Bingers Bargain Bins.

It’s the Funko Pops doll modeled after Pam Beesley, the level-headed receptionist at Dunder Mifflin on the iconic TV comedy series, The Office.

He thrusts it aloft like a trophy.

 Would you buy it for $10.99?

How about $8.49?

Or better yet, how about a pair of Pams for $2.99?

At any price, it’s just so cute that it’s hard to resist.

(Sam didn’t – he has a collection of The Office characters in his own office.)

At Bingers Bargain Bins, the price of Pam and all the other prizes keep going down until they hit rock bottom and are replaced by next week’s shipment of stuff.

Bingers Bargain Bins, which is in an old warehouse that Sam painted bright blue, is a no-frills fun place to shop for big-name brands – you never know what you’re going to find, and that’s the whole point.

Sam, who was a diehard Bingers shopper before he was put on the payroll, recently was seduced by the Angry Mama Microwave Cleaner, a product he didn’t know he couldn’t live without but now wonders how he ever did.

You fill the plastic female figure (its “dress” comes in several colors) with water and vinegar, and pop it in the microwave for 7 minutes. Steam comes out of her head (remember, she’s a mad mama) and softens all the dirt and stains so you can easily clean the appliance.

Bingers Bargain Bins opened at the end of 2020, about six months after Sam arrived in Astoria.

Sam, who was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and grew up in Daphne, Alabama, didn’t expect to buy the Angry Mama.

Nor did he anticipate that he would end up living in the Big Apple.

After attending Louisiana State University for a year, he moved back home and got a job as a customer service representative at a car dealership.

“It was my first real job,” he says, adding that he didn’t know anything about cars. “But I learned a lot – about cars and about people.”

Shopping is like digging for treasure.

Five years later, when his sister vacated her apartment to study abroad for a year, he took her place in Auburn, Alabama, rooming with her best friend, Jackie Goff, who became his girlfriend.

“I went there without a job,” he says, “and I worked in the restocking department of a vending machine company. It was neat because the warehouse was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory – I got to snack on Snickers bars and Coca-Cola all the time.”

Sam might still be there had Jackie, a kindergarten teacher, not gotten a job offer in the South Bronx, where she had done a year-long internship.

“We kicked the idea around for about a week,” he says. “I told her moving to New York sounded like it could be fun.”

For the first year, Sam, sitting on his couch with a laptop, devoted himself to finishing his community college degree online.

“I kept delaying things because I really didn’t know what I was interested in majoring in,” he says. “I chose science because it was the most general thing offered.”

He fell in love with Bingers Bargain Bins, which probably is the only discount store in the world that has a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, and when there was a job opening in August 2021, he applied.

“I was shopping there one to two times a week, and the manager recognized me in the interview,” he says.

Sam, who is 28, became the manager in February, and a couple of months later, he proposed to Jackie at the Central Park Reservoir.

Living in the city has been a great adventure for Sam, a tall man with a sliver of a Southern accent that surfaces when he’s smiling, which is pretty much all the time.

 “We love it here,” he says. “And I love Bingers Bargain Bins – it’s a fascinating concept.”

Bingers Bargain Bins buys pallets of merchandise returned to major retailers, including Amazon.com.

Some of the items are repackaged by Bingers into so-called “mystery boxes” that sell for $99.99.

“They are a collection of everything in the bins – we go by what we think is fun, not by what we have in excess,” he says. “The retail value always exceeds the price paid.”

Sam is still a frequent shopper at Bingers Bargain Bins.

He looks around his office – his computer mouse, computer stand and paper shredder – yup, they are all from BBB.

“I’ve become the perfect gift giver,” he says, grinning. “I’m always finding little doodads.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Ruhling: The Self-Styles Shopkeeper

Flavio Bessah is setting a style scene on the sidewalk.

He carries a petite light-blue side chair out the front door of his shop, Flash 16 Botik, and places it on the colorful Turkish rug atop the concrete.

He follows that with another chair, this one upholstered in a light floral pattern.

Flash 16 Botik is at 22-04 33rd St.

Flavio, tall and dark and shy, adds a small wooden cabinet and a half dozen empty frames and artworks to the smart scenario.

By the street planter, which is filled with purple and yellow petunias and serves as an extra seat, he places a glass-topped side table, crowning it with a lamp that has a blue and white china base.

After making a few adjustments – perhaps the pillows on the second chair should be re-arranged and the painting should be moved to the other side – he steps back to survey his work.

“I have to be and like to be involved in every detail,” he says.

Yes, it is a perfect city sitting room.

Flavio’s been working for hours, cleaning, and arranging and rearranging, and he didn’t realize that it’s time to open the boutique, which sells fashion for people and fashion for the house.

This isn’t Flavio’s first shop.

The shop carries furniture and home accessories.

That one, Flash 16, was on Newtown Road, and he closed it last year because of the pandemic after a three-year run.

This boutique, which he is calling Flash 16 Botik , is on 33rd Street off Ditmars Boulevard between the old Key Food parking lot and Chip City.

It has only been open two months; there’s much work yet to do.

The black awning still carries the name of the previous tenant, a juice bar, and Flavio’s still trying to figure out how to fit all his stuff into this, a significantly smaller space.

The designer-brand stock varies – you really need to visit the boutique every week to keep from missing out on the Coach, Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana and Escada pieces that you and your wardrobe simply can’t live without.

Right by the door, there’s a pair of lipstick-red Calvin Klein stilettoes.

On the back wall, there’s a vintage framed poster of the Beatles promoting their first film, “A Hard Day’s Night.”

In the window, there is a pair of glass and metal table lamps. And over in the corner, by the vintage glassware, there’s an entire section filled with designer handbags.

The clothes racks are bulging: There are frilly dresses, tailored coats, just-plain jeans and shiny micro-mini skirts.

The designer merchandise – some new, some old, some donated, some consigned, all of it in perfect condition – is carefully curated by Flavio, who made his career as a fashion stylist.

Flavio has a degree in journalism.

Flavio, who is from Goiânia, a city in central Brazil that’s 125 miles from Brasilia, has always been interested in fashion, but it wasn’t until he moved to New York City some two decades ago that he began the collection that ultimately led to his opening the shop.

A journalist by training – he has a degree in the subject from the Universidade Estácio de Sá in Rio de Janeiro – Flavio figured he would write about fashion in the city.

He quickly discovered, however, that the money he was making writing his magazine articles didn’t cover his rent or his fashion purchases.

Working as a fashion stylist, however, did. So did selling styles and style.

Like Flavio’s first shop, Flash 16 Botik – Flash refers to the camera-carrying paparazzi, 16 is the date of Flavio’s birthday and Botik is a play on the word boutique, which is what the restaurant across Ditmars Boulevard calls itself – is proving to be successful straightaway.

Flavio has a good feeling about this store: He thinks and hopes that it will be so popular that he’ll be able to open an entire chain that features his self-styled fashion aesthetic.

He finds the 12-hour days fun and fulfilling, whether he’s unpacking dresses or dressing up the front windows.

“I’m so busy with this right now that I don’t have time to do styling any more,” he says, grinning. “I’m totally dedicated to Flash 16 Botik.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

VBGC Queens raises over $100K at annual gala

The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens hosted their annual gala on Wednesday, May 18 and raised over $100,000 for their Astoria-based programming.

The event honored Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who received the “George Skouras Award,” Peter Vallone Sr., recipient of the “Judge Charles Vallone Award,” Dr. Cameron Hernandez of Mount Sinai Queens, recipient of the “Albert ‘Cubby’ R. Broccoli Award,” and Paula Kirby of Plaxall, recipient of the “Ann Buehler Award.”

Treasure Hodge, an executive recruitment liaison for VBGC Queens, was honored with the “Staff of the Year” award.

Walter Sanchez, BQE Media Publisher and president of the VBGC Queens Board, was inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with his son, John Sanchez, president of the VBGC Queens Young Professionals Board.

The gala’s silent auction featured items from the New York Mets, Museum of the Moving Image, Milkflower, The Row, Chef Moise, Noguchi Museum, Ample Hills Creamery, Alewife Brewing, Untapped NY & Behind the Scenes NY, JetBlue, NFL, Trattoria L’incontro, Ace Hotel, Disney, Cheesecake Factory and Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom.

Marco Santini was in attendance illustrating his iconic “One Love” painting, asking guests what they value most and incorporating their words into art. At the end of the night, the painting was auctioned off to the highest bidder

The evening was sponsored by Mega Contracting, the Vallone Family, Plaxall, JetBlue, Innovation Queens, Robotti Insurance and Wildflower Studios.

The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens hosted their annual gala on Wednesday, May 18 and raised over $100,000 for their Astoria-based programming
Pictured (l-r) Costa Constantinides, Walter Sanchez, Peter Vallone Sr., Tena Vallone, Paul Vallone, QBP Donovan Richards, and Paula Kirby.

 

From ‘Sex and the City’ to ‘The Kids We Love’

How a local author breaks traditional storytelling with her new kid’s book

Eleni Fuiaxis, a professional model, actress, elementary school teacher, and mother of two from Astoria, can now add published Children’s author to her already expansive resume. Best known for her role as Debbie in the hit HBO series Sex and the City, she hopes to reignite reading and storytelling in schools with a brand new book series designed to help parents and teachers engage and connect with kids.

The first book in the series, “Picky Patrick,” was something she started writing eight years ago as a labor of love. Fuiaxis said that she always enjoyed reading to her kids at night, but would always return home from work exhausted.

“I was so tired by the end of the night,” Fuiaxis said, “I made up these stories for them.”

Her children loved the stories so much that she began to write them down. In fact, her son Zen was so inspired by one of the stories that he asked her if he could make copies of the book to sell to his friends. It was at that moment she became determined to publish them.

“Picky Patrick” hits major book sellers on July 12

But as soon as she found a publisher, everything suddenly came undone. “My marriage fell apart,” she said. “I had no idea what I was doing with myself and my life.”

Fuiaxis said this was when she embarked on a journey of self-discovery. It was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that she decided to become certified to teach.

“The modeling and acting industry were completely annihilated,” she said. “And so many teachers were getting sick, retiring, and walking off the job.”

Feeling compelled to help serve in any way that she can, she quickly found herself thrown into the classroom. “It was intense,” she said. “But I have no regrets. It’s one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done.”

Since the children connected organically with the characters in her book, she decided to add 14 different prompts at the end, to serve as a springboard for deep and meaningful conversations.

“Picky Patrick,” tells the story of an 8-year-old boy who seemingly has it all, but spends all of his time nitpicking and choosing to focus on the negative things.

One day, after reading the book to her class, she said that a student approached her with a dilemma–they accidentally colored outside of the lines. That was when a fellow classmate stood up and said, “remember Picky Patrick… it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

“Kids are literally teaching each other how to self-soothe and problem solve,” she said. “It really connected with them… now, coming out of COVID, they need time to connect more than ever.”

Fuiaxis also said that she has finished three more manuscripts for the collection–“Smelly Nelly,” “Scared Steven,” and “Negative Nathan”–which she plans to release at a future date. Her first book in “The Kids We Love” series, “Picky Patrick,” will be released by Mascot Kids and available at major booksellers on July 12.

Ruhling: The Woman who takes History to Heart

As a historian, Heather Nicole Lonks Minty is used to telling stories.

Other people’s.

So that’s where we start.

We’re in England, where in 1909 two suffragettes, identified as a Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan, find a novel way to draw attention to the cause.

They mail themselves to the prime minister at No. 10 Downing St. so they can advocate, in person, for the right to vote. (The postal charge is 3 pence, and the “human letters” are unceremoniously returned when the recipient refuses to sign for them.)

Heather starts a new job next month.

“A delivery boy had to actually walk them there,” Heather says, smiling at their audacity and cleverness. “During the mailbox bombing and arson campaign of 1912 through 1914, one woman used to hide explosive devices in her wheelchair.”

In the United States, the women were not so militant. In 1917, they merely chained themselves to the fence around the White House to get President Woodrow Wilson’s attention.

Heather, a tall woman with glamorous gold-rimmed spectacles, tells these and other stories about everyday people to make history come alive.

Whether you’re talking about women picketing to get the right to vote or young men protesting the draft, the stories resonate because “it could be you or someone in your family,” she says.

That’s why she finds walking tours so thrilling: You get to stand in a space where history took place.

As far as Heather’s own history, it starts in Flushing, where she was born 32 years ago and where she spent most of her childhood and young adulthood.

At LIU Post, she earned a bachelor’s degree in TV and radio (she loves watching historical documentaries, and her thesis was a video walking tour of the Civil War draft riots) then proceeded to earn a master’s in public history at Royal Holloway, University of London.

“Public history is all about getting history to the public,” she says. “These days, there are many engaging ways to tell stories that are not just exhibitions in museums.”

After returning to New York, she landed a job at the New-York Historical Society, a move that would change her own history in ways she never imagined.

It was there that she met Chris Minty, a “cute” Scotsman fascinated with U.S. history who had a fellowship with the museum.

“We actually were in London at the same time, both frequenting the same research libraries when I was in college, and I did take some day trips to Scotland, but our paths never crossed,” she says.

They were introduced at a staff meeting, but Heather wasn’t impressed enough to pay much attention to him.

It was Tinder that kindled their romance.

“I swiped right, but I still didn’t recognize him,” she says, adding that the people on fellowships like Chris had separate work areas so she never saw him. “He sent me a message saying he thought we worked in the same building.”

Heather thought it was a pickup line until she verified the information.

On Nov. 4, 2014 – Heather, ever the historian, remembers the exact date – they met for coffee.

“Our love of history connected us,” she says. “We spent five hours talking – it’s probably the longest coffee date known to man.”

Their relationship deepened their appreciation not only for each other but also for their respective areas of study.

“He opened my eyes to parts of American history I had never seen before,” Heather says.

Although they had been dating only a couple of weeks, Chris traveled all the way from Morningside Heights to Flushing to have Thanksgiving dinner with Heather and her parents.

“The holiday, of course, is not celebrated in Scotland, so he really didn’t know what he was getting into,” she says. “My mother sent him home with so much food – and he discovered corn bread.”

Heather makes history come alive.

They married and moved themselves and their voluminous collection of history books to Boston, where Chris had been offered a job.

Heather took a position with the Boston Athenaeum and later worked for the Boston Arts Academy Foundation then Respond, whose mission is to end domestic violence.

At the end of 2020, during the pandemic, they returned to New York to be closer to Heather’s family.

Heather was working for Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit that focuses on New York City’s and state’s finances and services, when their daughter, Isla, was born.

(For the record, the only reason Isla, who is 6 months old, has not visited a museum yet is because of covid restrictions.)

Next month, after taking a short break in her career, Heather’s starting a new job as the development director of an institute in New Jersey whose mission is gender equality, which syncs with her keen interest in women’s rights.

“Having a daughter makes this even more exciting because instead of fighting only for myself now, I’m fighting for her and her generation,” she says. “That makes it easier for me to leave her and go back to work.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

Ruhling: The Woman in Retro

From the color-coordinated racks of clothing, Lisa Ferrari-Sullivan pulls out a 1940s sundress and holds it up to the light streaming through the front windows of her new shop, Pimbeche Vintage.

She points out its flamboyant green-rose floral print, its contrasting yellow piping, its perky front bow and its metal zipper.

Although the dress is at least 80 years old, it looks as gorgeous as it did the day it was made.

For Lisa, who is wearing a kaleidoscopically colorful 1980s Guy Laroche cotton top and 1980s Gitano jeans, retro fashion is much more than mere window dressing.

It is, she says, a really good way to recycle and repurpose, which she has been doing her entire life.

Lisa, model tall with long black hair that she tames by tying it back in a ponytail, was born and raised in Wallingford, Connecticut, which she calls a “lovely little suburban town that I always wanted to get out of when I was young but that I now am nostalgic about.”

She gets her own sense of style from her mother, who she says is “extremely fashionable.”

Lisa adds that her mother was in her early 20s – nearly three decades younger than Lisa’s father, a World War II combat veteran and first-generation Italian-American she met while he was working for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.

“She was always well dressed but on a shoestring budget,” Lisa says. “She was Latinx, she was exotic, and she was the talk of the town. I was in awe of her. She didn’t look like the other Connecticut moms.”

As a youngster, Lisa borrowed her mother’s clothes to play dress up and came to love vintage clothing, which she subsequently began collecting.

At first, she frequented thrift shops then switched to estate sales and online auctions.

“I love 1970s clothes,” says Lisa, who was born at the beginning of that fashion-forward era. “They are carefree and bohemian – it was anything goes. People used clothing to express themselves.”

When it was time for college, Lisa didn’t major in fashion – she has a degree in business management from Southern Connecticut State University – but she knew she wanted to make her career in New York City.

“I had a friend who had a job here,” she says, explaining what prompted her to move. “My first job, in 1998, was as a receptionist at Thierry Mugler.”

Lisa climbed the fashion industry ladder, eventually becoming a national sales director for a succession of major fashion houses.

Around the turn of the century, she got married, moved to the Astoria area and had two daughters, who are now 14 and 11 and sometimes help her out at Pimbeche Vintage.

“After my first daughter was born, the showroom I was working at closed down,” she says. “I wanted to stay home, but I didn’t want to stop working —  I had been working since I was 16. My side hustle was selling vintage clothes.”

She started selling online and about eight years ago began setting up at the Brooklyn Flea in Dumbo and Chelsea.

“I originally did it with my mother, but she had to drop out to take care of my father,” Lisa says. “I used the money I made through the years from the flea markets to fund Pimbeche Vintage.”

Pimbeche, which, by the way, is French for “snobby girl,” carries women’s fashions, including jewelry, shoes and handbags, from the 1940s to the early 2000s.

“I love selling pretty things,” Lisa says as she puts the sundress back on the rack. “But I also want to help the environment. I have a strong passion for sustainability.”

Pimbeche Vintage is still a work in progress.

Lisa, who wears vintage when she’s in the shop, is working on a website and soon will add live online sales.

As she’s talking about her plans, a customer walks in.

After searching through the racks, she selects a prettily patterned cotton dress and heads back to the dressing room to try it on.

Lisa smiles.

“The Astoria community has been amazing,” she says. “People come in to browse, to buy and to talk. I’m grateful that they want to support small businesses like mine.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected];  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com,  astoriacharacters.com.

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