Woodside local stars in ‘The Nutcracker’

“Dancing as much as I can for as long as I can”

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

Woodside local, Giulia Faria (right) stars in “The Nutcracker.”

Giulia Faria began dancing at age 3. Twenty years later, the Woodside local has propelled that passion towards her professional career, and will be starring in the New York Theatre Ballet’s seasonal performance of “The Nutcracker.”

Faria has been performing “The Nutcracker” since she was 10, playing multiple roles in the 1892, two-act ballet performance. This year, she is taking on the soloist roles of Coffee (or the Arabian Princess) the Mouse Queen, Spanish Dance and the Waltz of the Flowers.

“I’ve actually never danced the Arabian Princess before and it’s a very different type of role. It’s very slow and controlled and I’m more of a dynamic dancer,” Faria said. “This year is especially challenging for me because I’m stepping into a role that I’ve never done before and learning how to move in a different quality”

Faria’s dancing began at Callina Moaytis School of Classical Ballet, a since-closed school in Astoria.

Giulia Faria performing.

Taking ballet classes every Saturday until age 10, she joined the School of New York Theatre Ballet the following year. She was still in high school when she joined the New York Theatre Ballet, a 15 year old apprentice standing among established professionals.

“Overall, it just matured a little quicker than most 15-year-olds because of the environment I was in,” Faria said. “I don’t think I would have changed for anything. I feel like it made me a better dancer and a better professional overall.”

She eventually transitioned to home school in order to balance her responsibilities in the studio and the classroom.

“It was a little tricky, because I didn’t want to go to school — I wanted to dance,” she said with a laugh.”

Faria holds two homes close to her heart: her company and her Queens community. Both she described as intrinsically part of her — with no foreseeable future of leaving either.

One of Faria’s favorite places is Sri Praphai, located at 64-13 39th Ave in Woodside, which she describes as the best Thai restaurant in New York. She regularly attends Yoga Agora in Astoria and studied nutrition at LaGuardia Community College.

“I went to school in Queens. Now, as an adult, I don’t think I would even want to live in another borough,” she said.“It’s so versatile. You can crave whatever kind of food you want at 3:00 a.m. and you’ll definitely find something. There’s a really special place in my heart for Queens.”

The New York Theatre Ballet company has maintained her passion for dance, and it is a group she says “feels like home.” For that, she plans to stay with the company for the foreseeable future, and to keep “dancing as much as I can for as long as I can.”

“I don’t necessarily mind where I am dancing or where the career takes me, as long as I’m dancing. That’s what matters,” Faria said. “As long as I feel really passionate about what I’m doing and what I’m dancing. That’s mainly my goal — to feel fulfilled wherever I am.”

Performances begin Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Brookfield Place, 230 Vesey Street in Manhattan. For more information or to purchase tickets to see the New York Theatre Ballet performance of “The Nutcracker,” visit https://nytb.org.

Astoria resident hosts ‘Ruth Sent Us’ Charity Benefit

The performers for ‘Ruth Sent Us.’ Photo: Cathryn Lynne

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

Astoria resident and professional artist Mara Jill Herman is doing more than creating work for pleasure and enjoyment. With her numerous individual works and charity benefits, Herman is trying to spread a message. 

“Usually what happens is that I feel frustrated or rageful about something and I channel that rage into an art baby,” Herman said. This ‘art baby’ takes the form of activism, as Herman has dedicated much of her individual work towards raising awareness and proceeds for humanitarian and social causes.

Her third and most recent charity benefit concert was this recent Tuesday, Oct. 11, titled “Ruth Sent Us: A Benefit For Reproductive Justice.” This “Ruth” is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female Supreme Court Justice and the first female Jewish Justice. 

Some of the proceeds from this concert were donated to benefit the Jewish Fund for Abortion Access.

Herman was inspired by a sign she saw while protesting in Washington Square Park on June 24 — when the Supreme Court Case Roe v. Wade was overturned — which read ‘Ruth Sent Us.’

“That really hit me and impacted me in a meaningful way. I felt like ‘yes, she most certainly did [send us,]” Herman said “That’s where the inspiration came from for the title of the concert and why I wanted to celebrate her legacy.”

Fellow actors joined together for ‘Ruth Sent Us,’ at the Green Room in Manhattan, including Jennifer Apple, Rebecca Hargrove, Kendyl Ito, Annemarie Josephson and Austin Ku. 

Original music from the duos Marina Pires and Luke Wygodny of The Heartstrings Project were performed.

The livestream video can be purchased through Oct. 24.  

Tickets are on sale now but they must  bepurchase no later than 5 p.m. on Oct. 24 to view the replay later that night. 

The venue will distribute livestream tickets two hours before showtime. Tickets are $19.

To purchase the video, visit this link: https://thegreenroom42.venuetix.com/show/details/t3dfoKPu4fgev2hvrOUP/1666652400000.

For additional livestream support, email [email protected] or call (917) 239-6560.

Herman is a Jewish woman, and this identity influences her artistic expression. She has often gravitated towards roles that are an extension of her culture, and allow her to express this cultural identity. Such a role she played was is in ‘The Band’s Visit,’ a Tony Award winning musical.

“That was a really cool moment in my life when I was specifically hired for that project because of my ability to read and sing in Hebrew,” Herman said. “So that was a nice way to blend my artist and Jewish identity in a work that went on to have some great success.”

Herman views a ban on abortion as against her religion, and as such, it should be protected under the Constitution. 

The first benefit that Herman produced, titled “Stronger than Hate, was for the anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. 

“Several people were killed, simply by showing up and praying in a synagogue,” she said. “So that really hit me.” 

The following year, Herman had been actively volunteering with the StateraArts, an organization that works to uplift and amplify women in art spaces, with their mission dedicated to gender equality. The benefit, titled ‘Changemakers,’ was about celebrating female and non binary people in the arts. 

Her goal from her most recent benefit is simple — education. 

“I want to feel like I helped raise awareness and  helped raise funds that get to the people who need it the most, because while abortion may be legal in New York State, it still impacts all of us,” she said. 

Queens man indicted in fatal stabbing of FDNY EMS worker in Astoria


By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

 

A man has been indicted for the fatal stabbing of FDNY EMS worker Alison Russo-Elling on Sept. 29, who was posthumously promoted to the rank of Captain. 

Peter Zisopoulos, 34, has been charged with murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz on Thursday, Oct. 6. 

According to the charges, the defendant approached the victim — who had been with FDNY for 25 years — near EMS Station 49 while she was in uniform and on-duty while walking down 20th Ave. between 41st St. and Steinway St. Zisopoulos lived on 20th Ave, only a short distance away from where he allegedly attacked Russo-Elling.

Allegedly, Zisopoulos knocked her to the ground without provocation and stabbed her repeatedly before fleeing the scene.

The fatal stabbing was caught on video surveillance. 

After the attack, Zisopoulos ran to a nearby residential building where he barricaded himself into his third-floor apartment. NYPD’s hostage negotiating team and emergency service unit were able to talk the suspect out of the building, where he surrendered himself without further altercation.

Zisopoulos was arraigned via video on OCt. 6 via video from Bellevue Hospital. His court date is Nov. 29, 2022. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

 

Broadway in the Boros sees massive turnout

Audience enjoyed tunes from ‘Beetlejuice,’ ‘SIX,’ ‘Wicked’

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

A sea of people gathered to attend Broadway in the Boros in Astoria.

It was all about “Popular” at last Friday’s Broadway in the Boros performance in Astoria.

Held in the lot of Kaufman Astoria Studios, a massive crowd of Broadway enthusiasts gathered to enjoy the talents of performers who star in the shows “Beetlejuice,” “SIX” and “Wicked.”

Last year, the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment (MOME) presented Off-Broadway in the Boros, a smaller scale performance due to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, Broadway in the Boros returned at full force.

“I’m thrilled to be able to welcome Broadway in the Boros back to Queens,” said Phil Ballman, Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism for Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

“It’s the artists, performers and all the hardworking people behind the scenes for shows like this that make New York the cultural capital of the world,” he continued. “Arts and culture isn’t just for our soul, our spirit and for building community, it’s also such an important source of jobs and brings so many visitors into the city.”

Before the musical performances began, Julie James, the show’s emcee, introduced Hal Rosenbluth and Tracy Capune of Kaufman Astoria Studios to the crowd.

The duo engaged the audience with the history of Kaufman and the arts and film scene in Astoria, as well as with trivia questions that a few lucky audience members answered to win tickets to a Broadway show.

The show started off with a performance from Nevada Riley, who plays Lydia in “Beetlejuice.”

Performing “Dead Mom,” an upbeat musical number despite what the morbid song title suggests, got the crowd dancing quickly.

She was then joined by Elliott Mattox to sing the duet, “Say My Name,” a silly routine where Beetlejuice attempts to get Lydia to say his name three times.

The crowd was particularly riled up for the cast of “SIX,” a new show centered on the heartbreak of the six wives of Henry VIII.

An all-girl group music and dance performance, “SIX,” featuring Bre Jackson, Andrea Macasaet, Keri René Fuller, Brittney Mack, Samantha Pauly and Brennyn Lark earned them a loud round of applause and a standing ovation.

The cast of “SIX” dazzled the audience.

The cast of “Wicked” closed out the performance, which was arguably the most anticipated performance of the day – given its long-running status on Broadway and the soon-to-be motion picture.

Alyssa Fox (Elphaba) and Allie Trimm (Glinda) performed the iconic duet, “For Good.”

The audience was so focused and in a trance that you could almost hear a pin drop.

Fox and Trimm shared an embrace after their performance of “For Good.”

Although all the performers donned their respective show’s shirt and weren’t in full costume you could still feel the magic of the stage in that moment.

“After two long years, I am thrilled to see our city continue its reopening with the return of Broadway in the Boros,” said Mayor Eric Adams.

“This remarkable series works to ensure that everyone in our city, regardless of their zip code, gets the chance to experience the magic of Broadway right in their backyards. Broadway is a lifeblood of our city, and this series is an incredible way for all New Yorkers to come out and relish in the magic that makes New York City’s heartbeat.”

Two additional performances for Broadway in the Boros remain, including one at 1 Fordham Plaza in the Bronx on Oct. 7, and another at Minthorne Street between Victory Boulevard and Bay Street in Staten Island on Oct. 14.

All performances take place from 1 to 2 p.m. and are completely free and open to the public.

CPC gives thumbs up to Innovation QNS

Commissioners voted 10-3 in favor of controversial project

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Rendering of 38th Street Plaza by Innovation QNS.

The City Planning Commission gave a thumbs up to the large Innovation QNS project proposed for Astoria, despite a big thumbs down from Community Board 1 in June.

The proposed $2 billion development would build 12 towers between Northern Boulevard and 37th Street, some up to 27 stories tall, along with two acres of open space and 2,800 housing units — 700 of them permanently affordable — or 25 percent.

The commissioners voted 10-3 in favor of the proposal, advancing it to the next step of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application process.

Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties and BedRock Real Estate Partners are the developers behind the project.

Tracy Capune, vice president at Kaufman Astoria Studios, sees the CPC’s nod to the project as a significant stepping stone to providing benefits to the community.

“The need for affordable homes, family-sustaining jobs, public open space and expanded services for immigrants, seniors and young people has never been greater, and [the] overwhelming approval of Innovation QNS by the City Planning Commission is an important step toward delivering all of that and more for our neighbors in Astoria,” she said.

“We look forward to working with Councilmember Won and our neighbors in the weeks ahead to ensure City Council approval of this $2 billion investment at a critical moment for our community.”

Moments before the CPC voted, Chairman Dan Garodnick recommended the commission vote to approve Innovation QNS, citing thousands of job opportunities, affordable housing, public open space and many amenities.

“The affordable housing component of this project that will be created without public subsidy would be considered the largest privately financed affordable housing project in Queens in generations. At a time when our housing crisis is more pronounced than ever, that is a big deal and a big opportunity to take the pressure off the rents in this and surrounding communities,” Garodnick said.

“Innovation QNS is a unique opportunity to create nearly 3,000 homes including hundreds of permanently affordable homes that will change the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, providing them with stability in a vibrant neighborhood — where little of that stability currently exists,” he continued. “We should not let such an opportunity pass us by.”

Now, it’s up to the City Council to vote on whether or not to approve Innovation QNS; however, Councilwoman Julie Won, who represents Astoria in District 26, has been vocal about her disapproval of the development project since the beginning of her time in office.

Usually, the City Council votes in accordance with the position of the councilmember who represents that district.

Won criticized the developers of Innovation QNS for “disregarding” the voices of locals and not considering the community’s need for deeply affordable housing.

“I have requested for the development team to return to the community again with modifications and we will not settle for a plan that is below 50 percent affordable. Nearly 70 percent of renters in this part of Astoria are already rent-burdened or severely rent-burdened, with a current average rent of around $1,800. There are 54,000 eviction cases filed in NYC this year alone. I cannot in good conscience add more market-rate luxury housing in my district where it continues to produce an upward trend in rising rents,” she said.

“I refuse to inflict greater displacement and increase risk for evictions for working class families in my district. The developers are still offering only the minimum of 25 percent affordable apartments, calling on the city to utilize public dollars to provide any additional affordability,” Won continued. “My apprehension for this project remains and I have serious concerns that this project will displace many immigrant and working class residents that call this part of Astoria home, as landowners worry about their profit margins.”

Last month, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards also said “no” to the project; however, his input merely served as a recommendation.

In his recommendation, Richards called for an increase in the number of affordable housing units as well as expanding the lowest affordable income band to individuals or families earning 30 percent area median income (AMI).

Rendering via Innovation QNS.

“New York City is in the throes of a housing crisis, with Astoria families feeling that crush harder than most, but we have an incredible opportunity before us to reverse this tragic trend. I stand by my recommendation that certain commitments be made by the Innovation QNS development team to meet this moment,” he said.

“I have a deep respect for the City Planning Commission and its work, and I am hopeful [this] vote will lead to a healthy dialogue and community-first solutions as Innovation QNS proceeds to the City Council,” Richards added. “I remain in close contact with the developers, my fellow elected officials and all our community stakeholders, and will continue to push for true community-first solutions on the issues of affordability and equity.”

An ongoing critique of Innovation QNS is that the developers failed to engage in adequate, robust community outreach before moving forward with the application process.

Even CPC Chair Garodnick acknowledged in his opening remarks that the development team could have done a better job with this, and encouraged all future applicants to keep comprehensive community engagement at the “forefront of their minds.”

Evie Hantzopoulos, an Astoria resident, a member of CB1’s Land Use Committee and an activist with Astoria Not For Sale strongly believes that the Innovation QNS team has not done enough to improve their community outreach.

At a town hall meeting held at Kaufman Astoria Studios back in April, Hantzopoulos referred to their community engagement efforts as “a joke,” and told them outwardly that they are not being transparent.

“They’ve spent their time trying to get people to sign postcards to send in favor of it. That’s not outreach. They’re not trying to understand what the community wants and needs,” she said. “They already have their plan. They’re going through with it. Anything they do is perfunctory.”

As for her reaction to the CPC approving the plan: “disappointed, but not surprised.”

“We are going to mobilize and make sure that the voices of people who are going to be most affected are being heard,” she added.

Farihah Akhtar, an Astoria resident and organizer at CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, described Garodnick’s praise to the community members who came out to raise their voices against the project as “hollow and a slap in the face” to those fighting gentrification and displacement.

“Billionaire developers are enabled by our broken city planning and land use process and this has festered for decades. New York City is facing a major housing crisis, but what we need are deeply affordable units…these units are out of reach for working class and immigrant communities that have traditionally called Astoria home,” she said.

“NYCHA residents, with median incomes of approximately $20,000 per year, would not even meet the income requirements to apply for the affordable housing lottery,” Akhtar added.

“We will continue fighting. Astoria and New York City deserve real affordable housing and meaningful community engagement. This project is wrong and no amount of rationalization makes it palatable to our communities.”

Two shot near Astoria Blvd. N and 35th St.

A shooting in the vicinity of Astoria Boulevard North and 35th Street left a 24-year-old male in critical condition and a 36- led to two people being transported to Elmhurst Hospital. The shooting was in the early hours on Saturday, July 30. According to a DCPI spokesperson, no arrests have been made for the shooting, and the investigation remains ongoing.

The shooting was within the confines of the 114th Precinct. At approximately 3:52 a.m., the police responded to a 911 call regarding a person shot. Upon arrival, the officers observed a 24-year-old man with multiple gunshot wounds to the body, and a 36-year-old woman with a gunshot wound to her abdomen. EMS transported both victims to Elmhurst Hospital, according to the spokesperson, where the male victim is in critical condition and the female victim is in stable condition.

According to sources with AMNY, it was three masked perpetrators that opened fire on the victims. After shooting numerous shots upon them, the gunman fled the scene inside a grey minivan, heading westbound along Astoria Boulevard North. 

No information has been released regarding potential suspects or with images of the perpetrators of this shooting.

 

Astoria Figures: The Woman Leading Hour Children

The fastest Alethea Taylor has ever driven is 125 miles per hour, and it was only for a second or so.

“When I got close to 100 and the car started bucking, it was really scary but exhilarating,” she says. “I stayed at 90, where I felt comfortable.”

She’s as new at racecar driving as she is at leading Hour Children, the 35-year-old organization founded by Sister Tesa Fitzgerald that takes incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in New York State under its wing.

 “I love to drive and experience the freedom behind the wheel,” says Alethea, who joined Hour Children in January as the second executive director in its history.

Mind you, she doesn’t push her leased 2021 Infinity SUV past the legal speed limit despite her daily commute from Hackensack, which she says, takes 30 minutes when there’s no traffic. Which is, of course, never.

It’s the same with her job. She’s taking things at a patient pace, spending time working side by side with staff members at Hour Children’s thrift shops, communal house, food pantry, low-income housing complex and jail and prison programs.

“I’m getting to know how things operate,” says Alethea, who wears her black hair short and her heels high. “I want to see the employees’ and clients’ issues and struggles, and I want them to know me.”

Although Alethea never envisioned herself running Hour Children, she has spent her entire life preparing for the position.

“I didn’t choose this path,” she says. “This path has chosen me.”

Alethea, who is from Browns Town, Jamaica, spent her childhood alternating between her grandparents’ farm and her mother’s apartment in Kingston.

“My father really wasn’t in the picture,” she says.

When she was 8, her mother moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where the family, which eventually numbered five children, lived in a one-bedroom apartment. The children slept in two queen-size beds, a bunkbed and a crib, and her mother slept in the living room.

“I’ll never forget when the plane landed, and I ran to my mother,” Alethea says. “She had come here before us, so I hadn’t seen her in a year.”

Coming to New York was, to say the least, a difficult transition for Alethea.

We had accents and didn’t dress like the other kids – our  mother made our clothes,” she says. “We were devout Apostolic Pentecostals – we stayed with people of our own culture. And even though we lived in a community that was predominantly of people of color, people would say things like, ‘You came over here and took our jobs … go back to your own country.’”

Alethea became a dedicated student (she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in women’s studies from Stony Brook University, a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling from New York University, a doctorate of rehabilitation from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and is a certified vocational rehabilitation counselor).

After her first graduation, she went to work for Greenhope Services for Women, which helps formerly incarcerated women who have substance abuse and mental health issues.

Through the years, she worked for Greenhope off and on. When she left it to become a full-time professor at Hunter College, she was the executive director.

“I had worked with Hour Children when I was with Greenhope,” she says. “When five people I knew came to me over a period of three months last year and said I should work there, I took note.”

With Hour Children, she declares that she has found her life’s purpose.

“I want to bring choice and voice to women, who, if they had the opportunities and support, may have made different choices,” she says. “Women who now need their voices heard and who want to – and will – make meaningful choices if given the opportunity.”

One of her priorities will be creating a day-care center for tots through teens, a project her predecessor pushed.

“I also want Hour Children to take more of a lead on social issues connected to our mission,” she says, adding that she has been doing some internal restructuring, placing a priority on inclusion and diversity.

To accomplish all of this, she’s working a superwoman schedule. She laughs when asked whether she puts in 80 hours a week.

It is, she says, far more than that because “I have a lot to catch up on.”

She also has been evaluating her own life. She’s hoping to buy a house in New York City, probably in Queens, that’s spacious enough to accommodate not only her (she’s divorced and doesn’t have children) but also her mother and stepfather.

Lately, she’s been taking some breaks. “I realized that I can’t teach women to take care of themselves if I don’t take care of myself,” she says.

Hence the racecar driving. She’s also exploring kickboxing but admits that she’s not very good at it.

She insists that she’s not the least bit tempted to show off her speed skills on her daily commute.

“I don’t drive fast when I’m in public,” she says as she exchanges her heels for flip-flops for the drive home.

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

Adams announces Ferry Forward Plan

Providing Service to an Astoria Transportation Desert

Mayor Eric Adams has announced his “NYC Ferry Forward Plan,” an attempt to make the city ferry system cheaper for low-income New Yorkers and more expensive for casual riders or tourists.

The announcement, which comes following an audit on the ferry system for exceeding the budget expectations — took place at Astoria Landing, next to the NYCHA Astoria Housing housing on Thursday, July 14.

“This is a transportation desert, and although we have a waterway here, we did not have real access to moving about,” Adams said. “We had to figure that out. These residents deserved a way to get to work, play recreation, and really just be invited to other parts of the city.”

Beginning on September 12, lower-income New Yorkers in the MTA Fair Fares program, seniors, and those who have a disability under the New York City Ferry Discount Program can ride the ferry for $1.35. People can apply to be part of the New York City Ferry Discount Program online or by mail, and they will then buy tickets on the New York City Fair app or in-person at Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan. Those who live in NYCHA households within a mile of the ferry’s landing will receive two free rides so residents can see the appeal and promote the convenience of the ferry system.

For “frequent flyers of families,” a 10-pack of rides can be purchased for $27.50, which will average to $2.75 — the current price of a subway ride.

For all other people interested in taking the ferry, the cost of a single trip will increase to $4, to “offset the cost of those who are everyday New Yorkers that need to use the program,” Adams stated. However, in light of the recent ferry audit that discovered how the previous administration downplayed the cost of the ferry service, the increase may very well likely be an effort to keep the program on an even keel.

Adams also introduced a direct-to-beach service to the Rockaways called the “Rockaway Rocket.” This service starts Saturday, July 23, and requires seats to be booked in advance for a direct service from Pier 11 to the Rockaways. The ferry will operate on summer weekends and on holidays until September 11 — the end of the summer schedule — and will cost $8 in each direction.

New York is what it is because of the East River, the Hudson River, all the waterways,” said Adams. “It is what makes this city special, access to the city through our waterways. More and more New Yorkers are using the New York City Ferry, but too many are not aware of the great benefits from it. They think it’s out of reach and they think that it’s not something that they can utilize.”

Among other elected officials and community leaders joining Adams included Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr., Maria Torres-Springer, the deputy mayor for economic and workforce development, and Andrew Kimball, president and CEO of NYC Economic Development Corporation.

Our fleet of vessels, you see right behind me, were built at a lower cost than any other publicly procured ferry fleet in the country over the last 15 years,” Kimball said. “That’s astonishing and a true testament to the public/private partnership we have with our operator.”

More information on the NYC Ferry Forward Plan can be found at www1.nyc.gov.

Restoration of Hallets Cove nearly complete

Neighbors and residents of Astoria Houses will soon have a newly-beautified waterfront in Hallets Cove with its restoration nearly complete.

What used to be a community eyesore — filled with trash, shopping carts and dead animals — is now a revitalized part of the northwestern waterfront of the borough thanks to a $5 million restoration project.

Elected officials and community leaders celebrated the near completion of the restoration project at Hallets Cove in Astoria.

When the project broke ground last November, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards applauded the collaborative effort of the New York City Economic Development Corporation,  former City Councilman Costa Constantinides and the Mayor’s Office to help see old structures and debris be replaced with new wetland vegetation.

“What a difference. Just in time for summer, we’re here to celebrate making the Astoria waterfront healthy and beautiful,” Richards said. “For far too long, this beautiful piece of waterfront has been anything but that.”

Richards continued, “And while the rest of Western Queens waterfront wasa being developed into hubs of culture and community, this space was left to deteriorate and decay. We will never accept that. We lead with the premise, no matter what your socioeconomic status, it should not be a determinant on whether your waterfront sees investment.”

The site was also where longtime Astoria Houses resident Claudia Coger took Constantinides to see the abandoned pier along Vernon Boulevard. Constantinides then took new City Councilwoman Tiffany Caban to the site, continuing to advocate for its cleanup.

The project will bring new trees lining the street and new railing along Vernon Boulevard. The former eyesore also was the home of a longtime radio tower that began to decay in the cove.

“The first thing that my predecessor did with me was walk me right over here,” Councilwoman Caban said.

She added that the revitalization of a community landmark can help revitalize the people within the community as well.

“This is not going to just have public health impacts, but public safety impacts,” Caban said. “We know that restorations like this make our communities that much safer.”

A total of $3 million had been allocated by the Borough President’s office across fiscal years 2016 and 2017 towards the restoration project, under Melinda Katz. Constantinides and the Mayor’s office each allocated $1 million in funding.

The Parks Department is also currently working on a separate project adjacent to the Hallets Cove playground.

Queens Community Board 1 District Manager Florence Koulouris praised the ongoing commitment to the environment and highlighted the many steps the project has taken to get to its current point, which includes a pair of Borough Presidents and a pair of City Council Members.

“This shows how when people work together, things can change and people can make a difference,” Koulouris said.

Ruhling: The Proprietor by the Park

Anna Budinger pulls up on her bicycle, breathless. It’s only a 15-minute ride, but it’s so suffocatingly sultry that she feels as though she has been pedaling through rolling ocean waves.

She opens the door, pulls up the shade, switches on the lights, and Babs springs to life like a puppet on a stage.

Babs is at 19-23 Ditmars Blvd., a half a block from Astoria Park.

Babs, which is a half block from Astoria Park on Ditmars Boulevard, has only been open since mid-May, so Anna is still getting used to the routine – and excitement – of being a retail shopkeeper.

It’s the first business she has owned – it is, by the way, in case you’re wondering, named after her nickname – and it sells all the things she loves: candles, vintage and new glassware, coffee mugs, ceramics, tea towels, cutting boards and artisanal condiments such as honey and olive oil.

“I’ve always been a renter, and my concept for the store was to carry special items made by artisans that bring delight and intention into daily life,” she says.  “Things to make a tiny apartment feel like home.”

Or to make a day in the park more fun. Babs sells a variety of items for outings and offers a 24-hour picnic-rental package that includes a mat, a Frisbee, a cooler and a corn hole bean bag game.

“These are things that are too bulky and expensive to have in a small city apartment,” she says.

Anna, who is 29, tall and willowy and describes herself as a “hands-on person who wants my hands in many pots,” did, indeed, try her hand at several things before the debut of Babs.

Born in Chelsea, she grew up in the East Village and for as long as she can remember, she has been interested in and involved in the creative arts.

“I always wanted to own my own small business,” she says, adding that she was inspired by her father, a contractor with his own business. “And my passion is working with artists, interior designers and making things,” which is what Babs the boutique is all about.

Many of the items at Babs are made by local artisans.

After earning a degree at SUNY New Paltz (“I made up my own major – it was writing, photography and indigenous history in America”), Anna moved to Astoria and considered several careers, including independent filmmaking and opening a bottle shop but ended up working as a set dresser in the film industry. Her assignments included the CBS-TV show Bull.

Three years later, she entered the gig economy.

“I took any job I could get,” she says. “I did everything from helping my dad build a barn and custom cabinetry to photography and working as an events assistant.”

During the first year of the pandemic, when work dried up, Anna sheltered in her parents’ cabin upstate.

She spent most of last year selling her photographic prints and clay earrings in various vendor markets.

She also joined QNS Collaborative, which, she says, “fueled my fire.”

“I was having lunch in Sunnyside with my boyfriend, and he said, ‘Why not start a store and put everything you love in one place,’” she says.

So that’s what she did.

“I saw the space on the way to the park,” she says. “I don’t usually walk along Ditmars because I don’t live at this subway stop, but I was staying with my sister. I saw the sun pouring in the window and thought, ‘This feels like my store.’”

Anna and her father and her boyfriend renovated the petite space, which she declares is “the perfect size.”

Anna, by the way, built the shelves and the checkout counter.

When Babs is more established, Anna envisions hosting community events and gatherings.

She mentions book clubs and crochet circles. Perhaps she’ll invite a cheesemonger to give a presentation.

“I have a small-town mentality,” she says. “The people Babs is attracting make this feel like a small-town neighborhood. I love meeting everyone and seeing the same faces all the time.”

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

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