IN OUR OPINION
By Evan Triantafilidis
Over 40 vendors and 1,000 people gathered in an outdoor backlot of Kaufman Astoria Studios for the Queens Comes Back event this past weekend. The event was hosted by the Queens Economic Development Corporation.
QEDC executive director Seth Bornstein said it was gratifying to see people come together and support local businesses, especially after the last 18 months.
“When I look at this crowd, it represents the borough,” he said. “The vendors, the people here, there’s no majority and no minority.”
Bornstein said he wanted to give back, both to local businesses and to the public, resulting in the event not charging vendors a fee and no charge to the public to enter.
From plant-based and vegan cakes by Pudding Pan Desserts to Romanian sweets from Twister Cake Bakery, sweet tooths were left satisfied as lines formed outside each vendor booth throughout the day. Spanish cuisine from Sala Astoria was served and washed down with cocktails by QNSY Sparkling Cocktails.
“As an entrepreneur, it was an exciting and energizing networking opportunity,” said Tara Merdjanoff, co-founder of QNSY Sparkling Cocktails.
Performances were held throughout the day featuring Gotham Dance Theater, Chieh Hsiung, Manhatitlan Mexican Folkloric Dance Group and Greek American Folklore Society.
The original Queens Taste event is usually held annually on the first Monday of May, said Rob MacKay, director of public relations for QEDC. In past years, places like the New York’s Hall of Science and Citi Field hosted the indoor event.
MacKay said this year’s outdoor event exceeded his expectations.
“We’ve been through a lot as an agency that helps small businesses and they’ve been through a lot, but I feel like a lot of people have stabilized and found out ways to work around stuff,” said MacKay. “It’s a morale booster to show we’re going to make it.”
Following the first week of in-person learning, hundreds of families enjoyed a back-to-school festival at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens (VBGC) in Astoria, marking the start of a new school year.
With the support of over a dozen community partners, the all-day celebration included school supply giveaways, local food vendors and outdoor activities for hundreds of students in Queens.
With last year’s back-to-school festival cancelled due to the pandemic, club CEO Costa Constantinides said it was extra special to help students feel normal again in a kid-friendly atmosphere.
With six sites serving over 4,000 area youth, the club is the largest youth services provider in western Queens.
“Today is a celebration,” Constantinides said. “We understand the gravity of the responsibility we have to provide them with an after-school experience and help them get back to normal.”
As a father of a son who hasn’t seen the classroom in over 18 months, Constantinides stressed the importance of the educational resources available at the club, as well as helping families through tough times.
“I know so many children in New York City who had a very similar situation,” he said. “From dealing with the angst of COVID, a family member losing their job or losing a family member, we hope to help them through the tension of this pandemic and help them feel like a kid again.”
School supplies were available to families through donations from the offices of Borough President Donovan Richards and State Senator Mike Gianaris, corporate sponsors and volunteer drives. Both Richards and Gianaris made appearances at the all-day event.
The hot and sunny day also called for Constantinides to sit in the dunk tank, making a splash for a good cause.
Elsbeth Grant, the club’s Chief Advancement Officer, would also be a dunk tank victim, saying it was wonderful to have kids back at the club playing again.
“It feels so great to have kids back at the club safely,” said Grant. “We want going back to school to be an exciting experience. I’m sure it can be scary with everything going on, we just want to support our community by making it fun and helping them prepare to go back to the classroom.”
Community partners joining the festival included Chip Cookies, San Antonio’s Wood Fired Pizza, Ample Hill Creamery and STEM learning from the BioBus. A vaccine pop-up station was also made available by the state Department of Health.
Volunteer Ashley Dean helped organize a school supply drive with her local running group, and chose the club to be the recipients of the backpacks and notebooks she collected over a month-long period.
“School is expensive for a lot of families,” said Dean. “People have multiple children so it’s nice to be able to ease a burden. Setting the kids up to succeed is important, especially right now.”
The borough is open for business, and the Queens Economic Development Corporation is celebrating with Queens Comes Back!, a huge party in a unique venue with local vendors selling great food, drinks, and novelty items while artists provide top-notch entertainment.
And everybody is invited!
Kaufman Astoria Studios will host Queens Comes Back! in its Backlot on Saturday, October 9, from noon to 4 p.m. Restaurants are still signing up to participate, but this first-ever banquet has already attracted several dozen vendors of everything from main dishes to desserts to hot sauces.
Alewife Brewing, which is located in Sunnyside, will pour suds, and Jackson Heights-based QNSY Sparkling Cocktails will peddle mixed drinks in cans.
At some spots, members of Made in Queens, a QEDC program that promotes local manufacturers and crafters, will sell their products, which range from shirts to jewelry to handmade soaps and candles.
Representatives from Queensboro FC, a professional soccer team that will begin competing in 2022, will be there with uniforms, soccer balls, and other sports paraphernalia.
It’s not all dining and shopping, though. Queensboro Dance Festival members will perform throughout the day on a mini outdoor stage. A little Salsa. A touch of ballet. Some tap.
There’s no admission charge, but the organizers request that those interested register. More information is at queensny.org.