Middle Village ‘Halloween House’ spooks locals for 20 years

‘It’s a labor of love,’ Patrick ‘Halloween Guy’ Kenniff says

By Jessica Meditz

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This Middle Village home has been a must-see for all Halloween lovers in the area for the last 20 years.

During Halloween season, the typically tame and tucked away 75th Street in Middle Village looks like something straight out of a horror movie.

To anyone else, that statement might be taken as an insult — but for Middle Village native Patrick Kenniff, it’s the ultimate compliment.

Kenniff, a musician who goes by the stage name of “Swan,” has been providing haunts and happiness to the community for 20 years straight — by decorating his home on the corner of 75th Street like no other.

He began sharing his extravagant display in 2003, which features decorations galore including inflatables, elaborate lights, Halloween music and sound effects, life-sized statues and even larger-than-life figures.

“I grew up with 10 brothers and sisters, so Halloween was something we always celebrated together. I started doing [the decorating] with my daughter, but now she’s a teenager and is too busy to help,” Kenniff said. “This whole thing started with a few little things here and there, and then it just got out of control and spiraled.”

Kenniff said that his decorations have accumulated over the years from a variety of well-known places, such as Home Depot and eBay — however, he’s proud to say that he made quite a few of the decorative staples himself.

This massive skeleton, just about half the size of Kenniff’s home, mans the fort.

Halloween is his favorite holiday of the year, which also played a role in motivating him to decorate his home annually.

But the largest motivating factor year after year is seeing the joy and amusement from all the local children and families — who aren’t afraid to express their appreciation.

“Every year, I change it up a bit,” Kenniff explained. “One year I wasn’t going to do the decorations, and these little kids came around and put a note in my door that said, ‘Please, Halloween guy, when are you going to put the decorations up?’”

“I knew I had to do it,” he said.

Kenniff said that the process of decorating his entire house from top to bottom takes about a week and a half to two weeks to complete; however, the process is not as tedious for him as it may seem — since he has a planned-out system.

Many of the oversized statues, some of which are half the height of the house itself, are stored in Kenniff’s garage, completely assembled year-round.

In addition, he made it known that the decorations visible outside are not all that he owns, and he has many more stored away inside his garage and basement.

“I got twice as much stored away,” he said with a laugh. “I literally have no more room for anything else.”

Every year, the house attracts over 500 trick-or-treaters — not including the countless number of adults who also stop by to take their selfies.

In fact, selfies and photography are something that Kenniff enthusiastically encourages for all who pay a visit, as seen by the The Middle Village Halloween House Facebook page intended for the community to share photos and memories.

“I have chairs set up right in front for people to sit and take pictures. I also have different toys right here that I’ve found from over the years, because I know the kids like to touch things,” he said. “It’s a little interactive.”

Guests are invited to sit down and take selfies in front of the house.

Among the spooky friends inside the interactive tent are characters from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” including Jack Skellington, Sally, Oogie Boogie and Zero the dog.

On the porch guarding his door, surely to spook his pizza delivery man, are classic Halloween villains, such as Freddie Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Pinhead and IT. Being that the original “Halloween” is Kenniff’s favorite movie, Michael Myers naturally made an appearance.

Freddie Krueger makes an appearance.

In the past, Kenniff would invite visitors into his basement, where he also put on a display.

He discontinued the feature over the past few years due to the pandemic, but still goes above and beyond to make the house special and memorable for all.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said. “During COVID, I almost didn’t do it, but realized I had to because people need something to smile about.”

(SEE VIDEO): Brutal Middle Village robbery shakes up community

66-year-old man beaten, robbed of $17K

By Jessica Meditz

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Residents of Middle Village were appalled to see the shocking footage released by the 104th Precinct of a 66-year-old man being brutally beaten and robbed in broad daylight.

Last Thursday, Oct. 13 at around 1:20 p.m., the victim was walking on 71st Street toward Juniper Valley Road, when an unidentified male individual approached him from behind, shoved him to the pavement, started punching and kicking him throughout his body and dragged him across the sidewalk.

The perpetrator went on to swipe the victim’s bag that he carried, robbing him of $17,000 in cash.

Leaving him to lie on the ground, the thief then fled on foot and got inside a maroon Ford Fusion operated by a second unidentified male individual.

The car was last seen heading toward Eliot Avenue. Emergency Medical Services treated the victim on scene for minor injuries.

Before the robbery took place, the suspects were seen inside Artis Drug and Surgical Supplies located at 80-02 Eliot Avenue.

No arrests have been made, and the NYPD is still on the hunt for the robbers.

The first individual is described as having a medium complexion, medium build with short dark hair, last seen wearing a dark colored hooded jacket, multi-colored Tommy Hilfiger sweatpants, white sneakers, a blue and white North Face baseball cap and glasses.

The second individual is described as having a medium complexion, medium build, last seen wearing a dark-colored jacket, dark-colored sweatpants, gray sneakers and a blue Houston Astros baseball cap.

The 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol – G-COP shared a post on their Facebook page to spread the word about the incident.

They noted the unconventional nature of the victim carrying $17,000 in cash on his person.

“I say Investigate the Person who was attacked…He knows something,” the comment read. “You are Not going to walk around in the Park with 17K in your Possession.”

Other residents, like 40-plus-year Middle Village local, Anthony Reardon, agent at Eliot Hill Realty, are losing faith in the community they once felt safe in.

“I feel the 104 Precinct does a terrific job; they have to cover a lot of territory. It’s a large area, so I have no knocks against the 104,” he said.

“Whoever did this had to have been watching him from when he was at the bank. They had to know he was carrying a large sum of money,” he continued. “I feel that we need to look out for each other as a community in these situations. If you see something, say something.”

Middle Village resident spreads good luck through jewelry

‘A little extra protection neva hurt nobody,’ says Erma Camporese

By Jessica Meditz

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If New York had a personality, it would be seen in Brooklyn native and Middle Village resident, Erma Camporese.

Simultaneously blunt, yet as kind as they come, Camporese, 57, is known and loved by the local community.

Her wit, humor and textbook New York accent has earned her the title, “The Queen of Graham Avenue,” where she was born and raised.

You are likely to spot her at Anthony & Son Panini Shoppe at 433 Graham, where she frequents.

As an Italian-American, whose family comes from Sanza, she’s naturally very superstitious.

This motivated Camporese to start her own jewelry business, Creations by Erma, in which she specializes in evil eye jewelry.

“Everyone has a different symbol for the evil eye. But at the end of the day, the evil eye is the evil eye. Whether you believe in the Turkish evil eye, the Italian horn, it’s all the same meaning,” she explained.

“You’re not wishing bad, but you’re not wishing good either.”

Camporese’s jewelry spreads both good luck and positivity.

Camporese views the evil eye as a form of protection when someone wears it, leading her to make her business’ slogan: “A little extra protection neva hurt nobody.”

She emphasizes that the stylistic spelling of “never” is on purpose.

“I never use the letter ‘R’ when I talk. I used to have the word, ‘never,’ and a friend told me I had to get rid of it, because it’s not how I talk,” she said.

Camporese offers various creations in her online shop, including necklaces, bracelets, earrings, keychains, eyeglass holders, wind chimes and rosary beads.

As a small business owner based in Middle Village, Camporese is proud to have over 4,000 followers on Instagram (@creationsbyerma), and her TikTok by the same name is not far behind.

She attributes much of her online success to the help of Nicolas “Nico” Heller, better known as “New York Nico.”

The social media personality is nicknamed the “Unofficial Talent Scout of New York,” and he and Camporese quickly became close friends.

“Believe me when I tell you I’m not conceited, but I became an overnight success. [Heller] always used to joke around and tell me he wanted to make me famous, and I’d just tell him to leave me alone,” she said with a laugh.

“On Labor Day weekend last year, I let him put up a skit, where I was being serious the way I was talking to him,” she continued. “About a half an hour later, he was like, ‘Have you looked at your phone?’ When I went to get my phone, I had like 1,000 messages.”

The two continue to collaborate and upload humorous skits to social media.

Camporese’s personality shines through her social media.

In the past, Camporese participated in a New York accent challenge with Heller, as well as commercials for companies including Bumble and Vitaminwater.

“I love Erma, the Queen of Graham Avenue. She is so Brooklyn, it hurts,” Heller said.

“I love that she is embracing the fact that she has a talent and is creating content of her own. I hope to see her on the big screen one of these days.”

In addition to her online presence, Camporese strives to be present in the community at various events across Brooklyn and Queens.

This Saturday, Creations by Erma will have a pop-up stand at the St. Stan’s Fall Festival in Maspeth, where she will sell her work.

On Oct. 22, she’ll participate in the Party in Pink Breast Cancer Fundraiser at P.S. 128 in Middle Village.

Camporese said she’s very big on paying it forward, which includes spreading awareness and donating funds for cancer research to NYU cardiac research in memory of her brother, Nelson Camporese.

She’s also a member of the Maspeth Lions Club and Our Lady of the Snow Ladies Auxiliary.

Everything Camporese does, including her jewelry and online content, is in the name of “amore,” or love.

“Sometimes I like to mind my business, but my personality sells, so I’ve been told,” she said. “Allowing my life to hold protection has shown me such great opportunities. Paying it forward is a big thing for me, I view that the good we put into the world is the good we receive.”

“Protection is for everyone, and I am ecstatic to share my work.”

Candlelight vigil at Juniper Valley Park: 21 years since 9/11

By Stephanie Meditz

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Deacon Paul Norman opened the vigil with a prayer.

Although they could not see the 9/11 Tribute in Light through the rain, Middle Village residents held the Twin Towers’ memory in their hearts on Sunday. 

The 9/11 Candlelight Vigil Committee of Queens held its annual vigil in Juniper Valley Park to honor all the lives that were lost 21 years ago. 

The vigil consisted of prayers, music, poems and the reading of the names of the men and women who died. 

“We come remembering those who lost their lives in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania,” Deacon Paul Norman said in his opening prayer. “We are mindful of the sacrifice of public servants who demonstrated the greatest love of all by laying down their lives for friends.” 

The speakers at the vigil recounted the fear and horror of Sept. 11th, the grief for all the people who died and the renewed strength and unity of New York City in the days that followed. 

“On this day 21 years ago, life as we knew it was forever changed,” said Frank DeBiase of the 9/11 Candlelight Vigil Committee. “The days that followed were filled with a sense of immense loss, grief and sadness. Yet, through the smoke, through the debris, through the unending agony of uncertainty, rose a spirit the likes of which many had never seen before and few ever thought possible.” 

“Many of us lost a friend, a relative, a neighbor or co-worker on Sept. 11, 2001,” he continued. “Many have perished and many continue to suffer from having been exposed to the toxic environment in and around the World Trade Center site. It is with this in mind that we gather in this special place each year to honor their memory and to pray for their families, our city and our great nation.” 

This is precisely why Al Haag and his family attend the vigil every year. 

“It’s important to come back every year to pay our respects,” he said. “One of my close friends passed away. He was a firefighter…so we come every year. I think we missed one so far.”

Leonora Norman recalled her own fear for her father and brother, both of whom were in the city that day. 

“My brother, now he’s a captain in the fire department, back then he was in 238, and his lieutenant died. And so he was called in afterwards, and we were worried about him,” she said. 

“My dad worked back in New York,” she continued. “They had all those people down in the basement of that building waiting to be cleared to go home, and he remembered covering his mouth, seeing the filaments and everything in the air.” 

Heather Arzberger, chairperson of the arts department at Christ the King Regional High School, accompanied the reading of the names with a beautiful flute melody, followed by the playing of “Taps” in honor of veterans. 

“If you have never visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., you should put it on your to-do list,” DeBiase said. “Walking past the wall and seeing over 52,000 names of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country is such a moving experience.” 

There is a Sept. 11th memorial garden at Juniper Valley Park that the 9/11 Candlelight Vigil Committee works with JC Landscaping and the NYC Parks Department to maintain. 

Several elected officials and community leaders attended the vigil, including Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar; Councilman Bob Holden; commanding officer of the 104th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Kevin Coleman; Community Board 5’s District Manager Gary Giordano; Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and Congresswoman Grace Meng. 

Also in attendance were the Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, Vietnam Veterans Chapter 32, the Blue Knights International Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club Chapter 16, the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corp, members of the NYPD and fire and Emergency Medical Services. 

“The torch is ours to carry,” DeBiase said in his closing remarks. “It is up to us to ensure that future generations never forget, and more importantly, always remember those who perished on and as a result of that horrific day and those of us who proudly honor their memory.”

Paying homage to local hero with street co-naming

“Joseph Magnus Way” honors his humanitarian spirit

By Stephanie Meditz

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On Saturday, the corner of 58th Avenue and 75th Street in Middle Village was co-named to honor a beloved community member, Joseph Magnus.

Middle Village residents joined the friends and family of Magnus to unveil a new street sign that reads “Joseph Magnus Way.”

Born in Slovakia in 1931, Magnus spent his childhood in the thick of the Second World War.

After he and his family escaped capture by the Nazis, he endured several wounds under the care of his fellow survivors and learned the importance of community service firsthand.

He learned the English language by working as an elevator operator, took computer classes at New York University, mentored community members and co-founded the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

On September 11, 2001, Magnus and the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps were among the first volunteers at the World Trade Center, where they spent days helping New Yorkers in a time of citywide need.

Michael Michel, president of Christ the King Regional High School, was Magnus’s mentee as a volunteer of the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

“I volunteered and I started on Wednesday nights with Joe Magnus as a trainee,” he said. “He put me under his wing, broke my chops…but he was a driven force.”

After five months volunteering with the corps, Michel ran for first officer under Magnus’s stern instruction.

Six months later, Magnus similarly convinced Michel to run for president of the corps.

Michel testified that Magnus would call former NYS Senator Serf Maltese every day to solicit funding for the corps.

Maltese, who funded several ambulance corps during his 20 years in office, likened Magnus to a drill sergeant in his fundraising efforts.

He said that Magnus not only helped the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps continue, but he also made sure it was the best-funded ambulance corps in the state.

Magnus was a major force behind the city’s memorandum of understanding to fund all ambulance corps in New York City.

“Nobody hounded me like Joe Magnus,” Maltese said. “My entire staff knew, whether it was Albany or Queens, when Joe was on the phone.”

City Councilman Robert Holden, who presented the co-naming, had similar encounters with Magnus since they met in the late ‘80s.

“He was always challenging me,” he said. “And this is probably why I’m standing here, it’s because of Joe Magnus. He urged me to run.”

Through his many phone calls to Holden’s office, Magnus inspired Holden’s funding of the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

“He was an amazing person. You couldn’t say no to Joe,” Holden said. “Joe would say what was on his mind and he didn’t have a filter.”

Holden also testified to Magnus’ regular attendance at parades and other community events, even in his old age.

“Joe had a heart of gold. He would help anyone,” he said. “He would help a lot of people and he didn’t brag about that part…but he was so dedicated to community.”

Senator Joe Addabbo, who got to know Magnus when he was elected in 2009, spoke of Magnus’s tough, no-nonsense exterior along with his perseverance, advocacy and community service.

“Even though he was not born in America, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more American,” he said.

Magnus’s daughter, Tanya, described her father as having a “rough exterior, but a heart of gold” in an article.

Magnus’s daughter, Tanya Magnus-Hoos, spoke of her father’s commitment to the American ideal of building a better life in this country.

“Joe Magnus was a capitalist and a patriot,” she said. “Every time something good happened in my life, like a promotion or a raise, he would be my first call. He’d get on the phone and say to me, ‘That’s great. Good country, huh? Let’s go on Grand Avenue and sing God Bless America.’”

“And I miss those moments,” she continued. “But what I also look forward to with hope and anticipation is that someday, when something good happens in [my children’s] lives and they call me, I can tell them, ‘That’s great. Good country. Let’s go sing God Bless America on Joe Magnus Way.’”

Magnus was notorious for sounding the ambulance’s loud, unmistakable horn at all hours of the night.

At the street co-naming, Joseph Campisi from the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps sounded the horn in his honor.

Middle Village Relay For Life raises $78K

Cancer survivors, caregivers, family, friends, prominent community figures, and even pets gathered in Juniper Valley Park on Saturday to stand up against cancer.

For the 19th year, the American Cancer Society hosted the Relay For Life of Middle Village, which honored locals who have been affected by cancer, as well as those who have donated to support the cause.

Collectively, the Middle Village Relay For Life raised well over $78,000 for cancer research, patient care programs, and other valuable resources.

The list of sponsors includes local businesses and organizations such as Maspeth Federal Savings, Kiwanis Club of Glendale, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Move to the Melodie, Main Street Radiology, Cord Meyer Development Company, Ridgewood Moose Lodge 1642, and O’Neill’s Maspeth.
Maspeth resident Leslie Orlovsky of the American Cancer Society, who led the event, said that the overall goal of the Relay For Life is to support groundbreaking cancer research, to ultimately find a cure.

“I know a lot of survivors, and people who are close to me that have lost their battle to cancer,” Orlovsky said. “And I’m so thankful for the science and the recent breakthrough cancer research we have seen. I hope we are close to a cure.”

New York City Councilman Robert Holden was in attendance, and reminisced about the event’s past successes and celebrated the promising future for cancer research.
“I thank everyone who’s here and is keeping the faith. There have been great strides this year in the fight against cancer, with some major breakthroughs,” he said.

Since the event was held at the Multi-purpose Play Area/Field 8 of the park, it was much smaller than years past, but Holden said that he can “almost guarantee” that it will be back at the Juniper Valley Park track and field next year.

Melissa Alke-Sparnroft kicked off the event by sharing her cancer story with the crowd, which was followed by a series of walks and team laps around the track. There was also a relay, fun and games, a Zumba dance class taught by Melodie Mattes, and the Luminaria Ceremony in the evening.

Alke-Sparnroft, a resident of Ridgewood and a mother-to-be, is living proof that cancer does not discriminate.

Her journey began in 2018 when she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, and began going for yearly blood work and ultrasounds.

In 2020, she was due for her annual appointment, which got canceled due to the first COVID-19 panic.

In June of that year, Alke-Sparnroft found out she was pregnant with her first son, Jackson, but she had a stillbirth in October.

Right around Christmastime, she got the call from her doctor that she had papillary thyroid cancer.

“That just goes to show that cancer doesn’t care,” she said. “I ended up having surgery in February 2021 to get my thyroid and a few lymph nodes removed… I went into isolation for a week.”

Although it was one of the most difficult times in her life, Alke-Sparnroft is pleased to say that the medical procedures worked, and she and her husband will soon welcome a child into the world.

“I’m really thankful for science because without it, the researchers and the doctors would not have been able to basically find a way to cure this type of thyroid cancer,” she said. “You also really have to be your own advocate and use your voice. Go to your recommended cancer screenings. You have to take control and go to it.”

“When you’re in those really difficult times, you have to do what you can to keep moving forward,” she continued. “My personal motto is ‘Day by day, sometimes hour by hour, and sometimes it’s even minute by minute.’ You have to do what you can, holding onto some sort of hope for the future and moving forward.”

Animal clinic in Middle Village seeks rezoning

Dr. Thomas seeks to house staff above clinic

By Jessica Meditz
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Known for its cornerside navy blue awning and roof with a white picket fence and pet statues, the Animal Clinic of Queens is seeking a makeover.

The clinic, located at 78-46 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village and owned by Dr. Robert Thomas, is slated to undergo a rezoning map amendment, involving the enlargement of the current one-story building with the addition of two stories and two dwelling units.

This rezoning would change the property from an R5 Zoning District to an R5D/C2-3 Zoning District, and will also bring the existing ground floor legal non-conforming Use Group 6 Veterinary Medicine Office use into conformance.

Land use and zoning attorney Sheldon Lobel is handling the case, and his son, Richard Lobel, presented the case for the record at last month’s Community Board 5 meeting.

“Many times, Dr. Thomas and his staff give full time care, including overnight care, to animals. This would allow for convenient 24-hour access to the facility,” Lobel said during the presentation.

The neighboring building, 78-44 Metropolitan Avenue, is also included in this rezoning.

Lobel said that nothing would change pursuant to that property, and it would merely become complying and conforming to city standards.

Thomas’ intention with this proposed rezoning is to allow clinic staff to live above their workplace, as well as maintain the presence of the property in the community.

He added that the two additional stories would be set back roughly 40-feet and 55-feet from Metropolitan Avenue as well as from 79th Street on the north side, meaning they would not change the street view too drastically.

“In short, Dr. Thomas has been a valued member of the community and has provided these services for over 30 years, so this would be a huge benefit to him,” Lobel continued. “I know it’s something that he’s attempted for years in the past, and so this is kind of an opportunity which has presented itself.”

Thomas did not respond to a request for comment as of press time, but he did speak at the CB5 Zoning and Land Use meeting, which was open to the public.

In order for the proposal to be approved and for construction to commence, the plan must be approved by a series of entities as part of the land use review process.

Prior to reaching CB5, seeking their recommendation, the proposal was screened by the Queens City Planning Department.

It will then go to the Department of City Planning, City Planning Commission and the City Council.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards will also have the opportunity to comment.

Walter Sanchez, chair of CB5’s Land Use Committee, noted that the committee and ultimately the full board voted in Thomas’ favor. “The main reason for our request that the city approve the application is that the proposal is not out of character for the next-door buildings or the neighborhood. Dr. Thomas spoke to the adjacent building owners about the project, and he’s been a really good neighbor for the last few decades,” Sanchez said. “We think it looks like a really good improvement to the property, and to us, the setback of the second and third floor shows he cares about his neighbors.”

If all goes according to plan, it is estimated that construction for this rezoning would start in the spring of 2023.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of BQE Media (Queens Ledger). His recent remarks were made in his capacity as chairman of CB 5’s Land Use Committee.

Burrito BLVD to open Astoria location

Two years ago, Robert Matos opened up Burrito Blvd at 72-64 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village, having no prior experience in the food industry.
Matos, who worked in real estate at the time, wanted to try something new career-wise, and saw promise in the Mexican food industry by way of his longtime friend Joe Vetrano, who owns the Burrito Blvd location in Mineola.

“He told me it was the best thing he ever did, and so that stuck in my head,” Matos said.

“Joe was in the process of franchising Burrito Blvd, and we became business partners. Middle Village quickly took off,” he continued. “People in the community would tell me that this is exactly what was needed, and I get compliments on my staff all the time. So that early response made me feel good and reassured that I’m not crazy and that this was going to work.”

Because both Burrito Blvd locations have seen such success, Matos and Vetrano decided to open a third location at 36-20 30th Ave. in Astoria together.

The grand opening will take place on Sat., April 23 from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and will offer $2 burrito, bowl and taco specials all day.

“Astoria is a great area because it’s so busy; everybody walks or takes public transportation. It’s a great corner spot on 30th Ave., which happens to be one of the busiest streets in Astoria. It was a great opportunity,” Matos said.

He added that the Astoria location will be quite different from the Middle Village one because it will be more of a grab-and-go style store, as opposed to a large indoor dining space.

Similar to the Middle Village store, the Astoria location will feature mural artwork by an artist who goes by the name Mike.A.

But the main thing Matos takes pride in when it comes to running his business is getting to engage with the community and provide them with quality food products.

“It feels good to have a place where I get kids that come from the park to hang out and bring their friends. It’s the best feeling to know people are satisfied with what you’re doing,” Matos said.

“It’s so great to serve my community and I’m so thankful for their support,” he continued. “I think opening day in Astoria will be a big success, just like it was for Middle Village.”

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