Blame It On Rio (Arab Spring Coming Soon to a US City Near You)

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By Albert Goldson

It’s hurricane season and a series of tropical storms are forming over the Atlantic. But their genesis is not meteorological, rather socio-political, from Brazil and Turkey so “batten down the hatches.”

Brazil and Turkey are two of many countries whose economies have improved dramatically during the last 10 years which created a substantial middle class with rising expectations. But now these hard-working folks are getting relentlessly nickel and dimed while receiving an inferior quality of life and paying more taxes.

The democratic process of voting for new leadership is meaningless because they are just as greedy, power hungry and repressive as the previous one, serving only to protect and enrich a political and economic cabal. These new leaderships in their third term are represented in Turkey by Erdogan and in Brazil by Lula da Silva+Dilma Rousseff all who are experiencing the wrath of a disillusioned well-educated citizenry.

The Brazilian and Turkish governments publically admitted that they were completely caught off-guard by this sudden outburst. Even journalists in each country used the same disturbing word “spontaneous” for these combustive events.

Spontaneity frightens those in power especially if there are no leaders with whom to negotiate or to target and neutralize. Such an unpredictable swarm heightens an already volatile crisis.

(Recent footage of protests in Egypt.)

These governments of the people are clearly out of touch. They either couldn’t accept the possibility of such an outburst because it’s the well-fed middle class or they willfully ignored the growing warnings like those before 9/11. Whether they appease, negotiate or crackdown on the protesters, governments face a lose-lose scenario.

The wealthy get the big tax breaks and the working and middle class pay higher taxes to make up for the shortfall and even get told what to drink. Brazilians are fed up with being taxed to financially support the billions spent to construct new soccer stadiums for the World Cup and Olympic games instead of funneling resources to upgrade social services and combat crime. The Turkish government wants restrictions on when to sell and advertise alcohol. In a striking parallel NYC government has provided enormous tax breaks to deep-pocket corporations and the wealthy on super luxury condos and attempted restrictions on plus 16 oz sugary drinks.

The Gini index is a measurement of economic inequality. In the December 2012 article in “The Brooklyn Bureau” entitled “Brooklyn’s Income Inequality: Global Causes, Local Effects” by Gerard Flynn the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2011 reported that NY State  has the nation’s highest inequality rating. Within NYS Brooklyn is #3 after Manhattan and Westchester. The article explained that, “the middle of the income spectrum shrinks thus more haves and have nots.” Additionally, the Brooklyn ranking has had no significant change from 2006 to 2011 confirming a long-term trend.

Locally it’s not inevitable but the odds are increasing that we can have significant demonstrations. A community-specific incident can unleash pressure cooker frustrations and spread like wild fire through social media. The Arab Spring began with a fruit vendor in Tunis. The “Tropical Spring” in Brazil began with a minor bus fare increase. And the Turkish affair was ignited by police brutality on a small group of peaceful protestors in Taksim Square. Why not a bodega owner in NYC who has enough after receiving a frivolous fine or a stop & frisk gone bad?

Just as Giuliani faced his signature crisis with 9/11 in his last year in office so may Bloomberg face his signature crisis in his third term, ironically like his Brazilian and Turkish counterparts.

Politicos and social experts will provide countless excuses why it can’t happen in the Big Apple and will only reach the level of another pesky Occupy Wall Street protest. Expect the unexpected. Alarmist? Pessimist? Realist. This is simply a clarion wake-up call that we are not immune to the dark side of globalization.

—Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation megaprojects, energy, security and urban planning. An internationalist, he is a long-time Williamsburg resident.

 

For the Love of Jeans: The Holey Trinity of Denim and Repairs

At work repairing jeans at Loren.

Loren Cronk pooch.

Maurice Malone, designer/owner of Williamsburg Garment Company.

Finished jeans repairs at Brooklyn Denim Co.

 

Brooklyn Denim Co brand jeans.

Brooklyn Denim Co. brand jeans.

Maurice Malone, Williamsburg Garment Company.

Loren Cronk finished jeans repairs.

 

Brooklyn Denim Co studio.

Williamsburg Garment colorful jeans.

Brooklyn Denim Co bags.

By Michele Richinick / Photos by Victoria Stillwell

Years ago, denim was secondary when putting together an outfit. But now, many people buy their jeans first and plan the rest of their wardrobe accordingly. Jeans have become a staple article of clothing because they are both acceptable and casual attire.

“The beauty about denim is that it’s a casual kind of garment which is comfortable, wears in, and becomes better as time goes on,” said Loren Cronk, designer of Loren and Blksmth jeans. “It would be hard for it to disappear.”

During the 1800s, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business importing clothing and fabric to sell in the small stores opening in Western states. Those stores supplied the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners and settlers.

In 1873, Strauss and Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno, Nevada, received a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, which marked the birth of blue jeans. The original jeans, known as “waist overalls,” were the top-selling men’s work pant in the United States by the 1920s. The craze grew as decades passed, and now both men and women, young and old, from around the world wear different shades and styles of the original blue jeans.

“It has its ups and downs, like everything in fashion,” said Frank Pizzurro, owner of Brooklyn Denim Co. “The thing about denim is that it adapts to fashion.”

Remember fashions like flared, baggy, boot cut, tie-dye, vintage, and colored? They change and go in and out of style. Cronk compared denim to the leather jacket that breaks in over the years and becomes personal to the owner.

After Pizzurro moved to Williamsburg in spring of 2009, he noticed most people walking around the area wearing jeans, but there weren’t places in the neighborhood solely focused on selling denim. There were several Army and Navy stores and vintage shops, including Pop’s Popular Clothing on Franklin Street in Greenpoint, but no true denim stores… until three local designers were inspired by the neighborhood to develop their own specialties.

 

Brooklyn Denim Co
85 N. Third St.

The Brooklyn Denim Co. is a “timeless brand” that matches Williamsburg’s past as a rugged, working-class neighborhood, said owner Pizzurro. The company’s first
jean was designed in 2012 in the shop’s space on North Third Street. Pizzurro wanted the store to have its own brand, and mixing the company’s brand with other designers’ jeans helps business.

“Brooklyn has a lot to offer, and there is a lot of creativity here and New York in general. I think that gives us a different way of looking at it from the West Coast brands,” said Pizzurro, who added that most East Coast designers focus on clean and sophisticated denim rather than on casual, washed jeans sold in West Coast stores. The majority of the jeans sold are deep blue, also known as raw or not washed, and are inspired by customers. There are currently five different men’s fits and four women’s for the fall line that debuts in July. The brand is only sold on North Third Street, but Pizzurro hopes to expand the brand for sale in stores around the city. Later this year, retailers in Japan will carry Brooklyn Denim Co.

“It doesn’t matter what name you have. It has to be good quality. It has to fit,” he said. Custom-made jeans are evolving, and are a trend most popular with people who have difficulty finding a good fit for their body type. Others choose custom-made denim because they enjoy the freedom of designing their own jeans by choosing the fabric, threads, and buttons.

Pizzurro and a partner opened Brooklyn Denim Co. in March 2010 as a small room for retail. They have since added a stock space and designing area. He has been in the business since 1979, when he worked as a part-time employee at a men’s clothing store in Michigan. He progressed in the business by managing clothing stores in both Los Angeles and New York, and by directing retail at stores, including Diesel, before opening his own store.

In Williamsburg, the company designs clothing, makes samples, and tests washes. Sewing is completed locally in Manhattan and New Jersey. Pizzurro hopes to open his own factory at the store location someday. He also looks forward to expanding the line with denim jackets and vests, as well as jewelry and handbags. Fall 2014 is Pizzurro’s target date for full men’s and women’s collections.
“There are only a few things that are personal in clothing, and denim is one of them,” he said. “People wear denim to represent what they want to be…they see it as a reflection of themselves.”

Men’s jeans start at $198
Women’s jeans start at $185


Williamsburg Garment Company
240 Kent St.

Since November 2011, Williamsburg Garment Company’s designer Maurice Malone has used local street names to inspire his men’s and women’s denim collections. He visualizes the style of his neighbors who walk around the area wearing jeans.

“I look at what’s around and what’s out and try to stay away from it,” he said. “I go in a direction that other people aren’t going.” He prides himself on maintaining a small business that competes with bigger companies by having personal service and selling better quality at a lower price to keep consumers and retailers content.

“With a new brand you have to know what retailers and consumers want, and you have to have something to offer,” said Malone, who added that he always finds himself “swimming against the current.” The first piece of denim he designed—before he learned how to make a zipper—was overalls.

He has maintained a philosophy of avoiding oversaturation of the market and offers retailers a brand of their own by opening one account per city. He said he pays attention to every detail of a pair of jeans, including the stitch color.

“Everybody copies jeans and they fall into the same problem. Few people try to fix and perfect [jeans],” said Malone, who disclosed that he is a picky jean consumer. “With every fit, I’ve thought about how to perfect every little thing.”

The men’s collection contains four different fits that range from skinny stretch to relaxed. His newest fit for men, Hope Street, is made in America. “It reminds me of Obama when he was talking about bringing more business back to America,” he said.

The women’s collection includes seven fits that range from super skinny and skinny boyfriend to high-waist and classic skinny, and are sold in different washes. The brand is sold at Brooklyn Denim Co., and the men’s denim is also sold on Nordstrom.com.

Malone has been in the clothing business for almost 30 years and has worked in Michigan, California, and New York. He said he hopes to open a manufacturing area in Brooklyn and expand with new items each season, while simultaneously keeping the brand simple. He wants to avoid expanding “too big, too fast.”

“We make a really good-looking jean but without the $200 price tag,” he said. “We keep everything basic while at the same time adding a little twist to it.”

Men’s jeans start at $102
Women’s jeans start at $112

Loren Blksmth brand jeans.

Loren
80 Nassau Ave.

Loren Cronk believes in supporting locally-made items and manufacturing products with the help of employees from the neighborhood. He designs, creates, and sells the Loren Cronk brand from his workspace and retail area on Nassau Avenue, which has been open for almost three years.

“I’ve worked for a few major brands, and in my experience most designers these days don’t know how to make a pair of jeans themselves,” said Cronk, who has been designing denim for about 13 years. “So, adding to Made In New York/Brooklyn, I’m involved in making each pair, which is unique within itself.” The jeans aren’t mass-produced; his store makes eight to 20 pairs of one fit at a time. If a pair is sold, the size is recut and placed in the store within the next two weeks.

His most expensive Loren jean sells for $350, a price he said he feels “ridiculous charging” because he grew up shopping at thrift stores. “The most I would spend on clothes was 20 bucks for a pair of vintage pants,” he said. “It was really important to me to offer a range.” But the cost is unavoidable, he said, because he has to outsource the fabric due to a limited selection in the United States.

The Loren brand also includes denim shirts, jackets, and accessories made in Manhattan. He hopes to expand the collection with more quality and premium products such as windbreakers and Sherpa-lined jackets. Women’s 100% cotton jeans will be available in the fall.

Cronk said he tries to offer “more interesting” items than the typical jeans sold by big companies. The brand is mostly focused on raw denim, but he also offers a rinsed pair that softens the fabric.

In addition, Cronk designs the men’s Blksmth brand, which is domestically sourced and manufactured. The brand contains both raw and washed jeans and is sold to a few wholesale stores around the country and in Japan.

He also carries items from Judi Rosen New York and Soldier and Brave in his store, an openly divided retail space and working area located between Lorimer Street and Manhattan Avenue. The shop is closed each Tuesday and Wednesday for sewing.

Cronk offers repair and tailoring services for people who don’t want to part with their beloved jeans, with the store completing 30 to 50 repairs each week. He hopes eventually to expand the business to offer custom-fit jeans. “You put the time in with your jeans and it just becomes so personalized,” said Cronk, who lives a block from his store. “When you go to buy it again, it fits different because you have the years’ worth of wear.”

Men’s and women’s jeans start at $89
Men’s and women’s handmade jeans start at $285

Lead Paint Running Rampant Through Williamsburg Neighborhood

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Two Trees is at it again.

An anonymous source alleges that lead paint is running rampant through our air and waterways for us to breathe and drink. The current demolition of Domino is occurring in our hyper-densely populated neighborhood with no regard to public health. The entire Domino site should be contained to protect public health by a method known as shrink wrap scaffolding which ensures that the job is done safely and properly. This should be done right away as the temperatures rise, so too will hazardous conditions.

Exposure to lead paint is very dangerous for many reasons. The inside of the entire “bin” structure is now completely exposed. As the latent chips on the heavy machinery and infrastructure are baking in the hot summer sun, they peel and flake away with the shifting winds coming off the East River. This process occurs as the binders in the paint, mostly contaminants break down over time making them become airborne. Aside from lead, other carcinogens such as benzene and methylene chloride are being blown in and around the East River corridor.

The developer needs to be more accountable for protecting the public health and growing concerns of the community.  How can we protect ourselves from the hidden dangers posed by this new threat when simple steps are not being taken?

More details to follow…

TRUE/FALSE QUESTIONS for THE COMMUNITY:
  1. House paint no longer contains lead, so it’s not a problem.
    • False. Because household paint before the 1970′s often contained lead, it may still pose a problem. As lead paint ages, it can chip or crumble into dust. Exposure to lead paint dust or chips can cause serious health problems, especially to children and pregnant women. So, if you live in or own an older home, you need to know how to protect yourself and others.
  2. You can tell by looking if paint contains lead.
    • False. The only way to be sure if paint contains lead is to have it tested by a qualified professional. Home test kits are not reliable, and can’t tell you whether the paint poses a risk.
  3. If I have lead-based paint, I can still safely remodel or renovate.
    • True. Small projects that disturb old surfaces which have lead-based paint can be done safely. In fact, it is best to assume that building materials in an older home contain lead, and take proper precautions. Larger jobs should be done by trained professionals.
  4. Getting rid of lead paint is better than leaving it there.
    • False. Lead paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard. However, if you plan to do a project which disturbs the paint in any way, it must be done carefully.
  5. Some methods of removing lead-based paint actually do more harm than good.
    • True. Some methods, such as dry sanding, dry scraping, torching, or power sanding can create huge amounts of lead dust. Once the dust is released into the home, it can make occupants sick if it enters the body. Always use a method that creates the least amount of  dust and fumes.
  6. Preparing to do the job is as important as the methods used to do it.
    • True. It’s important to take certain precautions to protect your family. Children and pregnant women should leave the work area. Remove all furnishings (even rugs, if possible) before beginning. The work area should be sealed with plastic and taped down to keep the lead dust in. Cover air vents and turn off heaters and air conditioning systems during renovation and remodeling.
  7. A dust mask will protect you from breathing lead dust.
    • False. A dust mask is not sufficient. It is best to wear a properly fitted respirator with special lead (HEPA) filters. Coveralls, goggles and gloves are also important to wear–throw them away when the work is done, or wash them separately. Do not eat, smoke or drink in the work area.
  8. Besides removing lead paint, there are other ways to protect my family from lead dust.
    • True. One way to prevent exposure to lead is to cover the surface with a new one, such as drywall. Another way is to use special paints called encapsulants that seal the lead paint to the surface so it won’t chip off. Sometimes the best choice is to replace an item such as a window or a door containing lead paint.
  9. Scraping and sanding are acceptable methods for removing lead-based paint.
    • True. Yes, but never without wetting down the surface as you work. Keep a spray bottle of water handy. Wet power sanding is also okay if a special lead (HEPA) filter is attached. Heat stripping can be dangerous, and should only be done by a professional. When removing paint on the outside of your home, never sand blast or power wash.
  10. Vacuuming with a household vacuum is the best way to clean up lead dust after a household project.
    • False. Standard household or shop vacuums should not be used because they put lead dust into the air. HEPA vacuums (with special lead filters) are the best. Floors should be wet mopped with a heavy duty household cleaner such as automatic dishwashing detergent and then HEPA vacuumed. Plastic should be rolled and any construction debris wrapped in plastic. After cleaning the work area, remove coveralls and other protective clothing for disposal or separate washing.
  11. The only way that I can tell if someone in my family is lead poisoned is by a blood test.
    • True. Sometimes there are no symptoms of lead poisoning at all, or the symptoms can be mistaken for common illnesses. A blood test is the only way to be sure about lead exposure. It’s important to know if children are being exposed to lead, because then you can prevent additional exposure. All children should be tested at age 1 and again at age 2. Lead poisoning can cause fatigue, crankiness, stomachaches, kidney damage, behavior problems, reproductive problems, seizures, coma, and even death.
  12. There are regulations regarding lead paint.
    • True. Sellers of homes, landlords and realtors are required to disclose the presence of known lead paint and lead hazards during the sale or rental of housing. Renovation and remodeling contractors are required to warn customers of the hazards of lead paint. Effective March 1, 2000, lead paint abatement firms must be certified by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
  13. I can call the NYS Department of Health to find out more about lead-based paint.
    • True. Our phone number is 518-402-7600

Windows Removed Leaves Surrounding Area Exposed

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Two Trees is at it again. Not only are they destroying a building without tacit approval from government agencies. The bin structure of the Domino Sugar Refinery is completely exposed, as the windows have all been taken out. This means leaving the job area completely exposed for the community to breathe in.

Not only is the developer destroying our neighborhood, they are killing us in the process. Well done, Two Trees.

 

 

An Invisible Product Until You Need It—Matthew Mullen, Insurance Man for the New Millennium

Matthew Mullen at his Manhattan Avenue office in Greenpoint
PHOTO BY CHRIS BISHOP

Matthew Mullen at his Manhattan Avenue office in Greenpoint
PHOTO BY CHRIS BISHOP

By Kelley Shields

Imagine you are looking for employment and you come across a listing on a job board that reads: “Sales associate wanted, to sell invisible products no one wants to use.’” Can you imagine wanting that job? Can you imagine the difficulty of trying to provide people with intangible, undesirable things? And if you did want it, can you further imagine becoming so good at it that you stand out among others attempting to do the same thing?

Matthew Mullen can. Exclusive agent/owner of the Mullen Agency, at 661 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, his is currently the largest Allstate franchise in the area.

Becoming the -est at anything, whether it be the best, biggest, fastest, etc., implies that supremacy, or at least a certain measure of excellence, has been reached. I think the saying goes: Pursue excellence and success will follow. Over the course of the hour or so I spent talking with Matthew, it became apparent that how he measures excellence correlates with service—both to the individuals he writes policies for, and to the community he is doing business in.

How does one become the largest independently owned Allstate agency in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area? It can’t be that all it takes is buying existing rosters of policyholders, or books, from retiring agents. Certainly, acquiring pre-existing policies provides a healthy start to a fledgling insurance agency, and is a welcome infusion for an existing business, but retention of customers post-purchase of a book is not guaranteed. On an unconscious level, customers might associate their protection with factors like the stability of whomever sold them their policy, or where the office is located. The familiarity of a face or locale can mean the difference between a renewal, a cancellation, or a lapse. So if buying up other people’s businesses will not in itself create a successful insurance agency, how is it accomplished?

By talking to people about things they do not want to think about. By building a rapport and helping them make choices that will preserve their assets and mitigate the risks of some potential—and other inevitable—eventualities.

Selecting what insurance to buy, and the agent to provide it, are emotional choices governed to a certain extent by individual thresholds of fear and trust. Essentially, people buy insurance to protect themselves against potentialities they do not want to think about, much less experience, due to their fear of grave losses. But they know it is prudent to think about and take action on those potentialities.

With respect to life insurance, I’d venture to say that, for many people, awareness of one’s mortality recedes into the background of living fully in the present. However, leaving loved ones without resources to carry on in our absence is an avoidable ill, if a policy is in place. And as for property insurance, besides being obligated to carry it as a mortgagor or business owner, no one wants to imagine their home or business decimated by a hurricane or reduced to rubble by a fire. But on some level, we know the possibility exists, which is why the compensation insurance could provide becomes a reasonable trade-off for premiums that are, hopefully, uncollected on year after year.

I asked Matthew what attracted him to the insurance industry. “My father was in the business. At a certain point he needed me for what was going to be a short period of time, a few months maybe. That was 1993. It was 2004 by the time I left. I realized pretty early into it, that talking to people felt good, it felt right.”

Matthew grew up in East Rockaway, Long Island. After college he worked in the Community Service Corps of Syracuse, for the Catholic Charities Diocese. He ran both an elementary and a teen program at Vincent House. During a break in his corps service, a trip to visit his sister in New Orleans during Mardi Gras resulted in a lengthy stay. He fell in love with the city and entered grad school there at Loyola University on an MBA track, heading for a future in investment banking. Early on he won an internship with Paine Webber, working with the real estate investment trusts team. It was interesting, but apparently not enough. So when the opportunity to work with his father came up, he switched gears without hesitation.

Matthew went on to describe, with palpable heartfelt admiration, how the opportunity to be of help was matched only by the pleasure it gave him just to be around his father, who he referred to as “Dad” in the office only once. A terse correction set the professional demeanor Michael Mullen expected of his son in the workplace. Thereafter, in the office he called his father Mike. Their handedness—Matthew the righty and Mike the lefty—defined the arrangement of their desks, butted up against each other in an L-formation. They worked side-by-side for 13 years, serving Mullen Sr.’s Allstate customers in Canarsie.

We talked about how he builds rapport, a term he used more than a few times, I suspect because it most aptly describes the quality of relationship he strives to establish with his customers—one of mutual understanding, trust, agreement, and connection through a commonality of interests. Matthew says the key to his success is understanding his customers’ needs. And although he claims the “talking to people” aspect is what hooked him, the only way a person comes to truly understand someone else is through less talking and more listening. So, to be number 1 in the Allstate business, Matthew Mullen must in fact be an accomplished listener.

“You have to find out what is appropriate for them and sell them only what they need after helping them weigh out cost vs. benefit in all the possible scenarios.

“I run an agency and never charge my customers a service fee. Even when I act in the capacity of ‘broker,’ I will not charge my clients broker fees. The difference between an agent and a broker is that an agent represents a company to the insured, and a broker represents the insured to the company. The broker is paid commission from the company they place the policy with and they then charge the insured

fees—usually quite high—to represent them. As an agent I am paid only commission. When I write policies that are not from Allstate, I act as a broker, but still never charge the service fees to my customers. When brokers charge a fee they must disclose it to the insured.”

Wow. How unlike a recipe for success does that sound? Never mind success, how unlike the sales impetus in general does that sound? However counter-intuitive his methodology seems, it is clearly working.

Agency size is measured by policies in force, premiums, and households insured. Matthew’s ratio of new to pre-existing policies is about equal. All told, Matthew has bought three books of business. In 2005, he bought his first book from a fellow Allstate agent named Lou Mazzeo. Lou had been operating his Allstate franchise on Nassau Avenue between Leonard and Eckford for over 15 years and was eager to get a Manhattan-based book he heard was coming up for sale. Wanting to concentrate solely on his new area, the sale to Matthew went through in 2006, and he opened his first independent office on Manhattan Avenue between Nassau and Driggs. Matthew’s business grew further through the purchase of policies in force held by two more Allstate agents, both of whom were retiring: his father’s Canarsie book in 2008, and Irv Tyler’s Grand Army Plaza book in 2011. As his policy volume grew, so did his need for more agents to specialize in specific products and a larger space in which to conduct the business. In 2011, he moved to his current location, a larger office also on Manhattan Avenue, between Bedford and Norman. Matthew employs six associates, four of them residents of the area.

I asked him about the changes he’s observed over the course of the seven years he’s been commuting here from Rockville Centre, Long Island. He naturally referenced the massive shift in demographics, and I asked how the shift is translating to trends in policy sales in the area.

“With the increase in the condo development and subsequent purchases, I noticed a need to provide guidance to an affluent population with assets outside of the typical contents to protect. Along these lines clients with art collections, for example, come to mind. In standard homeowner policies replacement costs would not apply to fine art or antiquities.”

With the population growth and its general age on the younger side, and with residents just beginning families, there is also an increase in the need to talk about life insurance. No stranger to tragic loss, Matthew lost his sister, a mother of three girls at the age of 43, when a seemingly innocuous fever was followed by swift descent into cancer. The unspoken message taken from the sharing of this personal detail was that, although one should not live life banking on the worst, betting against it entirely isn’t wise. Fortunately, just a year and half before her demise, Matthew sold his sister a life insurance policy.

I had the impression that Matthew doesn’t employ service to gain success, but rather that it is as an imperative of his nature. We touched on Hurricane Sandy, the attending spike of 1,000 or so claims—most of them from the Brooklyn area—and the affect it had on his agency. Allstate provided the funds for Matthew to hire three specialists, advocates for the claimants, to work directly with his clients from filing through to settlement. The added staff stayed on until January, and their presence meant claims were processed quickly (Allstate as a company is, at this time, 98% settled and paid on all Sandy claims) and at a higher return for the affected home and business owners. Those claimants might otherwise have hired public adjusters, whose fees are steep and come out of the proceeds of the claim payout. Contracting on-site advocates who were focused exclusively on processing Sandy claims meant Matthew’s customers could feel confident in both the timely progression of their claims—and fair outcomes.

The Greenpoint/Williamsburg business community also benefits from Matthew’s service-minded ideology. He is currently working with the Chamber of Commerce on an initiative to educate small-business owners on the Affordable Care Act, and how it may affect them, hoping to bring clarity to a complex issue. Timing is critical, as business owners will need to make important decisions about the act before October 1, 2013. When asked how he structures his philanthropic outreach, he says he depends on the strength of advocates like Susan Anderson, who founded and manages the highly visible and effective Town Square network. In addition to his upcoming seminar on the Affordable Care Act, his agency recently hosted an information session as part of the 2013 Baby Fest event, focused on everything parents need to know about 529 federal tax-free college savings programs.

For agents like Matthew, who walk-the-talk of being a community-minded business, Allstate has match programs in place to augment the agent’s sponsorship. The matching funds come from their Good Hands in the Community Grants. Through his affiliation with the Sons of the American Revolution, Matthew has received company matches for scholarships for the Eagle Scouts and cash award prizes for the winners of the Knights Essay, a contest open to high school students. Most recently, his agency sponsored a golf tournament for the Association of Children with Down’s Syndrome.

With an innate expertise so keenly focused on understanding needs projected against future outcomes, I asked Matthew what he sees for the Greenpoint/ Williamsburg area in the coming years.

“All good things,” he responded without hesitation. “Everything is moving in the right direction.”

Beloved Northside Pharmacy Survives Rent Pandemic; In Their Own New Space Down the Street

Halina Jankowitz (left) and Rachel
Parker relocated their pharmacy from
rent-crazy Bedford Avenue, to nearby
Driggs Avenue, in June.
PHOTO BY MARA CATALAN

Halina Jankowitz (left) and Rachel
Parker relocated their pharmacy from
rent-crazy Bedford Avenue, to nearby
Driggs Avenue, in June.
PHOTO BY MARA CATALAN

By Genia Gould

This is a story that doesn’t end in tragedy. The Northside Pharmacy, run by two outstanding pharmacists for 15 years, was facing displacement from gentrification when the business’s 15-year lease was up for renewal, this past June.

Aware that there would be a staggering rent increase, partners Halina Jankowski and Rachel Parker, who took over the 100-year-old pharmacy in 1998, never asked their landlady what the new rent would be.

“We’re sitting on what’s being called the ‘epicenter of hipster Williamsburg,’” said Rachel.

(It was well known to them and most everyone in the neighborhood that Khim’s Millennium Market across the street was paying about $28,000 a month in rent.)

The two elegant women in their 50s had no intention of retiring or a desire to leave the neighborhood. Being forced out of the neighborhood has been an all-too-common fate for many other local fixtures, including Trojanowski Wine & Spirits, which moved to Park Slope, and La Villita Bakery, which moved out of state, along with dozens of other businesses priced out of Bedford Avenue locations, over the last few years.

Dedicated to the community, and with several generations of loyal clientele who love and rely on them, they knew they would need to buy a building where they could put the business.

It would be their loyal following that enabled them to do just that. A longtime customer learned of their plight, and he graciously offered to sell them a building he was about to put on the market, but at a reasonable price.

He, too, had a desire to preserve the disappearing fabric of the neighborhood he knows and cares about.

Another hurdle they had to overcome was securing a construction loan from the local Citibank, which turned out to be a lot harder than renting a Citibike. Once again, a longtime neighborhood resident (and our state assemblymember, Joseph Lentol) intervened on their behalf.

Not unlike when the two partners first started, they invested their savings in the business. And with the expertise of Halina’s husband, Jack, a contractor and the owner of Artenova of New York, they transformed the Driggs Avenue space into their permanent, new home, infusing it with Victorian embellishments. What once was an accountant’s office was gutted to make way for a vision of mosaic floor tiling, antique-style chandeliers, and decorative apothecary jars.

(Rachel’s husband Jay is the owner of Ben’s Best, a third generation kosher deli in Queens. He provided sustenance on occasion to get them through the nine months of construction.)

Without missing a day of business, they opened at the new location, 559 Driggs Avenue, on June 10.

“It’s a dream for any shop owner to own the property where they do business,” said Rachel, “we’ll never have to worry about the issue of rent and leases again.” Another benefit, she added, is that Driggs Avenue is a quieter street.

Harrico’s Honeys 

When the women were talking about the move, they also revealed the story of how another mainstay in the neighborhood influenced their lives, and how they became known as Harrico’s Honeys.

It would be another illustration of the importance of neighborhoods where people really do know one another.

The two women have a wonderful story to tell. They’ve known each other since the 1970s, when they were teenagers from Greenpoint: Halina from Diamond Street; Rachel had family on Dupont Street. They met while working at Harrico’s Pharmacy (now a Duane Reade) in Greenpoint. It was the Harrico’s owner, Edmund Charno, who mentored and guided them into their future professional careers—even sending them to pharmacy school.

“He actually took me by the hand into Queens, to St. John’s School of Pharmacy, and walked me into the registrar’s office,” recalled Rachel. Halina was pursuing studies in economics and working for an airline, but would come back and work for Charno again. He worked out their schedules so they could go to school by day and work at the pharmacy by night. Halina attended pharmacy school at Long Island University.

There were six women Charno would mentor altogether, and whom he encouraged to enter the pharmaceutical profession. One was Johanna, and it was from her that Halina and Rachel would buy the Bedford Avenue business. Two of Harrico’s other Honeys were Dorothy and Bonnie, who work part-time for Northside. Finally, Yola, continues to work at the former Harrico location, which became a Duane Reade in 1997. It was also in 1997 that, sadly, Charno passed away of cancer at a young age.

Charno’s magnanimity would benefit not just the many young women, but himself, too. He could trust the girls to fully manage the store, which allowed him to reduce the number of hours he worked. He was living on Long Island at the time. So, if, for instance an alarm went off in the middle of night, and occasionally the rattling from a subway underground would do that, recalled Halina, she would be able to go in to the pharmacy, and turn the alarm off.

The women also remember that there were some rigorous rules to follow. Charno, who always wore a suit and tie, imposed a strict dress code on his employees. He required them to wear lipstick, a sticking point for some of the girls, Halina recalled. “Remember that!” she says to Dorothy. “He would say, ‘We sell lipstick, and you will wear lipstick.’ We sold drawers and drawers of it. Every color.”

They strike an excellent balance, Halina the financial and technology person, and Rachel, the products buyer. It’s a small store, which they describe as a “niche wellness pharmacy.” “Other than the national brands, about 90 percent is a result of somebody asking me for a product,” said Rachel. “I can point to almost every item in the store and tell you who’s responsible for it being there.”

The main strength of the pharmacy, aside from beauty aids, shampoos, and soaps, is the drugs they carry. They are very well-stocked when it comes to pharmaceuticals and prescriptions. “It’s very rare when we don’t have something,” said Halina, “Chain stores usually carry only the most popular drugs, whereas we have two deliveries a day, one at 11 am, and one at 5 pm. If we don’t have something in the morning, we’ll have it by the end of the day.”

Halina and Rachel, while starting afresh in a new location, can also envision a future when they will retire, and in the same influential spirit, hope to sell their business to one of their employees.

Do they sell lipstick at Northside Pharmacy?

Yes, but employees aren’t required to wear it.

Cows @ Art 101 Gallery / Closing Weekend

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A truly delightful show. How often does one rub shoulders with a herd of cows? 43 artists have playfully participated in this bovine/bull-themed exhibition. The mediums in which the artists work are all over the range, from line drawings, to photographs to metal sculptures, to acrylic and oil paintings. “Cows” is a show where one feels happy to roam and graze, and to also experience the artists, many of whom we know well, riff on an unexpected subject.

This is the last weekend to have the opportunity to have a cow.

It’s definitely worth the visit. Weekend gallery hours are 1-6pm. On Sunday, the closing reception is 6-8pm.

Art 101
101 Grand Street
Williamsburg, Bklyn 11249
718 302 2242
www.art101brooklyn.com

 

Potlikker: Royal Spin on Comfort Food

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Chef Liza Queen presides in her kitchen at Potlikker.
PHOTOS BY TODD BARNDOLLAR

Potlikker
338 Bedford Ave.
(718) 388-9808
potlikkerbrooklyn.com

Sangria.

By Mary Yeung

The name of the restaurant says it all. It is the name of the liquid left over from greens you boiled. The broth tastes different every time, depending on what you throw in the pot. The term comes from the South, and so the food at Potlikker has Southern roots. But this is Southern food seen through the prism of new Brooklyn, where farm raised heritage pork and fresh local ingredients are prized. In other words, Potlikker serves haute comfort food, with prices to match.

As a young chef who cooked in Greenpoint back in 2005, Liza Queen was one of the pioneers who helped North Brooklyn develop into a culinary destination. Back then, she had a scrappy little restaurant way up on the north end on Franklin Street, with an unforgettable regal name. She served whimsical American comfort food and garnered a lot of media attention. A Southern food eatery on a desolated street on the edge of industrial Greenpoint. Really? I was one of those foodies who made the pilgrimage to Queen’s Hideaway. Back then, I thought the food was uneven, some dishes worked and some didn’t, but I was impressed with her inventiveness.

Brick chicken.

Boiled peanuts as freebie starters, all kinds of interesting root vegetables as sides, an unexpected poached egg here, a little crispy oyster there, and home pickled vegetables, too. Eating at the Queen’s Hideaway was always an adventure. People rhapsodized about their experiences on their blogs; blueberry pies cooling on the window ledge, a clunky smoker in the backyard, mason jars filled with backyard weeds on communal tables, and those haunting blue walls. You have to remember, back in 2005, before the term “Brooklyn rustic” was thrown around like confetti at a Wall Street parade, New Yorkers were excited about such things.

But in 2008, the Queen abruptly shut her doors. Rumor has it that the rent skyrocketed. By attracting all those foodies to Greenpoint, she made Franklin Street hip and priced herself out of a restaurant. The minute she closed her doors, a high-end restaurant (Anelle) took her place.

Queen took a cooking gig in Vietnam with some old friends. She spent the next two years cooking American food for ex-pats and locals there who craved a taste of American food: hamburgers and pizza, mainly. But she survived and thrived on the local fare of dumplings, BBQ pork, and papaya salads.

Now the Queen is back and she’s not hiding anymore. She opened Potlikker on bustling Bedford Avenue last spring. She’s doing her own thing again, frying oysters, puffing up Dutch pancakes, pressing brick chicken, and serving beer and wine. We noticed some Asian ingredients have crept into her dishes. There are ginger and black sesame seeds in a refreshing salad composed of Asian pear, cucumber, and radish. The Brick Chicken is paired with a generous serving of sticky rice. But the taste profile of her menu is still unmistakably American: peaches roasted in duck fat, fried oysters, and brined pork chops.

Start your meal with a pillowy Dutch pancake; it’s so light and fluffy it makes everything on it taste great. We had it with fried oysters, sour and hot peppers, goat cheese, and bacon. Then move on to the fresh shelled chick peas with escarole and pasta sheets in a cacciota broth with a breaded, deepfried poached egg. The fresh beans are tender and don’t taste caky like the dried variety. The pasta sheets were a bit on the grainy side, but that means it’s healthy, right? The broth is very light and tasted of salt and herbs. I’m crazy about the fried egg on top with the crispy panko crust. Deep frying a soft poached egg to perfection, now that’s hard to do. I could eat a dozen of these. My dining companion ordered the house-made bratwurst and declared it outstanding. He hails from Chicago and knows his sausage. This one was fresh and juicy and beautifully seasoned. It came with a roasted pineapple, some kind of soggy pretzel pastry, and shards of amber hard candy for contrasting texture. The sweetness of the pineapple played up the saltiness of the pork. According to our server, the secret to its savoriness is the pork. The pig was raised and lightly smoked in Tennessee before it was made into sausages at the restaurant.

Panna cotta with strawberries.

 

For the main, we chose the Brick Chicken ($24), one of their signature dishes. Two pieces of chicken, lightly crusted and very tender and moist on the inside. It was served with sticky rice, asparagus, and a dill avgolemono sauce. This famous Greek sauce was silky and lemony with an intense chicken flavor. It elevated every element on the plate. If you have a bad day at the office, this dish will hug and cuddle you for the rest of the night.

For dessert, I loved the vanilla pot au creme with huckleberry coulis and lemon peel cookie. It was a lot of milky goodness for $8. The tart berry coulis beautifully livens up the luscious vanilla cream. The chocolate tart, made with Mast Brothers chocolate, is rich and decadent, and the salty pretzel streusel and boozy, bourbon caramel sauce make it even more titillating. Because these desserts weren’t very sweet, I didn’t feel heavy and guilty afterward.

For lunch, there is a fried oyster sandwich for $13, and a Reuben sandwich made of corned beef tongue and gruyere on a sourdough Pullman bread for $14. Buttermilk biscuits and lemon curd and more Dutch pancakes with Earl Grey dulce de leche for $6, plus an array of egg dishes available
for weekend brunch.

The interior at Potlikker, like the cooking, is much more polished than the Queen’s old Greenpoint haunt. The lines are clean and modern. The walls are professionally painted, but bare. There are lamps with white fabric shades and a curvy eating bar where you can watch the cooks prepare your food in a wide open kitchen. The only hint of Southern country flair is in the chairs and tables; they’re patio green. Of course, the focus here is not the decor or the rock music, but the food, which is inventive and intriguing. Liza Queen is a gutsy chef. You will want to eat what she feels like cooking on any given day.

 

Absolut Open Canvas on North 6th This Weekend

absolut open canvas williamsburg brooklyn

OMG! Do you know that this place called “Brooklyn” is “the future”? Well, Absolut thinks so, so maybe it is.

In any case, here’s the skinny on an event this weekend–it’s located one block from Smorgasburg, and just steps away from a bunch of Make Music NY performances, and it’s free, so have at it.

ABSOLUT has enlisted more than 20 artists to transform a block in Williamsburg from a white canvas to extraordinary living works of art on Saturday, June 22. Experience the transformation in real-time as artists work their respective crafts from: 1:00PM – 4:00PM on North 6th between Wythe and Kent.

This multi-disciplinary group art exhibition will be on display through Saturday, June 29 with interactive happenings from 3:00 -7:00PM daily.

ABSOLUT’s project will feature emerging contemporary artists including: Jonah Freeman, Justin Lowe, Ara Dymond, KATSU, Aurora Halal, OLEK, Andrew Kuo, Valerie Hegarty, Ryan McNamara, and many more.

Open Canvas is a real-time, evolving, participatory body of work that is designed to be created and experienced personally and collectively across every platform.

When: Saturday, June 22nd 1:00-4:00PM & Sunday, June 23 – Saturday, June 29, 3:00-7:00PM

Where: North 6th St between Wythe and Kent Avenue, Williamsburg Brooklyn, New York, 11211