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Small businesses were given a big platform this past weekend as part of Small Business Saturday.
Over a dozen small businesses set up shop in the King Manor House Museum in Jamaica to showcase and sell their goods.
For executive director Kelsey Brow, the sight of local vendors selling their products was a special one.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said Brow. “I moved from the suburbs of Denver to New York City on purpose to get away from big box stores.”
Brow said it was significant to lend the historic space to local vendors who might not have a brick-and-mortar store. From beauty and healthcare products to artisan jewelry, the first floor of the museum was filled with 16 small businesses, a majority of them based in Queens.
Among them were Sha’s House of Bling, JBM Jewelry, Beauty Bar and Mr. X Stock Market Academy.
“It’s really meaningful, especially because we’re in such a central location,” said Brow. “It’s exciting to have such a wide variety of vendors here today.”
The event was curated by Adrienne Whaley, executive director of the Queens Underground International Film Festival.
Whaley, an artist and entrepreneur who sells her own soaps, set up her display of products alongside the other local small businesses for the all-day event just down the road from her own studio.
“It was important before and now it’s magnified because none of these people have a storefront,” said Whaley on the support of small businesses. “Since the pandemic, it’s become even more important. Shopping online is okay, but here you can talk to the vendors and you can touch the items.”
Whaley also curated a selection of over 30 music and poetry videos that were screened in the parlor of the historic house. A room once used for entertainment purposes was repurposed for the showcase event.
“Of course they didn’t have film back then, but they would have had magic lantern shows, kind of like an old-fashioned slide projector but it was hand done,” Brow explained.
In Astoria, an outdoor holiday event brought out families to Steinway Street and 31st Avenue, where crowds were treated to carolers from Christmas Matters, a puppet show by Penny and the Puppettes, and holiday music performances by the Academia De Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer.
Sponsored by the Steinway Astoria Partnership, the holiday event aimed to bring the community together to support the over 300 businesses on Steinway Street.
“It’s a ‘thank you’ to the residents of Astoria and the Steinway community,” said executive director Marie Torniali. “This little part of Queens is made up of families of many, many different cultures. They all come together as one. Hopefully they’ll support the small businesses that line the streets here.”
It was the end of an era on Sunday.
Tower Diner, a neighborhood cornerstone since 1993 that is housed in a historic Colonial bank building, was forced to shutter. The Queens Boulevard building is currently slated for demolition to make way for a new housing development.
The distinctive white clock tower has been an unofficial landmark in the neighborhood for generations.
“It’s an unofficial landmark,” said Regina Judith Faighes. “I grew up on 99th Street, and when my dad gave people directions to our home, he would tell them to look for the building with the clock tower.”
“I had a long wait for my table, and normally that would upset me,” she said of her final visit Sunday. “But this afternoon I was happy for the delay, because it gave me more time to experience the diner, with its warm and inviting classic decor.”
Longtime patrons had one last meal and took the chance to reminisce with staff, many of whom are regarded as extended family.
“The food was consistently fresh and delicious and the service was always excellent,” said Jane Firkser-Brody. “It is very disheartening to see yet another Forest Hills venue being destroyed, along with the charm and uniqueness of our awesome neighborhood.”
Tower Diner was opened by Jimmy Gatanas and his wife Anthi. Their sons Spiro and John worked in the business and later acquired it. It was the only diner of its kind in the vicinity, and became a go-to spot for dates, family outings, and birthday and graduation celebrations, as well as business meetings.
Tower Diner enticed the palates of notables such as Al Roker, Ti-Hua Chang, and Alonzo Mourning.
For the Gatanas family, who immigrated from Greece, Tower Diner exemplified the American Dream. They employed approximately 40 people, and gave back to the community with fundraisers benefiting St. Jude’s, sponsored PS 175 and Forest Hills High School sports teams, and donated Thanksgiving turkeys to local schools.
David Giwner moved from Manhattan in 2009, and called it his go-to diner in Forest Hills.
“I’ve never had a bad meal,” he said. “Losing Tower Diner is like losing a family member and a staple of our once great community. This is another piece of NYC history gone.”
Kevin Sanichara and his mother said the staff felt like a second family.
“I’ve been coming here almost every week for the past 20 years,” he said. “I will miss the ambiance and aesthetic of the old clock tower and the compass on the ceiling.”
For Matthew Semble, Tower Diner represents a big part of his life with his late wife Kathy Fogel.
“After Kathy’s passing, the employees and management reached out to me and my son Alex, and sent many meals during shiva and beyond,” he said. “There aren’t many businesses that had such a positive impact on our community.”
In addition to enjoying one last meal, patrons had the chance to sign a petition opposing the demolition, which will also include several small businesses and the Trylon Theater, which is currently home to Ohr Natan synagogue.
“I’m going to miss the diner, and especially the tower for which it was named,” said Michael Hennessy. “Hopefully the community will fight any further neighborhood destruction.”
“I strongly oppose the redevelopment plans for Tower Diner and the Trylon Theater,” added Jeffrey Witt. “We do not need nor want the type of the development being proposed. The charm and beauty that attracted people to live here is being destroyed.”
Less than a week remains to apply for FEMA assistance
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has announced a new joint program with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to improve drainage systems and reduce flooding at housing developments throughout the city.
Costing $29 million in total, the new projects are aimed at bringing climate resiliency to a number of vulnerable NYCHA properties, particularly those that are close to the water or other high-risk flooding locations.
“Funding these ongoing upgrades at NYCHA properties will improve the quality of life for residents while also reducing neighborhood flooding and any sewer overflow into local waterways,” said DEP commissioner Vincent Sapienza.
Work is set to begin immediately at a number of locations in Brooklyn, including Gowanus Houses, Boulevard Houses, Linden Houses, and Van Dyke Houses. Other locations throughout the borough are set to receive upgrades by the end of next year, including Kingsborough Houses and Seth Low Houses.
Typically, NYCHA is responsible for drainage at each of its properties. However, DEP saw the opportunity to capture significant stormwater across the portfolio of NYCHA properties, which would ease pressure on neighborhood sewers and reduce overflows into local waterways.
DEP engineers survey the sites and green infrastructure installations are designed to meet the specific needs. That could include permeable concrete sidewalks, subsurface infiltration chambers, and rain gardens, keeping water from entering the sewer system, where it could lead to flooding.
“Infrastructure needs don’t discriminate based on agency purview, and I hope the city continues to build on these types of partnerships as we work to tackle the growing challenges of climate change and water management,” said Borough President Eric Adams.
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