Dancing to a Silent Beat

By Deena Farrell [Read more…]

Madison Square Park Blooms Again

By John Friia [Read more…]

Asian-American Artists Look Abroad

By Kevin Young [Read more…]

In NYC, Russians Cast Wary Eye on Sochi

By Jason Javaherian, Emma Kazaryan, Milena Kozlowska and Rebecca Ungarino

At Kebeer Draft Bar and Grill in Brighton Beach, in the heart of Brooklyn’s Russian community, every television was tuned to the XXII Olympic Winter Games hosted in Sochi, Russia on a recent Sunday evening.

bar 5

Kebeer’s Russian patrons feel indifferent during the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Photo by Emma Kazaryan

Notwithstanding that men’s cross-country skiing—not a popular spectator sport—was the focus of the evening’s telecast, enthusiasm for the games appeared scant. Patrons at Kebeer, which is at the intersection of Brighton Beach and Coney Island avenues, glanced briefly at the screens to catch results, only to quickly return to their conversations.

“Russia did not need these games,” said Sergey Zinoviev, who was standing at the bar with several friends, alluding to the estimated $51 billion cost of the Sochi games, more than seven times the cost of the winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, four years ago, and larger than the $44 billion of the 2008 Beijing summer games, the next most expensive. “I think they could have spent money on more important things, like schools.”

Zinoviev, a banker, said he is not indifferent toward his native Russia. “Every time I watch the games I feel proud for Russia, especially when our sportsmen are winning,” conceded Zinoviev with a smile.

“I don’t cheer for Russia,” said Igor Galiakhmetov, 60, an owner of a Brooklyn moving company. “I cheer for good sportsmen.”

For Galiakhmetov, who moved to New York 14 years ago with his family from Novorossiysk, a port city on the Black Sea, 176 miles from Sochi, the distrust he feels for the regime of Valdimir Putin, who has ruled Russia as either president or prime minister since 2000, colors his view of the Olympics. “Knowing the Russian government, I am pretty sure that after the Olympic games, the region as well as the newly built infrastructure, will be abandoned,” he added.

As Russian émigrés follow the Sochi games from their new homes in New York, they are experiencing divided loyalties to two countries—the Russia they left behind and their adopted U.S. For many émigrés, whether they fled the former Soviet Union or Putin’s Russia, their view of the Olympics is colored by the corruption they associate with both regimes.

“Many people come to cheer for the U.S. rather than Russia,” said Rassul Massimov, an employee at Kebeer and a student at ASA College who is from Kazakhstan, which was part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991.

“We are American and are rooting for America!” agreed Matwiej Dommith, 85, also of Brighton Beach via the U.S.S.R, who has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years and has grandchildren born and raised here.

Meanwhile, on Staten Island, at the NetCost Market, on Amboy Road in the Richmondtown neighborhood, the sentiments toward the Olympics were much the same.

“I am rooting for Russia, Estonia and America, but mostly for America because they are my home,” said Igor Shurygin, who was stocking the shelves at the store, which is part of a chain popular among the community’s Russian, Estonian and Ukrainian residents; the store carries traditional Eastern European specialties, such as pierogi (potato or cheese dumplings), plov (a hearty rice dish), and kotlety (breaded meat cutlets). Shurygin, who moved to Staten Island two years ago from his native Estonia, said that when he was not working he watched the Olympic games at home, and especially enjoyed the snowboarding competitions.


Ella Pil, a barbershop owner, sympathizes with Sochi residents who were relocated to make room for Olympic development.
Photo by Jason Javaherian

Rachel Mickley moved to New York from Ukraine nearly 38 years ago and said that she, her children and U.S.-born grandchildren were all rooting for the United States. Mickley said she watched the Olympics on Channel One whenever she gets the chance; Channel One Russia, the Russian Federation’s first television channel, is available via local cable companies.

“My husband and I, we don’t want Russia to win medals,” said Ella Pil, a 39-year-old barber in the Floral Park neighborhood.

“The Olympics are a show for Putin and his friends,” said Pil, who came to the U.S. in 1994 from Uzbekistan, and reflected the animosity that many residents of former Soviet satellite countries still feel toward Russia.


Crowds Sow Discontent in SoHo

By Rebecca Ungarino [Read more…]

Board Bashing: The Long and Short of It

By Brad Williams    

The hum of four soft urethane wheels gliding over abrasive asphalt has become a common addition to the noises on the streets of New York, as longboarding continues to grow in popularity. Far from the stereotype of skateboarders (teenage boys, or young men with long hair and tattoos), the people riding longboards range from businessmen, to young mothers, and even young children. They often ride together in groups of three or more on long-distance cruises. They can be seen nonchalantly whizzing by traffic and pedestrians on the city’s streets without doing a single trick, on boards of various shapes and sizes but longer than three feet in length. One rider might be 5 years old, and the next rider might be 50.

Photo by Brad Williams

Photo by Brad Williams

Many people refer to these boarders as skaters – and that leaves those on the other end of the skateboarding spectrum – trick skaters – fuming. While outsiders might see longboarders and shortboarders as two families of the same clan, the participants see themselves as rivals.

In the past five years, longboarding has reached new heights in popularity. As more and more longboarders coast through the streets of New York City, many shortboarders frown in disapproval.

The basis of the dispute is the style of board used by the rider. In general, there are three types of skateboards:  trick boards (also referred to as “regular” and “short” boards) used primarily for executing numerous tricks; longboards, mostly used for transportation and riding at high speeds, and cruisers, a varying mixture of both.

Longtime skater and Roll America skateboarding instructor John Jackson is displeased with the increase in longboarding. “It feels like they outnumber us now,” Jackson said. “When I would skate around 10 years ago, I’d see skaters everywhere, riding in groups, now I just see a bunch of longboarders clogging up the bike lanes.” Founded in 1988 by Joel Rappelfeld, RollAmerica offers rollerblading and skateboarding lessons and says it works with more than 50 elementary and middle schools to teach students.

Longboards, significantly longer than trick skateboards, require less effort and can reach much faster speeds. Most longboards have wheels twice the size of regular skateboard wheels, to handle rough surfaces and add momentum when in motion. Longboards are primarily used for transportation.

Jackson said beginners were the “most annoying thing” about the rise in longboarding.

“As an instructor, I encourage my students not to start out with a longboard. It’s too easy to reach high speeds, and beginners can’t keep control,” he said. ”It’s like driving a Corvette the very first time you drive a car, you’re a danger to yourself and everyone near you.”

“I can count four longboarding deaths in New York City since 2012. I can’t think of a single person dying from trying a trick here,” Jackson said. “And we skate all of the ramps and rails that most people think are so dangerous! It’s all from a lack of experience and comfort on a board.” According to the Web site Skaters for Public Skateparks, two skateboard-related deaths occurred in New York City in 2012.

By Jackson’s definition, the majority of the city’s longboarders should not be referred to as skaters because they have not spent countless hours bettering their skills through trial and error.

“What can you fail at as a longboarder?” Jackson asked. “Riding down the street? Outside of the hardcore longboarders, who have complete control at speeds above 15 miles per hour, longboarding is not a demanding activity.…Is anyone who rides a bike considered a cyclist? No. They should only be referred as longboarders.” he added, “Longboarding is more like surfing or snowboarding than skateboarding.”

Jeff Gates, an avid longboarder and the founder and owner of Uncle Funky’s Boards in the West Village, said there’s not just a link between longboarding and board sports such as surfing and snowboarding, but that the latter are “the root of all skateboarding”– meaning that skateboarding as a whole evolved from surfing.

“Longboarding is as simple as riding,” Gates said. “You can get the gist of it in a matter of hours, while street skating requires a lot more practice and dealing with injuries.”

Gates said that trick skaters embrace skateboarding as part of their identities, and aren’t happy to see people who just bought longboards being referred to as skaters.

“When a dude who’s been doing tricks for 15 years sees a guy in a suit riding a longboard to work on Wall Street, he’s pissed,” he said.

Unlike Jackson, Gates believes that a longboard is an ideal choice for newcomers for a multitude of reasons: “It’s longer and wider than a standard board, so it has more room to stand on and is more stable. Its wheels are much larger, so riders don’t have to worry about tripping over every crack, twig or pebble, and it’s just easier to turn on.”

Gates admits that the ease of reaching high speeds is a potential danger, but advises that all riders should do their best not to skate outside of their abilities. In addition, he suggests a change in philosophy: “Everybody can skate, everybody should skate. It’s fun, and it’s easy…And I think skaters have tried to keep that secret for too long—to protect it like it’s their own. But it never was their own, and it never should be their own: it’s for everybody.”

At 70, Grandma’s First Thanksgiving

Article and Photos by Svetlanna Farinha

Grandma Claudia Powley

Grandma Claudia Powley arrived in America for her first-ever Thanksgiving dinner with her family.

Dressed in a gray Washington Redskins T-shirt bearing the team’s red-and-yellow logo, Grandma Claudia Powley, 70, sat upright on a cream, tweed fabric couch awaiting her first Thanksgiving dinner.
[Read more…]

Masked Intentions

Story and photos by Elisha Fieldstadt
Originally published on November 5, 2012.

Romney mask

Photo by Elisha Fieldstadt

On the Saturday before Halloween, the checkout line at the Spirit store in Chelsea was 50 people deep. By the next day, shoppers were more focused on groceries and staples as hurricane warnings abounded.

Among the Halloween goods were racks of masks of President Obama, but not a Romney mask was to be found.

“We got in the same amount of each mask,” says the assistant manager, Abbie Rodriguez.

Spirit operates 1,000 stores nationwide, and says the mask sales of presidential candidates have accurately predicted the results of the last four presidential elections, although it acknowledges that its “Presidential Index” has no scientific or mathematical basis.

“It’s not uncommon for people to buy the mask of the candidate they want to make fun of and wear a clown costume,” says Crystal Baxter, the manager of marketing and licensing for Spirit. However, she also adds, “It gives supporters a fun way to show their support for their favorite candidate.”

When Spirit’s marketing department noticed that Clinton masks outsold Dole masks in 1996 and then Clinton went on to win the race, it started calling its sales count “The Presidential Index.”

Nine days before Halloween, Baxter reports that overall, Obama mask sales were at 60 percent and Romney at 40 percent. “That number can definitely change because the first four weeks, Obama was up 65 percent and now he’s only up 60, so Romney is pulling up and there’s plenty of room for Romney to continue to pull ahead in the time that’s left,” she says.

Obama mask

Photo by Elisha Fieldstadt

While Romney masks outsold Obama masks in Chelsea (which seems unlikely to predict the vote in that Manhattan neighborhood), in other typically liberal areas — Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. — managers of Spirit stores all say they have sold one or two Romney masks but were sold out of Obama masks.

In contrast, in the cities of “red states,” managers of stores in Layton, Utah; Lawrence, Kan., and Houston say Romney masks are in the lead, and some haven’t sold a single Obama mask.

Managers from several stores in Nevada, Wisconsin, Colorado and Virginia all say they had sold more Obama masks. Managers from multiple stores in Utah, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio all say that they have sold more Romney masks. That information simply indicates that the sales of masks, much like the election will not be won by a landslide.

“We definitely hope that one way or the other our mask sales can continue to early-predict the winner of the presidential race,” says Baxter. Either way, after three contentious debates and a slew of offensive political television ads, maybe the “Presidential Index” is a way to lighten up the election season. “It’s all in good fun,” she adds.

Halloween Shops “Pop Up” Around the City

By Nakeisha Campbell and Kelvin Murphy

Spirit Halloween

Pop-up stores, which set up in a vacant retail space for weeks or months, then shut, are increasingly popular among consumers. Photo by Nakeisha Campbell.

Most Halloweens, John Rosenberger usually visits thrift shops for his costumes. But this year he decided to visit Spirit Halloween’s pop-up shop at 766 Sixth Avenue, one of those stores that springs into being for a few months, or even weeks, then shuts.

“My lady friend wants to be Fiona from Adventure Time,” Rosenberger, 26, said. “She’s trying it on. She’s a small, but they’re already sold out of those, so we’re trying a medium.”

Another first-time pop-up shopper, Wilma Cordero, 25, said, “I’m just really looking for a specific costume; I go first online to check out what I like, and then I look around to see if all these stores have it, but this is actually my second store today.” She was at the same Spirit store.

Spirit and Ricky’s are both national chains that operate Halloween stores, some year-round and some seasonal pop-ups. Ricky’s has 27 year-round locations in the New York metropolitan area and one in Miami. Esti Lamonica, the store manager of Ricky’s at East 23rd Street and Third Avenue, said the company opened 30 pop-up Halloween locations in the New York area last year, and this year no more than a dozen.

Halloween has increasingly turned into a holiday for adults as well as children, and the average American shopper spent about $80 on Halloween-related items this year, according to BIGinsight, a monthly consumer survey. Although stores like Party City remain popular for Halloween shopping, many people are gravitating toward specialized pop-up shops, such as temporary stores that sell Halloween merchandise throughout October. Locations can range from vacant real estate to vacant retail spaces, and the shops disappear quickly.

“I do think that there are massive hordes of people running to these stores because they’re not commonplace,” said Christina Norsig, C.E.O. and founder of PopUpInsider.

A permanent store, she said, “doesn’t deliver with that sense of urgency, really truly, if it’s long term, if it’s in other neighborhoods, in the town you’re in, it’s not going to draw the crowds. If you open up something truly original for a limited period of time with a limited assortment, and it’s really special, you’re going to get people buzzing around it.”

Aside from their popularity with consumers, many building owners see pop-ups as a way to fill vacant space and show off the property.

At Spirit Halloween on Sixth Avenue, an assistant manager who would identify herself only as Debbie said: “American Apparel was here before us, and before that was a temporary furniture store outlet. They actually have a permanent tenant here now, coming in after us, but we had this two years in a row.”

The Spirit Halloween aisles were filled with colorful masks and outfits, including scary zombie outfits, superheroes and cartoon characters.

While Ricky’s has cut the number of its pop-up stores in New York, Spirit Halloween seems to be increasing them. Last year, the company said, it had more than 1,000 pop-ups in 49 states, compared with 63 in 1999.

Norsig said Halloween pop-ups had been increasing since 2009. “Last year, Halloween pop-up stores, I want to say were up 8 percent, over the year before. And the year before that was 15 percent up.”

While Ricky’s and Spirit Halloween carry both children and adult costumes, both seem to target adults, especially on their web sites. A search for “adult costumes” returns thousands of choices on either web site, far more than a search for “children’s costumes.”

Halloween pop-up shops also sold costumes and masks of political candidates, certainly more popular with adults than children.

The Halloween industry continues to grow every year. Over 70 percent of Americans plan to celebrate Halloween or participate in Halloween activities this year, a 20 percent increase since 2005, according to BIGinsight.

“After the storm, after two years, of Halloween almost being, not canceled but not quite full on, I have to wonder what next year is going to look like for the seasonal business.” said Norsig. “I’m just wondering if they’re going to scale back the amount because of the losses this year. I have to believe it wasn’t a stellar year in terms of the sales.”

Uneven Halloween in East Harlem

Articles and photos by Rebecca Ungarino

East Harlem Halloween 1

“We would be down at the parade right now, but it was canceled because of the storm,” said Little Red Riding Hood, with Velma and Alice in Wonderland on Madison Avenue.

After Hurricane Sandy clobbered the New York metropolitan area, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which some years attracted more than 50,000 celebrants, was canceled for the first time since its 1974 inception, taking a lot of energy out of Halloween for many people.

Both those in search of candy and their parents looked long and hard for Halloween spirit in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. (New Jersey took a different approach; by gubernatorial proclamation, Halloween was shifted to Monday, Nov. 5.)

In East Harlem, like many other neighborhoods, the range of reactions was broad.

Walking along Third Avenue above 100th Street was at first disheartening. Handmade “No Candy” signs – no doubt scrawled with haste to deter children from infiltrating stores — were hung in windows and on doors, and even on a manikin outside a thrift shop. One man was carefully shooing trick-or-treaters and accompanying parents out of a Dunkin’ Donuts between 108th and 109th Street, calling, “No candy, no candy!” Discouraged faces were everywhere.

At some stores, it was business as usual. From a narrow electronics store between 101st and 102nd Streets, the Ghostbusters theme song streamed out, mingling with the puffs of frosty breath of pedestrians going by.

Small clusters of four-foot-tall Batmen and Princess Jasmines appeared from inside storefronts and apartment steps. Three young girls were on the sidewalk, eager to describe their costumes to me. Alice in Wonderland said she lived near the FDR Drive. “We would be down at the parade right now, but it was canceled because of the storm,” Alice said wistfully. “We go every year.”

Her friend, in a bright orange bob wig and a brown sweater, was adjusting her drawstring backpack half full of candy. Referring to the Scooby Doo cartoon characters, she said: “I am Velma. I tried to be Daphne, but I ran out of money, so I’m Velma with my clothes.”

East Harlem Halloween 3

Bah, humbug (Halloween style).

Alongside was Little Red Riding Hood, with hooded red nylon cape, who explained: “I didn’t want to wear makeup for my costume. I never wear makeup. But sometimes my father says I should.”

On the northeast corner of 103rd Street and Third Avenue, a long table of goods was for sale — leather cellphone casings, pins with Mother Theresa’s face engraved, bags of candy bags, pairs of gloves. Alongside were rubber masks of grossly deformed men. Behind the table sat Johnny, who traveled from the Bronx to work the table with his uncle.

“It don’t even feel like Halloween ’cause of the storm,” he said. “We’re selling masks for less than the store. It’s been slow. People are buying the gloves, but not the masks.”

On a corner of 108th Street is Marketa 108, a deli visited by two ninja turtles, a witch and a small Barack Obama— all lined up to get candy from an elderly Asian man standing next to the fruit for sale. When I asked his name, he gave me a handful of suck-on candies out of a plastic bag and a huge smile, adding, “My name is Chan!”

On East 111th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues sits Lizabeth Tailoring, and Lizabeth was inside tending to a customer. A few customers, she said, had brought in costume dresses for her to hem.

Inside the Madison Avenue Methodist Church between 114th and 115th Streets, it was quiet, save for quiet conversation in the office to the left of the entry. Arthur McLean, the church treasurer, said: “If there were a younger congregation, there would be more programs. There is a Korean program this Saturday, and I’m sure if there were more young people in the congregation we would have a youth Halloween program, most likely.”

When I asked whether Halloween is a celebrated holiday at the church, he responded, “It’s really up to the individual.”

Farther north, the M. Futterman Corp. Wholesale Candy, was in full swing. Small Halloween-themed signs adorned the entrance. Inside were cotton spider webs hanging from the shelves and garlands hanging from the counter. The bustling employees behind the counter were all teenagers working at the family business. Oversized bags of assorted candy were displayed in the window.

“Three twenty-five for one bag,” the girl with the devil ears at the register said, noticing my eyes glued to the Tootsie Rolls. They even had candy cigarettes. “Everything in the window is three twenty-five.”

East Harlem Halloween 2

Luigi and Mario, who are real-life twins, on the prowl for lollipops.

“We were open at seven this morning,” said the manager, who declined to provide his name. “It wasn’t very busy until around one. It is especially cold this year. We weren’t open on Monday or Tuesday because of the storm. It would have been much busier. We know a lot of people who didn’t want to come out, so we made deliveries, by bicycle and by truck.”

Several blocks away, young twins dressed as Mario and Luigi searched for lollipops, undeterred by the cold weather. Beyond the two toddlers and their mother a tall man doled out candy from a wastebasket lined with a black plastic bag.

The self-declared Wizard of Oz of East 111th Street wished me a happy Halloween. Six feet tall with a wizard’s hat making him look even taller, he appeared to have sat outside his brownstone all day with his wife. A golden Halloween gong sat in front of his stoop, with a wrench on hand to bang it.

“I am just out here to entertain the neighbors,” the Wizard said.

Not such a dull Halloween after all.