Waffles and Whatchamacallits

Story and photos by Michele Runko

Customers dig into freshly made waffles from Wafels & Dinges.

Customers dig into freshly made waffles from Wafels & Dinges

Mmmm. Freshly made, warm waffles topped with strawberries, bananas and whipped cream and drizzled with melted chocolate are back at the Union Square Holiday Market. The Belgian-inspired Wafels & Dinges are selling like, well, hotcakes.

Despite the economic downturn, Wafels & Dinges, which won the 2009 Vendy Award in the dessert category for outstanding street food and is expected to appear on the Food Network’s “Throw Down with Bobby Flay” sometime this month, is mobbed with children, teens and holiday shoppers. The customers stand on long lines waiting for the waffles, which come with close to a dozen toppings, including the company’s signature Belgian chocolate fudge. The waffles, which sell for as little as $3 per mini-Wafelini plus one free topping, are made fresh each day. The company uses two different batter recipes; The soft and chewy Liege Waffle uses imported ingredients; the light and crispy Brussels waffle uses local ingredients. Fellow vendors at the market and Baruch students with ID enjoy a discount on the waffles.

“These waffles are just saturated with amazing goodness; I don’t know if I have the verb to describe such a feeling but it was absolutely … sublime,” says Daniel Kelly, a 22-year-old Baruch student, as he bit into his Brussels waffle coated with strawberries, bananas, whip cream and Nutella. “A transcending experience.”

Cooks prepare the stand's award-winning waffles.

Cooks prepare the stand’s award-winning waffles.

This is the second year that the waffle stand, with its yellow sign and fluffy confections, has appeared on Union Square, the aroma of sizzling dough and molten chocolate wafting over the park during the holiday season. The business was started in 2007 when Thomas Degeest, a management consultant at IBM left his job so that he could open up his own “authentic” Belgian waffle company. Degeest, who hails from Belgium, called his business Wafels & Dinges because, in Dutch, dinges means toppings.

The waffles are made to order by the company’s part-time workers and John and Sonia Hiedel, a married couple who have worked with Degeest since he founded the company. “The business has been good even with the economy downturn,” says Sonia. “Everyone is very, very happy when they see or they smell waffles. Comfort food will always sell in a bad market. When someone’s walking by and they smell our waffles it’s hard to resist.”

This year the waffle stand can be found at the Holiday Market in Union Square from November 25th to December 24th. The company, which owns two waffle trucks, appears daily at two different locations in New York throughout the year. For exact times and locations visit the Wafels & Dinges Web site at www.wafelsanddinges.com; its Twitter address – waffletruck; its Facebook site; or call the waffle hotline at (866) 257-7329.

Christmas Shopping for a Good Cause at Columbus Circle

Story and photos by Miluska Berrospi

Sister Irina will be running the booth through Dec. 24th. All purchases directly support the convent and its help centers in Belarus.

Sister Irina will be running the booth through Dec. 24th. All purchases directly support the convent and its help centers in Belarus.

The holiday shopping season triggers panic in many shoppers, and the long lines, desperation for merchandise and crowded stores are enough to blur the true meaning of the season. St. Elisabeth’s booth, located in the Holiday Market at Columbus Circle, just might help inject some inspiration into the season.

“Be grateful for everything you have, good and bad,” said Sister Irina of St. Elisabeth’s convent in Belarus, as she stood outside her small booth in the heart of the market, on a blistery cold December day.

Her booth stands out from the rest of the stands, which offer selections of food, clothing and jewelry. Rather than a display of gift items, the booth is filled with hand-crafted religious icons, statues and paintings.

“All of these were made in our workshops in Belarus,” says Sister Irina, her soft voice tinged with a Russian accent.

The proceeds of the sales go to St. Elisabeth’s Convent, in Belarus – a small country between Russia and Poland that was part of the Soviet Union. Founded in 1999, the convent’s purpose, according to a pamphlet on display at the booth, is to “provide spiritual and social help for the sick and the suffering.” The convent does this through various help centers in Belarus; its main center is at the National Psychiatric Hospital in Minsk.

The hospital treats children and adults who suffer from mental and physical illnesses, including alcoholism, depression and physical disabilities. A boarding school cares for children who are orphans or who have been rejected by their parents because they suffer from Down’s syndrome, birth traumas or congenital physical defects.

Most of the religious items sold at St. Elisabeth's booth in the Holiday Market at Columbus Circle are made by the nuns, as well as by the orphans and patients who are supported by the convent in Belarus.

Most of the religious items sold at St. Elisabeth’s booth in the Holiday Market at Columbus Circle are made by the nuns, as well as by the orphans and patients who are supported by the convent in Belarus.

The convent and its centers operate through donations and workshops. The workshops produce woodwork, furniture, metalwork, candlesticks and paintings. The goods are made by nuns, patients, children in the convent and volunteers. All the goods at the Columbus Circle market were shipped straight from the convent in Belarus.

“Not everybody wants these people; they are human beings and there should be someone to take care of them,” says Sister Irina. “We are God’s image. Everything and everyone should have a purpose.”

Many customers stop and marvel at the beautifully carved candlesticks and icons. Some shoppers make their holiday purchases unaware of the impact their money will have. The Holiday Market at Columbus Circle is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m- 8 p.m; Sunday, 10 a.m-7 p.m, through Dec. 24 (The market closes at 4 p.m. on Dec. 24) More information on the convent is available at its Web site, www.obitel-minsk.by.

When Spidey Met Bambi

By Abdul Siddiqui

Ghost Rider. Photo courtesy of Marvel Characters Inc.

Ghost Rider.  Photo courtesy of Marvel Characters Inc.

When Disney struck a deal to acquire comic book giant Marvel in August, many Marvel fans were distressed, suspecting Wolverine would be turned into Bambi and the Hulk into the eighth dwarf. Those fears are unfounded.

The acquisition, approved by Marvel on Dec. 31, makes perfect sense.

Yes, Disney paid a premium for Marvel, offering TK a share, 29 percent above the market value. And, yes, as soon as the agreement was announced, various other companies that own rights to many Marvel properties were quick to assert those rights. Many of Marvel’s biggest names are signed away to other companies indefinitely, including film and TV rights to Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, X-Men and Fantastic Four, Michael Nathanson of Bernstein Research has pointed out. Other rights, such as distribution of films, integration into theme parks, merchandising of various characters and video game development of certain characters are locked up for at least few years in most cases.

Yet the deal still makes sense because it will allow both companies to grow significantly. In 2008, 62 percent of Marvel’s revenue came from licensing, and more than a third of that was generated internationally. Given Disney’s strength in the international consumer product market, Nathanson predicts that Disney will be able to boost Marvel’s international revenue by at least $40 million annually.

Disney can also cut some Marvel costs, using its own international operations to oversee Marvel’s, which is expected to generate an additional $21 million a year.

Daredevil. Photo courtesy of Marvel Characters Inc.

Daredevil.  Photo courtesy of Marvel Characters Inc.

Disney also has many more “consumer touch points,” Nathanson says, so it is likely to be able to strike better licensing deals in the future than Marvel itself could. In addition, Disney’s Disney XD channel already carries more than 20 hours of Marvel programming each week, so Disney will now save those licensing costs.

Overall, this will enable Disney to claim advertising revenue from these shows and have a competitive edge against other “boy-centric” networks, such as VIA’s NICK and TWX’s Cartoon Network, says George L. Hawkey of Barclays Capital.

The greatest risk in the acquisition is whether Disney will be able to turn Marvel’s lesser-known characters – such as Thor and Luke Cage – into cash cows, says Hamilton Faber of Atlantic Equities. Nathanson is more optimistic, noting that films featuring less well-known characters, like Daredevil and Ghost Rider, “managed to gross over $200m globally.”

The family genre is “a Disney core competency,” he adds, but Marvel will “undoubtedly improve Disney’s competitive standing” in the adult action market segment.

When Disney paid $7.4 billion for Pixar in 2006, Pixar “did not have the licensing and/or publishing businesses that are part of the Marvel franchise,” Drew Crum and David Pang of Stifel Nicolaus said in a report.

So when all is said and done, Donald Duck and Wolverine and all their friends should make a good team.

Battered but Not Broken: Hope Lives Among LGBTQ Homeless Youth

By Holdyn E. Brand

homeless_youthSixteen years old, struggling, and longing to find the mother she never knew, Zariah left her home in North Carolina and her ailing grandmother who raised her to come to Brooklyn only to struggle and live longingly in a completely different way. At first, everything went well. She and her brother, Antonio, lived with her mother and they all got along well. “But then he got locked up and I realized everything my grandmother was saying for 16 years was correct about her,” she said. “My mother was asking me for $100 every week because she is an addict. She does crack, heroin, all kinds of drugs.”

Zariah wanted no part of her mother’s habit. “I don’t do those and I don’t support it, so when I told her I wasn’t going to give her $100 a week she told me, ‘Either give me a hundred dollars or I am kicking you out,’ and she kicked me out,” she said.

This was just the beginning of 19-year-old Zariah’s story. The young homeless teen, who identifies as bisexual, had always dreamed of having an amazing life in New York City with her mother and brother. However, reuniting with her mother she was hit with several harsh realities about New York City and her situation; her hope-filled dreams quickly became living nightmares.

Zariah, her preferred name – a name homeless teens use instead of their legal names – chose this name for herself only a few days before the interview. Zariah was betrayed by a parent and shunned for having a different lifestyle, which became her mother’s rationale for kicking her out. The day she became homeless was the day she realized she had to literally fight for her place in the world. With nowhere to turn and no place to go, Zariah took to the streets and did whatever she could to hold onto her part-time job at Target and maintain being a straight “A” student at a Brooklyn High School where she enrolled while living with her mother, all while having no family support or home to stay safe in.

“When she kicked me out basically I had nowhere to go. I was sleeping on the train, I would go from friend to friend’s house, sleeping on the beach, which sounds fun like it’s a beautiful thing, but after you do it enough the beauty of the sand and water just becomes sad because it isn’t a home and your things are in bags. I did this while I was in school and working, it was really hard. I found out the hard way that you cannot trust people period. Right now I don’t even know where my mother is.”

Zariah was able to hide the truth of her homelessness from her friends and teachers for a while after getting kicked out because her teachers were so fond of her attitude and academic prowess that they would often take her out to dinner and shopping. Likewise, her friends loved to have her over as she was generally selfless and joyful. However, she reached a point where she couldn’t hide it any longer. The reality of living out of plastic bags and sleeping wherever it was safe to rest her head started to wear on her. She found shelters and organizations such as New Alternatives and Street Works – a drop-in center for the homeless – to get meals and, if she was one of the lucky ones who had the time and patience to wait in line for seemingly interminable hours, a bed. At these organizations she was inspired to hold her head up high and go to college and be successful.

“The hardest part about being homeless is embracing the fact that you have nowhere to live, you cannot call the shelter your house because it isn’t. The winters are worse because whenever it gets cold, the shelters get fuller, and being in assessment shelters is like basically you go from one shelter to the next. If they are full you have nowhere to go and you go to trains and pretend; I would pretend the train was my house,” she said during an interview at a weekly Sunday dinner hosted by New Alternatives.

VIDEO: Interview with Zariah

For the estimated 8,000 to 10,000 New York City homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth on the streets at any given night, staying safe on the streets is only half the battle; the other half is finding food, shelter, and opportunities for personal and professional development while remaining positive through unimaginably difficult times. For this burgeoning group in the city’s large population (as a result of the current economic crisis and anti-gay sentiments), hope is often as elusive as food and shelter. But for those who refuse to become victims of their circumstance, home is where the heart is and hope undeniably resides in the soul.

According to a recent report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the number of homeless and runaway youth ranges from 575,000 to 1.6 million per year. [One] Our analysis of the available research suggests that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). [Two] Given that between 3 percent and 5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual, it is clear that LGBT youth experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate.”

What is undeniably true is that each year hundreds of LGBTQ youth become homeless for numerous reasons, the most common reasons are family issues, personal economic problems, poor decisions, and most devastatingly, for simply being gay.

“There are as many causes as there are children, but the thing I hear over and over again (and it still shocks me) is that kids are kicked out of their homes for coming out; and it shocks me because I simply cannot imagine turning on a child in that way,” said Russell Suggs, President of New Alternatives – a nonprofit organization located within Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan’s East Village. New Alternatives provides weekly meals and advocacy, life skills training, education, immigration assistance, housing assistance, court representation and assistance to LGBTQ homeless youth.

VIDEO: Interview with Russell Suggs

As early as 16, and sometimes younger, many teenagers and young adults are forced from their homes all across the country. “They come from all walks of life and all stages. The population consists of everything from kids who are in college, high school, in temporary housing, and kids who are street kids, left to fend for themselves,” said Suggs.

Many find their way to New York City under the toughest conditions. Often they are filled with delusions of grandeur about life in the city and its perceived openness towards the gay community. However, once they come to the city, they experience a completely different reality – one filled with homophobia and tribulations from all sides.

This is why it is so important to have LGBTQ-specific homeless organizations with programs for the youth to continue their education and personal development, according to advocates who work with this population. Many agencies work so hard to address the problem of homelessness at large, and consequently overlook the real remedy – getting homeless youth the personal and professional development they need so that they can help themselves.

According to Jeffery Ream, a New Alternatives board member, the traditional way of thinking about the LGBTQ homeless community was that those members could simply utilize general homeless services such as soup kitchens and shelters. However, many of these sites have proven to be dangerous for sexual minority youth, who encounter homophobia and violence from staff members and heterosexual homeless youth and adults.

“When they try to access traditional homeless services they encounter homophobia by both the staff and the other homeless people,” said Ream. “They risk getting beaten, harassed, and much worse; this is why they need LGBTQ specific homeless shelters and developmental services.”

Organizations such as New Alternatives help to fill this problematic area. At the very least they provide a weekly meal. At most, they provide peer-to-peer and one-on-one volunteer counseling, workshops for personal development, and most of all a compassionate and caring staff solely devoted to helping their homeless members. However, due to city budget cuts that specifically impact LGBTQ-specific programs as well as a lack of volunteers, New Alternatives and other such organizations are finding it hard to stay afloat and expand their services to reach more LGBTQ homeless youth.

The Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) is the city agency that is in charge of dealing with the problem of LGBTQ youth homelessness. It is not the Department of Homeless Services that deals with homelessness on a larger scale without regard for sexuality. The New Alternative website asserts, “The New York City Department of Youth and Community Development has decided to turn their backs on this incredibly vulnerable population by systematically defunding LGBT-specific youth programs.”

“DYCD and other funding organizations believe that it should be enough that they are funding homeless service organizations and that the LGBTQ youth should be able to find comparable assistance from those organizations. However, they simply do not get equivalent services and the data shows this,” said Ream.

With regards to sexual minority-specific programs, DYCD disagrees and challenges such allegations of abandoning homosexual related issues by cutting services and funding. The department’s press officer, Ryan Dodge, said, “We believe that while many LGBTQ youth are best-served in an environment with special supports to help them confront issues related to their sexuality or sexual identity (along with all the other supports that a youth in crisis may need), other LGBTQ youth are well-suited to a mixed environment and feel most comfortable amongst a peer group with varied backgrounds and experiences. Young people should have the choice, and we will continue to offer them choices.”

What’s more, Dodge said, “when it comes to its fiscal responsibility to LGBTQ youth, the department has also increased funding for the 2010 fiscal year to approximately $11.2 million which is an increase from the 2009 fiscal year budget which was $10.5 million. And, we are proud of the high-quality services DYCD-funded programs provide to LGBTQ youth, whether they are seeking RHY [Runaway Homeless Youth] services, afterschool programs, or youth leadership programs.”

Although the popular perception among many LGBTQ-specific organizations is that the department is to blame, other organizations and city officials do believe that the city, especially the DYCD, has done a lot to develop and fund LGBTQ programs that address youth homelessness.

In an Oct. 15 press release on the department’s website, Mayor Bloomberg recently announced the launch of New York City’s Commission for LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth. The Commission “is charged with devising strategies to address the unique needs of LGBT youth before they run away, to provide homeless youth with both shelter and the support they need to live independently, or to help them reunite with their families when appropriate.” Despite the Mayor’s newly appointed commission and efforts by the DYCD and nonprofit organizations, for thousands of the city’s homeless LGBTQ youth there are simply not enough programs for them to actively engage in for their personal development, or safe spaces for them to have a decent meal and rest their heads each night. When compared to the funding received by other agencies for other youth-related issues, the DYCD’s approved budget for LGBTQ youth services is among the lowest.

With what many in this field perceive as a bleak outlook for the city’s organizations that provide specific programs and services for this group in our population, one must wonder where the inner-strength, bravery, and unwavering sense of hope comes from for homeless teens such as Zariah. She goes to John Adams High School where she attends the night program from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. From 8 a.m. to noon, she works at Jamaica Hospital in the cardiology ward as an administrative assistant. Although she still has no place to call her home and she utilizes the city’s shelters for a place to sleep and bathe, Zariah will graduate in January and plans to attend Norfolk University in Virginia in the fall.

Her success is not unique; in fact, there are many more stories of young homeless youth who refuse to become victims of their circumstance and, when given the chance, make the most out of every opportunity that comes before them. Their journeys may be turbulent but they do not all end in tears and brokenness.

After the interview, Zariah let out a nervous laughter that sort of betrayed her unwavering confidence throughout the interview. When I asked her if she was okay she said, “I love to share my story, I just hope I did good because I was trying so hard not to cry.”

For more information on New Alternatives visit www.newalternativesnyc.org.

For more information on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in NYC visit: www.nyc.gov (Department of Youth and Community Development)

Dreams Ending in Young Motherhood

By José Bayona

young_motherhood_1When Roxana Penagos emigrated from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to New York in April 2001, one of her goals was to finish high school. She was 15 and healthy, but her life took another road few months later. Instead of opening a school record, she established a medical record with an obstetrician at a hospital in Queens when she found out she was expecting.

“After I got pregnant I never went back to school,” says Penagos, 24, a full-time mother who lives in Flushing, Queens, with her husband, a security officer who works for Rite Aid, and their three children, Joseph, 7, Ashley, 4, and Angela, 18 months.

Penagos never planned to become a mother at 15. She knew about contraceptive methods but “at that age you don’t think in the consequences; only in the moment,” she says. “And later you don’t know how to handle your problems. I was really scared.”

After giving birth to Joseph, Penagos not only put aside school plans, but started a period of discovery. She had to learn step by step, and by herself, how to be a Latina teenager immigrant mom, undocumented, and who didn’t speak English. “When you are a young mother society doesn’t treat you well. Even in the hospital you cannot take out your own son if your parents or an adult is not there.”

Penagos’s mother, who still lives in Bolivia, was the only family support the teenager mom had back then. When Joseph was sick, she either prayed or made a long distance call to her mother to ask for medical advice. She didn’t know that her son – a U.S. citizen – could be eligible for a medical insurance. “As a new immigrant you think the law here is the same than in your country, and if you don’t speak the language, you feel more isolated.”

Today, Penagos “gets by with her English,” she says. She is making plans for the future, but knows she has to wait years to achieve them. “I want to raise my children and teach them what is good and bad, and that everything in life has its consequences,” she says. “I want to study languages afterwards, but first I have to get my high school diploma. If I could, I’d do it now, but I have to wait until they grow more and go to school.”

Every year, the number of Latina teenager immigrant mothers in the United States, like Penagos, grows steadily. Most of them postpone or give up high school or college education and have to raise a child by themselves. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Latina teens give birth at a higher rate than that of white teens. A report issued by the center last January, shows that white mothers under the age of 20 had a birth rate of 9.4 percent compared to Latina teens whom had a birth rate of 14.3 percent.

Silvia Henriquez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, is pretty familiar with stories like Penago’s. Her organization works to overcome the structural barriers that Latina teen moms face when they try to access reproductive health services, and to create information specifically for the Latino community on how to have safe sex, healthy relationships and to navigate the health care system.

“The ‘one size fits all’ messages in campaigns preventing teen pregnancy are just not working to the full extent,” says Henriquez. “We need to take in account all of the needs of the community and we have to look at its diversity.”

Henriquez notes that the high rate of Latina teen pregnancies can be devastating for the Latino community in the future if there is not assistance in place when young Latinas do decide to become mothers. “They need resources to be able to be a parent and have access to health information,” she says.

In New York City, the National Latina Institute works with teen moms in the five boroughs. Experience tells Henriquez that even though this is not a rural area where health services are often scarce, there is still a lot of work to be done. “One of the challenges Latinas face here is the lack of adequate reproductive health services in many of the city’s clinics. We still find that in every community whether Latino or Asian,” she says.

In the last 20 years, the majority of immigrants have come to this country from Latin America, and it is estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau that 40 percent of the Latinos in this nation are foreign-born. Haydee Zambrana, executive director of Latin Women in Action, a nonprofit organization based in Corona, Queens, has spent the last two decades working with that immigrant population. She agrees with the fact that high Latina pregnancy rates will have an adverse impact in the community at long term.

“Our population continues to increase. Children having children. They are 15 or 16 and overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being parents themselves,” says Zambrana, whose organization provide, among other services, immigration advice and advocacy for families whose children has been removed by the NYC Administrations for Children’s Services. “Because of that looming situation we also see a high incidence of Latino children in foster care.”

Zambrana also highlights another naked truth. Latinas immigrants living in impoverished communities are less likely to receive reproductive health care, contraceptives or sex education due to the lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services. Her years of work in Corona further confirmed to her that most of the Latino immigrant families choose not to talk to their children about sex.

Twenty-four-year-old Colombian immigrant Angélica Acosta, far left, and her three children.

Twenty-four-year-old Colombian immigrant Angélica Acosta, far left, and her three children.

Angélica Acosta, 24, did not have to emigrate to the United States to corroborate Zambrana’s last asseveration. Acosta’s parents never talked to her about sex when she was a teenager in her native Cali, Colombia. At 15 she found out she was three months pregnant but didn’t know how and why. She ran away from home and ended up living at the home of her boyfriend’s grandmother.

“It was a very difficult time, but I survived,” says Acosta, who now lives in Jersey City, N.J., with her husband, Jorge Acosta, and their three children, Sebastian, 9, Shaiel, 4, and Sara, 3. “Today, I have a better communication with my parents but I wish they would have told me everything that happens when you have sex.”

Acosta’s venture from Colombia to the United States started seven years ago when she graduated from high school and discerned an uncertain future there as a young mother –her boyfriend was killed six months after she gave birth. She had to leave Sebastian, her son, with her parents for five years until he was granted a U.S. immigrant visa two years ago.

After a tortuous trip through various countries, she finally arrived here and reunited with her future husband, whom she had met the year before in Colombia. “I thought about going to school back then,” says Acosta, who was 18 at that time. “I studied English for some months, but I stopped because I started to work and didn’t have time.”

Two years later her first daughter, Shaiel, came, and the following year Sara did. Family obligations increased, and school prospects decreased. “Right now, I don’t have any plans to go to college. I want to learn more English and support my sons while they are in school,” says Acosta. “I am happy of being a young mother, and I’m glad I had Sebastian when I was a teenager because that experience made me grow.”

As for the future, Acosta wants to open a small child care business and help her husband, who works as a limousine driver, to open a limousine service company. “For now, I just want to work,” she says.

The Banks Need a Bailout, Skaters Say

Story, photos and video by Jessica Lawson

Under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and across from Police Plaza in downtown Manhattan, a paradise exists. Strewn with trash and graffiti, the steep brick slope embankments that support the entrance ramps for the iconic bridge have been an internationally known and fabled skate spot for decades. Chances are most New Yorkers have never heard of Brooklyn Banks. But for a select few, it defines the city and its action sport scene.

“Not only is this a skate spot, it’s a tourist attraction, it’s a landmark. This place is famous,” said Zippy Zeitlin, 14. “Not only for skateboarding but for the place itself. It’s an amazing place.” Zeitlin, a Brooklyn native, has been skating the banks since he was six years old.

Much to the disappointment of those who frequent the park, the Parks Department, which owns the land, announced in October that the Department of Transportation would be using the area as a staging ground and storage area for rehabilitation work on the Brooklyn Bridge, leaving many without their favorite place to skate.

The skating and BMX community centered around the Brooklyn Banks waited anxiously for several months for the official details of the rehabilitation project to emerge. On Dec. 3, the Dept. of Transportation announced that the entire banks would be closed for at least the first half of 2010. The city has yet to announce whether a portion of the banks will be reopened to skaters during the remainder of the renovation work, which is expected to last until 2014, but advocates are keeping their fingers crossed.

This is not the first time that the fate of the Brooklyn Banks has been in peril. Although a haven for freestyle and street skaters since at least the early 80s, the spot is not an official skate park. In 2004, the city closed the plaza for renovations and intended to make the entire 2.75-acre space a green area.

For at least the last five years, Steve Rodriguez, 38, has become the banks’ de facto spokesperson. When the spot was threatened in 2004, he worked with the Parks Department to ensure that once renovations were completed, the area would still be skateable. The city made good on their promise, and in 2005 the park reopened.

Now four years later, the banks was being threatened once again with closure. Word spread quickly in the skateboarding and BMXing communities, through word of mouth and blogs. It was Rodriguez’s intention to try and work with city officials by getting them to agree to either shorten the timeframe that the park would be unrideable by pushing for construction in stages, or at least keep a small portion of the banks open for skating.

It’s easy to see why Rodriguez, owner of 5boro Skateboards, is so invested in preserving the spot. He has been skating the Brooklyn Banks for nearly 25 years and has hosted a popular skateboard competition, Back to the Banks, on site since 2005. “I care about where I live, what I’ve skated, the cultural significance of this spot to kids and adults that grew up skating here. I think it’s something worth fighting for, a part of New York City,” he said. “I saw people come before me become involved in their community and make things better for me, so I figure I have to do that for them, or the next generation.”

Other skaters were equally frustrated with the back and forth struggle to save the banks. Dave Caddo, a pro skateboarder with sponsorships from Adidas and Creation has been skating the Brooklyn Banks for 10 years. “We already fought once to get it saved and now to go through all that with the city. What do they think, go through all that, let us turn it into a park, but a couple years later, ‘Never mind, we’re just going to shut it down’ I’m sure they could figure out something else to do besides just using this for construction storage, or could at least use a section for it and leave a section open…I mean look at the place, it’s just a piss poor area, there’s bird crap every where, it’s just disgusting, why not let us skate it?” Caddo said one afternoon between runs at the park.

On a cool and sunny recent Saturday afternoon, Brooklyn Banks was packed. Despite the fact that there was a skate event only 10 blocks away at Coleman Park in the Lower East Side, at least 100 people were skating, BMXing or performing tricks on Razor scooters. On weekends when the weather is gracious, people from all over the five boroughs, New Jersey and even tourists come to practice their craft, meet up with friends, and document themselves performing complicated stunts. In the action sports world where groups can be cliquish and fragmentary, BMXers and skaters coexist here, weaving in and out from each other trying to nail the same obstacles.

To those outside of the realm of extreme sports, it may be difficult to understand why there is such a fuss about the spot. The city Parks Department operates nine skate parks throughout the five boroughs, but most of these require a signed consent waiver, helmets and safety pads, and a majority of them do not allow bikes. Not to mention, the parks are all man-made expressly for the purpose of skating. The Brooklyn Banks is unique, in that it was never intended to be used as a skate park; rather, it came to be organically with obstacles sprouting naturally thanks to the urban planning and design of M. Paul Friedberg.

Eight-year-old Gene Clemetson Jr. at the Brooklyn Banks.

Eight-year-old Gene Clemetson Jr. at the Brooklyn Banks.

“The guy who designed this had no idea he was designing one of the best skate parks in the world. And that’s what makes it even better, it’s authentic,” said Rodriguez.

Friedberg, who was interviewed for a recent documentary about skateboarding in New York City called “Deathbowl to Downtown,” agrees that he never intended for the space to be used for a recreational area, but finds it interesting that that’s what the banks have become. ” What is fascinating to me is how we interpret out environment, how we use our imagination to do things, involve ourselves in activities that were not intended. We create an opportunity out of what we see.”

While there’s no doubt that people will find other places to skate and BMX while the city works on rehabbing the bridge, it will be hard to match the excitement of skating in such a legendary and uncommon spot. “They’ll go in the street, they’ll go where the community doesn’t want them to go. They want to ride where people before them have ridden, they want to ride these banks, they want to skate this sacred ground,” said Rodriguez.

Zeitlin agrees with Rodriguez, “Every other park is so industrialized and made for skateboarding. This is the only street spot where it’s safe to go, where people don’t kick you out and it’s still a gnarly spot where you can skate and have fun without having to deal with security guards or crack heads.”

In the months since first hearing of the imminent closure of the renowned skate spot, Rodriguez kept in touch with the Dept. of Transportation and a Community Outreach and AICP Certified Planner for the project Sabrina Lau. Rodriguez was optimistic that the Dept. of Transportation would work with him and the community to come to some sort of compromise, while also being realistic and acknowledging that maintenance must get done on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The highly anticipated official statement from the city outlined that painting of the bridge is expected to begin around Jan. 15, 2010, at which time the park will be entirely closed. “After the painting work in this area is complete, anticipated for mid 2010, the park will be reopened with the exception of the storage area. The park will completely reopen when the rehabilitation is completed. DOT has been working closely with Steve Rodriguez, spokesperson for the Brooklyn Banks and the communities that use it, to share this space without compromising the vital reconstruction of the Brooklyn Bridge,” the release read.

As of now, it remains to be seen exactly what the fate of the park will be and whether the portion that is supposed to be reopened after painting will be skateable. Rodriguez is continuing to reach out to the Dept. of Transportation and asking to keep a small section of the south end of the park open to skaters and bikers during the construction period expected to last until 2014. He also said that he is reaching out to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to try and get the Brooklyn Banks landmarked.

In an email update to supporters of the skate spot with the official release and continuing plans, Rodriguez thanked everyone for their involvement and wrote, “The power of all of our communities who use the space has been felt and we have their full and complete attention.”

To those outside of the realm of extreme sports, it may be difficult to understand why there is such a fuss about the spot. The city Parks Department operates nine skate parks throughout the five boroughs, but most of these require a signed consent waiver, helmets and safety pads, and a majority of them do not allow bikes. Not to mention, the parks are all man-made expressly for the purpose of skating. The Brooklyn Banks is unique, in that it was never intended to be used as a skate park; rather, it came to be organically with obstacles sprouting naturally thanks to the urban planning and design of M. Paul Friedberg.

“The guy who designed this had no idea he was designing one of the best skate parks in the world. And that’s what makes it even better, it’s authentic,” said Rodriguez.

Friedberg, who was interviewed for a recent documentary about skateboarding in New York City called “Deathbowl to Downtown,” agrees that he never intended for the space to be used for a recreational area, but finds it interesting that that’s what the banks have become. ” What is fascinating to me is how we interpret out environment, how we use our imagination to do things, involve ourselves in activities that were not intended. We create an opportunity out of what we see.”

While there’s no doubt that people will find other places to skate and BMX while the city works on rehabbing the bridge, it will be hard to match the excitement of skating in such a legendary and uncommon spot. “They’ll go in the street, they’ll go where the community doesn’t want them to go. They want to ride where people before them have ridden, they want to ride these banks, they want to skate this sacred ground,” said Rodriguez.

Zeitlin agrees with Rodriguez, “Every other park is so industrialized and made for skateboarding. This is the only street spot where it’s safe to go, where people don’t kick you out and it’s still a gnarly spot where you can skate and have fun without having to deal with security guards or crack heads.”

In the months since first hearing of the imminent closure of the renowned skate spot, Rodriguez kept in touch with the Dept. of Transportation and a Community Outreach and AICP Certified Planner for the project Sabrina Lau. Rodriguez was optimistic that the Dept. of Transportation would work with him and the community to come to some sort of compromise, while also being realistic and acknowledging that maintenance must get done on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The highly anticipated official statement from the city outlined that painting of the bridge is expected to begin around Jan. 15, 2010, at which time the park will be entirely closed. “After the painting work in this area is complete, anticipated for mid 2010, the park will be reopened with the exception of the storage area. The park will completely reopen when the rehabilitation is completed. DOT has been working closely with Steve Rodriguez, spokesperson for the Brooklyn Banks and the communities that use it, to share this space without compromising the vital reconstruction of the Brooklyn Bridge,” the release read.

As of now, it remains to be seen exactly what the fate of the park will be and whether the portion that is supposed to be reopened after painting will be skateable. Rodriguez is continuing to reach out to the Dept. of Transportation and asking to keep a small section of the south end of the park open to skaters and bikers during the construction period expected to last until 2014. He also said that he is reaching out to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to try and get the Brooklyn Banks landmarked.

In an email update to supporters of the skate spot with the official release and continuing plans, Rodriguez thanked everyone for their involvement and wrote, “The power of all of our communities who use the space has been felt and we have their full and complete attention.”

Spanish-Language Bookstores Struggle to Survive

By Cynthia Via

Caliope, on the border of Washington Heights and Inwood in northern Manahttan, closed after 12 years.
Photograph by Remi Hu
     Caliope, on the border of Washington Heights and Inwood in northern
Manahttan, closed after 12 years.

The afternoon light was just fading over Dyckman Street in northern Manhattan one afternoon last month as César González, the owner of Librería Caliope, a Spanish-language bookstore, sat outside his store, selling books from a table on the street. His store was closed and a for-rent sign hung in the window.

Just a few weeks before, he had been evicted for failing to pay the rent. Gonzalez, who still hopes he can save Caliope, had been waiting for a shipment of merchandise, he recalls, but “instead of the merchandise, the marshal came.”

“It is a shame,” says Amauri Taveras, 28, a Washington Heights resident, of the shuttering of Librería Caliope, which was named for the Greek muse of heroic poetry. “It was never empty when I stopped by, so I figured they did decent business,” Taveras, a native of the Dominican Republic believed Caliope was “a great place in the neighborhood to begin exploring your roots.”

Librería Caliope is the latest of several Spanish-language bookstores in New York City that have been forced to close shop in recent years. Confronting both an economic downturn and competition from large booksellers, like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, as well as e-readers, which sell e-books at steeply discounted prices, two of the city’s largest Spanish bookstores – Macondo and Lectorum – closed four years ago.

Situated on West 14th Street, these stores were victims of changing demographics; as downtown became trendy, real estate prices rose and Latin American immigrants – the stores’ core customers – moved out. Lectorum closed after nearly a century of doing business.

“Lectorum was not prepared for the change,” says Roman Caraballo, owner of Barco de Papel, in Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the few surviving Spanish-language bookstores. There was a “lack of vision,” he adds.

Earlier this year, Cemi Underground, in East Harlem, also went out of business.

Librería Continental in Washington Heights tries to stand out by specializing in on wellness-related topics, and it has a loyal following.
Photograph by Remi Hu
     Librería Continental in Washington Heights tries to stand out by
specializing in on wellness-related topics, and it has a loyal following.

Only a handful of bookstores specializing in Spanish-language books remain in the metropolitan area. Surviving owners, including Caraballo, say diversification is the only way for these specialty stores to stay in business.

For example, Librería Continental, in Washington Heights, carries Spanish-language newspapers, magazines, dictionaries and rare books, as well as some English-language books, which they sell for $1 each. But the store concentrates on wellness-related topics. Liberería Continental has a large selection of books on psychology, spirituality, religion and self-help, targeted at prisoners, as well as rare books. The store also sells incense and oils used for meditation and to alleviate stress. In addition, the store hosts community discussions on spirituality and metaphysics.

“This is one of the most important resources in the neighborhood … encouraging Latino youth to read in Spanish, learn more about their culture, and a meeting place for local intellectuals,” says Gabriel Felix, 23.

Rent is about $2,500 a month for most small businesses of 500 square feet in Washington Heights, according New Heights Realty. That amount does not include other expenses, which range anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 and can make it difficult for a small bookstore like Continental to stay open. Currently Librería Continental has 12 to 15 customers a day, each customer spending about $20 to $40.

Ildefonso Lopez, the owner of Librería Continental, believes there will always be a market for Spanish-language books.
Photograph by Remi Hu
     Ildefonso Lopez, the owner of Librería Continental, believes there will
always be a market for Spanish-language books.

Purchases by customers have dropped by about half during the recession, to one or two per visit, down from four or five when the economy was stronger, says Ildefonso Lopez, the owner of Librería Continental.

Barco de Papel’s Caraballo came to the United States from Cuba in 1990s and began selling books on the streets. Before opening his own bookstore in 2003, he worked for Lectorum.

Barco de Papel, which means paper boat in Spanish, specializes in children’s books and also serves older customers looking for Spanish literature. The store hosts readings to promote books and signing events for local writers, as well as a monthly Spanish-language theater program geared to promoting Spanish and Latin American culture. The children’s theater program is free; it is run by volunteers and partially funded with donations from families and local schools. For Caraballo the key is to “create loyal customers.”

“Every neighborhood has their traditional aspect – its restaurants, churches, markets, and bookstores,” he says.

Barco de Papel’s greatest asset is its location. The bookstore benefits from the diversity and the number of Latin American immigrants in Jackson Heights. It is also near the train, a clinic and Elmhurst Hospital, one of the biggest in the area. And because it’s just off Roosevelt Avenue, it gets a lot of foot traffic, yet the rent is not as high as it is for the stores on Roosevelt Avenue.

Barco de Papel, in Jackson Heights, Queens, specializes in children's books.
Photograph by Remi Hu
     Barco de Papel, in Jackson Heights, Queens, specializes in children’s books.

Still, business remains difficult, and Caraballo says profits are flat over last year. Barco de Papel sells books on the street at a discount. And it has had to cut prices dramatically. “People expect to buy them for a cheaper price nowadays,” says Mr. Caraballo.

Many small bookstores have opted to open Web sites in the hope of attracting more customers. Librería Donatina, another Jackson Heights bookstore, sells rare books from its site. Although it sells many rare books that cannot be found on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, it is harder to for smaller Web sites to thrive, because the popular websites come up first on search engines.

“People are buying books that they are being told to read or to look for by the publishing companies and adverting campaigns,” says Ruben Ramirez, the manager of Librería Donatina.

Librería Continental is also planning to launch a site, but, for now, continues to take orders via email. As for Barco de Papel, the store plans to start a Web site but doesn’t want to rush the process for fear that it will be too costly. “We don’t want to copy a form of selling if we can’t maintain it,” says Mr. Caraballo.

As for the future, owners like Caraballo and Continental’s Lopez believe there will always be a need for Spanish-language bookstores as a place to cultivate culture and gather the community.” Books are always going to exist, not everyone will have a computer or a digital book,” says Lopez, who believes the market for books will revive when the job market picks up.

Caraballo from Barco de Papel agrees. “The cultural demand is less, but there is a section of people that appreciate books,” he says. “I will stay here until the end.”

Indeed, before the owner of Caliope, the Dyckman Street bookstore, was evicted, writers, friends and local businesses protested and sold raffle tickets to re-open the bookstore. So far, neither the efforts of the community nor of Gonazalez, the owner, have been successful.

Gonzalez hopes, eventually, to cut a deal with his landlord, the Fireside Pentecostal Church, and reopen Caliope, which specialized in books by Puerto Rican and Dominican authors and others from the Caribbean. “This is what I like to do,” says Gonzalez. “But this type of business is a struggle.”

A Safe Haven for Hiram Monserrate

Shunned in Albany, State Senator Continues to Enjoy Support in Queens

The New York State Senate expelled Hiram Monserrate, a Queens democrat, on February 9, after his conviction last fall of misdemeanor assault against his girlfriend. It was the first time since the 1920s that the State Senate ousted one of its members. The following article was posted in December, the day that Monserrate was sentenced.

By José Bayona
Click here to read José Bayona’s article on Hiram Monserrate from the May 2009 issue of Dollars & Sense.

State Senator Hiram Monserrate after his conviction in State Supreme Court in Queens in October. Among his outspoken supporters is Marta Flores-Vazquez, on steps in red shirt and blue jacket.
Photograph by Javier Castaño
     State Senator Hiram Monserrate after his conviction in State Supreme
Court in Queens in October. Among his outspoken supporters is
Marta Flores-Vazquez, on steps in red shirt and blue jacket.

State Senator Hiram Monserrate, sentenced Friday to three years of probation for misdemeanor assault of his girlfriend, has been sharply denounced by women’s organizations and political leaders. Yet he retains the support of many residents of his Queens district – and, remarkably – of some local women’s groups devoted to opposing domestic violence.

At the Friday morning sentencing a sobbing Monserrate apologized to the court and proclaimed his love for Karla Giraldo, his girlfriend and victim. State Supreme Court Justice William Erlbaum also sentenced Monserrate to 250 hours of community service and 55 hours of counseling and fined him $1,000.

Among Monserrate’s supporters at the sentencing hearing were the leaders of several Latino women’s groups from Queens, who had often attended the trial. Monserrate, a former police officer and City Councilman, was convicted in a non-jury trial that ended in October.

Like many of his constituents from the 13th Senate District, which covers Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst, and Elmhurst, these women insist that “racism” and biased reporting by the media are the main reasons for Monserrate’s troubles.

Martha Flores-Vazquez, a Democratic Queens district leader and founder of Community Prevention Alternatives, an organization that works towards the elimination of domestic violence, said: “There is no evidence, no history of domestic violence,” adding, “There is a Latino State Senator and look how he is mistreated.”

When Erlbaum convicted Monserrate of misdemeanor assault – and acquitted him of several felonies –he said “only two people” would ever know what actually happened that night.” Both Monserrate and Giraldo contend the injuries were caused by an accident. In announcing his verdict Erlbaum said, “The state has clearly proven he did indeed cause injury to Karla Giraldo without a reasonable doubt. She’s injured and bruised, black and blue marks. There’s skin tearing. There’s already injuries and a lot of blood.”

In the aftermath of the attack, which left Giraldo with cuts that required 40 stitches, Monserrate confronted a Special Committee of Inquiry in Albany—the first such committee convened by the Senate in close to 100 years—which is expected to decide his status in the Senate in the next weeks. He also faces pressure to resign from some political allies as well as foes, and from numerous organizations devoted to combating violence against women.

But if Monserrate’s welcome in Albany or local Democratic Party circles is uncertain, on the streets where Monserrate began his political career more than a decade ago, he is still embraced by his Hispanic constituents, who include immigrants from Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Like Flores-Vazquez, other heads of women’s groups in his district have close ties to Monserrate. Over the years, many of those now coming to his defense have received substantial funding from the political organization controlled by Monserrate, who was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents.

Another ardent Monserrate supporter is Haydee Zambrana, the executive director of Latin Women in Action, an organization based in Corona that offers support for domestic violence victims, among other services. “We don’t know what really happened inside that apartment last December,” says Zambrana. “The American media has overblown this case. The judge’s verdict was not guilty.”

Last month, Zambrana sent news organizations a statement, accusing the English-speaking media of bias against Latino politicians. “Are they doing the same against Afro-American politicians? So, what is the standard?” she wrote. In fact, The New York Times has conducted a months-long investigation of possible financial improprieties and ethics violations of Rep. Charles Rangel, the powerful Democratic Congressman from Harlem.

Zambrana has known Monserrate since 1999, when he was a Queens district leader. She supported his campaigns for the City Council and State Senate. Latina Women in Action received $50,000 in public funds in 2006, according to Zambrana, through Safe Horizon, a national organization that provides support for domestic violence’s victims; and in 2007 she “believes it was the same amount.” Safe Horizon, meanwhile has published a statement on its website urging “the New York State Senate to review the case and to take all appropriate action.” This is not a case of giving a “favor for a favor,” contends Zambrana. “I have not received any funds in the last two years. “He has done a lot for our community since he was councilman. We cannot be unfair. The community identifies with him; he helps everybody.”

Monserrate also enjoys the support of The Rev. Dr. Andy Torres, the president of the Association of Hispanic Evangelical Ministers of Queens and pastor of the Hispanic Church of the Community in Long Island City. He has been Monserrate’s spiritual adviser for many years, and says he hopes, eventually, to officiate at a Giraldo- Monserrate wedding – though they have not yet announced plans to marry. “It was a difficult experience, both suffered, but they can rebuild their love and be together again,” says Torres.

Giraldo, who testified this morning at Monserrate’s sentencing hearing and asked that Erlbaum lift the restraining order against Monserrate, says she wants to marry him. However, Erlbaum is keeping the restraining order in effect for now.

The relationship between Torres and Monserrate isn’t purely spiritual. Torres’s wife, the Rev. Nancy Torres, is director of Community Center in Action, a program that prepares permanent residents for the citizenship test and offers English and computer classes in Long Island City. When Monserrate was a councilman, he channeled public funds to the program. “In 2007 and 2008 we got $30,000 each year through the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development,” Nancy Torres acknowledges, adding that the funds “had nothing to do with the church.”

In sharp contrast to his support among local women’s groups, Monserrate has been vilified by many other women’s organizations. One sharp critic is Marcia Pappas, president of the New York State National Organization for Women, based in Albany. “I am very shocked and ashamed that Justice Erlbaum only found Monserrate guilty of misdemeanor,” she says. “However, we have to work with it. It’s a terrible outcome for women.”

Pappas expects the Inquire Committee in Albany to remove Monserrate because “there is no place in our society for domestic violence, and having a perpetrator there will send a very bad message to the women of the State.” She also thinks that some Latino women organizations in Queens have their own reasons for supporting Monserrate.

“I don’t know them and I cannot say why they would defend an abuser except that they had personal contact with him,” says Pappas. “He is an official and has some control over communities and possibly the funding they get.”

It may be too soon to count Monserrate out. For now, the Democrats need him in the State Senate to maintain their one-vote majority. The Queens Democratic Party is supporting Jose Peralta, a State Congressman who represents Jackson Heights, for Monserrate’s seat in next year’s primary. However, Monserrate says he will run as an independent, and he may win. During his first run for City Council, thanks to the backing of the Hispanic community in Queens, he beat the Queens Democratic machine candidate.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Thinking of the Needy

In one of the first trash cans Joe Remsen opens, he finds chunks of turkey in a plastic wrapping. His “mmmm” echoes through the streets, a victory cry over hunger.
By Vanessa Martinez. Read more…

For those without the economic means to celebrate, the Majority Baptist Church, in St. Albans, Queens, delivers food baskets.
By Essence Frazier. Read more…
Divergent Tastes

Half-Filipino, half-Pakistani, the Syed family dinners include turkey, candied yams and sweet potato pie, but also curry, zurda and leche flan.
By Ismael Syed. Read more…

Many Latinos shopping in the Key Food, Met and Bravo in the days before Thanksgiving were looking for dishes from their homelands, adding a twist to the traditional American holiday meal.
By Suzanna Delgado.Read more…
Black Friday

A team of Dollars & Sense reporters threw themselves into the throngs on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and filed these reports and observations.
By Teresa Roca, Nicholas Anglero, Christina Torrence and Duncan Goodwin. Read more…
Family Rituals

Some people like the holiday rituals; others observe them with irony.
By Anya Khalamayzer. Read more…

Pipes break, ovens die, what else can go wrong?
By Rachel Vincent. Read more…

Bhutanese immigrants discover a new holiday.
By Adarsh Gurung.Read more…

For the first time, my sisters and I prepared the turkey ourselves – my dad just a spectator.
By Marcus Martinez. Read more…
Outside the Box

If you don’t believe in God, whom do you thank on Thanksgiving.
By Chaya Rappaport. Read more…

With so many young people returning home for the holiday weekend, is it a surprise that Thanksgiving Eve has become one of the biggest party nights of the year?
By Maria Christoforidis. Read more…

Thanksgiving Eve Brings Out the Party People

Story and photos by Maria Christoforidis

Innovative cocktails abound on Thanksgiving Eve; these were served up at the Flo Cafe in Astoria, Queens.

Innovative cocktails abound on Thanksgiving Eve; these were served up at the Flo Cafe in Astoria, Queens.

Turkey, football and shopping are just a few ingredients of the perfect, traditional Thanksgiving. But is it a surprise that Thanksgiving Eve has become one of the biggest party nights of the year?

Anticipating Thanksgiving Eve crowds, many bars and clubs make special arrangements – a special cocktail, extended happy hours and open bar deals The Pearl Bar & Lounge in Bayside, Queens, offered a Thank You Cherry Mix Special: Red Alize with cranberry juice and vodka.

“The drink specials attracted a lot of females and big groups of girls,” said the bartender, John Sotiriadis. For many people, the sight, sound and, of course, taste of freely flowing liquor helps to soften the idea of the loud, pestering relatives the next day.

Nightclub owners often spend more money than usual to promote their venues. Bryant Aburto, a local deejay known as DJ Nyce, finds he can raise his fee for the evening because of the demand on Thanksgiving Eve.

“In the hottest spots, you’re looking at $100 a person if you want to get in without your name on the list,” he said. “It’s one of the craziest nights to work, and I know these guys are rackin’ in the big bucks.”

Clubs and bars often are so jammed they have to close their doors. At the Central Lounge in Astoria, Queens, was typical.

Clubs and bars often are so jammed they have to close their doors. At the Central Lounge in Astoria, Queens, was typical.

Most clubs open their doors around 8 p.m., earlier than usual, and offer Thanksgiving buffets. Many sell out quickly, and hopefuls waiting on line outside, hoping they’ll somehow get in, are a common sight.

“M2 (Mansion) in NYC has a decent crowd every week,” says Rafael Pena, 28, who often works as a bouncer at Manhattan nightclubs. “On Thanksgiving Eve, doors were shut by 1:30am. Even if you had a ticket, you couldn’t get in there.”

Among the biggest customers are college students. As they return home for the holidays, they anticipate the Wednesday night chance to let loose and celebrate with old friends and relatives. Sophia Kamvisios, a 21-year-old college student from Queens and a frequent club goer, said it’s a night for great parties. “There’s no school or work the next day,” she said. “And, personally, I believe it is such a big party night because Thanksgiving Eve falls on a Wednesday. Who wouldn’t want to go out and party with their friends in the middle of the week when they can? It’s a great night to reconnect with everyone.”

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