Bodegas: The life blood of New York City neighborhoods

“Bodega” is the Spanish word for a small neighborhood store -- a small store that plays a very LARGE role in many communities. Here’s our newest “Sunday Morning” contributor, Maria Hinojosa:  From the outside, this place looks like a nothing-special corner grocery. But a bodega -- a real New York City bodega -- is so much more… “Buen dia, carina, como esta?” “When you walk into a bodega, you feel like you’re at home,” said Diana Rodriguez. She would know: she started working here at the age of six. “I can go back as far as when I was born, ‘cause I lived on top of a bodega.” A bodega is a place where you might find ripe avocados right below the jacks and ball set, and where the pantyhose sit next to the glue traps. Confusing to the outsider maybe, but neighborhood folks come here day after day for all of those things, plus a breakfast sandwich, Diana’s favorite.  Variations on egg and cheese (un sandwich de huevo y queso) can be found all over the Bronx. And there are more than 10,000 bodegas throughout New York City’s five boroughs. Hinojosa asked, “For you, what is the heart of a great bodega?” The person behind the counter, replied Pamela. “Definitivamente, si.” At Pamela’s Green Deli, that person behind the counter is Pamela, who’s been a fixture at this location for nearly 30 years.  Michael Diaz may not know her real name is Nina Baez, but she knows his name, and more. “If I say, ‘Hi, Miss Pamela, how ya’ doing?’ she says, ‘So, you want your cheese and ham sandwich?’ And I say, ‘Of course!’” This bodega is owned by Diana’s father, Radhames Rodriguez, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1985. “I love a bodega because, first of all, I make money,” said Radhames. “And second of all, I like be with people.” He Continue Reading

Poor New York City neighborhoods tend to have slow or no access to Internet: report

The digital divide between the haves and the have-nots is taking its toll in New York City. Households with slow or no access to speedy Internet tend to live in poorer neighborhoods across the Bronx, Central Brooklyn and East Harlem and the Lower East Side, a report by Controller Scott Stringer found. Neighborhoods with the most high-speed access tend to be in upscale neighborhoods of Manhattan. Citywide a stunning 27% of households endure snails-pace downloading because they have no access to broadband Internet at home, according to the Stringer report set to be released on Sunday. The split is most obvious in the Bronx, where more than one third of households lack broadband access at home — compared to 21% in Manhattan. “It is startling just how great the divide is in our city when it comes to accessing high-speed Internet,” Stringer said. “New Yorkers who don’t have online access lack the tools they need to improve their education, employment and business opportunities.” Lack of access to broadband makes life difficult for New Yorkers in a myriad of ways — from students having a tough time doing homework to citizens trying to apply for jobs. “Access to the Internet is the fourth utility of the modern age, as central to our lives as electricity, gas and water. Yet high-speed Internet and the connections it facilitates to education, employment, culture and commerce remain beyond the reach of millions of New Yorkers,” the report states. Based on an analysis of 2013 Census data, Stringer found an incredible 17% of households across the city don’t even have a computer at home. Those who must endure slow or no access tend to live in poorer sections, the data show. Neighborhoods where nearly 40% of the households have no access to high-speed Internet include Belmont, Crotona Park and East Tremont in the Bronx. In Brooklyn nearly 50% of the households in Borough Park and Coney Continue Reading

New York City set to sell tax liens on homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy to debt collectors

Talk about kicking someone when they’re down. Hundreds of New York City homeowners hurt by Hurricane Sandy are about to get hit by another blow — the sale of their tax liens to debt collectors, the Daily News has learned. Tax liens — unpaid property taxes, water bills and other property-related charges — are sold annually by the city to third parties who charge hefty interest payments and fees. Often, homeowners whose liens are sold end up in foreclosure because they can’t keep up with the added cost. This year, many of the liens belong to homes damaged in Brooklyn and Queens. As of a month ago, 720 homes were caught up in this mess, according to data compiled by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods. “The sale of debts to third parties will saddle these already struggling homeowners,” said Josh Zinner, co-director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Proje, which promotes economic justice. The interest alone that can be charged by a debt collector on a home valued at less than $250,000 can be as high as 9%; it can be higher for more expensive homes. Other fees include an upfront surcharge of 5% of the lien amount, and thousands of dollars in legal and other fees, Zinner said. Judy, a homeowner in Canarsie, said her basement was flooded in the storm and damage to her home was not covered by insurance. On top of that, she owes $8,000 in water and sewer bills to the city. In January, she learned that her tax liens would be sold to third-party debt collectors after seeing her home listed in the newspaper. “We are already stressed financially,” Judy said. “We’re trying to get back up from the devastation.” City Councilman Lew Fidler, who represents Brooklyn neighborhoods badly afflicted by Sandy, including Canarsie, is calling on the city to take properties hurt by Sandy off the list of tax lien sales for a year. “We are asking the Continue Reading

‘Apple Pushers’ documentary highlights fruit cart vendors in New York City’s food deserts

Every morning, Felipe Vasquez and his wife roll their fruit cart out to the southeast corner of 188th St. and Grand Concourse, where they will sell over two dozen types of fresh produce for the next 12 hours. Less than a block away, Maria Carmona and her husband hawk more fruits and vegetables from their two carts, all while surrounded by fast food restaurants, 99-cent pizza shops and bodegas. “The Apple Pushers,” a new documentary narrated by actor Edward Norton, calls this the modern version of the American Dream. With the support of city government, immigrants from all over the world sell healthy food on the streets in low-income neighborhoods to not only tackle the urban food crisis in areas bereft of nutritious fare but also in the hopes of providing a better life for their children. The documentary, which is being screened at various locations throughout New York City this spring, follows the triumphs and hardships of five fruit vendors like the Vasquez and Carmona families. They were all part of the NYC Green Cart Initiative, a city program funded by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund that aims to establish 1,000 new fresh produce mobile carts in poor New York City neighborhoods. As the Vasquezes and Carmonas will testify, selling fruits and vegetables on the streets of New York is a tough business. “With just one cart, the profit margins aren’t enough to sustain an entire family,” says Felipe Vasquez, who can make between $50 and a few hundred dollars a day. “I can work all day, and it’s hard work standing out here ... but I can only sell so much fruit.” Nearly four years after the NYC Green Cart Initiative launched, only about 500 fresh produce carts have been deployed throughout the city. As “The Apple Pushers” points out, achieving the American ream is no easy task. But while they’re doing it, they’re also serving the greater good, the documentary Continue Reading

Wayward teenagers in your backyard: Let facilities take root in New York City neighborhoods

At age 15, I was arrested for stealing a car and was sentenced to juvenile prison until my 21st birthday. In mid-90s Illinois, the sole female juvenile prison was located in a Chicago suburb, five hours north of my rural town. Visitations were held weekly, but without public transit options, my single mother — who bicycled to work — was unable to come. In the two decades since, several states have shifted from warehousing delinquents in remote prisons to localizing them in treatment centers that address their psychological needs. In 2012, Gov. Cuomo approved the Close To Home initiative, which relocates young offenders nearer to their communities, where they can restoratively transition back home. The idea is sound and progressive: Being within MetroCard proximity to their families allows kids to stay in touch with their support networks while receiving transferable school credits, reducing both dropout and re-entry rates. Close to Home facilities offer enhanced counseling services, too. But not everyone believes in the project — especially not when it’s in their backyard. On Tuesday, residents of South Ozone Park celebrated the city controller’s decision to reject a contract to operate a facility putting up to 18 teenagers in their neighborhood. This comes after months of heated protests and a civil suit filed against the children’s service agency, which locals claim was trying to turn their neighborhood into a dumping ground. After hearing plans to build a treatment center in Queens Village, neighbors there erupted into their own revolt, vowing to follow South Ozone’s example. Opponents say they have safety concerns. It can appear they are more motivated by fear of diminished property values. Neither reason justifies blocking the program. Kids eligible for it are either non-violent offenders like me or do not pose a clear or present danger. They’re just young people in need of a second chance. Continue Reading

Eat all of America’s great barbecue styles — without ever leaving New York City

Celebrate this July 4 with chars and stripes — without even leaving town. New York City — once a barbecue dead zone — now offers a multitude of regional styles, allowing ’cue fans to eat in Texas one night, Kansas City the next and North Carolina after that. “When we opened eight years ago, there were probably three other barbecue restaurants,” says Charles Grund Jr., the pitmaster at Hill Country, with locations in Flatiron and downtown Brooklyn. “Now there’s a good place in almost every other neighborhood.” Here’s how to take your own personal BBQ tour: St. Louis-style ribs Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (700 W. 125th St.; 604 Union St., Brooklyn; St. Louis barbecue is all about the cut of the ribs, explains John Stage, the man behind Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. A whole pork sparerib normally weights about 3.5 pounds when it is butchered. A St. Louis cut eliminates some bone, cartilage and the rib tips to make it a rectangular shaped rack. “You’re left with the meatiest and best-marbled part of the rib,” Stage says. Dinosaur’s ribs ($28.50/rack) are rubbed with a dry marinade that’s left on for 24 hours, smoked for four to five hours until the meat is ready to fall off the bone, and lightly glazed with a tomato and mustard sweet-and-sour barbecue sauce. Texas-style brisket Hill Country (30 W. 26th St; 345 Adams St., Brooklyn, Hill Country celebrates central Texas, which is heavy on simple beef brisket and sausage. “We honor tradition,” says pit master Grund. “The rub is only salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. The rest is tending to the fire and maintaining heat and smoke levels.” Hill Country uses a Texas oak that imparts a sweeter note than its New York state counterpart. After 14 to 16 hours of slow smoking, it’s a difference you can taste, Continue Reading

Salt Lake City, Atlanta among cities that have higher percentage of LGBT residents than New York City: poll

What city has highest percentage of gay people? Apparently not New York City. The Big Apple falls short as a gay haven, trailing even Atlanta and Salt Lake City. San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Austin lead the pack with the largest LGBT population per capita, according to Gallup’s latest survey. Pollsters found only 4% of New Yorkers identify as LGBT, despite the city’s history of driving gay rights starting with the Stonewall riots of 1969. That landmark — not to mention Broadway and LGBT-friendly neighborhoods such as Chelsea and the West Village — did not earn NYC many bragging rights after the Big Apple landed the poll’s No. 23 slot. Since the U.S. Census does not ask one’s sexual orientation, there’s no official data to track how many of America’s estimated 320 million citizens identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. New Yorkers represented the largest group of residents Gallup polled. The results, based on phone calls to 374,325 adults with a 1% margin of error, show 6.2% of San Francisco’s metropolitan population is gay; Portland’s stands at 5.4% and Austin’s, at 5.3%. It’s no surprise that San Francisco topped the list since it’s where the predominantly gay Castro neighborhood makes it home and is where the first openly gay lawmaker, Harvey Milk, was elected and later assassinated. When pollsters spoke to residents of Birmingham, Ala., where the allowance of same-sex marriage is a battle between the federal court and defiant probate judges, they found the smallest minority of LGBT people, measuring at only 2.6%. Pittsburgh, Memphis and San Jose, Calif., follow at 3% and above. The majority of low LGBT populations are in the South or Midwest where gays and lesbians are at odds with conservative-leaning residents, according to Gallup’s research, while the majority of high populations are on the Continue Reading

A delicious dive into the history of the New York City hotdog cart

The history of the New York City hotdog cart is as unique and original as the Manhattan skyline itself. The tale involves everything from chance business encounters on the bustling Lower East Side, to a daring escape from Nazi-controlled Europe on the brink of World War II. Jack Beller, vice president at Worksman Trading Corporation, literally grew up at the very heart of the modern hotdog cart. It was his father, Ed Beller, who arguably transformed the hotdog cart from a heavy and rickety wooden device, into something that symbolizes classic New York City streetscapes as much as boxy Checker cabs and water spewing fire hydrants. FOLLOW DAILY NEWS AUTOS ON FACEBOOK. ‘LIKE’ US HERE. Having fled Europe due to the spread of Nazi power just prior to WWII, Ed Beller found himself transplanted to the family business, providing restaurant supplies in lower Manhattan, at the corner of Catherine Street and the Bowery. With the close of war, the business took an unexpected turn, thanks to conversations with local hotdog vendors. At that point in time, food carts were extremely heavy and not entirely sanitary wooden devices with only a few metal bits worked in here and there. Why not create a hotdog cart entirely out of lighter, stronger, and easier-to-clean metal and stainless steel? Behold, the modern iteration of the New York City hotdog cart is born! Combining his first name and that of his business partner (Mark Monies), the Admar restaurant equipment shop opened in 1948 and began to revolutionize how New Yorkers would eat their hotdogs - not to mention pretzels, knishes, and other street grub. But wait a minute, shouldn’t that combination of first names have ended up as “EdMar?” READ ABOUT SOME OF NEW YORK CITY'S CLASSIC CAB COMPANIES. It was Beller’s quick-thinking wife who suggested substituting an “A” for an “E” would place the Continue Reading

Historic preservation saved New York City: 50 years after the passages of a landmark law, celebrate its legacy

Mayor Robert Wagner put off the decision as long as he could, but finally, on April 19, 1964, he signed the law creating the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The stated intent was to protect historic and architectural monuments, but almost at once preservation proved a tonic for many more of the city’s ills. Quite simply, and without qualification, historic preservation saved New York City. In the early 1970s, New York City was plunging toward bankruptcy. With rising crime and declining city services, the quality of life was deteriorating and the city's population was dropping for the first time in its history. Writing in the New York Times Magazine in 1976, Roger Starr famously advocated planned shrinkage, a strategic withdrawal from untenable neighborhoods. “Better a thriving city of five million than a Calcutta of seven,” he callously wrote. Still, some New Yorkers refused to quit. Instead of fleeing to serene suburbs or the Sunbelt, they committed their lives and fortunes to bringing the city back by investing in, and protecting, the city’s older neighborhoods. Some trace the city’s revival to its crime decline, but without our historic districts that would have been an empty triumph. Beginning with Brooklyn Heights in 1965, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the historic districts that would anchor the historic turnaround — Gramercy Park, Hunters Point, Greenwich Village, Mott Haven, Cobble Hill, Chelsea, Mount Morris, Stuyvesant Heights, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, SoHo, Carnegie Hill, Hamilton Heights, Fort Greene, Longwood, the Upper East Side and more. Neighborhood by neighborhood, the designations rewarded the courage, commitment and resiliency of the residents who stayed and invested. The story of SoHo is the most dramatic. In the late 1960s, the fire commissioner called the area of vacant and dilapidated loft buildings “Hell’s Hundred Acres.” Continue Reading

‘No Catcall Zones’ signs pop up in New York City during Anti-Street Harassment Week

Hiss off. Dozens of "No Catcall Zone" signs have been popping up in New York City to keep unwanted jeers at bay during International Anti-Street Harassment Week. Feminist Apparel, a nonprofit feminist clothing company, has claimed credit for the more than 50 street signs that have been spotted in Manhattan and Brooklyn this week. "We hope to get at least one sign up in each borough by the end of the week as street harassment and catcalling is obviously a universal issue not contained to any one neighborhood," the group said in a statement. The campaign is part of a collaboration with Philadelphia's guerrilla feminist collective Pussy Division. Feminist Apparel plans to "sneak up" a few more signs throughout the week, as well as sticker forms of the designs. The signs have appeared near the Williamsburg Bridge, Chinatown and other parts of the two boroughs. They were funded through sales of T-shirts on the clothing company's website. The two organizations aim to draw attention to the fifth annual International Anti-Street Harassment Week, which takes place from April 12 to April 18. "We just thought legitimate looking anti-catcalling street signs out on the streets where street harassment occurs would be a cool, visual way to capture people's attention towards the issue," Feminist Apparel said. The city has been removing the signs, which look like sanctioned street signs at a glance, according to the Transportation Department. "While we understand the concept of this campaign, these signs were placed without permission," the department said. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading