Saturday, December 6, 2008

Struggling To Stay In The Black

New businesses try to survive in recession

By Joseph Kellard

At Pheobe's, a women's shoe and accessory store, a sign in the window reads, “Up to 50% off on selected items.” But on Black Friday last week, owner Roz Sterling said that with business down dramatically from last year at this time, nearly all merchandise is half price.

Cost-cutting is distinguishing this Christmas season from years past, as retailers both big and small offer high-percentage discounts, some up to 75 percent, as the economy falters. Some predict the slowest December in years.

Sterling, who opened her doors in the East Park Avenue shopping district in July of 2007, is among the new, small businesses that set up shop in Long Beach just as the mortgage crisis hit last year and that now face a continuing recession. In this “perfect storm,” as Sterling described it, they are reporting mixed results.

“It's like a light switch,” Sterling said of the difference between the two years. “Business is way down.”

Pheobe's specializes in handbags, which sell for $50 to $300, and shoes that go for $40 to $300. Sterling's lines include Old Gringo, Ed Hardy and Seychelle. Initially, her offerings garnered a “very quick following,” she said, but by September, sales dropped just as quickly. “I think people are being very, very cautious,” she said.

“Statistics on the news show people spent an average of $800 [during the holidays] last year, and this year they’re going down to $200 and $300.”

A few doors down, at Lil' Towhead, owner Melissa Barnett described business as “fair” at her boutique. She attributes this in part to her product, children's clothes and toys, which remain popular, along with her prices. Her toys generally sell for $30 or less, and most are Melissa & Doug, a brand of wooden “learning” toys — puzzles, arts and crafts, blocks — sold only by boutiques. The best-selling items, however, are accessories, particularly scarves, gloves and small watches, all priced under $30.

But many of Barnett’s customers' husbands work in finance. “So they're starting to pull back a little bit,” she said. “... I find that people are shopping, but they're looking to keep things at $20 and $30.”

Both Sterling and Barnett said that Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — is typically when shoppers head to the malls rather than local shops. Yet at about 1 p.m. last Friday, the Rose & Eye clothing boutique on West Beech Street was abuzz with shoppers, ranging from high school students to middle-aged women, trying on the store’s non-designer clothes.

Michael Muratore, who co-owns Rose & Eye with Stefano Malluzzo, expects business this year to be as good as or perhaps even better than it was last year, despite the fact that there are just 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, five fewer than in 2007. So Muratore e-mailed his loyal customers monthly savings passes earlier, and even added outerwear, sweaters and other selected items for 30 percent off.

“No matter what’s going on right now economically, the holiday season will happen regardless,” said Muratore, who worked in department stores for 20 years. “You just have to be prepared if business happens today or two weeks before Christmas.”

Rose & Eye, which has expanded twice since it opened in March 2007, can be described as a $99 store, since no item exceeds that price and the average runs about $55. With shoppers looking to spend less, Muratore actually sees the lousy economy as working to his benefit.

“Maybe they won't buy a $175 T-shirt at the mall, but they will buy a $40 one from me,” he said.

Across the street, at Frock, owner Stephanie Thornton last month offered everything in her women's clothing and accessory store for 20 percent off in honor of its first anniversary. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, she marked down some items by 30 percent. “I've been telling people about the sales all week, so I'm hoping that's going to bring them in,” Thornton said on Friday.

While Tribute, a sportswear line, has sold well for Thornton at an average price of $200, her store highlights cocktail dresses for about $300, which she cut by 20 percent, Gracia dresses at $100 or less, and formal gowns ranging from $200 to $400.Accessories include wool and silk scarves and hats, evening bags and jewelry —everything from $15 bracelets to $200 designer gold-plated necklaces.

Like Sterling, Thornton said sales were good when she first opened, but are now lagging. “But you just have to pull through it,” she said. “I think that's everyone's attitude right now.”

Thornton is adjusting by bringing in less expensive products, and this week she plans to meet with other local business people about starting a retailers' association. “Especially now, with the economy as it is, I think that it's important that we in the community kind of band together,” she said.

Michael Kerr, president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, said new businesses have it rough because they have a lot of start-up costs, including security deposits on rent, renovations and initial inventory. “People I speak to say business is down ... but basically they're making a living, which is the most important thing in this economy,” Kerr said.

He finds that many people go into business lacking capital, and the fact that bank loans are not readily available now makes things even more difficult. “I've seen people take a home equity or mortgage against their home to go into business,” Kerr said.

Thornton said it has been a struggle to build a loyal clientele. By contrast, long-established businesses in town, such as Unsound Surf and Jewelry by Steven, can rely on their steady customers to see them through a bad economy.

Dave Juan, co-owner of Unsound on East Park Avenue for 10 years, said business is down some, but the relatively mild weather is keeping his customers from traveling.

“A girl who works here, her father is a dentist, and he's not going away this winter, so he came in and bought himself a new board and wetsuit,” said Juan, who said this season's hot items are winter wetsuits ($405), Skullcandy headphones (from $20 to $100) and Emu boots for women ($65, with 20 percent off).

Steven Leibstein said that the jewelry store on East Park that he has owned for 16 years has seen a slight downturn. This time of year, his regulars look to buy their wives necklaces or rings, but this year they're bringing him old gold instead to be remade into new pieces. “And that's been a very big part of what's going on right now,” he said.

Otherwise, Leibstein has no shortage of customers, virtually all of whom he knows on a first-name basis. “Chances are, they pop in earlier and they tell us they want this, this, this and this, and we put it on their wish list,” he said.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Living, Breathing History

Veterans share war experiences with 7th-graders at LBMS

By Joseph Kellard

During his three tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, having seen his share of enemy fire as a rifleman on the front lines, Cpl. Michael Panza received many care packages from students. On Monday, he had his first opportunity to speak to a group of seventh-graders, fielding a wide range of questions about his military experiences.

“The questions they had were amazing,” Panza, 29, a Valley Stream native, said on Monday, when Long Beach Middle School honored more than a dozen veterans of wars beginning with World War II.

More than 100 seventh-grade students wanted to know everything from whether the veterans had ridden in tanks to what kind of weather they had to endure. More personal questions drew strong, emotional reactions from some of the men.

“Has the war affected you positively or negatively?”

A student addressed this question to Panza, who at first hesitated, perhaps considering the most appropriate answer to give to schoolchildren. “I made some good friends over there,” he said about his time in the Middle East, “but I also lost a lot of those good friends and will never see them again because of the war.”

Panza added that while he never attended college, being in the military gave him the credentials to become a New York City police officer.

He shared the spotlight in one of four classrooms devoted to specific wars with Frank Ciccone, a Navy instructor and trainer, and Sgt. Steven Paul, a substitute teacher at LBMS who served in the Army during the Gulf War. “When you return home,” said Paul, 39, who wore his sand-colored uniform for the occasion, “you realize more what's important in your life.”

“If you do have children, would you send them to sign up for a war?”

Panza, who wore a red sweatshirt sporting a Marines logo, said he would support his children’s decision if they opted to join the military. “I don't want them to go through what I went through,” he was quick to add after describing his difficulties with readjusting to civilian life. “But that's their own choice. It's not for me to decide.”

Ciccone, who comes from a military family, said he, too, would fully support his children if they followed in his GI-issued bootsteps.

“Because if we don't do it, then we don't have the life we have today, or tomorrow, for your children ... It's a necessity for our country to survive,” Ciccone said.

Each classroom was devoted to a particular war, and students rotated from room to room every 20 minutes, watching slide shows and asking questions. In the room hosting Vietnam veterans, there were slides ranging from swarms of helicopters above American soldiers on an open battlefield to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“What was war like?”

This simple question was posed to Ron Amato, 59, a friend of math teacher Kerri Rhenback, who spearheaded the effort to bring the veterans to the school.
Amato, who has had a tracheotomy and speaks with an amplifier held to his throat, said, “That's a hard one.” He paused for several seconds, seemingly trying to rein in his emotions. “War is not good,”
he said finally.

Ed Grant, who served in the Army in Vietnam, talked about the 58,000 Americans who didn't come home alive from Southeast Asia. “There wasn't much we questioned about the war then,” he acknowledged. “It was hard to know anything about it.”

Grant, who was also deployed to the demilitarized zone in Korea in the late 1960s, joined Donald Sondergaard in another classroom to talk about the Korean War.

“Is there anything you are proud of that happened during the war?”

Sondergaard, a Long Beach native who enlisted in the Marines and saw combat for nearly two years in Korea, said the fact that he survived was enough. “The proudest thing is that I came home and got to see my family again,” he told the students.

Grant — whose son Keith, the former editor of the Long Beach Herald, led an Army platoon in Baghdad — offered his thoughts on what made him proudest about his military career. “It's the whole feeling that you are serving your country in an honorable effort,” he said.

“Was basic training hard?”

This was asked of the World War II veterans. “Training is to teach you how to survive in very arduous circumstances,” said Thomas Thornton, who during the war joined the Navy, where he had a 30-year career as a master chief air traffic controller. “... And you have to make your situation one hell of a lot better. If not, you're not going to be coming back. That's the secret of training.”

With cane in hand, Lenny Cherlin, 89, of Long Beach, talked about how he was the lead clarinet player in the 273 Army Ground Forces Band at Camp Blanding in Florida, which helped boost the morale of soldiers ready to be deployed overseas.

“Having him shows a different aspect of war for the students,” said Buddy Hoffman, a social studies teacher who helped organize the event, along with Rhenback, Judy Knoop, Wendi Klein, Lauren Harold, Jill Cherlin and Janna O'Brien — a group known as Team 7-1.

“Now I know what they had to go through when they were in the war,” student Casiahn Castro said afterward, “and I can appreciate what they did to protect us.”

In the opening ceremony, Castro and her classmates lined a hallway decorated with American flags and flags representing each branch of the armed forces, where they applauded the veterans as they paraded through and the school band played “Anchors Aweigh” and “Over There.”

“I learned that as kids, we take things for granted, especially when they told us about what they went through and the conditions in the wars,” said student Jessica Shreck. “We at home are so comfortable, and they were sleeping in tents on the ground.”

Rhenback said her father was sickened by Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam and died of cancer four years ago. Last year she invited some of his fellow veterans to speak at the school, and her students asked many informed questions. So she and her team decided to stage a larger event before Veterans Day this year, with students and staff inviting relatives, who are veterans, to speak.

“Everyone should thank a vet, every day, not just on Veterans Day, and we try to impress that here,” Rhenback said. “My father, the only thing he loved more than his family was his country. I'd like these kids here to feel that too.”

“The goal of the day was to give the kids an experience that they can't get in a textbook,” Hoffman said. “This was definitely accomplished.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quietly Keeping Their Charm

Are the Canals still the Venice of Long Island?

By Joseph Kellard

When Joe Lehr returned to the classrooms he attended at East School to speak to elementary students during the school’s 80th anniversary two years ago, he found that all that had changed was the blackboards. “Now they're green,” Lehr said.

The school, at Neptune Boulevard on the west edge of the neighborhood know as the canals, is perhaps reflective of the general area: It has changed some, but retains certain distinct qualities from decades past.

The most defining, of course, are its four canals (named Sarazen, Ouimet, Hagen and Bob Jones) and three arched bridges. The canals are named after pro golfers from the era when they were built, the 1920s. So are nearly all the streets, which are characterized by long, narrow one-ways and dead-ends.

All this contributes to keeping the canals area — nestled in the northeast corner of town and bordered by Reynolds Channel to the north and Bob Jones to the east — relatively secluded and serene, a contrast to the bustling neighborhoods along the beach on the city’s south side.

“There are a lot of people in Long Beach who are truly not even aware of the canals area,” said Karen Adamo, a Long Beach real estate agent who has lived at the end of East State Street since 1991. “There's really no reason to come back here.”

Yet one 40-year resident of Heron Street, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that at least in some areas, traffic has increased considerably, including beach-goers who now park their cars there and walk across East Park Avenue to the boardwalk.

“It’s not nearly as quiet as it used to be,” the longtime resident said. “Drivers try to avoid Park Avenue, so they use East Chester. It's become like a highway. It's the same thing that happens over at Olive and Walnut streets.”

With more two-family homes and illegal mother-daughter apartments on some streets, lack of parking has become an issue, too, she noted.

“Parents who have two children, they have two cars, and that’s the case all over Long Beach,” she said. “And when you add on the illegal tenants, you add to the problem, and it's happening here, too.”

The demographics demonstrate another way in which the relatively quiet neighborhood has changed, yet stayed the same. There are two predominant types of residents: married 20- or 30-somethings who work in Manhattan and have young children, and retirees who have lived in the canals for decades.

Lehr, 77, and his wife, Bobbi, moved into their Doyle Street home, which faces the Sarazen canal, in 1960. They paid $21,000 for the four-bedroom ranch, where they raised three daughters and added eight rooms.

Expanded homes are common in the city, but in the canals most have remained legal single-families. Despite small properties, their proximity to the canals and the bay has given much of the otherwise middle-class neighborhood upper-class property values. Homes with their backyards on the canals begin at $850,000 or higher for those north of the bridges (allowing for larger boats).

“It's an area where you can get away from the craziness near the ocean and the congestion,” Adamo said, “and is more for people who are ready in their life for a little more quiet and where it's safer for their kids to play in the streets. ”

The original homes were Moorish in style and, later, sand castles, and served as second dwellings for the upper middle class. William Reynolds, Long Beach's founder and a former state senator, used his own money, as well as that of his millionaire friends Otto Kahn, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Payne Whitney, to build the waterways in the mid-1920s, calling the project “the canals of Lido.”

They were intended to complement the adjacent original Lido golf course Reynolds had built a decade earlier, all part of his vision to turn Long Beach into “the future Venice of America,” as he advertised it. Canals then, from Venice Beach, Calif., to Boca Raton, Fla., were a new resort concept, and Reynolds aimed to attract his rich and famous friends to the barrier island.

“People wanted an international feel,” Roberta Fiore, a city historian, explained.

In 1928, Reynolds razed the Lido Hotel, originally called the Lido Golf and Country Club, after which the Depression hit and shattered his master plan. (When he attempted to reimburse himself for his project from the city coffers, he was charged with misappropriation of funds and jailed.)

After World War II, more homeowners began to live in the canals year-round. At the time, flat-roofed bungalows (dubbed “daylight homes” for their picture windows) made up the majority of homes. Lehr's was originally built in 1945, and sold for $5,500 to veterans returning from World War II. When Lehr was a boy, he lived on Shore Road, but docked his rowboat on the canals.

The 1950s saw the canals become the least expensive area in the East End, attracting many blue-collar workers, who shopped at the supermarket that was always part of the strip of stores on East Park Avenue. Other notable businesses were O'Rourk's hardware and the Cozy Nook, a luncheonette where East School students could buy candy for a nickel. They played at the Clark Street playground near the bay.

“One of the things we loved about living in the canals is that you can do your life in whatever social fashion you choose,” Lehr said. “You can do it in black tie or jeans or shorts. It's a phenomenally mixed community where you can have a major head of a hospital live next door to a policeman. ”

The area drew the interest of the city's politicos, with Kerrigan Street turning into something of a “who's who” block in the 1960s, its residents including the likes of Larry Elovich and Arthur J. Kremer. Elovich, an attorney and Long Beach's former Democratic Party leader, bought his first home in 1963 on Kerrigan, across the street from Kremer, who, two years later, was elected to the state Assembly and became chairman of its Ways and Means Committee. Their annual summer block party included political dignitaries from around the state, including Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

“We would have this huge party every year where literally a couple of thousand people would come,” Elovich recalled.

At the end of Kerrigan, where former county Legislator Michael Zapson lives today, is a house overlooking the bay that was once owned by Joseph Ehrenreich, who had the exclusive rights to market Nikon products in the U.S.(Fiore said, however, that silent screen star Clara Bow neither honeymooned nor lived in a Moorish house on East Pine at Vinton Street, as is widely believed.)

During the 1960s and ’70s, waterfront property became more desirable. “I think more families who liked boating recognized it, and the property values weren't really escalating at that time,” said Joe Ponte, a real estate agent who was raised on Barnes Street and attended East School with Billy Crystal.

Lehr's house, like most “upland” homes on the canals’ east side, has a grassy strip of city-owned land between the street and the bulkhead — another feature that distinguishes the neighborhood, where residents typically put their lawn furniture and hammocks and build picket fences around the plots.

When he moved to the canals, the original bulkheads were in terrible disrepair, said Lehr, the longtime president of the East End Civic Association. From 1970 to 1972, the city installed steel bulkheads, dredged the canals and overhauled the bridges. For 30 years, until 2000, upland homeowners paid a portion of the cost of the rebuilt bulkheads —about $550 annually — as well as a dollar a foot to lease the property lining the canals, according to Lehr.

Today, the bulkheads have deteriorated considerably in some areas, including the Clark Street playground and on East State Street, where Adamo lives, and where the topsoil has sunk into the canals and bay water creeps into the park. In August, the City Council voted to approve an $8 million bond, a portion of which fund repairs of the city-owned bulkheads in the canals and at the park.

Nef Albergo, a 15-year resident of the landlocked Kirkwood Street, hopes that when the city refurbishes the park, it will also create a pier for avid kayakers like him. “My biggest problem is that if you don't live on the water, you don't have access to it,” Albergo said.

Albergo and Lehr were among the residents who were up in arms when the state ordered the city to reconstruct the bridges earlier this decade. Lehr argued that their cracks could have been easily repaired. “It was just a phenomenal waste of taxpayer money,” Lehr said of the project.

Albergo said that the new walls built on the bridges, which obstruct views of the canals, created more controversy. “They weren't what we wanted,” he said. “... They're more or less highway bridges.”

But the 40-year Heron Street resident said she speaks for others who believe the reconstructed bridges are a great new change to the area. “I think they came out good,” she said.

Prefabs Made To Order

Lido couple builds custom-made modular home

By Joseph Kellard

One day in late September, Michael Longworth found his future home spread down his block, Nantwick Street in Lido Beach.

Each of the modular home’s five sections rested on separate trailers lined up along the narrow street in the order that a stationary crane waited to piece them together.

Unlike the construction of standard skeletal homes, modular builders must measure the streets and other potential obstacles before the choreographed construction of their factory-built sections can unfold. And the Lego-like building of Longworth’s boxy, modern-style home became a spectacle for his neighbors.

“They were standing by the crane during the whole process,” he said. “We had a crowd.”

While modular home construction is something different in Lido, Longworth’s modern, custom-made dwelling remains a relatively new, evolving feature in the world of prefabricated homes, since most maintain a certain generic, cookie-cutter style. Even more individualized homes like Longworth’s are constricted by certain prefab parameters, never deviating too radically from the standards of the factories where they are built, and shaped also by local zoning codes.

Enter Paul Coughlin, a prefab architect with the Manhattan-based Resolution: 4 Architecture, who works with homeowners to fulfill their particular needs, from their home’s basic structure to the door hinges or pivots.

“I think what makes this house distinct is that everything in here was designed for Michael and [his wife] Victoria, right down to the sink and faucet and how they want their vanity to work and whether they want a window next to the tub,” Coughlin said. “All those features are what make it unique.”

Coughlin also tries to further distinguish each home by upgrading the quality of its features, including the Longworths’ large, high-end Andersen windows, bamboo flooring, Merillat Masterpiece cabinets and Corian kitchen counters.

The more fundamental challenge is how to build from the foundation. In Longworth’s case, his previous home, a one-story, 1929 bungalow, abutted the flora-thick dunes that blocked his family’s view of the beach and ocean. “For Michael, it was really important to engage the beach,” Coughlin said.

So Coughlin designed the house upside down, in that the bedrooms are on the ground floor and the kitchen, living room and dining room are on the top section, overlooking the ocean, where, along with a roof deck, the Longworths and their two daughters, ages 11 and 9, spend most of their waking hours.

“We obviously wanted the view,” said Longworth, who moved with his wife from Manhattan into their former bungalow in 1997.

Their kids’ bedrooms share the ground floor with the master bedroom and bathroom, and the Longworths wanted and got a dressing room with closets that divide the two areas. The master bathroom features a sauna in addition to the bathtub and a separate shower. A thick door with milky, laminated glass is just one of the home’s many upgrades.

The middle section has a playroom and guest room, and two smaller decks on the north and south sides. The ceilings on one level, however, don’t serve as the floor for the level above — each section has its own ceilings and floors.

“I think that adds to the stability,” said Matt Henry, owner of HKH Construction in Long Beach, who will complete the building.

The home’s five sections are tied together with steel-threaded rods. And while the transport can stress a prefab’s structure, Coughlin argues that modular homes are not the house of cards that has been their stigma, but are actually more stable than stick homes, with potentially just as long a shelf life. “The fact that it’s built in a factory in a dry, controlled environment makes a big difference,” he said.

After Longworth wrestled for two years through bureaucratic red tape for zoning variances and permits, he had the bungalow demolished in late August and, two months later, the house is on its way to being completed by year’s end.

“It went from knock-down to having a structure in less than a month,” said Longworth, who owns a Web site development company. “It saved us a hell of a lot of time.”

The prefab philosophy is that homes are typically constructed much more quickly than standard homes, and can be less costly. Coughlin said it usually takes about 16 months from the time a homeowner signs a contract to when the house is completed.

At first, he had five meetings on design with the Longworths, after which the architect submitted the custom layout to Resolution: 4’s factory in Scranton, Pa. There, the five sections take about two weeks to build, and some three months of prep time.

Once the house is set on site, about four months are allowed to complete two stages: first, tying together the exterior features, including the cedar siding and trim, and then installing the electric, floors, plumbing and roofing. With standard homes, this process usually takes between eight months and a year, Henry said.

“It’s exciting for people to see how fast their home can go up,” he added.

“My wife and kids are completely stoked,” Longworth said about the prospect of moving in around Christmas.

While he declined to reveal the cost of his new home, upgraded prefabs are generally comparable to site-based homes, but usually are less expensive in areas with more open space for transport and construction, and an average of 20 percent can be saved on building costs, Henry said.

Coughlin said that around 80 percent of Resolution: 4’s business is in the New York metropolitan area (including the Catskills), with the majority of the homes raised in Nassau and Suffolk counties. While the company has been building prefabs for some 25 years, from Maine to Hawaii, the Scranton warehouse has turned out more modern and custom homes in the past decade.

Henry said that prefabs are seeing greater exposure now, and their negative image — particularly that they are identical homes with cheap fittings aimed at a mass housing market — is changing for the better. “And the way they used to come together, and the way they looked in the end,” he said, “you most likely could pick out the modular home on the block. Now, I know for sure that people never expected modular could be done like this.”

Economy Slows Real Estate Sales

By Joseph Kellard

Developer Jan Burman expressed cautious optimism about the Long Beach real estate market after Congress approved a $700 billion bailout bill last week.

The president of Engel Burman Group, a Garden City-based developer of properties from Montreal to Miami, is in the midst of building the Aqua, an eight-story, 36-unit luxury condominium complex overlooking the ocean on Shore Road. So far, Burman has sold six units, including two penthouses that went about $3 million each.

Despite the faltering economy, interest in the Aqua has been “pretty good,” Burman said, particularly among Manhattanites seeking beachfront property closer than the Hamptons, as well as retired homeowners from the North Shore, Five Towns and the boroughs of New York City. Next month Burman plans to display the development’s sales model — featuring units that range in size from 1,730 to 2,400 square feet and start at $1.3 million — and he believes he will have the building fully occupied within a year to 18 months.

“The hope is that once this economic crisis gets resolved, the mortgage money will open up,” Burman said, “because a lot of people who would like to move have to sell their first house to buy the second house, and they can’t sell the house unless there’s some way to get mortgages.”

Like Burman, Long Beach real estate agents who spoke with the Herald last week said the city’s real estate market remains generally stable, but some confessed to uncertainty.

“The Realtors are definitely concerned that they are going to lose buyers,” said Karen Adamo of Century 21 Petrey in the West End. “... The buyers are going to have to be what I would call super-qualified: very good credit, a good percent down and their closing costs.”

Joe Ponte, an agent at Prudential Douglas Elliman on West Park Avenue and a former director of the South Shore Chapter of the Long Island Board of Realtors, called Burman’s 18-month forecast a safety zone. “In 18 months the whole world can change,” Ponte said. “But if I had to predict, the whole market should be robust in that time, because everything should be straightened out within six months to a year.”

Though the mortgage crisis remains headline news, New York state’s foreclosure rate, as of August, ranked 33rd among the 50 states, according to RealtyTrac, an online site listing available foreclosures. Adamo said that while some areas of Nassau County have seen many foreclosures, such as Baldwin and Freeport, the South Shore is otherwise “not so bad,” and on Long Beach island “it’s not terrible” — though those words hardly inspire confidence.

Today, Long Beach island homes are on the market much longer — an average of about six months — before they sell, most for between $450,000 and $699,000. Ponte said the trend is that people who bought homes before 1980 are holding on to them.

“They’re retirees who find there’s no reason to sell, because they’re all going to relocate to Florida and they’re waiting for a better day,” he said. “They want top dollar.”

Although housing prices have dipped about 6 percent since 2007 in Long Beach, real estate agents are finding that sales of lower-priced condos — and particularly co-ops — are on the rise. “What is not selling in Long Beach are homes, but what are holding their own are condos and co-ops, especially on the ocean,” said Joyce Coletti of Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Many lower-priced condos and co-ops — studios and one-bedrooms — are selling in the $275,000 to $400,000 range, mostly to singles and young couples. “They’re selling because they’re lower than buying a house,” Adamo said.

The Windward, at 251-255 W. Broadway, between Laurelton and Lafayette boulevards, is a newly renovated, less-costly co-op development. The three-story building has 29 units, either studios (400 square feet) or one-bedrooms (800 square feet), that sell for $219,000 to $400,000, Coletti said. She has sold 11 of the pet-friendly units since they were first offered in July. “Really, if someone is looking for a place just to hang their hat for the summer, this is perfect,” she said.

Meanwhile, agents say that higher-end condos aren’t selling as well as their lower-priced counterparts. A case in point is the Riverside, at 125 E. Broadway, between Riverside and Long Beach boulevards.

According to a few agents, the 50-unit Riverside was unable to show a high enough percentage of sales for owner David Shokrian to close on the building, and he has started to put most of the units on the market for rent. Shokrian declined to comment.

Ponte attributed part of the slower sales in high-end buildings to once-willing buyers with $300,000 to $500,000 nest eggs who were wiped out in the Wall Street-mortgage meltdown.

“That money was their money to buy a home or condo,” Ponte said. Ponte compared the Riverside to the Avalon Towers, at 10 W. Broadway, which was built in 1991 as a condo complex but had to turn to rentals when the economy teetered on recession.

“This is history and economics repeating itself almost 20 years later: overbuilding in Long Beach and they couldn’t sell anything,” he said. “They were building all these condos in the late 1980s and there was a boom and then the market fell out.”

Nevertheless, Ponte and other real estate agents believe that despite the present difficulties in the local market, Long Beach remains an attractive locale for many people looking to move. The agents note that the city is rare among Long Island communities not only because of its beachfront property, but also because it has a vibrant downtown with many restaurants and shops, as well as convenient transportation.

“It is still the hot place to move,” Adamo said. “People on the North Shore used to look down on Long Beach, and now they’re selling their big homes and downsizing because they want to be directly on the ocean, and this is what they can afford.”

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gallery Opens By The Sea

By Joseph Kellard

“Oh, when did this open?” a woman asked with pleasant surprise while biking past a West End storefront two Saturdays ago. Her discovery was of a rare species on the South Shore: an art gallery.

“Today at 11 o’clock,” answered Scott Evers, owner of Evers Place, sub-named “A gallery by the sea.”

“It’s beautiful — I’ll have to stop back when it’s not so crowded,” the cyclist said. Sept. 20 was the gallery’s grand opening, and it was abuzz with caterers, curious art lovers and artists eager to sell their works. An estimated crowd of 450 passed through the gallery’s doors that afternoon, some 300 more than Evers had bought food and drink for.

Despite the initial excitement, however, Evers said he understands the risk he is taking in transforming his late father’s home-improvement repair shop, Dan Evers, a fixture at 949 W. Beech St. since 1949, into the first West End gallery in memory. Recent history shows that art galleries have had a short life span, at least in some neighboring towns. Around mid-decade, an Oceanside gallery devoted to Southeast Asian art closed its doors after about two years in business, and a studio in Island Park, which featured local artists, opened last December but is already out of business.

Evers, however, expects that his gallery will avoid the endangered species list. Since it is smack in the middle of the West End’s booming restaurant and bar scene, and with a wealth of artists living in town, he believes he’ll have no shortage of either customers or artists willing to display their paintings, drawings, photographs, collages and sculptures. It also helps that there are a few local groups that promote the arts, including the Long Beach Art League and West End Arts, both of which Evers belongs to, as well as other smaller, niche organizations such as the Artist Mothers Group.

“We have almost an art underground here in Long Beach,” said Evers, a native who was inspired by his father’s World War II snapshots to pick up his first camera at age 6. “We have so many good artists.”

Artists are attracted to the city by its lengthy stretch of seascape as well as Reynolds Channel, which is an “undiscovered country,” Evers explained. Landscape artist Kathleen Regan used to visit a friend in Long Beach and set up her easel on the beach before she moved to the West End 12 years ago and joined the local art group.

At Evers’s grand opening, Regan displayed some of her paintings, including one of a sand dune on the Georgia Avenue beach in 1980 titled “Chauncey’s,” named for and featuring the legendary former bar. “I feel that this is such a blessing for us,” Regan said of the gallery. “I mean, we have so many artists on this barrier island, and this is the first fine arts gallery that I know of.”

Regan and many other local artists have displayed their work in the halls of the Long Beach Public Library or at local gift shops and restaurants, as well as at annual arts fairs around town. When they do get an opportunity to show their work in galleries, typically they have to trek to Manhattan or the Hamptons.

At the grand opening, Michael McLaughlin, a native West Ender who often paints Southwestern scenes, displayed a painting titled “Mermaid,” which shows the sea creature lounging on a crescent moon with a star in hand.

“We’ve never really had something where the artists had a venue to promote their work,” said McLaughlin, whose works have been exhibited in restaurants. “We artists feed off each other, and with Scott doing this it’s a really great endeavor.”

By day, Evers is a corporate consultant who travels nationwide. When his father died last year and left him the shop, he finally had the opportunity to pursue his dream of opening a gallery. He renovated the 1,200-square-foot shop and opened Evers Place with Amy Castillo, who owned Listen To Your Art, a gallery and picture frame shop on Park Avenue.

The works on display range from $40 to $7,500. For $750 a customer can own an impressive piece by Long Beach photographer Jonathan Spector, a poster-size image of a boardwalk bench looking out onto a gold-tinted, desolate winter beach and ocean illuminated by a bar of sunlight piercing through clouds as icicles form on the guardrails.

Evers has also hung some of his own pieces, including “Wharfside,” a digitally enhanced photo of fishing boats lined up at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Also on display are the collages of Long Beach resident Veronica Schliemann. One consists of torn colored paper in the form of a muscular man lying by a river, titled “Sleeping Giant.” Another, “Nature And Her Vista,” shows a similar giant sitting in a gorge that was created by puzzling together sectional photos of Utah’s Bryce Canyon.

And what would a West End gallery be without an artful surfboard on display? One board sports a painting of a tropical beach, a typical scene by Dan Macken, an international artist who collaborates with Brian Wilson of Beach Boys’ fame. Evers met Macken at an art expo at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan last year, and invited him to his grand opening.

That kind of networking is part of Evers’s long-range plan to keep his gallery not only breathing, but thriving. He also hopes to attract more Manhattanites, who come to Long Beach on the Long Island Rail Road, to the West End. “A lot of them don’t even know the West End exists,” he said. He plans to focus on Web marketing on Craigslist and other sites aimed primarily at New York City audiences.

“Really, one of the big untapped resources out here is the city,” Evers said.

To learn more about Evers Place, visit the gallery’s Web site,, or call (516) 729-3168 or 208-7000.

Friday, September 26, 2008

City Council creates Michael Valente Day

Salutes Long Beach’s lone Medal of Honor recipient

By Joseph Kellard

Nearly 90 years to the day after World War I veteran Michael Valente rescued his regiment from disaster in France, the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to designate Sept. 29 as a day in his honor.

Valente, who died in 1976, is Long Beach’s lone recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor — the highest award for valor given to a member of the U.S. armed forces for actions against an enemy force — which the infantryman, then a private, earned for heroic acts on Sept. 29, 1918. Just 3,446 such medals have been awarded since its inception in 1863.

“In the City of Long Beach, we want every September 29 to be a day for people to reflect and honor the life and accomplishments of Michael Valente,” said City Manager Charles Theofan, who noted that the council heeded President Bush’s nationwide call to honor the memory of all recipients of the prestigious medal. “… This is the very least we can do to honor him.”

At a May council meeting, Al Symons, a retired engineer who worked for the Department of Defense, requested that the council designate Sept. 29 as Michael Valente Day, to honor Long Beach’s only recipient of the medal. Tuesday night, Symons read to the council a citation from President Herbert Hoover when he decorated Valente, then a retired sergeant, with the medal in Washington on Sept. 27, 1929.“It’s the proudest moment of my life,” Valente said, according to a New York Times account dated the day after.

Valente’s courageous acts came when his regiment, Company D of the 107th Infantry, was suffering heavy casualties during operations against German forces at the Hindenburg line near Ronssoy, France. Alongside a fellow soldier, Valente rushed forward through intense machine gun fire directly on an enemy nest, killing two gunners and capturing five enemy soldiers. Discovering another machine gun nest nearby that rained heavy fire on American forces, Valente and his companion charged it, killed the gunner, jumped into the enemy trench, killed two more soldiers and captured 16 others.

On Tuesday, Symons thanked the council for creating the day to honor Valente. “You have no idea how happy I am that you are taking this resolution at this time,” Symons said to the applause of the crowd. Among those in attendance were Valente’s great-granddaughter, Danna Cuneo-Wojcieski, who was born two years after he died at age 80 on Jan. 10, 1976. “I think it’s an amazing honor,” she told the Herald.

“He was obviously a courageous man in World War I, and we’re so proud that he’s part of our family.” Francesca Capitano, a former councilwoman, remembered growing up two house down from Valente on Walnut Street — before she married his grandson, Ralph Madalena.

“He was a great man, a kind man, a good father, a good grandfather,” she told the council with her husband and daughter, Katherine Madalena, at her side.

Valente emigrated from Italy to Ogdensburg, N.Y., in 1915, and joined the New York Guard. In May of 1918, he was deployed to France to fight on the front lines. After the war, he married Margareta Marchello and moved to her native Newark, N.J., before the couple settled in Long Beach around 1919, where they raised three children.

Valente became a contractor and real estate agent who built houses in Long Beach, but eventually gave up the business to work in City Hall as the city marshal. When he retired in the 1960s, he greeted people at La Serenata, a restaurant at the original Long Beach Library, now the site of Sutton Place.

Standing 6 feet tall with blond hair, blue eyes and a barrel chest, Valente was always active, particularly in his garden, and he rode his bike on the boardwalk regularly right up until his final years.

“My father was very proud, but he didn’t talk about it much,” Valente’s daughter, Lido Beach resident Josephine Cuneo, said of the Medal of Honor. “He was wonderful, kind and soft-spoken. Unless other people told us about the medal, we would never have known.”

Frank Cuneo, Valente’s grandson, said he could not recall his grandfather ever talking about the war or his medal. He said he believes that Valente’s legacy was never properly passed down, and he was satisfied that a Long Beach resident like Symons spearheaded an effort to create a day honoring his grandfather.

The Long Beach Public Library used to display a facsimile of Valente’s medal (Madalena has the original), and a portrait of Valente wearing it hangs in City Hall.

“I remember as a kid I used to march and ride in a car with him in the Memorial Day parade,” said Cuneo, who now lives in Manhattan. “Everyone would stop and greeted him. He was well known in town.”

The city named one of its senior apartments, near City Hall, after Valente, as did the Sons of Italy lodge he attended. Some of the lodge’s members attended the meeting to thank the council for recognizing him.

Before the council voted on the resolution, its members consulted with some local veterans’ organization to get their input. Valente was most active in the VFW Post in Long Beach. “I think it’s fabulous to have the day named after him,” said Scott Castillo, the VFW’s senior vice commander. “He’s the only Medal of Honor winner in Long Beach, and it brings all veterans recognition. I’m all for it.”

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and commentator living in New York. Contact him at

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blending Fires, Fact and Fiction

West End man writes first novel, dedicated to Long Beach 9/11 victim

By Joseph Kellard

Gene Welischar has quite an imagination.

In his soon-to-be-published first novel, "If You Play With Fire," the retired FDNY chief and longtime Long Beach resident puts himself in a fantasy romance with an ex-nun-turned FBI agent. The two meet when she visits his Manhattan firehouse to investigate a real-life arsonist who burned buildings for hire.

Much of Welischar’s story, which explores how firefighters battled blazes in Brooklyn and Queens in the 1960s and ’70s, is based in fact. During those turbulent decades he was in the midst of a 33-year career with the FDNY in a city threatened by political, economic and physical collapse. He writes of the riots and fires that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination; "Jewish Lightning," a variety of arson that lined the pockets of failing businesses with insurance payouts; and "Danny O," a professional, mob-connected arsonist who torched apartments for property owners unable to get ride of stubborn tenants so they could build high-rises.

"Danny O has had a lot of work from the new builders who want fast access to the space occupied by these old buildings for their business ventures," Welischar, 78, writes in the novel’s prelude. "… He prefers that no deaths or injuries will result from the fire, but only because that could bring serious investigation." During one arson in 1978, Danny O, who stood on rooftops to watch his blazes rip through buildings as fire units arrived, observed from a distance as a firefighter was loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher.

Eventually — and, again, factually — the FBI sent agents to the firehouse where Welischar was captain from 1976 to 1983, Ladder 13 on 85th Street, to look up records on recent arsons. One of the real-life federal agents, Marita Lorenz, had reportedly been sent to Cuba in 1960 to attempt to seduce and then poison Fidel Castro in 1960. Welischar dated her a few times, he said.

In the book, Lorenz morphed from fact into fiction, becoming, in Welischar’s imagination, an agent who grew up Catholic and became a nun. But her father, a Protestant policeman, wanted grandchildren, so she left the clergy to start a family. "But she couldn’t," Welischar explained, "so then she looked for a surrogate father and she happened to pick me, the captain of the firehouse." At this he laughed mischievously. "I have a great imagination. My daughter said, ‘Dad where did you get all this stuff from?’"

The real-life FBI agents were pointed to a certain management company that was eventually prosecuted, but Welischar’s search to find out how the investigation unfolded hit a dead end, because the company had changed its name.

For years, Welischar, who retired in 1991, had rehashed those eventful decades, and three years ago he decided to explore them again. He began writing "If You Play With Fire," with editorial help from his wife, Patricia. Welischar took his completed novel to Florida and enrolled in a writing course given by Patrika Vaughn, owner of A Cappela Publishing. Vaughn found his story intriguing enough to print 3,500 copies.

"I thought it would be extremely interesting to the lay person to see how firefighters operated, especially with the malfeasance of the city government during the ’60s and ’70s," Vaughn told the Herald. "I found it a wonderful story."

While the novel is populated with corrupt government officials, unscrupulous businessmen seeking shortcuts to obtain prime real estate, and arsonists, Welischar also profiles a few heroic life- and property-saving characters, the informal leaders who train and inspire their fellow firefighters. "They’re like the unsung heroes of the fire department," Welischar said. "They’re like the infantrymen of the firehouse. They’re teachers who break in the new men and shape the character of a firehouse."

Welischar dedicated the novel to the late Greg Stajk, a probationary firefighter whom he mentored at Ladder 13 in 1982. While still with the company on Sept. 11, 2001, Stajk, then a 14-year resident of Long Beach, was killed at the World Trade Center.

Welischar got to know Stajk through his daughter, Mary, calling him a big brother to her. "He was a low-profile guy who was nice to be around," Welischar recalled. "All the guys loved him. And I found out later that he was a terrific artist."

Stajk’s mother, Marge, who lives in Florida, said she was honored and surprised by Welischar’s tribute to her son, and read a rough copy of "If You Play With Fire." "It was interesting to see how the novel switches back and forth between real-life human-interest stories and fiction," Marge said.

Welischar began his career as an NYPD street patrolman when he came home from the Korean War, before joining Ladder 116 in Long Island City in 1958. From there he went to Engine 218 in Bushwick, where he became a lieutenant, and then to Ladder 13. In 1983 he transferred to Engine 264 in Far Rockaway, where he retired eight years later.

Welischar moved to Long Beach in 1977, and in 1989 he bought The Inn on West Beech Street, where he held fundraisers for veterans at Northport Hospital. The generosity of his adopted hometown figures in the novel.

"Whenever someone is in trouble, they have benefits at bars and raise thousands and thousands of dollars for people who have gone through tragedies," Welischar said of Long Beach, where he will sell and sign copies of his novel at the Irish Day Parade next month. "There are at least 20 that I can remember in which money was raised for people in distress. And that’s something about Long Beach: It’s a very tight-knit neighborhood."

For information or to purchase "If You Play With Fire," go to

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Close In More Ways Than One

Walks residents say area is tight-knit, safe

By Joseph Kellard

On a sun-soaked July afternoon, Matt Mariano and a friend tossed a football around outside Mariano’s July Walk bungalow. A game of catch was about all there was room for, since a narrow sidewalk is all that divides the houses in Long Beach’s historic Walks community.

The 10 blocks of walks have no street access, and Mariano’s lawn spans perhaps 5 yards, much too small for a scrimmage. But what Mariano and fellow homeowners lack in asphalt and backyard space, they make for up in neighborly intimacy, whether it’s picking up groceries for one another or shoveling snow together to clear a path to the surrounding streets.

“It’s a little more communal because of the close proximity of the homes,” said Mariano, a 20-something who grew up in Levittown, teaches in Amityville and moved to July Walk two years ago. “And that makes for a better neighborhood.”

The bungalows on each walk face east and west and are sandwiched behind homes facing north and south from West Park Avenue, the neighborhood’s northern border, to West Beech Street to the south.

The walks themselves run north-south, from Lindell Avenue, the eastern border, to New York Avenue. The homes are little more than arm-spans apart, and their “yards” are best described as patches of grass.

“You really become very friendly with your neighbors,” said Allison Kallelis, who moved from Yonkers to Long Beach with her husband, Alex, six years ago and bought a September Walk home for $260,000. “I know everyone in the surrounding area. So you have to be extremely friendly to live here. If you’re not, then it’s not for you.”

A changing neighborhood

Kallelis said she can’t imagine ever selling their bungalow, where they will raise Kaleb, their 9-month-old son. When they first arrived, their neighbors were mostly retirees, many of whom have since left the neighborhood, replaced by other young couples.

Kallelis finds the walks safe, and said that children can play along the sidewalk without worrying about cars, and strangers rarely wander through the neighborhood. But above all, she said, she cherishes the neighborly camaraderie.

“As people walk down the walk, they yell out, ‘I’m going to the grocery store, what do you need?’” Kallelis explained. “That’s very common here. We borrow eggs and everything from each other. It’s a godsend to have the neighbors so close and so friendly.”

Homeowners make the most of their small properties, lining their front picket or chain-link fences with flowers while leaving their backyards barrier-free, blurring the property lines. Glyn and Kelly Jaime, who live on October Walk, have a fenceless backyard that mingles with their neighbors’ concrete plots. Having a yard is something new for Glyn, who was born and raised in Greenwich Village and has always lived in Manhattan, where she and her husband work.

“In our building in the city, we have about five apartments in our own little corner,” said Glyn, who owns a package design company. “We don’t even know those people. I’m not kidding, we’ve been there five years and I’ve never even seen them. Here we know the families around us, we know everybody. The neighbors here are incredible. It’s a real sense of community, but it’s not like people are in your face.”

While they were house-hunting, the Jamies looked at some 25 Long Beach properties before discovering the Walks. They were instantly sold on the area, and bought a single-level bungalow built in 1928 by Louis Bossert, a Brooklyn lumber producer who developed the second wave of homes there after World War I.

The Jamies’ bungalow is typical, with three small bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom. It retains many of its original features: a white stucco exterior, metal awnings, a brick fireplace, a four-legged, cast-iron bathtub, linseed linoleum floors and beaver-board walls. “All these things are what drew us to the house,” Glyn said.

When she and Kelly moved in, the house had been vacant for two years but was filled with cobwebs and sheet-covered furniture, including a vintage 1950s Herman Miller kitchen table and chairs that the Jamies kept, since it fit their retro style. The walls are adorned with a weathered 1938 New York license plate, a midcentury street map of the Columbus Circle area and framed black-and-white vintage photos of Manhattan.

The Jamies have another typical feature: an enclosed front porch that was once open, and caught breezes from the ocean a few blocks south. “The whole design of the Walks was to build houses without street access, but an aside was the terrific breezes,” said Roberta Fiore, a Long Beach historian.

Fiore regards the Walks as the city’s most distinct neighborhood. “I love it because it has so much charm,” she said. “It’s a cute little community with a lot of creativity.”

Military beginnings

The neighborhood was first developed in 1917 and 1918, when the U.S. military took over the Nassau Hotel and Long Beach became a military settlement like Camp Yaphank in Suffolk County, where pre-fabricated bungalows were built for $2,500. They were shipped to Long Beach and installed on property owned by Brooklyn developer and former State Sen. William Reynolds.

The uninsulated pre-fabs were meant for summer use, but for $500 more a chimney could be built. By the mid-1950s, tenants started to live in them year-round. “The expression then was, ‘Throw some heat in the bungalows,’” Fiore said.

By the 1970s, half the homes became permanent dwellings, said Jim Hennessy, a former City Council president who was raised on January Walk. Hennessy fondly remembers the closeness not only of the neighborhood, but also in his family’s bungalow: He was one of nine children. He and a younger sister, two older brothers and single mother occupied the standard three bedrooms, and his five other sisters shared the attic-turned-bedroom.

Hennessy’s mother worked the midnight shift at Long Beach Hospital, and he and his siblings slept around the kitchen oven on winter nights. In the tight-knit neighborhood, the family left their front door unlocked.

“There was a house across from ours where two elderly French-Canadian women lived,” Hennessy said. “If I had to go to the bathroom and one of my other siblings was in our bathroom, I would just run outside my house and use Jean and Isabella’s bathroom. That’s what it was like. It was really close and a lot of fun.”

Fun for Hennessy meant running with friends through stretches of then mostly wide-open yards, throwing a football across a few lawns and jumping from one rooftop to the next while playing hide-and-seek.

In 1984, Pat Redinger moved to June Walk because it reminded her of the old Courts community in the Rockaways, where she spent her summers as a girl. She and her mother paid $100,000 for a pre-fab bungalow that still looks out onto an open yard. To create more space, Redinger converted a boiler room into a storage closet, and she uses corner-fitting furniture.

Another challenge that comes with living in the Walks is parking. The neighborhood is without street access, driveways or garages, so it can sometimes be “impossible to have company over,” Redinger said.

“And to move the car, you feel you may never find another spot.” The Walks also has periodic water pressure, drainage and sewage problems.

Looking to the future

While the parking headaches have led Redinger to contemplate a move, others who plan to stay, such as the Kallelises and Hennessy (who lives with his wife and children on West Beech Street, off February Walk), want to lobby City Hall to improve their community. They are hoping to revive the Walks Association, a civic group established in the early 1990s that flourished but disbanded after its founder moved.

“Everyone has their own neighbors association, and we want to have our own, too,” Hennessy said, “because we have to lobby for the things that we need.”

Allison Kallelis is on the same page of what may become a new chapter for the walks. “We’re trying to start up the association again just to get a stronger voice in the city when different planning issues come up, and we’re trying to get more money allocated to the Walks,” she explained. “We’re kind of like the forgotten neighborhood.”

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Taking To Two Wheels

Use of bikes, mopeds on rise in Long Beach

By Joseph Kellard

Not everyone is upset with $4-plus gas prices. In fact, some not only welcome them, they actively root for them to rise fourfold.

“I’m the only guy who hopes gas goes up to $20 a gallon,” John Merritt, owner of Buddy’s Bikes on West Beech Street for the past 30 years, said half-jokingly. “Business has never been so good.”

Mark Marshak, a Long Beach resident who sells mopeds at Scooter City in Island Park, said, “I’m about the only person in town happy about gas prices.” Marshak opened his shop in June of 2006, and sold 15 mopeds by the end of that year. He sold 85 in 2007. In February, before gas hit $4 a gallon, he noticed that more people were buying his mopeds, and already this year he has sold 135.

“I knew this was going to happen,” Marshak said. “I felt it and made provisions and have stockpiles of mopeds in my warehouse.”

With its 2-mile boardwalk and stretches of straight streets, Long Beach has long been inviting to cyclists. And while bike shop owners like Merritt say higher gas prices have positively affected business of late, the city’s notorious problems with parking have made cycling nearly a necessity for many residents.

“I think people continue to buy bikes because it’s always been like this in Long Beach — that is, it’s just easier to ride a bicycle than to drive a car and try to find a parking spot,” said Ray Fusillo, who owns Long Beach Bicycle on East Park Avenue.

For the past two years, West End resident Peter Meyers had pedaled to the Long Beach train station on Park Avenue each weekday so that when he returns at night, he doesn’t have to circle his neighborhood looking for a place to park. He starts his day by riding his hybrid racing/mountain bike along the boardwalk on his way to the railroad station. “There’s nothing better than riding on the boardwalk each morning,” said Meyers, who works at Lincoln Center and catches the 8:08 train to Penn Station.

He and other cyclists have noticed that many more commuters are riding their bikes to the station each day, and that additional bike racks that have been installed around the station have filled up.

“The number of bikes out here is insane now,” said Jennifer Hicks, who has taken the 7:04 to Manhattan each morning for the past three years. “Now it’s hard to find a space on the bike racks.”

Like Meyers, Hicks rides her bike for both the convenience and the exercise. She also uses it on weekends to run errands to the post office, library and supermarket. “I grew up on Fire Island — you have to have a bike there,” she said, “so I’m used to riding.”

Roger Gengo, the head custodian at East School, who cycles to work every day, is among those who never lost his childhood interest in bike riding. “We all rode bikes as kids,” said Gengo, who lives in East Atlantic Beach. “It’s kind of part of everyone’s life. Some of us went back to it, others never try riding again.”

For years Gengo rode his bike in triathlons, and after he stopped competing he turned to cycling for transportation. Today he rides a Raleigh bike to the local supermarket and the beach, having built contraptions to hold his groceries and surfboard.

While Gengo drives a 1997 Ford Expedition, he uses his bike primarily because parking in his neighborhood is “horrendous,” he said. “Also, a lot of things annoy you on the road when you’re driving your car. The bike is heaven sent.”

Cosmo Donato, a general contractor who lives and works in Long Beach, bought a scooter from Marshak last year to do routine estimates and minor jobs instead of burning gas in his work truck.

“Especially from June to September, there’s no place to park,” Donato said. “So to go see a customer by truck is ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense.”

Donato also hops on his moped when he needs to buy small items that are easy to carry, and on weekends he rides it to Island Park, where he docks his boat. The moped gets 80 miles to the gallon and costs him $75 a year in insurance.

Marshak’s mopeds start at $1,300 and go as high as $5,000. Their top speeds rang from 30 to 80 mph, most of them get between 80 and 100 miles to the gallon, and insurance can run as low as $50 a year.

“It’s cost-effective when you think about what gas and insurance cost,” he said.

Marshak said that many Long Beach residents, from the West End to the canals, have bought mopeds from him to ride to the train stations in Long Beach and Island Park each morning. Mike Puma, an NYPD detective who lives on the Baldwin-Oceanside border, bought one a month ago to get to and from the train station, but on weekends he rides it to the West End beaches. Puma’s moped goes 100 miles on $5 worth of gas.

“When I went to register it,” he said, “the woman at the DMV said that she’s registering more scooters than cars right now.”

While the state Department of Motor Vehicles was unable to provide statistics on the number of mopeds registered so far in 2008, its data shows that Nassau County had 687 registered mopeds in 2007, the third-highest county total in the state, behind Suffolk (1,069) and Erie (741).

Long Beach restaurateur Tom Corning registered his first moped this year, retiring a Volkswagen Bug he used for deliveries. Corning’s drivers now use the moped at his Caffe Laguna in the West End and ride a three-wheel bike at Olive Oil’s, his other restaurant, in Point Lookout. He estimated that he saves hundreds of dollars on gas a month.

“It’s great on gas, and the biggest thing in the West End is the parking,” Corning said. “It’s really convenient. My delivery guys love it.”

West End resident Susan Hilberer said she has noticed that more delivery businesses and residents in her neighborhood are using mopeds. Hilberer is now on her third moped, having bought her first a few years ago from Black Ice, a shop on West Beech Street that has since closed, in order to avoid having to park her PC Cruiser.

“But it was so much fun to drive, I started taking it everywhere,” said Hilberer, who rides her moped to Waldbaum’s on Park Avenue, Roosevelt Field and even as far as Montauk. Its speedometer tops out at 50, and she gets 80 miles out of $6 in gas.

Does she ever drive her car anymore? “Yes, for long trips and car- pooling,” she said. “But if it means losing my parking space on the weekend, I’m not driving it.”

Despite the growing popularity of mo-peds, bikes are still king in Long Beach. While the Hampton cruiser-style models have been the rage with kids in the past few years, both Fusillo and Merritt said that more adults of varying ages are buying them, too.

“They’re just very comfortable, and they require less maintenance and are easier to ride,” Fusillo said about his cruisers, which start at $216.

Merritt said that most of the bikes in his shop are priced in the same range and go has high as $400, and that the cruisers remain the most popular model in town. “Everybody’s riding them now,” he said.

“There’s no maintenance, there’s no cables, it’s one speed, it’s got wide, comfortable handlebars so there’s no leaning over. It’s a perfect bike for Long Beach.”

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at

'He was a brave and fearless little boy'

Tarantino Jr., 8, loses battle with leukemia

By Joseph Kellard

It turned out to be Thomas Tarantino Jr.’s last trip to his favorite restaurant, but it was the first time he walked in, ordered a Happy Meal and paid for it all on his own.

"He was so proud that he went and did it himself," Thomas Tarantino Sr. said about his 8-year-old son’s trip to McDonald’s on June 23. "It was a big deal to him.”

A few weeks earlier, Thomas’s parents had been told that their son had a month to live after a five-year battle with leukemia.

At McDonald’s, his father had sensed, from the boy’s rapidly deteriorating appearance, that day would be his last. That afternoon, Thomas went home, played cards with his uncle and sat in his favorite spot on the living room couch. After he fell into a deep sleep, his immediate and extended family sang his favorite songs, "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," and his sister Michelle, 15, read him his most beloved book, "David Goes To School." Shortly after 8 p.m., Thomas took his last breath.

For the next three nights, his brother and two sisters slept on the couch together.

Thomas Matthew Tarantino Jr. was born with pervasive deficit disorder, a type of autism, at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre on Nov. 16, 1999. Three years later he was diagnosed with leukemia. In the following years, he suffered two relapses that considerably reduced his chances of healing. He underwent "grueling treatments," his father explained, involving routine trips to the hospital for chemotherapy and various tests and operations.

"He was a brave and fearless little boy who taught us all how to appreciate our lives, our friends and family," Thomas Sr. said. "And I don’t know if he was that way because of his mental incapacity or because of all he went through since he was 3."

Thomas attended the Children’s Readiness Center in North Bellmore, but he could only say a few words at a time and couldn’t spell. Yet he was unusually adept with electronics. By age 4, he could access and operate any feature on any cell phone.

"He could take your cell and show you things on it that you never even knew you had," said his father, whose "Sweet Home Alabama" ring tone introduced Thomas to the song.

When the supermarket delivery man, Tony, came to the Tarantino home on East Hudson Street, Thomas routinely had him check his cell phone with him. "Thomas would call the man’s wife while he delivered our groceries," said his mother, Samantha.

Thomas would also text-message people, pressing successive rows of numbers or letters that instantly told them who it was. He would do the same with instant messaging on the computer to his siblings’ friends while he visited his favorite Web sites, including

While the boy mostly kept to himself, he was still outgoing with strangers. "He was always friendly, always greeting people," his father recalled. "He wanted to congregate with you. It didn’t matter if you were white or black, young or old. He loved everybody."

Samantha said it didn’t matter who you were, Thomas would say hello to you. "If we were driving in the car and the windows were open and we pulled up to a red light, he would say hello to the people in the car next to us," she said.

Samantha said that her son taught her, above all, how to be kind and compassionate to others. "He had nothing to offer anybody but his gentle nature," she said. "And if you were kind to him, forget it; you had a friend for life."

When Thomas left his house, he particularly enjoyed going to Gino’s on Park Avenue, Adventure Land Amusement Park in Farmingdale, East Buffet restaurant in Huntington Station, and, most of all, any McDonald’s. His parents stepped up their trips with him to his favorite places when they were told in late May that his leukemia was terminal.

About 10 days before he died, Thomas rode with his father on his motorcycle, alongside his uncle and several others from a biker club. The armada of motorcycles roared along Park Avenue and West Beech Street to the Atlantic Beach Bridge, then back to East Hudson.

Thomas watched and rooted for both the Yankees and Mets, he attended Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Island Park with his grandmother, Sylberta Tarantino, and he could often be found playing with his siblings, Michelle, 15, Victor, 13, and Theresa, 5.

"He was an innocent little boy who offered a lot of love," Thomas Sr. said. "And I never knew I could love so much as I loved my son Thomas. “I love my wife and all my children. But Thomas was special because he had been through so much, and I had a deeper love for him because of what he had to endure."

At Thomas’s burial at Greenfield Cemetery in Hempstead, Rabbi David Rosenberg, of Shuvah Yisrael Messianic Synagogues in East Williston, sang the boy’s favorite song: "Sweet home Alabama/where the skies are so blue/... Lord I’m comin’ home to you."

But it was the lone bagpiper who played at his funeral at Sacred Heart, which was attended by more than 350 mourners, that hit his father the hardest. "It was so powerful — it was so beautiful," Thomas Sr. recalled.

His brother, Thomas’s godfather, Anthony Tarantino, a head usher at the church, hired the bagpiper, having been inspired by a scene from the movie "Braveheart."

"When the king died," Thomas Sr. explained, "there was a lone bagpipe. And Thomas deserved to be compared to a king."

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at

'Just the greatest guy you could ever meet'

Family, friends say goodbye to Leo Vann Jr., 14

By Joseph Kellard

“His smile — that’s all you needed to know about him,” Chris Ferrante said before the funeral service for his friend, 14-year-old Leo Vann Jr., at the Christian Light Missionary Baptist Church.

Inside, that smile — along with Vann’s benevolent, optimistic spirit — figured prominently in speeches the drowning victim’s family and friends gave at the two-hour service on July 3. They remembered that Leo was full of joy, excitement and jokes, and some likened him to the sun or a rainbow that shone through dark clouds.

Lakesha Thomas, Leo’s mother, highlighted her son’s smile and his upbeat personality when she stood beside his gray casket, microphone in hand, in front of hundreds of mourners who packed the church’s pews, lined its walls and spilled outside the front doors.

“Whenever I was down,” said Thomas, who wore a button sporting her son’s image on her black blouse, “Leo would always say to me ‘Ma, it’s not that serious. We don’t have time for that.’”

Even in a remembrance piece she wrote about her son that appeared in the service’s program, Thomas mentioned his pearly whites and his carefree attitude. “Although you were only 14,” she wrote, “you taught me how to relax and enjoy life.”

Wayne Vann, a deacon at Christian Light, called his nephew “one of God’s instruments,” and said, “Leo’s smile — that smile — changed complexions in people … If you didn’t have love in your heart when you met him, you certainly did after that.”

“That Leo is gone just really breaks my heart,” said his younger sister, Zariah Simone Vann. “He was just the greatest guy you could ever meet. It seemed like he never had a bad day in his life.”

But Leo’s worst day came on June 27. That afternoon, while skateboarding with friends at a park near the Recreation Center on Reynolds Channel, he jumped into the bay to cool off and never resurfaced. His body was found later by rescue personnel, but they could not revive him.

Leo was born April 12, 1994 at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, on the birthday of his aunt, LaSheena Neals, who recalled that day.

“‘I don’t want this,’ I said,” Neals joked about being presented with Leo for the first time, and the mourners managed a collective laugh despite their sorrow. “But he was the best birthday present that I ever got.”

Leo’s father, Leo Vann Sr., taught him how to shoot a basketball and throw a fastball. His son developed into a versatile athlete who played football, volleyball and soccer and ran track.

A week before he drowned, Leo graduated from Long Beach Middle School, where he was honored with the Mags Humanitarian Award, presented by teachers to “a student who goes out of his way to help people and tries their best,” said Keith Biesma, the school’s assistant principal.

During his power-charged eulogy, the Rev. Isaac Melton told the mourners — a racially mixed crowd — that Leo didn’t treat others according to their racial group or other irrelevancies. Some mourners recalled that Leo liked to attend church, while others noted what he enjoyed most: riding his skateboard with his friends.

Kelli Ann Santaniello described how she was baffled when her daughter, Lauren, told her that she wanted to give her skateboard to Leo, who was without a board but would later collect 10. “‘If you knew Leo the way I know him, you’d understand,’” said Santaniello, quoting her daughter, a co-winner of the Mags Award. Santaniello said her daughter was glad that Leo died doing what he loved.

Leo Sr., who had planned to have his son visit him in Georgia this summer, was taken aback by the number of Leo’s friends who attended prayer vigils and other gatherings after his death. “Who knew that your charm and charisma would make you everyone’s star?” he wrote in a note about his first child.

Leo’s friends wore T-shirts, buttons and hats that featured his smiling image, and in unison they did his favorite rally-like clap during the service, which also featured his relatives singing gospel classics like “Walk With Me Jesus.”

“He was friends with the whole class,” said Caitlin O’Connell, who had graduated with Vann two weeks earlier.

“He was not mean to anyone,” said J.T. Forkin, another LBMS graduate. “He gave everyone a chance.”

Outside the church after the service, Coby Thomas told reporters that his cousin’s goal in life was to protect kids who were being beaten up. “How better can you get than that?” he asked. “You can’t get no better than that.”

Leo’s wake was held at Jordan’s Funeral Home in Island Park, and he was buried at Greenfield Cemetery in Hempstead. In addition to his parents and sister, he is survived by a brother, Quamel Dejuan Mclaurin of Long Beach; grandmothers Virginia Crawford of Long Beach and Yvonna Presley of Hempstead; grandfathers Shawn Presley of Hempstead and Harold Washington; a great-grandmother, Pinkie Vann- Williams; aunts LaSheena Neals and Shamona Crawford of Long Beach and Ayanna Vann of Dallas, Ga.; uncles Terrele Boyce of Denver and Larry Strevens of Long Beach; and cousins Jayden Serrano, Luvv Michee’ Scott and Zion Boyce.Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article.

For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tudor Stands Out

Long Beach Family keeps upgrading home after 35 years

By Joseph Kellard

Last Thursday afternoon, 77-year-old Sam Arnone could be found lounging in shorts and a T-shirt on the newly renovated front porch of his home at 310 W. Olive St., at the corner of Laurelton Boulevard.

The Tudor, built in 1952, sports the exposed wood framing, white plaster walls, front and side gables with slate roofing, and dark-brick chimney with decorative gray stone typical of its architectural style. Yet Arnone’s home strikes a neat, high-maintenance look that makes it a standout in a neighborhood that includes other Tudors and a landmark Spanish-styled house next door.

Rising from a well-manicured, elevated lawn, the Tudor is surrounded by lush bushes of varying sizes and bordered by a thigh-high concrete wall that cleanly demarcates the treeless, sun-soaked property from the Laurelton sidewalk. That all the exterior features appear new on this classic-styled home is a testament to the many hours of sweat Arnone has invested in renovations since he and his wife, Carol, bought the three-bedroom, three-bath, 2,000-square-foot home in 1973.

“Every year I do something new,” said Arnone, a retired electrical engineer with Sperry Gyroscope, a company that developed navigation systems for the U.S. Navy. The brick and concrete front porch, with its granite steps and new awning, was his latest project.

Although Arnone now hires contractors to do such major work, over the years he and his son, Chris, renovated the kitchen, bathrooms and basement so many times, he’s unsure of the exact count. “Two or three times,” Arnone said about redoing the kitchen that now has a modern mica countertop and cream-colored cabinets.

He said he renovated often because the rooms got outdated, but Carol said the former rooms were just as functional. She claims her husband just has to keep working.

“He can’t stay still,” she said. “He’s very handy and he made this whole house all over. And when he retired, he didn’t know what to do with himself.”

When the Arnones had five cars, he widened the driveway. They also installed central air, and, five years ago, had the concrete wall along Laurelton set back three feet and replaced a nearby stretch of grass — between the sidewalk and curb — with red brick.

“I put brick there because I was tired of mowing the lawn,” Arnone said with a chuckle.

Inside, one of the few original features is an ornamental marble fireplace in the living room, along with cornices around the windows.

“The only reason we didn’t do anything with the fireplace is because it’s a beautiful piece,” he said. All the original windows were stained glass, and some 20 years ago he replaced them — except for the three that remain in the trio of bathrooms — with weather-proofed panes.

The Tudor’s original owner, whose name escapes the Arnones, held a prominent position at House Beautiful magazine, and they attribute to him the home’s fancier features that remain.

Carol, a Manhattan native, spent summers with her parents in a bungalow on Wisconsin Avenue in the West End. This is where she met Sam, who had lived in Long Beach since he was four. They bought their Tudor from the Brown family, and they rented it for a year before they moved in from Queens after their son graduated from elementary school. Carol recalled that she put a down payment on the home while her husband was on a business trip. “Boy, he flipped when he came back,” she said.

She remembered the asking price was $52,000, but she got the real estate agent to sell the home for $40,000 after it was on the market for an extended time and the Browns were also away.

“When I bought it, I told the realtor I wanted something distinct,” Carol said. “And when we passed this house, I took one look at it and said, ‘If you can get me inside this house, you have a sale.’”

Today, Carol said she believes she and her husband can get — in a healthy real estate market — up to $900,000 for their Tudor. But the Arnones have no intention of selling. “I love Long Beach,” Arnone said.

“What’s great about it is the beach and the boardwalk. You can’t beat the boardwalk, and the beach’s white sand is beautiful.”

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Property Owners Battle City

Council holds hearing on West End eminent domain case

By Joseph Kellard

At age 93, East Atlantic Beach resident Hildegard Miller finds herself fighting City Hall's attempt to seize a parcel of West End commercial property that she has owned for more than 60 years.

With cane in hand, Miller came to Tuesday's Long Beach City Council hearing, at which City Manager Charles Theofan listened to testimony on the 5,400-square-foot parcel, at 1055 West Beech St. Theofan was trying to determine whether the city's plan to take over the property is justified under eminent domain, a government's power to seize private property for public use with monetary compensation. The city hopes to divide the property into 21 parking spaces for the parking-deprived West End neighborhood.

"We have a way to make things better, and that's what we are trying to do," Theofan said.

Under eminent domain proceedings, the government typically condemns the property, usually on grounds that it is "blighted" - dilapidated, contaminated or otherwise unfit for human use. In 2004, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) gave the city a $250,000 state grant to buy Miller's property, which once housed the West End Service Station, an auto garage that she and her late husband, George Miller, and their daughter, Wendy Hope, ran for decades. Miller discovered that the city was taking eminent domain-related steps only when she saw a photo in the Herald of Skelos and city officials posing with the check on her property, according to Hope.

Miller and her daughter had been trying to sell the property since 1999, and after learning of the city's intentions, Hope, the parcel's co-owner, said she was willing to sell it to the city, and she allowed city officials to perform an environmental study of the lot. They concluded that there had been a spill that contained high levels of volatile gasoline-related contaminants that seeped into the groundwater in and around the site.

Hope then had the property tested by LKB, a consulting engineering firm, which determined that the spill was likely a result of a leak from a gas line that was replaced 40 years ago, and that the contaminant and its spread posed no significant threat to public health. In a June 2007 letter to Miller's attorney, the state Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed LKB's conclusion, stating that no further environmental cleanup was needed.

Meanwhile, Miller, Hope and their broker, Joe Sinnona, of the Joe Sinnona Group/ReMax Shores in Long Beach, were still entertaining potential buyers, whose plans for the property ranged from convenience stores to a seafood restaurant. Sinnona said he had offers ranging from $800,000 to $1.2 million. But those offers have gone by the wayside, Sinnona and Hope claim, because the city is characterizing the property as contaminated so that it can afford to buy it.

"And rumors of contamination and condemnation effectively discouraged buyers," said Hope, who traveled from San Diego to attend the June 17 hearing. "We have verbal statements from people to confirm this. It looks like the goal is to bully my mother into accepting a fire sale price."

Theofan said he has thoroughly investigated those charges. "The accusation that the city building department purposely steered potential buyers away from this property is not true," he said.

Theofan also noted that the DEC's 2007 letter was only recently provided to the building department. He asked Hope why, if, under eminent domain law, she and her mother would be paid "fair market value," they did not welcome the offer. "When somebody has been trying to sell a property for nine years without success, then maybe - just maybe - they're asking too much for that property," he said.

Hope responded that she did not think a parking lot was the best plan for a property that could be used to create jobs and generate city taxes, and she objected to the city's "bullying" her mother to take over her property rather than allowing her to sell it on her own. "At this point," Hope said, "we have no faith in the City Council because my experiences have been that you are not to be trusted."

Hope asked why the council hadn't made her mother an offer, as it had with Temple Zion in the West End. At a June 3 hearing, the council voted unanimously to lease a parking lot from the temple, which is expected to provide spaces at no charge to residents, but will cost the city $30,000 to lease. "Why are you taking my property," Miller said to the council, "rather than making me an offer when I know the city buys and leases property all the time."

Theofan explained that he was following eminent domain law, which, at this point in the process, doesn't give him the authority to make an offer. "But I can assure Mrs. Miller that if the City Council does decide to go forward with this process, that offer will come sooner rather than later," he added.

Rick Hoffman, president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association, said that parking is the worst problem in the West End, and that the city is trying to do what is best for his neighborhood. "They are taking a legal route, which they can do," Hoffman said. "These folks have had ample opportunity, nine years, [to sell the property]. It's not like they're going to be robbed."

Hope said that the traffic congestion in the West End is due to crowded, illegal multifamily rentals, which the city should focus on instead.

“Eminent domain is a very, very powerful act by a municipality or other state agency to take property away from an individual," said Mrs. Miller's attorney, Jerome Reisman. "It should not be abused. [Mrs. Miller] should be able to continue to keep it on the open market free of any attempts by the city to take it by eminent domain."

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Media Preps For McCain-Obama Debate at Hofstra

University holds walking tour for press

By Joseph Kellard

There was talk of cable feeds and satellite truck parking, telephone and computer capacity, television camera positioning and space requirements — not to mention the Secret Service — at Hofstra University last week.

Joani Wardwell and Marty Slutzsky of the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan organization that has sponsored and produced all of the presidential and vice-presidential debates since 1988, took press personnel on a site tour of Hofstra June 5, detailing plans for the third debate between presumptive presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama in October. Some 20 representatives of various media organizations, including ABC and NBC, learned about the commission’s logistics, production and rules for the debate. They toured the site, the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on the north campus, and the adjacent Physical Fitness Center, which will serve as the media center and where hundreds of journalists from around the world will gather.

With their voices echoing inside the empty 5,000-plus sports arena, Wardwell and Slutzsky told the media that sections of the upper-level seats will go unused in order to keep the audience close to the candidates and create a more intimate atmosphere at the Oct. 15 debate.

One journalist asked how members of the audience, who will be let into the arena 90 minutes before the debate, will be selected. Slutzsky said this issue is still being bounced around. “There is never, ever enough seating at the debates,” he said, “and it becomes a somewhat contentious issue.” He explained, “A certain percentage of the seats go to each candidate’s party. A certain percentage goes to the commission, and the commission’s segments of the seats are shared with the school.”

The arena doors will be open to local media in the days leading up to the debate, on Oct. 13 and 14, but as the hours tick down that access will become more restricted, and the only media allowed inside for the debate will be the White House press pool and six networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and C-SPAN. “There will be no cabling — it will have to be done with hand held-cameras,” Wardwell said, listing one of several Secret Service rules.

“We’re all going to want to have our anchors out here from our morning shows — this is a huge thing for everyone,” said a representative of WCBS-TV. “We just went though the pope’s visit and the Secret Service was telling us all about where we couldn’t stand or shoot our cameras.”

Wardwell assured the local media, such as News 12, that they would still have opportunities at multiple locations around the debate hall, including the media center and surrounding parking lots. “So you should not think there will be a lack of space, but it’s going to be a challenge,” she said. Since the final debate traditionally gets the most media coverage, and because it will be held in New York, Wardwell noted, “We expect to draw a lot of attention, so the ‘local’ definition has been expanded.”

Both she and Slutzsky reiterated that in order to earn a spot on the Hofstra grounds during the three days of coverage, press outlets must file for and get credentials through the commission’s Web site. “Get your credentials in by August 15,” Slutzsky stressed, “which might be problematic for some people, but these are the rules laid down to us by the Secret Service, and we have to go with that. Anyone who needs to be at the debate site has to be in the system.”

In the parking lots outside the debate hall, Wardwell and Slutzsky provided the media with a host of other information: selections for exterior stations will be made by lottery; different lights and banners will be used on the arena’s fa├žade to give it a particular “feel”; trees will be uprooted and temporarily relocated; frequent shuttles will be available to transport media personnel to and from the site; and news organizations must complete their cabling by 4 p.m. the day of the debate or risk being shut out entirely.

For about two hours after the debate, the media center at the Physical Fitness Center will be open for press to conduct interviews, Slutzsky said.

Arrate Reich, a senior producer for WNJU Telemundo, a Spanish- language NBC affiliate based in Fort Lee, N.J., said she was glad the walk-through was conducted early in the process. “Because it takes a long time to set up for an event of this magnitude,” she said. “So I think it’s helpful to know from the get-go exactly where we need to be.”

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S. in April, Reich planned the events for her station, including the pontiff’s visit to Washington D.C., ground zero, a seminary in Yonkers and Yankee Stadium. “Of course, there were a lot of issues to cover with security for those events,” she said.

Last November, Hofstra was selected to host the 90-minute presidential debate, whose topic is foreign policy. Wardwell said the commission surveyed 19 sites, and reacted positively to Hofstra since it showed “an attitude of enthusiasm that we were particularly excited about,” she said.

Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz, who accompanied Wardwell and Slutzsky on the tour, welcomed the responsibility of hosting the debate, primarily to get students more involved in the political process, and, secondarily, to bring attention to the university and the surrounding suburbs, he said.

This spring, Hofstra began hosting a year-long series of programs, lectures, conferences and exhibitions, dubbed Election ’08, offering its students, as well as some area high school students, lessons in the major issues of the debate, presidential politics and history. The programs included talks by political consultants Mary Matalin, James Carville and David Gergen and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. This fall, John Edwards, “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert and former White House press secretaries Dee Dee Myers and Ari Fleisher are scheduled to speak.

“We believe that our university has an ethical obligation to try to encourage our students to engage in the democratic process,” Rabinowitz said. “They need to pay attention to it, they need to vote, they need to know that they can be active participants in the democratic process ... It’s for them that we decided to host the debate.”

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.Please post comments about this article.

For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at: