Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Finally, A House He Can Call His Own

Architect builds California-style home in Long Beach

By Joseph Kellard
At around 9 a.m. on Mother’s Day, guests arrived at the Henrys’ residence on East Walnut Avenue. The group of four didn’t even know Kathy Henry, mother of four, or her husband Matt.

But the Henrys are used to having uninvited guests. This quartet was the latest group to stop by to get a closer look at their new, five-bedroom California-style home, still under construction at the corner of East Walnut and Roosevelt Boulevard.

"This should be in Architectural Digest," one woman half-joked as she greeted Matt where the backyard L-shaped pool wraps under the house.Passers-by and friends alike have told the Henrys that their flat-roofed, sand-colored home seems more suited to the beach or the Hollywood Hills than this neighborhood of older homes, some 1930s Spanish-style — like the one the Henrys tore down to build their new one.

"We get that all the time," said Matt, 39, standing in his yard, which was crammed with ladders, scaffolding, wheelbarrows and a large green dumpster. "Some people stop and talk and ask what kind of home is it. Others say thank you. They tell me, ‘I want to see it when it’s done.’ People just show up. It’s really been exciting."

Henry, a general contractor trained as an architect and a lifelong Long Beach resident, owns HKH Construction, a design company that focuses on residential remodeling. But he has never built his own home, which, he says, has been much more daunting and nerve-racking than building houses for others. But it has also brought him closer to his growing family.

"He waited a long time to do this," said Matt’s wife, Kathy, 41, who is six months pregnant. "When someone mentions the house, I say it’s all Matt. He’s had the ideas for years and they’re his drawings.

We’ve been in the house over 10 years, and we’ve waited a long time to do it. So it’s a testament to his patience and hard work."

In 2002, Matt drew up the plans for the house while coloring with his children. He was inspired by books on Richard Neutra, a prominent architect of the 1940s who was famous for his California moderns. "He did a modern style with a natural feel," Henry explained.

When he began mulling the details of a design, Henry, a graduate of New York Institute of Technology, brought sand from the beach to match a stucco exterior to give the house the appearance of emerging from the sands.

Although the house is modern, he explained, he and Kathy are striving to give the interior a natural but old feel. They hope to achieve this effect not only with the architecture, but also with the materials they’ve chosen: stone-like tiles in the bathrooms instead of porcelain, and walk-in closets on the second floor with sliding doors made of wenge, a dark-grained wood that contrasts with the blond maple floors.

Henry also designed parts of the exterior to integrate with the interior. Each projected, block-shaped section outside the house is paneled in rustic cedar, which in one area will extend onto a broad white wall in the living room.

"Exterior walls pulling in aren’t characteristic of modern design, which has more of a streamlined, sanitary look, whereas the cedar kind of warms it up," Henry said, citing the influence of architect Richard Meier for these touches.

The high-ceilinged living room will have a staircase and a balcony, and a large picture window looks south down Roosevelt Boulevard toward the ocean. A triple-sided fireplace divides the living room and the family room.

In the basement, Henry plans a kids’ playroom that may double as his office, and a staircase will spiral up three floors. The master bedroom has a three-level ceiling ranging from eight to 10 feet high, and the master bath has a special feature: shower heads in the ceiling that project water like rain.

For Matt, the most difficult part of the project was making this house different than anything he’s built before. "When you’re in the industry for 20-something years and you work on enough houses, you kind of get into this track where you don’t want to do what you did at someone else’s place," said Henry, who worked for architect Mike Burkhold, an NYIT professor, in Seacliff and developer Alexander Wolf & Son in Manhattan before starting HKH Construction in 1998.

"At every turn I was stifling myself by saying, ‘you can’t do that because you did that at so-and-so’s house,’" Henry continued. "But that’s silly because there are always going to be some similarities between the houses you build. And what I’ve done for other people has been beautiful, so why not celebrate that and take advantage of that a little bit?"

Henry periodically took his plans to the city’s building department and architect committee to find out what exactly city code permitted. He had to ensure that his home fit the character and style of the neighborhood — including the Congregation Beth Shalom building, which abuts his property and also has a flat roof and square structure.

"In the end, taking up the property and doing this house like we did, for me it’s a love, and I’m inspired by my wife and kids," said Henry, whose family is living temporarily in a home in East Atlantic Beach until mid-summer, when they hope to move into their new digs. "But more than anything, it’s also almost a love or trust and confidence in Long Beach. It’s the town as well, and I wouldn’t make this investment if it weren’t that."

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, May 18, 2008

Eye Appeal is Buy Appeal in Real Estate

Home staging on rise for owners seeking to sell

By Joseph Kellard

Decorator Evelyn Truhn stands in a young lady’s bedroom evaluating three teens in bikinis on a wall. The trio return her stare from a poster of the surfer movie “Blue Crush,” but Truhn says it must go. “You’d expect it in a kid’s room,” the Oceanside woman remarks, “but a poster with bikini-clad girls when you want to sell is not good.”

When Truhn decorates a house, she comes with an eye to strip it of most things personal -- from photos of loved ones lining a fireplace mantle to crayon drawings adorning a refrigerator – since depersonalizing is basic to her brand of decorating: home staging. While interior decorators design around an owner’s lifestyle, stagers like Truhn design a seller’s home to appeal broadly to potential buyers, inviting them to envision how they would live there. Toward this end, depersonalization is one principle that guides home stagers. Others include de-cluttering and creating more space.

As Truhn continues her consultation for a realtor at the five-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath expanded ranch in Oceanside, she finds much to de-clutter in a boy’s room, including hockey sticks piled in a corner. She considers mounting a rack for them over the bed. “Like you would put a guitar on the wall,” she says.

In the living room, which is split by a double-sided fireplace, sits a Stairmaster like an elephant in the room. Truhn eyes the machine with a strategy to make space. “We’ll put it in the corner to make it less obtrusive,” she decides.

Erik Reilly, a realtor from Century 21 Mac Levitt in Oceanside, has had this Gifford Avenue ranch, priced at $559,999, on the market for several months after the family moved to Israel. This is Reilly’s first stint with a home stager. Previously, realtors would simply pop some brownies in the oven or place fresh-cut flowers on a table in a home in hopes of enticing prospective buyers. But Reilly recognizes strategies are changing. “Obviously there are things that must be done here,” he says, “but I wanted something to be suggested that’s different.”

Truhn estimates the changes she suggests will cost about $3,000. These include redesigning the living room and kitchen, both a mix of modern and country décor. The living room, with its dark wall paneling and ceiling beams, reminds her of a ski lodge that clashes with its cosmopolitan crimson couch. Yet the kitchen’s white Formica countertop and stand-up, worn wooden cabinet seem to go, she says. The walls, however, are painted brown, pale blue and a bright-blue faux finish, which Truhn vows to coat with a solid cream color. “Never paint walls white,” she says, stating another staging principle.

With her Canon digital, she takes several photos around each room and will organize them into a binder to display to homeowners when selling her staging strategies. Stagers may suggest simply rearranging some furniture, or refurbishing whole rooms. And with the measurements she takes, Truhn heads to furniture stores to buy particular pieces, from lamps to bed sets, or she dips into her self-storage facility for standard pieces she reuses, including curtains and kitchen sets.

At the Oceanside ranch, she will also remove the dining room table’s leaves to create space, paint a bathroom’s walls beige to coordinate with the aqua toilet, tub and sink, and power wash mold from the concrete front stoop. She even tests the doorbell.

Truhn learned the principles of her craft from Lori Matzke, author of “Home Staging: Creating Buyer-Friendly Rooms to Sell Your House” and founder and president of Center Stage Home in Minneapolis, where Truhn attended one of her workshops.

While home staging stretches back to the 1970s, the field only started its soar in the late ‘90s, when Matzke first searched the Internet for information and found one Web site on the subject. “The general view then was that if you needed your home to be staged, you really had to live in a dump,” Matzke says. Today, however, staging is featured in popular home decorating magazines and on shows such as Design to Sell on HGTV.

Matzke says homeowners stage for two basic reasons: to increase either the price on their house or its chance of selling. She often encounters couples paying two mortgages because they’ve yet to sell their former home. Mary and Mike Monahan of Wantagh had a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath ranch on the market for three months before they hired Truhn to help sell it. After her staging, their house sold within six weeks. “We had Evelyn assess the crucial points that were distracting from the sale perhaps,” Mary says.

Among those distractions was a kitchen painted cranberry. Mary learned that, for many people, her favorite color can be overwhelming in a kitchen, and Truhn painted it a neutral color, an almond that opened up the room.

“I like that she was able to give a fresh perspective to the house and found decorative ideas suitable for everybody,” Mary says.

Matzke says a major hurdle to selling people on staging is that many feel intimidated or insulted when a consultant suggests changes to their homes. “They think you’re criticizing their décor,” she continues. “But basically I tell them that we’re not trying to sell your taste, we’re trying to appeal to a lot of different tastes out there that might be interested in your house.”

“I didn’t really care,” says Eileen Florin, recalling when Truhn redecorated her three-bedroom, two-bath split ranch in Oceanside, where she lived with her husband Rich for 28 years. “I said let her do what she has to do, I’m not going to live here anymore.”

The couple hired Truhn in January before their home hit the market. Its eyesores included the kitchen cabinets and wallpaper that their dog enjoyed chewing on. Truhn painted the room yellow and hung curtains that Eileen says certainly clashed with her tastes, and she also nixed their family photos, repositioned the living room couch and de-cluttered.

Ultimately, the Florins shelled out $3,600 for Truhn’s expertise and sold the ranch within two weeks to the first couple that came by.

Would it have sold so quickly without the staging? “Absolutely not,” Eileen says.

Liz Wallace, co-owner of Century 21 Sherlock Homes in Rockville Centre, said she began to use Truhn and other stagers last summer, when the market tilted in favor of buyers.

“If buyers are seeing a lot more houses, say 12, yours has to be the one that stays in their head -- and staging does that,” Wallace says, noting that the trend only hit Long Island recently after a seller’s market prevailed for several years.

Sherlock Homes found that sellers who staged were getting more looks and money, staging is a more innovative way to sell, and that selling is still all in the presentation.

“It’s like I always say,” Wallace says, “if you’re going to the prom, you have to wear a pretty dress.”

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

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Folz is Folding

Oceanside-based vending co. closing doors in December

By Joseph Kellard

"They have a cure for old age now," 79-year-old Roger Folz quipped as he slowly, carefully climbed the stairs in his office. "Die young."

On a pole suspended in the stairwell were 1-cent gumball machines that he once installed in stores nationwide, having founded Folz Vending Co. in 1949. Folz is now preparing to close the factory/ warehouse at his office, which he built 30 years later on Lawson Boulevard in Oceanside, for good. The corporation that now owns his company, Coinstar, will move its operations to Colorado in December.

Blame age for Folz’s heavy footsteps, but disappointment is also a factor. "I was expecting to die with my boots on," he said, "but with all the things that happened competitively, and big money going into different phases of vending, it’s been difficult. It was better to sell too soon than too late."

Folz started with $600 and 15 machines, and built his company into the world’s largest bulk vending operation. At its height, Folz had 170,000 machines in 48 states and Canada, and offices dotting both countries. Children — and adults — got their fill of gumballs, pistachio nuts, sour suckers, small toys in plastic capsules, glow-in-the-dark stickers and a variety of other novelties from Folz’s machines in mom-and-pop stores as well as major retailers from F.W. Woolworth to Wal-Mart. In 2002, the year before it merged with American Coin, a vending corporation three times its size, Folz rang up $55 million in sales.

Looking at the many photographs and plaques that crowd the walls of the main office, chronicling Folz’s rich history, you can understand his discouragement at the prospect of the vestiges of his modest business empire being shipped away next month. In his spacious personal office, Folz’s golf awards compete for space with oversized photos of his family: his wife, Adele, who, during the early years, stored the vending merchandise in their Plymouth, and their two children — his late son, Elliot, standing in a hard hat next to the skeletal structure of what would become the company’s 40,000-square-foot headquarters at 3401 Lawson in 1979.

Other photos show Folz shaking hands with the powerful friends he has made through the years, ranging from then U.S. Sens. Alfonse D’Amato and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Rep. Norman Lent to David Rockefeller and George H. W. Bush. There are shots of Jerry Lewis and his March Of Dimes kids, whom Folz helped raise millions. Plaques recognize Folz as Toys "R" Us’s Vendor of the Year, and a framed letter from President Bill Clinton thank Folz for sending a vending machine to the White House.

When ask about letters from his customers, Folz instantly recalled a boy who wrote to him about the miniature NFL football helmets the boy collected from Folz’s machines. "He said that he spent $5 in coins trying to get a Jets helmet," Folz said, chuckling. "So I sent him a whole bag of them."

Folz said that he got his best advice from a friend in the vending business: Children are among the smartest buyers, so give them more value for their money. "The kids were very astute," Folz said. "If my machines gave them 13 pistachios and my competitor gave them 11, they knew right away to go to my machines."

He has always had a simple motto: beat the competition. "To come up with ways to do a better job with our service," he said.

At 21, after graduating from Woodmere High School in 1946 and while working as an errand boy at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street, he got the idea to do bulk vending part-time. He hooked up with Sal Aragona, a friend who was already in the industry, and the two installed their first gumball machine at a luncheonette in Valley Stream.

"Roger was a good guy, a very fair person who really had a head on his shoulders," said Aragona, who became Folz’s shop foreman in 1953. He retired in 1994 and now lives in Harbor Isle. "As far as business, he was very aggressive."

Folz recognized that most vending companies were regional — so he became the first bulk operator to sell his machines nationwide. After he and Aragona put machines in stores in New York, they headed to Florida, Texas and Massachusetts, and into Canada. Folz’s first big account was with Grand Union supermarkets in the early 1950s. By mid-decade, he had 4,000 machines in A&P stores. Folz Vending peaked in the early 1990s, when he scored accounts with K-Mart, Toys "R" Us, Wal-Mart and Safeway, which generated tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Folz’s son-in-law, Elliot Leibner, who became one of his salesmen in 1984, said Folz was nothing if not a motivator. "I’ve watched Roger time and again go for a goal, and he gets results," said Leibner, who now owns Elyse Vending in Oceanside. "When people come up with excuses, he gets pissed. … He doesn’t like people who look around passively to solve problems, when most of the time you find that to achieve your goals, you have to do it the hard way."

Another element of Folz’s success was his lobbying efforts. He learned early in his career that it was crucial for a businessman to have good friends in the political world —and the friendships he has made have saved his company hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. "His lobbying was definitely his passion," Leibner said.

Take, for example, a single year, 1965, in which Folz successfully lobbied for a 10-cent sales tax exemption and won a case against the Food & Drug Administration, after it charged that children were swallowing his toys and dying as a result. "We showed [the FDA] stats from Australia that proved that our toys were safe," Folz said, noting Congressman Lent’s help in that case.

Backed by the National Bulk Vendors Association, Folz lobbied against excise taxes, and won property tax exemptions in many locations where he operated, from New York to Illinois to Texas.

On the philanthropic front, beyond his work with Jerry Lewis in the mid-1980s, Folz has donated a great deal of money to hometown causes. Through the Oceanside Rotary Club, which he joined in 1967 and served as president twice, he donated $1,000 a year for 10 years to South Nassau Communities Hospital. For nearly two decades, the club used his warehouse to store pallets of groceries for its annual food drive.

Stu Gubenko, who spearheaded many of those drives, echoed other Rotarians when he described Folz as instrumental to the club’s longevity. "Without Roger, this Rotary could not exist," Gubenko said. "He is its backbone. He looks at life, and everything in it, as a business proposition, and he has a keen mind for that — he knows how people work and how to motivate them."

In 1998, Folz was the first major donor to the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center at Neil Court, writing a check for $250,000. Each year he gives $17,000 to the Oceanside High School’s Scholarship Fund. Most recently, he commissioned a Davison Avenue memorial to the Oceanside civilians killed in the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Folz’s factory workers, too, have benefited from his goodwill. "He always took care of his employees," said John Tatino, who has worked in the shipping department for 21 years. "He always thinks of us and helps us."

"Roger Folz was one of the best bosses I ever had," said Isabelino Morales, a shop steward and a 19-year employee. "He treated the people very decently."

While Tatino has a new job lined up at St. Francis Hospital, Morales has yet to find work, and like many other employees soon to be laid off, he is still searching. And Folz, too, is uncertain about his future. The beginning of his company’s end came, ironically, during its peak years, the early ’90s. A recession cost him some 5,000 accounts from stores forced to close, a blow he never recovered from. "Plus, more vending companies were popping up and copying what we were doing," he said.

Coinstar, the leader in coin counting, DVD and crank vending machines, bought American Coin, and with it, Folz, in 2004. When Coinstar moves to Colorado on Dec. 21, Folz and eight of his front-office personnel will stay in Oceanside, at least for the time being.

Meanwhile, Leibner is trying to convince his father-in-law to join him in his vending business across town. "One thing is for sure," Leibner said. "Roger can leave knowing that for anyone who came to the United States wanting to achieve the American dream, they would want to have achieved what he accomplished."

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:

Jeannot Gets Life Without Parole

(I was awarded 3rd place for coverage of crime/police/courts in Division III of the New York Press Association’s 2006 Better Newspaper Contest. The following article earned me that award.)

Murder victim's family says prayers were answered

By Joseph Kellard

Perhaps no statement encapsulated both the brutality of her son's murder and the deep pain she and her family feel than the one Kathy Calabrese read to Judge Meryl Berkowitz while her son's killer, Herve Jeannot, sat nearby, awaiting his sentencing.

Noting that the bullet wounds her son, Robert Calabrese Jr., sustained to his head left the family no choice but to have a closed-casket funeral, Kathy leaned on the podium and, fighting back tears, cried, "I couldn't even see my son after he died. I couldn't even kiss him, I couldn't even touch him."

Calabrese, 24, a Long Beach native, was Kathy and Robert Calabrese's oldest son, brother to Gina Cuenza, 28, and Chris and Nick Calabrese, 23 and 20. Only Nick was absent from the Mineola courtroom on Nov. 1 when family members asked Berkowitz to give Jeannot -- convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in August -- the maximum penalty. Berkowitz sentenced the 25-year-old Deer Park man to life in prison without parole for his execution-style shooting of Calabrese in Island Park in December 2004.

As each member of the Calabrese family read an emotional statement, Jeannot, an ex-Marine dressed in a black suit and blue collared shirt and tie, sat motionless, staring straight ahead.

Robert Calabrese Sr., noting that "Bobby" loved to laugh and play practical jokes, stressed the numbness and pain his family has suffered since his son's murder. "Today, in my house," he told Berkowitz, "laughter is the exception, not the rule."

A boy who grew up playing football and baseball, Robert Jr. made many friends with his generous demeanor. He saved birds with broken wings and captured flies in cups to set them free outside, his sister once noted.

Wearing a gold crucifix over a brown sweater, Cuenza asked Berkowitz to consider, above all, the emotional impact her brother's murder has had on her family, described as painful and disastrous. "When we're not crying on the outside, we are crying and sick inside," she said, calling Jeannot "downright evil."

"None of my children have that sparkle in their smile anymore," Kathysaid as friends and family members cried.

Before making her statement, Kathy read another prepared by Nick. “I'm weak, emotionally unstable and messed up,” he wrote. “I'm at the lowest point in my life, and I don't think it's going to get any easier ... I don't want to live anymore.”

Nick and Chris both idolized their older brother, a champion wrestler at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale who transferred to Long Beach High, where he graduated in 1998. After working at various jobs, Robert was planning to take the police test to become an officer and follow the path of his father, a retired officer with the Long Beach Police Department. He was murdered the day before the test.

Jeannot's family sat silently in the courtroom, his parents wearing blank expressions. After Jeannot declined to speak, Berkowitz mentioned the many letters she had received from his family and friends, who pleaded for compassion and leniency.

The judge drew parallels between the victim and his murderer, including their similar age, good looks and families who loved them. "But on Dec. 3, 2004," Berkowitz said, "Jeannot chose to turn his back on the love his family gave him." Instead, she said, he turned to Mark Orlando.

Orlando, 36, of Bayshore, worked with Jeannot at Professional Credit Services, a Farmingdale collection agency where the two accomplices were arrested and charged with Calabrese's murder on Dec. 9, 2004.

During their trials -- three for Jeannot and one for Orlando -- prosecutors argued that Calabrese, a Garden City mortgage broker, placed bets for them on sports events in the fall of 2004, and Orlando accumulated a $17,000 debt and Jeannot $1,000.

That Dec. 3, Orlando called Calabrese to request a meeting in Island Park under the pretense that he would pay him his debt. At around 8:30 p.m., prosecutors said, Orlando lured Calabrese away from heavily traveled Austin Boulevard behind stores on Broadway.

Once there, Calabrese got out of his 2003 Infiniti and approached Orlando, believing he was to receive a payment. The two men hugged and, prosecutors said, Orlando grabbed the victim's shirt and yanked it over his head to immobilize him for Jeannot, who emerged from a hiding spot, came up behind Calabrese and shot him in the back of the head with a .44-caliber Magnum revolver. After Calabrese hit the ground, Jeannot shot him twice more in the head, and the two men fled in Orlando's car, according to the prosecution.

Soon afterward, residents who had heard the gunfire found Calabrese lying face down in the street.

During Jeannot's trials, his lawyer, Daniel Hochheiser of Manhattan, argued that his client was merely a witness to the crime and failed to report the murder for fear that Orlando would harm him and his family, and that police coerced a confession from Jeannot.

Jeannot confessed that Orlando paid him $4,000 to kill Calabrese, and he said he tossed the murder weapon off the Sloop Channel Bridge. The Marine Bureau recovered the gun, and police found the cash in Jeannot’s bedroom closet.

At his first trial in September 2005, a jury deliberated for 71 hours and was deadlocked in a 10-2 vote to convict before Judge David Sullivan declared a mistrial. In February 2006, Jeannot's second trial failed to yield a verdict, only this time the jury voted 11-1 not to convict. "At that point, we all questioned whether justice would be done," Robert Sr. said.

Jeannot's third trial, this summer, lasted more than four weeks. After deliberating for less than four hours, the jury convicted him on Aug. 11.

For Chris Calabrese, the most difficult part of all the trials was listening to the presentation of evidence. "Just hearing some of the physical evidence of how my brother died was hard," said Chris, who told Berkowitz his brother was caring, intelligent and loved life.

During Orlando's trial in June 2005, his attorney, Dennis Lemke of Mineola, argued that Orlando was unaware that Jeannot planned to shoot Calabrese, and he never called police about the murder because Jeannot had threatened to kill him and his wife if he revealed the crime. Orlando was convicted of second-degree murder in June 2005, and two months later he received the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

Jeannot's lawyer at his sentencing, William Aronwald of White Plains, asked the judge to give Jeannot the same sentence, arguing that Orlando had the relationship with Calabrese and that Jeannot was merely the hired gunman. "Consider the fact that Mark Orlando is the one who actually made the plans to kill him," Aronwald said.

"Murder for hire certainly deserves life without parole," SherylAnania, executive assistant district attorney for litigation, argued.

Berkowitz told Jeannot that if he had only asked for $50 each from all the people who wrote her letters, he could have paid off his debt. But the judge stressed that she thought his motives ran deeper than money. "I believe this was a cold-blooded murder to impress Orlando," Berkowitz said.

Robert Calabrese Sr. told Berkowitz that, since New York state is without the death penalty, "[Jeannot] deserves every year, every month, every day, every minute, every second of his sentence," stressing each unit of time with a raised voice. As he finished speaking, he shot a stare at Jeannot. "Remember," he said, "there will always be a Calabrese waiting to prevent you from getting out."

When Berkowitz announced the sentence, the Calabreses shouted with joy and applauded briefly. Jeannot's family sat dazed, and then some began to cry as court officers took him away in handcuffs. The Jeannots left the courthouse without comment.

Outside the courtroom, hugging relatives and friends, Kathy Calabrese and her daughter said that their prayers were answered, and Robert Sr. expressed relief that he no longer had to come to court.

Chris, who had asked Berkowitz to sentence Jeannot to an upstate prison, not the county's "country club" prison, said he wanted Jeannot to serve his sentence far away from his family and know the real meaning of hard time. "I'm just happy to know," Chris said, "that he¹s going to be treated like a girl the rest of his life."

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:

Business Elves Work Overtime

For some stores, hours and sales double or more

By Joseph Kellard

It’s lunchtime on the Wednesday thirteen days before Christmas, and Joe Dee has several undecorated wreaths spread out on a workstation table at Dee’s Nursery in Oceanside. They are among the thousands of wreaths and garlands, hundreds of them custom ordered, that Dee estimates he and his staff are making before the big holiday.

The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the nursery’s second busiest time of year, rivaled only by the May planting season, but this is more hectic because Dee and his family’s business face a definite deadline: Dec. 25.

“I would say it’s definitely crazier," said Dee, who opens the store every day at 8 a.m. and closes it by 10 p.m. during the Christmas and holiday season. "The Christmas business is compacted more into the shorter time period. We do most of our Christmas business in three weeks, as opposed to six to eight weeks in springtime."

During the Christmas and holiday season, Dee’s, a family-owned, decades-old nursery that is a virtual Oceanside institution on Atlantic Avenue, is nevertheless relatively no busier than many other businesses, particularly those that create and customize everything from decorations to presents, during this time of year.

Sami Saatchi, owner of SVS Fine Jewelry on Long Beach Road in Oceanside, gets an influx of orders during late November and December, particularly for custom rings, since many couples typically get engaged around the holidays.

During these months, Saatchi can be found cutting his diamonds into the night, often a few hours past his usual 6 p.m. closing time. Normally, a custom job can take about four to six weeks. During this time, Saatchi can manage to make a custom ring in a week and a half. "It gets crazy," Saatchi said, laughing and echoing Dee’s sentiments.

On the Wednesday after Black Friday, Saatchi said that in the next three weeks, due to time constraints, he will probably create some 20 custom pieces before Christmas. He starts by putting the customer’s specific drawing to a computer program that allows him to create a virtual rendition on the flat screen on his shop’s wall. SVS is among more than a dozen jewelry stores in and around Oceanside, including his father’s shop in Island Park, but Saatchi believes that providing such technology gives him an edge over them. And a smaller, family store like his has a different advantage over the likes of Zales or Kay Jewelers.

"Jewelry, after all, is used to celebrate all the special moments in our lives," Saatchi said, "and you want to know who it’s coming from and you want to make it that personal … We get to know our customers and it becomes a lot more personal experience. It really [boils] down to, ‘Who has done the right thing by someone I know.’"

Arlene Toback, owner of Chapter One Books in the T.J. Maxx shopping center on Long Beach Road, said that while regular customers still come to her store during the holidays, she gets many unfamiliar faces that can effectively triple her business. "Along with summer, it’s my best time," Toback said.

Not a business that creates merchandise like a nursery or jewelry store, Chapter One must otherwise emphasize customer service. And even though Toback has few competitors in the area, she nevertheless must compete with the distant chain stores such as Barnes & Noble and Border’s near Roosevelt Field Mall — not to mention customers who come to her store, find a book they want, but order a cheaper copy on

"It’s a tough thing and I can’t compete with that," Toback admits. She looks, instead, to create a staff that knows the books her customers typically read. "I want to be able to talk to my customers about the books we’re selling," said Toback, who reads everything from mysteries to book club materials to children’s books.

Toback keeps abreast of the book world by reading the New York Times Sunday Book Review and Publishers Weekly, as well as taking suggestions from her kids, ages 10, 14 and 17. During the Christmas season, Toback said she likes to educate herself on the books that people tend to buy more during this time.

Chapter One also has a one-day book-delivery service to compete with. "If a person comes in for a book, and if my distributor in New Jersey or New York has it in stock, I can pretty much have it for them the next day," Toback said.

While her store is busy during the Black Friday weekend after Thanksgiving, when business typically doubles, sales can triple as Christmas nears. "Those last two and a half weeks before Christmas is when I really have many shoppers," Toback said.

At Dee’s, the weekend after Thanksgiving, most customers come in for indoor and outdoor decorations, to get started on creating some Christmas spirit around their homes.

As Dee was creating his wreaths last week, a sales representative dropped by, opening his large binder filled with holiday products to keep Dee’s shelves stocked.

"Tom, do you have those white swags left?" Dee said to the sales representative. "I have a woman who started decorating her house, didn’t have enough, and when she came back I was all out."

On the third weekend and the week leading up to Dec. 25, the live merchandise, from poinsettias to evergreen trees, moves the most.

The Dee’s own tree farm in Maine keeps the nursery self-sufficient with live Christmas trees. But that’s not always the case with the fresh cut flowers in the nursery’s floral department. Dee’s hires about 10 percent more staff during December, mostly to sell trees and to make the floral arrangements, table centerpieces and fruit and gourmet baskets that comprise the shop’s most popular items.

"Because they are perishable, these items are usually one of the last thoughts people have," said Steve Dee, Joe’s older brother, who sits at a computer in the floral department Googling information on fir trees. "So five or six days before the holidays is the busiest time back here."

While Dee’s tries to give customers a choice of up to a dozen different centerpieces or bouquets to distinguish the nursery from the chain florists, some customers desire unique flowers – whether specific to a particular region, such as Holland, or that have exotic colors. But days before Christmas, these are not always easy to get from a local wholesaler, Steve said.

"It does get pretty frantic," he said, "and sometimes people who want something special, they do it the day before. So," he said with a grin, as if talking to his customers, "remember to order early."

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

Seasons of Perfection

Athletes, coaches reflect on undefeated Oceanside H.S. teams

By Joseph Kellard
Statistically speaking, the 1973 Oceanside High School boys’ soccer team was more dominant than the New England Patriots, who head into Super Bowl XLII on Sunday with a perfect record. That’s the opinion of Ron Atanasio, the star player on that OHS squad, which posted an 18-0 record and outscored its opponents 100 goals to 4.

“That was, and to this day is, the best high school team that was ever fielded,” said Atanasio, who was a junior in ’73. “We would have beaten a lot of college teams with that high school team — that’s how good we were.”

Consider also that the squad’s stats could have been even better. Atanasio, who shattered all of the school’s scoring records and went on to play profession soccer with Pelé and the New York Cosmos in the late 1970s, recalled that in games in which the Sailors took a 5-, 6- or 7-goal lead by halftime, his coach, the late Artie Wright, would yank him from the lineup.

“Wright used to take me out and never let me play the second half because I used to score the goals, and he didn’t want to win 15-0 and rub it anyone’s face,” Atanasio recalled. In the playoffs that year, Oceanside downed Calhoun 6-0, Lynbrook 7-0, Mepham 4-1 and, in the county championships, Farmingdale 7-0.

The ’73 soccer team was one of just six OHS teams in the school’s history that have posted undefeated seasons. The 1938 football team finished 7-0, the 1955 football team was 8-0, the 1958 boys’ soccer team went 15-0, the 1969 boys’ soccer team was 17-0-1 and, for the decade between 1965 and 1975, the boys’ track team was in another category entirely, winning 82 consecutive meets.

The soccer program is arguably the school’s most successful. Wright, who started the program in 1953 and coached the team until he retired in 1978, compiled a 315-80-40 record and led his squads to 19 championships, including nine county and four Long Island titles.

“It was something very special,” said Warren Cadiz, who was Wright’s assistant coach from 1968 to 1973. “With the 1973 team, Artie just pulled all the right strings. He seemed to know when to make the right moves.”

For Atanasio, the question was never whether the team would manage to go undefeated, but rather how badly the Sailors would defeat their opponents. “There really wasn’t any pressure, because we were so much better,” said Atanasio, 51, who retired to Hampton Bays after co-owning a Manhattan-based woman’s handbag company. “You know how the Patriots almost lost a couple of close games this year? We weren’t even close to that. Our average scores were like a football team winning 42 to nothing all the time.”

The coaches’ biggest fear, Cadiz said, was that the players’ confidence, which grew as the season went on, might work against them. And the unthinkable almost happened in the team’s final game of the year, the Long Island Championship, in which the Sailors defeated West Islip 1-0.

“I think everybody might have been uptight in that game,” Cadiz remembered, noting that West Islip played a defensive game and managed only a few fast breaks. “But our defense was so dominant, we always seemed to clear the ball, and even the goaltenders, when they had to make a play, they would,” Cadiz said.

Wright’s players attribute the success of his program to the youth soccer leagues that he started at Oceanside schools when the sport was still alien to most Americans. Paul Fardy, a midfielder on the 15-0 team in 1958, said Wright got kids interest in soccer when they were still in elementary school.

“Mr. Wright had a wonderful and very captivating personality,” said Fardy, 66, who became a cardiologist and now lives in Point Lookout, “and so he got a lot of kids who were good athletes to play soccer that might just as well have played football. He introduced them to this new game.

Fardy played in what he believes was the first-ever night game on Long Island at OHS, before a couple of thousand spectators, when the ’58 Sailors defeated South Side 2-0. “The place was packed,” Fardy recounted. “It was standing room only and was really quite something. It was very exciting.”

In the county championship, the Sailors blanked Garden City 2-0, and they played South Side again in the South Shore Championship at Adelphi, winning 4-1.

A track record of winning

In 1965, in a meet against Uniondale, coach Roy Chernock’s boys’ track team was the last Oceanside squad to lose a meet until April 28, 1975, 82 meets later, when the Sailors fell to Uniondale again.

From the time he took over the track team in 1957 to the day he passed the coaching baton to Ken Hendler in 1967, Chernock’s teams posted a 105-3 record, capturing the Eastern State championship in 1963 and indoor state titles in 1961 and 1964. Hendler, who continues to coach the high school track and cross-country teams, recalled that there was a lot of pressure to win when following such a successful coach. “Roy Chernock passed the tradition to me,” Hendler said, “and you knew what was expected and what those goals were, and we tried to continue those goals.” Hendler continued Chernock’s notoriously difficult workouts, all the while reminding his athletes of the stars of teams past and the undefeated streak.

Brian Batzer, who ran the 440 and the 880 in 1972, called Hendler an excellent motivator who always worked the athletes into peak condition for the biggest meets. While he never let them forget the streak, Batzer said that he and his teammates felt no extra pressure.

“We just expected to win,” said Batzer, an assistant principal at Holy Cross High in Flushing who lives in West Hempstead. “It wasn’t conceit or anything like that. There were just great athletes on that team.”

Batzer remembered meets against schools that the Sailors were almost sure to beat, when Hendler would enter his athletes in events that weren’t their specialties. “And we’d still beat those teams by a lot,” Batzer said, recalling one event in which his coach made him run the two-mile, and then immediately follow it up with the 200-yard sprint.

The loss to Uniondale in 1975, as Hendler remembers it, was a thrilling meet that could have gone either way, and came down to the final relay. In the three seasons that followed, Hendler’s team again never lost a meet. The Sailors lost once in 1979 — again, to Uniondale — before going undefeated again in 1980.

Gridiron greatness: from worst to first

Oceanside’s football team had lost all eight of its games in 1954, the year before Joe Scannella took over the program and earned Coach of the Year in 1955, when the Sailors finished 8-0.

Scannella later coached at Cornell, Baldwin High School and C.W. Post before he became a special teams coach for the Oakland Raiders team that won the Super Bowl in 1977. In 1984, he became offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns.

His four-year OHS career couldn’t have started on a better note, when the Sailors returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in an 18-0 victory over LaSalle Military Academy. The Sailors shut out their next two opponents — Levittown, 26-0, and Garden City, 6-0 — and blanked Wantagh 26-0 in the sixth game of the season.

John Maxwell, a tight end and defensive end, said that there were no outstanding players on that team — although they had a good quarterback and running back in Frank Santoli and Bobby Renner, respectively — and that their success was due, in part, to the fact that they played together for a number of years. “We were lucky in that everyone seemed to come together at that time,” said Maxwell, 69, a retired New York City Police Department sergeant, from his home in Florida.

The big difference, Maxwell said, was coach Scannella, who simplified the playbook. “The blocking scheme really just came down to four different blocks,” Maxwell recalled. While there was no football playoff system in those years, the eighth and final game of Oceanside’s season was against its longtime rival, South Side, and the Sailors prevailed 21-7.

Before there was a Scannella or a Maxwell, there were Charles Mosback and Steve Poleshuk, the coach and caption of OHS’s first perfect team, the 1938 football squad. Mosback, who became the principal at Oceanside High School (then on Merle Avenue), and Poleshuk, who became an All-American at Colgate and returned to coach the OHS team, lead the Sailors to a 7-0 season.

In those pre-playoff days, the team was awarded the Rutgers Cup, recognizing the most outstanding football team in the county, and defeated Valley Stream Central in its final game. “In a driving rain, before 10,000 people in bleachers that were installed around the field at Merle Avenue,” said Frank Januszewski, a basketball coach who built the Hall of Fame at OHS in 1960, “Oceanside beat Valley Stream 6-0.”

Photo by Joel Scott

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Whistler's Mother Has Nothing on Them

Long Beach-based artist group for moms shows works in gallery

By Joseph Kellard

A print of Renoir’s "Child in White" on her bedroom wall served as the sister she never had while growing up in Indiana.

"Throughout my life, art has inspired me," said Sueanne Shirzay, the Lido Beach woman who last Sunday opened an exhibit featuring the Long Beach-based Artist Mothers Group at her namesake gallery, located on the second floor above Carpet Craft, at 4410 Austin Blvd. in Island Park.

While Shirzay hopes patrons will find their own personal "Child in White" to inspire them among the AMG’s works adorning her studio walls, she found that joining the group last year inspired her to open the gallery by year’s end.

"It’s really been a constant source of information," Shirzay said about the 13-member group comprised of artists who create in diverse mediums, from paintings to fiber to PhotoShop.

The exhibit, which runs until April 19, also features drawings, jewelry and decorated coffee tables, with paintings ranging in price from prints that go for $45 to originals that climb into the thousand dollar range.

Shirzay, a former advertising and publishing art director and mother of children ages 6, 11 and 13, exhibited her painting "Hydrangeas," featuring the flowers in a suspended glass vase. The painting shared wall space with PhotoShop collages that came from the lens of Denise Bory, a co-founder of AMG. The Lido Beach woman takes detailed digital shots of her subjects, including insects, flower buds and sunsets, and merges these components, usually around a portrait of a child or animal, to evoke a particular theme, such as tropical or seasonal motifs.

"I often change around colors," Bory said about the artistic side of her medium, which she dubs "digistration." "I may start out with something green, like a leaf, and change it to purple.” Bory, whose son is now 8-years-old, was living in Long Beach when she helped establish the Artist Mothers Group in October 2001. Among her cohorts is Lillian Gruber of Long Beach, who then had a toddler daughter and recalled that the idea for a moms-oriented group originated in a breastfeeding group. They found other women there had artistic sides that were inhibited by motherhood. The group would grow to include textilists, sculptors, ceramic craftswomen, and pencil and pastel artists, some of them award winners and others who’d worked for the likes of Hanna-Barbera and Disney.

"We found that it had all been some time since we’d done our art," Gruber remembered, "and that there was nothing here for women with children who could do art."

Some AMG members, along with Bory and Gruber, belonged to the Long Beach Art League, and found that people at that and other groups were simply intolerant of children around for various reasons.

Elizabeth Connolly of Long Beach, a textile designer before she had a child and joined the AMG, said people were mostly concerned that the children would disturb things, whether pieces of art or the calm of the class.

"With the Artist Mothers Group," Connolly said, "we were able to band together and make a place for ourselves, because having our children beside us is important."

At last Sunday’s exhibit, Connolly displayed her coffee table-type polyvinyl bowl, and on a wall hung one of her tapestries, called "Self-Preservation," which featured a canvas covered in layers of objects, including a bouquet of dried-up roses and lavender, a scarf-like fabric and filaments such as earrings and twigs.

Originally, the AMG met weekly at one member’s house, where a babysitter watched their children upstairs while the mothers drew or painted hired models downstairs. The next year, in 2002, the group staged its first show, and it received a grant from the Nassau Council for the Arts, and later was given the opportunity to hold weekly drawing sessions at the Long Beach Community Center, where the group operates today.

Members went on to hold more shows, and in March 2003 received an award from the Nassau Council for the Arts for an exhibit entitled "The Motherhood Experience." This show was held at the Long Beach Library later that year, which made the pages of Newsday, and since then the AMG has exhibited at South Shore galleries. And while the group’s exposure grew, so did its membership that started to include women who had older children.

Paula Gach Moskowitz of Long Beach joined the AMG as a mother of teenagers who needed a place to retreat to paint her portraits and landscapes. But that didn’t mean her children were no longer a distraction.

"When I go to paint, it’s like I leave the world," Moskowitz explained. "But once I had kids, I could never really totally relax like that because your life belongs to them, 24/7, and you’re always worrying about them, and it’s very hard to leave that space of anxiety, concern and vigilance to totally remove yourself."

Moskowitz — whose large painting "Long Beach Sky" is dominated by a dark-blue cloud that dwarfs the beach-goers below — said AMG is important to her because of the empathy they showed for her concerns with family.

"I felt that everyone was serious about their art," she said, "but had the same issue of having to choose between doing your art or taking care of the kids."

Jennifer Turturro of Baldwin got involved with AMG three years ago after her daughter was born, which gave her the opportunity to work at least one time a week on her art when once she had seemingly endless hours. The group also gave her the chance to be around women with the same creative needs.

Besides paints, Turturro works in wool, and one of her pieces on display at the gallery was a basketball-sized hibiscus, whose red, orange and yellow petals were needle and wet felted from a ball of wool. It took about 10 hours to create, but when asked if she did it in one sitting, Turturro laughed and said, "No, over days, because I have toddlers running around the house, and there’s diapers to be changed, meals to be made and toys to be picked up."

For information about the Artist Mothers Group, visit their Web site at, or contact the Sueanne Shirzay Gallery at (516) 241-5836, by email at or visit the Web site at

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, May 10, 2008

Performing 'Wonderous' Music

Band covers entire classic rock albums

By Joseph Kellard

Wonderous Stories once played the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the Who’s “Tommy” and Yes’s “Close to the Edge” — all in their entirety. While that’s an unusual set for the five-piece band, performing whole albums is a trademark of Wonderous Stories, whose members further pride themselves on never practicing together or following a set list.

At a show at TJ Farrel’s in Bellmore last Friday, the band played no LPs, yet hinted that they might by opening the show with “Baba O’Riley” and “Bargain,” the first two tracks on “Who’s Next.” By evening’s end, keyboardist Mark Bonder let loose the eerie wind and cathedral-like synthesizer sounds that introduce “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” as drummer Ricky Martinez did his best Elton John on lead vocals. Bonder and Martinez are two of the band’s multi-instrumental musicians, along with front man Kenny Forgione and Kevin McCann, who both sing and play guitar and bass, and lead guitarist Tommy Williams.

In between the Who and Elton John songs, the band peppered their sets with a host of Beatles’ tunes, including “Magical Mystery Tour,” “A Day in the Life,” “Taxman,” and “Birthday,” the last at the request of some fans in the crowd celebrating their special day.

“Here’s one you won’t hear everyday,” Forgione said before breaking into “I Am The Walrus,” as Bonder’s keyboard supplied the string section.

While Wonderous Stories’ library features enough familiar tunes, the band never shies away from playing relatively obscure songs. Last Friday, they performed Yes’s most popular song “Roundabout,” when Jon Anderson-like vocalist Laura Press stepped on stage to sing, as well as the lesser known “Heart of the Sunrise” from the same album. “Here goes nothing,” Forgione said before he plunged into that technical number.

While the band is faithful to the recorded versions, sometimes uncannily so, they still take enough liberties with the covers to express their particular styles. The one constant, though, is their spot-on, tight precision, a quality all the more outstanding considering their disdain for rehearsals.

“We’re able to do this because these are all songs we grew up listening to,” said Forgione, who spent his pre-Wonderous Stories’ days performing with McCann.

The duo’s acoustic gigs ranged from well-known Beatles’ tunes to Tears for Fears-like pop songs of the day. But they also injected some personal favorites, such as Peter Gabriel-era Genesis tunes. “And we’d always have some people who would tell us, ‘I can’t believe you’re playing that stuff,’” Forgione recalled.

In 1993, he and McCann formed a trio with Chris Clark, the band’s original keyboardist, who introduced much of the intricate progressive rock, including Yes. After adding a drummer, the quartet played increasingly more sets of this intense, relatively obscure music. The following year, Martinez, the drummer on PBS’s “Sesame Street,” replaced the band’s percussionist, and two years later Williams, the musical director for 1980s pop star Debbie Gibson, completed Wonderous Stories (named and spelled after a Yes song).

In more recent years, Bonder has filled in as Clark has performed on Broadway, most recently in “Wicked.” But when Bonder, Martinez and Williams joined the band, each brought more songs to cover, from Pink Floyd to Steely Dan.

The idea to play whole albums grew out of Forgione’s love of one in particular. “‘Tommy’ affected me from the time I was a kid,” said Forgione, who keeps his long brown hair in a ponytail. “When I heard it, it freaked me out. So if it did that for me, it must have done it for other people, too.”

“All of us said, ‘Wow, this is really fascinating and challenging, let’s try to pull this off,’” Martinez remembered.

The band first tested the waters with “Sgt. Pepper,” as Clark learned to play the difficult parts, like the strings on “She’s Leaving Home.” “People loved it,” Forgione recalled, “because not only are you playing the hits everyone knows, but also the songs that people forget about.”

The band then played “Tommy,” a double-LP, and several other, mostly “concept” albums, including the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Abbey Road” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” which they once performed at Heckscher Park before some 4,000 fans.

Wonderous Stories draws many fans in their 40s and 50s, but is attracting a sizable younger crowd, including college-age kids, at its gigs at venues like B.B. King Blues Club in Manhattan, Coyote Grill in Island Park, Mulcahy’s in Wantagh, and the Jones Beach boardwalk band shell.

Williams, who grew up in Merrick listening to the Beatles, Cream, Yes and Genesis when disco and punk were the rage, is surprised and heartened when younger fans sing back to them every lyric of every song, even the obscure ones, from any random album they play. He sees this as their yearning for the album era.

“With the advent of downloading, very few people download a whole album — they mostly take a song or two from many different albums,” Williams said. “So the idea of an album as an entity that you listen to, it’s become like an aging bottle of wine. It’s much cooler to get one of those now.”

The band opened its second set on Friday with a medley of vintage numbers, including “Lucky Man” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” and Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” Among the last few songs on their impromptu list were the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out” and “Bodhisattva” by Steely Dan.

“That’s the thing with us,” Forgione said, “you never know what we’re going to play. We don’t even know what we’re going to play.”

To learn more about Wonderous Stories, visit the band’s Web site at

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

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