Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bars Suit Up for Football Season

By Joseph Kellard

For Long Beach sports bars, the football season offers a profitable segue from the busy summer months. When the NFL kicks off in September, establishments are quick to fly Jets and Giants flags, dress employees in team jerseys and serve drinks in football-shaped cups, all while showing a dizzying variety of games each Sunday on multiple high-definition or plasma flat screens.

“We try to recreate the stadium atmosphere,” said Tom Corning, who has owned Minnesota’s on West Beech Street for 15 years. “And people will come off the beach in flip-flops and their beach chairs, wearing a football jersey.”

Last Sunday featured two top early-season matchups, Jets-Patriots and Giants-Cowboys. “Having those two biggest rivalries on the same day, it’s just going to be a very good crowd for the whole day,” said Ben Fraiser of the Beach House on West Beech Street.

Both Corning and Fraiser, who managed sports bars for many years before opening the Beach House three years ago, said the crowds at their bars on Sundays are diversifying, as more hard-core male fans come out to watch the games with their girlfriends or wives. “Not anymore is it just guys coming out to watch the game,” Fraiser said. “The crowd now includes couples and families — it’s groups of girls in their Jets jerseys.”

While buffalo wings, sliders and other finger foods are the rage on Sundays, Minnesota’s looks to tap into the growing number of female fans by highlighting brunch and more health-oriented foods, with 30 new items, including Latin lettuce wraps with sautéed chicken. “The whole menu is geared toward women because they’re becoming just as big fans as their boyfriends and husbands,” Corning said.

On Sundays, the Beach House offers beer and wings samplers, quesadillas, fried calamari, slider burgers and crab cakes, and runs drink specials all day. “Football skyrockets the brunch business, and brunch really brings the women out,” Fraiser said.

Meanwhile, at Billy’s Beach Cafe on West Park Avenue, owner Billy Romm estimates that about 25 percent of his football Sunday business is takeout. “A lot of food goes out on Sundays just to homes,” Romm said.

The owner of his establishment for 23 years, Romm said his average patron is middle-aged or older — and that the greater affordability of flat-screen TVs has put a dent in his business. “It’s not like it was 15 years ago,” he said. “Now it’s a lot easier for the public to do this in their own home.”

Romm also believes that stricter DWI laws and the ban on smoking in bars, as well as the ailing economy, have negatively impacted his business. “The crowds have diminished, and I’m really caught for a way to bring them out again,” he said.

Beside the food, Romm said, he believes that one reason people still come to his bar is to watch all the games at once, which some home television packages don’t offer. “That’s an advantage for some crazy sports fanatic degenerate gambler,” he said.

With mostly 20-somethings populating West End bars, fantasy football, in which fans form their own leagues and teams and draft pro players, also factors considerably into their crowds.

“They’re not just watching their teams anymore; they’re watching to see which ones of their fantasy players are scoring points,” Fraiser said.

Changes in the NFL’s television schedule have also affected bars. This season marks the third year that the premier nationally televised game takes place on Sunday night, starting at 8:30, instead of the once more highly rated “Monday Night Football,” which kicks off after 9 p.m. “Go back 15 or 20 year ago, people on Monday would stay out to 1 a.m. if the game was still going on,” Romm said. “It’s not like that anymore.”

In an effort to make up for the drop in business on Mondays, Fraiser runs all-you-can-eat wings specials during the game, and Corning keeps most of the same Sunday specials on Mondays.

As winter approaches, bar owners keep their fingers crossed that the Giants and Jets will be playoff contenders. But even if those prospects are dim, the fans still come to watch the games.

“It’s not as if you see less people,” Fraiser explained. “You see less people coming in dressed in their jerseys and really chanting.”

Of course, if the Jets and/or the Giants make it to the postseason, business will reach a cold-weather peak. “So by December or January, it’s crazy,” Corning said. “It’s like being at the stadium each Sunday.”

Photo Courtesy Arthur Findley

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Finding Solace By the Sea

9/11 boardwalk benches serve as memorials for families

By Joseph Kellard

“It’s the right spot to be,” Mary Ann Marino said of a bench on the Long Beach boardwalk that she and her family dedicated to her firefighter son, Ken, soon after he was killed at the scorched World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Ken’s remains were never found, and although his name and image are part of many memorials, from his native Oceanside to Manhattan, the bench has come to symbolically substitute as his final resting place. “We don’t have any place to go,” said Mary Ann. “We never found Kenny.”

While the gold lettering of the bench plaque’s inscription has faded after nearly eight years, the words remain: “Love is eternal. It has no beginning and no end.” Like other families who have dedicated benches to their loved ones killed on 9/11, Mary Ann and her husband, Pat, as well as Ken’s widow, Katrina, their children, Tyler and Kristin, and his sister, Lynda — who are all listed on the plaque — continue to visit his bench throughout the year to remember him.

His parents recall that Ken carried his boyhood dream to fight fires into adulthood, when he grew into a burly 6-foot-5 man who earned a reputation as a serious, knowledgeable firefighter passionate about his job. He moved to Long Beach in 1987, volunteered at the city’s fire department and earned his keep at the post office. Three years later he joined the New York City Fire Department, but continued to volunteer in Long Beach until 1997. After he moved his family to Monroe, N.Y., he rose through the FDNY ranks and eventually joined Rescue 1, an elite Manhattan unit that was among the first to arrive at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Marino died at age 40.

Each Sept. 11, the Marinos head to the boardwalk with flowers in hand after they attend the morning ceremony in lower Manhattan. They had Ken’s bench placed as far west on the boardwalk as possible, near Grand Boulevard, to be near the West End apartments he rented as a bachelor.

“We put the bench there, and it’s a place that gives us a little solace,” Mary Ann said. “On Christmas and Thanksgiving sometimes, and certainly always on Sept. 11, we’ll sit there and look at the ocean, because Kenny loved Long Beach and the ocean and he would ride his bike on the boardwalk.”

Fellow Oceansider Arlene Nussbaum visits two benches dedicated to her son, Jeff. She bought a bench for him at Lafayette and the boardwalk, near where his brother, Craig, has lived for many years, and Craig got one for him at National beach.

“There’s a closeness there,” Arlene said when asked to distinguish between visiting Jeff’s benches and Beth Moses Cemetery in Farmingdale, where he is buried next to his father, Jerry. “He loved the ocean and would meet his brother and friends on the boardwalk at National when they went to the beach. I feel he’s living there now.”

Jeff was 37 and a senior vice president of foreign currency for Carr Futures Associates at the Trade Center when he was “murdered,” as his mother puts it. When Arlene learned of the bench dedications, which were offered in the months right after 9/11, she quickly got one for Jeff. But it took her 10 heart-wrenching days to compose the inscription: “When we look at the sand we see your footprints. When we see your pictures, your eyes look into ours — Your voice is in the wind whispering to all. When our eyes fill with tears, we are holding the joy of your love. You may not be here today but you will always live in our hearts. All our love forever & ever.”

Jeff had a fun-loving personality that drew people to him, his mother said, and he had many friends who he liked to head out to the Hamptons with each summer.

Each Sept. 11, when Arlene and Craig visit Jeff’s benches, they adorn them with balloons, flowers and American flags. This year they have decided not to attend the annual 9/11 Sunrise Memorial in Point Lookout. “I’m reliving everything and it’s very, very difficult,” Arlene said. “Craig and I both felt that it’s putting too many knives in our hearts.”

She added that she doesn’t know what to expect when she visits Jeff’s benches on Friday, after an eerie experience she had last year. Someone had planted a row of American flags on the boardwalk guardrail at Lafayette, and all of the poles were straight except for one, directly in front of Jeff’s bench. “A gentleman went over and straightened out the flag pole, and two minutes after he left, again it moved to an angle,” Arlene recalled. “This happened four times! Jeff was there. It wasn’t even windy, and if it was, why only one out of 25 moved? … If you believe in that, this is what keeps many of us going on with day-to-day life. That’s important.”

Long Beach resident Rob Carlo found it unusual that a crowd had gathered around his brother Michael’s bench as Rob emerged from a swim in the ocean off Grand Boulevard on Sept. 11 a few years ago. They turned out to be Michael’s childhood friends from their native Whitestone, who since 2002 had made it a ritual to visit his bench before sundown on the anniversary. Mike had been a firefighter with Engine 230 in Bedford-Stuyvesant since 1994, and was killed at the World Trade Center at
age 34.

His brother has joined his friends ever since, along with as many as 30 other family members, fellow firefighters and neighbors from Tennessee Avenue. “It’s the one time I get to see my brother’s friends,” Rob said, “and it always feels like he’s there, because when I see them all around we start sharing stories about him, and someone always has a new one.”

Rob, a retired firefighter from Ladder 23 in Harlem who arrived at “the pile” in lower Manhattan later on Sept. 11, rented a house in Long Beach with his brother in 1999, and in subsequent years moved there permanently. They played volleyball together on the beach where Michael’s bench is today.

“I just thought it was a good idea to better the boardwalk and to remember Michael,” Rob said about buying the bench. He visits it each Christmas to hang a wreath, and on Friday he may decorate it with an American flag during the annual gathering.

Rob described Mike as a life-of-the-party type who enjoyed socializing and spending his time on the water, kayaking and boating. Rob chose his brother’s favorite quote, one by Mark Twain that he kept on a Post-It note over his desk, for the plaque inscription: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did. So throw off the bowline, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade wins in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

History Book in the Making

Historians compiling a pictorial tome on Long Beach

By Joseph Kellard

Did you know that Sutton Place restaurant-bar on West Park Avenue was once a library? Or that the Magnolia condos across the street were an elementary school? Perhaps you’re unaware that Lindell School was once the high school.

Well, there are pictures to prove it, and they are among hundreds of vintage snapshots now being considered for a pictorial book on Long Beach.

Next year, Arcadia Press, a publishing company specializing in regional histories, will release a Long Beach book as part of its Images of America series. Started in 1994, the series has published 4,300 titles that feature photos of towns nationwide, including Oceanside, Levittown, Hicksville and Syosset.

“I know Long Beach is a historically rich area, and we’ve gotten a lot of requests from readers and local retailers who’ve wanted a book on Long Beach,” said Rebekah Collinsworth, Arcadia’s acquisition editor.

About five years ago, Arcadia approached the Long Beach Historical Society about compiling a book, but the society’s trustees declined, wanting to create their own book. But last winter the company reconnected with the Historical Society, along with two other local historians, and thereby created a rare competition. The Historical Society’s application was chosen.

“Sometimes it’s tricky trying to find somebody who is qualified and interested, and everything kind of fell into place with this group,” Collinsworth said. “They’ve been wonderful to work with and are super-enthusiastic.”

The Historical Society was given the task of submitting 220 carefully chosen, pre-1960s photographs, complete with descriptive and anecdotal captions, by November. Long Beach families and individuals of note, buildings and houses long gone or still standing, landscapes, sports teams, schools, firehouses and places of worship are some of the many subjects Arcadia wants for its books. The publisher also wants enough intriguing information, capturing the goings-on in towns at important times in the nation's history, to attract a wider readership.

Carole Geraci, president of the Historical Society, said the book, in part, will center on Long Beach’s various neighborhoods and the variety of people who have settled in the city. “We’re looking for pictures that tell a story, that highlight how Long Beach started as a summer resort on a barrier island and developed into a very diverse city,” Geraci explained.

Arcadia requires original photos, not the many photocopies that comprise most of the Historical Society’s archives. So in addition to its own collection, the organization must look to the public to help provide some pictures from yesteryear.

David Roochvarg, a Historical Society trustee, said the best part of being involved in the project is the ability to sift through and scan all these photos for Arcadia. “What’s most gratifying is learning more about Long Beach history, which I have an interest in already, and just combing through the museum’s archives,” Roochvarg said. “I have to be careful about wasting too much time reading about the fascinating history. You get caught up in all these great stories.”

In addition to the many photos that are due by November, the society had to come up with five photographs as potential cover shots by this month. Both Roochvarg and Geraci said the project’s downside has been the stress of meeting such deadlines.

In the end, though, the beneficiary of the book’s royalties will be the Long Beach Historical Museum, and there will finally be a comprehensive book on Long Beach from its early days to today.

“It’s been done in bits and pieces, but never in one book.” Geraci said. “And even though this book will be done mostly in picture form, there will be enough text to connect the dots.”

Photo: Courtesy Long Beach Historical Society