BAY RIDGE 5TH AVENUE BUSINESS

 IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT

 

SPOTLIGHT ON...

 

5TH AVENUE

 MERCHANTS

 

The constant bustling of people seeking that certain special gift, searching for nutritional food values, craving a certain cuisine, or looking for housewares, Fifth Avenue meets the criteria . . . and then some! 

Following are some of the merchants on Fifth Avenue, happy to satisfy what you are looking for.  Click on the photo captions to get their stories (originally appeared in Bay Ridge's weekly newspaper the Bay Ridge Eagle)

Anjel Jewelry

Jean Danet Pastry

Fika Montino

Bay Ridge Specialty Pharmacy

Havin' A Party

Little Lords Little Ladies

Bedding Discounters

Fritsch Custom Upholstering

Gino's Restaurant

Ideal Optical

Salon Briana

 

Badran Halal Meat Store and Grocery

 

Cedars Pastry and Ice Cream

Foot Doc Mike

Bay Ridge Bakery

Hit or Miss

Henry's Florist

Mussels and More

 

S & J Meat Market

 

Schnitzel Haus Restaurant

K-Spirit Taekwondo

 

Verrazano Bicycle Shop

Legends Sporting Goods

Bay Ridge Pizza

Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus

Skinflints

Galaxy Comics

Bay Ridge Home Center

 

Orchid Florist Inc.

New Home Furniture

Brooklyn Art & Frame

Mirna's Engravables

Gyro Station

Shaggie Pet Grooming Salon

Shiprite

 

Expressions

 

Long's Wines & Liquors

Mejlander & Mulgannon

A & S Variety

Enchanted Florist

Bean Post Pub

Hookahnuts

Bay Ridge Animal Hospital

Le Sajj

Bikram Yoga Bay Ridge

 

No Quarter

Kruchkow's Shoe Store

Man'ou Che

Balady Halal Food Market

Rocco's Pizzeria

Sadam Ali Boxing & Fitness Center

Waldinger's Pharmacy

De Lo Jewelry

Pharmacy on Fifth

Step into Stride

Salon Da Noi & Spa

Mando Food Mini Mart

Chiquititia Mexican Grill

Brooklyn Men's Suit Outlet

Spa Me Inc.

BK Cleaners and Laundry Center

California Girl

Bay Ridge Chicken & Grill

World Mall Bridal Dreams

Bereket Halal Meat & Grocery

Mike's Donuts

Picardi Brothers Meat Market

Beverly Trimming Shop

Joe's Appliances

Sagar Fashions

Farmacon Pharmacy

Brooklyn Art and Frame

Onofrio D. Oro

Ridgeboro Opticians Inc.

The Owl's Head

Richie's Bay Ridge Carpet & Linoleum

Sunset Ace Hardware

Bagel Villa

A List Tattoos

Sweet Arayssi Middle Eastern Pastries

 

 

Anjel Jewelry

Among the changing and the new, here stands Anjel Jewelry at 8114 5th Avenue, a beautiful family-owned store that has been in business since 1983. Michael Kantar and his wife Sylvia grew up in this city and have continued to serve their customers with honest service and quality merchandise for 25 years.

When walking into Anjel Jewelry, you can trust that you’ll receive more than just a new pair of diamond earrings or a ring. You’ll walk out with the confidence that your purchase was of the highest quality. Michael Kantar is a certified diamond grader with the essential skills to identify and rank diamonds and colored gemstones. Each customer deserves to know what they are buying, especially when it comes to high end accessories. Michael understands the concerns of consumers and does his best to educate them about how value is determined for each piece. “You’ll be sure to get the best quality for your money,” says Michael.

Anjel Jewelry carries wonderful pieces for almost any occasion. The designs range from classic and elegant to contemporary and trendy. If you don’t see something just as you had imagined it, Michael encourages you to design it yourself. Custom orders are available and Michael works with yellow and white gold, platinum, GIA certified diamonds, precious and semi-precious stones, and pearls. No matter how significant the purchase, each customer will receive the same personal service. Michael is an experienced professional who aspires to listen to the needs of his customers in order to better serve them.

Stores like Tiffany’s may be all that most people think of when shopping for jewelry, but I believe that jewelry shouldn’t just be about a popular name and expensive marketing. It should be about quality design, careful craftsmanship, and fair prices. That is exactly what you will get if you shop at Anjel Jewelry. Don’t hesitate to walk by or browse their displays. They are open Tuesday through Saturday. If you are in need of watch service or repair, or are looking to sell your gold and diamonds, Anjel Jewelry handles those things too. Stop by today for all of your jewelry needs.

---Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 5/15/2008

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Fika Montino

There’s no denying the universal charm of handbags.  Women buy them for their style as well as their functionality, but I think most women consider shoulder fashion to be an expression of personality and flare.  For this reason, the owners of Fika Montino, located at 7912 5th Avenue, decided to open a designer inspired store that brings new and creative European concepts to our community.  They offer great styles and affordable prices.

 Fika Montino handbags are crafted with excellent workmanship, distinction and sophistication.  Their handbags are stocked with limited quantities and change every month.  I don’t believe that making a fashion statement requires commercial brand names or hefty price tags, and at Fika Montino you can make your own statement (actually, several statements) with their reasonably priced bags.

 What lured me to the fully lined shelves of bags was their array of colors and textures. 

Some handbags say “look at me” with their loud colors and funky styles.  Others are more subtle, yet chic nonetheless.  No matter the statement, you can find quality bags with distinct detail stitching, fancy embellishments and fashionable hardware.

 A bag for nearly any occasion is available in this quaint location. Bags vary in sizes, colors and functionality from elegant evening clutches to over the shoulder day bags.  

Fika Montino carries several bags in patent leather, which is the present trend in accessories.  However, they don’t just settle to emulate the current trends.  They also actively seek out new trends in Europe and bring them to Bay Ridge for our enjoyment. 

 Fika Montino is a great place to go for a handbag.  However, the fashions don’t stop there.  They also have belts, custom jewelry and crystal key chains.  I’d recommend taking a browse to see if there is something that calls to your personality.  Fika Montino plans to be at the annual 5th avenue street fair in June 2008, so make it a point to walk by.

--Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 5/22/2008

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Bedding Discounters

Elliot Sobol, owner of Bedding Discounter & Furniture at 6701 5th Avenue, has developed a successful business based on deep dedication to customer service and a passion for what he does.  He enjoys working with his customers, who he eventually grows to know on a more personal level.  They routinely praise Elliot for the individual attention he shows them.  He believes that when relationships are built, a reputation follows and business grows.  Elliot has worked for 20 years with several generations of Brooklyn families, bringing them fair prices and quality products.  Elliot’s customers trust him and trust his character as a business owner and friend. 

 Bedding Discounter & Furniture offers a full-line of furniture for all rooms and for all ages.  They also offer package deals for newlyweds and senior citizens.  In addition, they offer a quick delivery service.  Elliot works with hundreds of vendors, providing unlimited varieties of styles and prices.  If you don’t see exactly what you want in the showroom, they have several merchandise catalogs to order from.  You can rest assured that Elliot will work hard to find something within your price range that you can appreciate and are comfortable with.  Elliot is well aware of mainstream competition and he works hard to bring his customers comparable prices (if not lower ones).  Besides furniture you can purchase rugs, mattresses, lighting, and accessories. 

Elliot Sobol is confident that his line of products can meet your needs.  The majority of his success has been bolstered because his personal care and attention has led to word of mouth referrals.  He is determined to show you that same kind of care.  You’ll be sure to find what you’re looking for at Bedding Discounter & Furniture.  So call 718.238.8224 or visit today.  Also – visit their newest location at 609 86th Street.  

--Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 6/26/2008

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Fritsch Upholstery

As you can imagine, owning and managing a business can be both extremely stressful but also rewarding.  Fred Fritsch, owner of Fritsch Upholstery at 7915 5th Avenue, has been experiencing that dichotomy since 1976.  This well-loved upholstery store was started by Fred’s father nearly 50 years ago, and has been an integral part of Bay Ridge since then.

Fred Fritsch is the fifth generation in this trade and has carried both family traditions and fond memories into his shop.  He focuses and specializes in upholstery and his operation consists of three talented people who he is extremely grateful for.  Fred credits his way of doing things – the old fashioned way – to his grandfather.  His principle goal is to make sure quality work is produced every time and that customers are fully satisfied.  In order to produce quality work he needs to build on a sound foundation.  Sometimes this requires taking a piece apart and rebuilding it completely.  It’s a lot of work, but the result is a good looking product, guaranteed to hold up.  There’s no question his customers admire and respect this workmanship, as many letters of appreciation adorn his walls. 

The art in what Fred does wasn’t clear in my mind until after our interview.  Fred isn’t just restoring a piece of furniture.  Rather, he’s restoring the memories of loved ones and of family history.  The restoration process can be a very special thing for Fred and his customers. 

Fred’s store is very much like a work room, lined with fabrics from the ceiling to the floor.  You can find patterns that are old and modern, imported and domestic.  Fred Fritsch works hard to keep his business operating and is forced to compete with mass producers of lower quality standards.  I hope that many besides me can begin to appreciate the uniqueness and quality that come out of Fritsch Upholstery.  His work really is worth the attention.  Call him at 718-748-9666 or visit soon.

--Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 7/3/2008

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Gino's Restaurant

Anthony Marsillo, the second generation owner of Gino’s Restaurant at 7414 5th Avenue, has taken a simple pizzeria and transformed it into an elegant full-service Italian restaurant.  First established in 1964, Gino’s occupied a mere 1000 square feet.  Between the years of 2000 and 2005, Gino’s expanded into three storefronts totaling 6000 square feet.  Perhaps it was Anthony’s innate passion for cooking that led to his success, but Anthony credits his supportive family who worked right alongside him every step of the way.  In addition, Anthony could not be more thankful for his employees who all show dedication to quality service.  Seeing as Gino’s continues to serve around 100 dinners a night, this is a huge blessing.

Gino’s is well known in Bay Ridge as a family style restaurant, yet it also serves well for romantic date nights or group celebrations.  Two private party rooms are available that fit 20 to 80 guests and all of your favorite dishes can be served in these rooms as well.  Catering options for off premise parties is no challenge for Gino’s and they are well suited to handle whatever event you may be planning. 

As Gino’s physical space expanded, so did its menu listings.  Some of the most popular dishes are pasta e fagioli, rigatoni with Italian eggplant and sausage, and specialty salads.  You can also order traditional pizzeria dishes such as spaghetti with meatballs and chicken parmigiana.  Gino’s success at keeping their customers loyal comes from their ability to be consistent in their cooking.  The philosophy for cooking is to keep the recipes simple while never sacrificing flavor or presentation.

Visit Gino’s today and you won’t be disappointed.  You’re sure to walk away well-fed and satisfied with the quality of food.  You can check out Gino’s Restaurant online as well by visiting www.ginosbayridge.com

 --Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 7/10/2008

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Ideal Optical Choice

I never had a reason to visit an optical retailer until my interview for this column, but if my eyes begin to fail me, I now know where I can go for quality eye care.  Ideal Optical Choice, located at 7602 5th Avenue, is a full-service optical center owned and operated by an experienced father- and-son team. 

Alex and Eugene Vayner have been in this business for 12 and 8 years respectively.  In July of 2007, they opened their first business together.  When they opened, Alex and Eugene made it possible for most unions and insurance plans to be acceptable including Medicaid and Medicare.  They offer high quality products for all budgets and treat each individual with equal respect.  They understand the importance of satisfied customers and they pledge not to let customers leave unhappy.  Margaret Kearns, a customer of Ideal Optical, shared with me her experience in comparison to other optical stores.  Ms. Kearns says that she can walk into Ideal Optical and feel totally comfortable, like she is at home with friends.   

The layout of the store is open, modern and clean.  Their glasses and accessories are neatly displayed and organized.  They also have an on-premise eye doctor during the week.  It is recommended that eye exams be conducted once a year, so Ideal Optical provides this service as well.  Alex and Eugene take their work seriously and they’re committed to building a good reputation and a growing business.  What separates Ideal Optical from a franchise is their passion to work hard and please their customers.  For Eugene, hearing someone say “I can see!” is a rewarding experience that never grows old.

In hopes of setting themselves apart from other retailers, Ideal Optical Choice carries a large selection of products including exclusive designer frames, specialty lenses, titanium flexible frames and all sorts of contact lenses.  Sunglasses can be made with prescription wrap-around lenses, which are not commonly found elsewhere.  Additionally, Ideal Optical offers all sunglasses and contacts without a prescription, so anyone can shop there – even those with perfect vision. 

If you’ve been looking for eye care that’s customer focused and competitively priced, check out Ideal Optical Choice.    

 --Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 7/17/2008

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Salon Briana

I had never experienced a full-service salon until I walked into Salon Briana at 8319 5th Avenue.  I was actually taken aback (in a good way) with the personal attention I received from the owners, sisters Rosemarie and Elaina Guiliano.  Despite the amount of customers already occupying the salon, they both treated me like a loyal customer and made obvious efforts to make sure I was comfortable…and I was!  There is no denying Salon Briana’s objective of making people happy. I listened to stories of how real relationships between clients and stylists had developed and grown simply because of a sincere concern for customer service.

Salon Briana recently celebrated their 15th year in business by offering their customers discounts on services and products for the entire month of April.  They also raffled prizes to one lucky customer and donated proceeds to cancer research. 

Like any other salon, you will find the usual wash, cut and style plus hair treatments like deep conditioning to perms, however, Salon Briana also offers corrective coloring services (a rarity in this neighborhood).  Rosemarie has over 25 years of experience in corrective coloring, and is renowned by her clients as the finest colorist they’ve ever dealt with.  She has been passionate about her art since she was a young girl and to this day, she truly loves her job.  What really impressed me about the owners is their motivation to use their passions to help other women feel beautiful, not only on the outside but on the inside as well.  One of their long-term goals is to establish inspirational workshops in the salon for employees as well as for the public.

Other services that I found unique at Salon Briana were make-up applications, hand massages while you wait, accessories for purchase, and an on-premise licensed massage therapist. 

From the outside, Salon Briana might seem like any other salon on 5th Avenue, but take a step inside and discover a team of women who truly appreciate their clients.

--Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 6/19/2008

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Schnitzel Haus

One of my favorite things about Bay Ridge is the cultural diversity you can find through food.  I recently discovered an authentic German restaurant called Schnitzel Haus, located at 7319 5th Avenue, and it is a great part of the cultural collage that makes up this community. 

I walked into Schnitzel Haus on a Wednesday evening right before the dinner crowd and was met with mouth-watering smells, German music playing throughout and hardy laughter from a celebrating crowd.  As I sat at the bar waiting to meet the owner, Fred Urban, I noticed the restaurant’s full line of German beer, a selection of wines and top shelf liquors.  The menu alone is quite impressive too with over 50 entrée choices, a kid’s menu, appetizers and desserts.  German food is predominantly pork, but you can find almost anything on their menu, including a vegetarian platter and various salads.  

When asked why people come back to the Schnitzel Haus, the answer is simply “the food.”  The chef is a native of Germany and has trained in various countries around the world.  Fred’s wife Amber lovingly describes the cuisine as “comfort food.” 

Schnitzel Haus features live entertainment on Thursday, Friday, and/or Saturday nights and a calendar of events can be found on their website (www.schnitzelhausny.com).  Entertainment includes music from local bands and jazz jam sessions.

If you’re feeling intimidated by the thought of eating German cuisine for the first time, check out Schnitzel Haus’ buffet night where you can taste a variety of their dishes.  The wait staff is also very helpful with recommendations so just ask. They aren’t condescending and are really quite pleasant to chat with.  They do a great job at making you feel welcomed and right at home.

Schnitzel Haus offers 2 floors of seating.  However, they can get very busy, especially on the weekends, so note that reservations are suggested, but not required.  Off-premise catering is also available.  Ask about their party packages for all occasions. 

This past October, Schnitzel Haus celebrated the well-know German holiday Octoberfest and had to regrettably turn customers away.  It’s in the owner’s plans to eventually expand so that never happens again.

If you’ve been shying away from Schnitzel Haus, do so no longer!  It’s a great atmosphere to dine in while embracing the wonders of German cooking. 

--Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 5/29/2008

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Verrazano Bicycle Shop

Tomas Kim, an international transplant, came to Bay Ridge in 1989 and opened his first bicycle shop in 1991.  His current store, Verrazano Bicycle Shop at 7308 5th Avenue, recently celebrated its fifth year in business. 

Mr. Kim has had a passion for bicycles since he was a young child, taking them apart and repairing them in his free time.  That passion is now evident in his business.  As an avid bike rider himself (he bikes between 100-120 miles a week!), Mr. Kim is able to offer safety tips on riding, and as a father of two, he understands the concerns of any other parent.  He stands behind all of his products and owns two Trek brand bikes himself.  The Verrazano Bicycle shop also offers repairs, maintenance services, accessories and one on one custom designing.  The products he sells at Verrazano Bicycle benefit a range of people with different needs. There are bikes for children, families and professionals.  Participants of the annual Five Boro bike tour repeatedly come to Verrazano Bicycle for their services. 

Mr. Kim says bike riding offers the children in this community an alternative activity to video games.  Bike riding is a physical activity that forces you to be outside.  He loves to see a family stop in his shop to purchase bikes for the intent of quality time together.  As I was in the store, a mother was buying a beautiful, training-wheel bike for her daughter (a helmet too, of course!), and I couldn’t help but think about the fond memories that she’ll create with that bike. 

Spring is here.  Summer is coming.  What better way to enjoy the weather than on a brand new bike.  Stop into Verrazano Bicycle Shop to browse their selection and start creating memories.

--Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 2008

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S & J Meat Market

Fifth Avenue is an ever-growing and developing jewel in Bay Ridge thanks to business owners who provide what the community needs.  Brothers Mohammed, Samuel and Joey Othman owners of S&J Meat Market at 8306 5th Avenue are no exception to this rule.  What was once a failing establishment has been revived and improved thanks to their efforts.  I spoke with Mohammed for this article and he was eager to let the community know that S&J Meat Market is not  the business it used to be.  

The most significant change occurred in their products.  They pride themselves on providing fresh meat, hand picked and of the highest quality.  Their meat comes straight from Brooklyn’s meat packing district, and deliveries are made daily.  S & J’s selection of fresh meat is large and includes chicken, veal, pork, lamb and a variety of turkey meat.  A butcher is always on hand and can provide custom cutting for all customers. 

In addition to all the fresh meat, S & J has expanded the groceries available at their market.  Customers can find shelves packed with brand-name products at great prices. 

Mohammed knows he can’t provide everything that his customers request, but he does his best to make sure they are happy.  They even hope to begin carrying a line of organic and all-natural brands in the future.

Additionally, S & J strives to keep their prices low.  Customers have consistently commented on S & J’s low prices and sale promotions.  Unlike other markets, S & J’s sales run longer than the expected 7 day period.  Mohammed does his best to make S & J a successful business without the high mark-ups that are so commonplace nowadays (a welcome change in these expensive times). 

S & J is conveniently located near fruit and vegetable stands, and they also offer a delivery service.  They will deliver groceries to any home within Bay Ridge.  Check out S & J Meat Market for all of your meat and poultry needs.  You won’t be disappointed. 

--Stacy K. Young-Ripley, 8/14/2008

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Henry's Florist

Henry's Floral Factory

 As far as romantic (or celebratory) gestures go, I've always been more of a chocolate over flowers kind of girl. If it was a choice between Godiva and roses, I'd say, "Bring on the chocolate truffles!" However, after spending some time at Henry's Florist, located at 8103 5th Avenue, I have definitely come to appreciate the appeal of a non-edible floral bouquet.

Henry's, family owned and operated since 1929, is a floral wonderland of sorts - or perhaps, the floral equivalent of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Upon entering, you are surrounded on all sides by gorgeous floral arrangements and exotic plants, and immediately feel like you have been transported from a busy Brooklyn sidewalk to a whimsical garden. This breathtaking ambiance has been largely cultivated by current owner Peter Giannopoulos, a family friend of the original owner Henry. Peter, a native of Greece, has been in the floral industry since the age of fourteen, helping out in his uncle's flower shop shortly after arriving to America. After developing a passion for his craft and polishing his green thumb, he decided to open his own shop and eventually took over Henry's Florist in the late 1970s.

Since that time, Henry's Florist has become a true leader in providing the finest floral arrangements and gifts to the customers of Bay Ridge and beyond. Son and manager Telly Giannopoulos refers to their store as an "all-around florist" and that description deservedly rings true. From weddings to funerals, fresh flowers to dried floral arrangements, fruit baskets to gift baskets, Henry's Florist does it all. In addition to traditional floral services, they make it a point to go that extra step for their customers, coming on premises to personally decorate weddings and even homes for the holidays. Often working with top event planners, Henry's offers decorating services for weddings, parties, and corporate events, which include all necessary amenities such as catering and event rentals (linens, chair covers, etc). Pretty much, if you want flowers at your next celebration, Henry's is a one-stop shop for everything else as well.

If you're merely seeking a small bouquet or potted arrangement, Henry's Florist is fully stocked, all year-round. They have one of the largest selections of plants in Bay Ridge and receive fresh shipments on a weekly basis. As for the gorgeous variety of flowers that Henry's sells, from the reddest long-stem roses to the purest white lilies to the cheerful yellow sunflowers, you simply cannot go wrong with their selection. And if Henry's does not have the specific flower you desire, they will order it for you, provided it is in season, as they have florist contacts all over the world. Also convenient is their in-store supply of greeting cards, balloons, and stuffed animal toys, ensuring that you'll never forget that special touch when you buy a bouquet for your loved one.

Last but not least, weddings remain a top priority for Henry's Florist, as both Peter and Telly share a creative talent and passion for constructing the picturesque arrangements that decorate a couple's most special day. "Thank You" cards from happy brides cover the walls of their shop, each enthusiastically praising their work. One such cards states, "Still getting compliments almost 6 months later." Since words almost cannot describe the beauty of these arrangements, it is highly recommended that you check out their wedding events website at www.henrysfloristweddingevents.com and their general website, www.henrysflorist.com. Chocoholics - trust me, you won't be disappointed!

--Valery Kallen, 11/13/2008

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Bay Ridge Home Center

Home Center Fever!

If walking through the Bay Ridge Home Center brings on a feeling of nostalgia in its customers, it could be for one of two reasons. To begin with, the home improvement store has been a neighborhood resource for approximately 70 years, formerly holding the names "Six Brothers Hardware" and "Pearson Hardware." Chances are, if you grew up in the area, you may have stopped in with your folks as a kid to buy some paint for the house or some tools to help dad fix the leaky pipes. However, even non-locals may get an odd sense of familiarity while browsing the aisles of the Home Center. "Why," you ask?

Well, the Home Center got their 15 minutes of fame back in 1977 when it was owned by the six Albergo brothers - hence, the original name of the store. In the spring of that year, a young John Travolta began shooting his blockbuster film "Saturday Night Fever" throughout various parts of Brooklyn and the brothers' hardware store was his first stop. Travolta played the main character, troubled teenager Tony Manero, who worked in a hardware store during the week and danced the night away on weekends at the local discotheque. He filmed in Six Brothers Hardware over a period of two days and would rehearse his lines in the back of the store during the breaks. Outside of the store, large crowds of fans gathered, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the rising star. The Albergo brothers were lucky enough to actually meet him and get some photos taken, one of which still hangs in the newly named Bay Ridge Home Center.

The Home Center, located at 7305 5th Avenue, is currently owned by Lenny Plotkin, who has managed to keep most of the store's long-established history and charm in tact. The Home Center carries all of your standard home improvement necessities: electrical and plumbing supplies, hardware items, a large selection of paint, and even home cleaning items. Lenny and his staff are knowledgeable about pretty much everything pertaining to home improvement and will answer any questions you may have. What I was most impressed with, however, was the layout and ambiance of the store. While other hardware stores are often cramped and intimidating, the Home Center has wide-open aisles, very neatly stocked shelves, and good lighting. All dangerous equipment such as saws, blades, and power tools (even hammers and screwdrivers) are safely housed in large glass cases that line the walls of the store. This definitely makes shopping with children a less worrisome process.

Aside from standard hardware items, the store carries a colorful assortment of flower, fruit, and vegetable seeds, which would make perfect stocking stuffers for the gardeners in your life. They also have many home items, from espresso makers to pots and pans to a large assortment of shovels, which we will soon need for the winter's first snowfall. And if you're planning on updating your cabinets before all of the holiday parties come around, the Home Center has an entire aisle devoted to knobs and handles.

With all of these extras, Bay Ridge Home Center is more than just your average hardware store. So if you're missing something at home and need it quick, check out 7305 5th Avenue. They'll most likely have what you need and won't give you a weird look if you disco-dance your way out, Saturday Night Fever style!

 --Valery Kallen, 11/27/2008

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Brooklyn Art

Custom Framing, Art and More!

If you've been meaning to get that hard-earned diploma framed for months or have been yearning for some new artwork for your living room, look no further than Brooklyn Art, located at 7709 5th Avenue. A Bay Ridge artist's oasis for over 40 years, Brooklyn Art is your one-stop-shop for all art related products, including various fine art supplies, how-to books, and art portfolios. However, their specialty lies not only in the tools used to create art, but also in their extensive custom framing department and large selection of gallery paintings and prints.

Originally a Holbro paint and wall covering store, Brooklyn Art evolved into what it is today when its current owners, the Kyviks, took over in 1971. Instead of focusing on paint, father and son David and Dennis Kyvik decided to go in a new direction and built their enterprise around artwork and the framing of artwork. But to make this shop even more exciting, Dennis recently partnered up with long-time sports memorabilia veteran Steve Polster, adding an extensive collection of autographed and rare sporting items (art in their own right) to the store.

Entering Brooklyn Art today is like entering a mini-gallery of art and sports history, your eyes darting from frame to artifact, in awe of the beauty and quality of the hanging works of art and the interesting sports displays. In fact, if you have ever walked by the shop, you have probably stopped in your tracks at the sight of the life-sized statue of Muhammad Ali in the window, beckoning both sports fans and art fans to come inside for more. Once inside, items that immediately catch the eye are the "autographed art on canvas"- original paintings of sport legends such as Yogi Berra, signed by both the artist and Mr. Berra himself! Also extraordinary are the variety of autographed items including the traditional baseballs and figurines and unusual items such as cleats, boxing gloves, and even signed Wheaties boxes.

Walking past the memorabilia area which takes up the front portion of the shop, you are soon pleasantly greeted by the colorful paintings and supplies of Brooklyn Art and the "wall of frames" towards the back. The back wall actually consists of an entire layer of frame samples, in all colors and designs, conveniently cut in an L shape to make the selection process incredibly easy for the consumer. When a customer comes in with an item that needs framing, whether it's a photo, a painting, or even a t-shirt, Dennis takes the time out to personally consult with the customer, testing out various samples and giving his expert input until the customer is completely satisfied with how the finished product will look. Also of note is that Brooklyn Art is a full-service frame shop, meaning all framing is completed on premises and your artwork does not leave the location. This definitely gives customers their piece of mind when leaving valuable art with Dennis and his attentive staff. Brooklyn Art even picks up and delivers large and/or heavy paintings and any other items that need framing.

If you are looking to purchase some artwork for your home, be sure to check out the huge selection that Brooklyn Art supplies through their art catalogues. From photography to all styles of painting, you can place an order for a specific size and it will be custom framed in the style you desire when it arrives at the shop. You can also order many items online at www. brooklyn-art.com.

For the perfect holiday gift for any art lover or sports fanatic in your life, stop by Brooklyn Art and browse their exciting collections. Your unique gift will definitely leave a lasting impression!

 --Valery Kallen, 12/11/2008

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Galaxy Comics

Being the comic book neophyte that I am, an opportunity to spend a few hours in Galaxy Comics, located at 6823 5th Avenue, quickly became an eye-opening and thrilling crash course in all things related to comic books and the recent surge of their movie adaptation counterparts. My newfound excitement for this genre is mostly due to the friendly owners and staff of Galaxy, who truly make their establishment seem less like a comic book store but more like a hangout for comic enthusiasts- where they happen to sell comic book merchandise. Their warm enthusiasm and seemingly unlimited knowledge on the subject is one reason I'll be coming back to Galaxy for my next dose of superhero/villain drama.

Galaxy's owners, Abdulilah Esa, his cousin Abdo Esa, and Mohamed Nashra, have been comic book aficionados since childhood. At the young age of 11, Abdo began selling his vast collection at small hotel comic book conventions and later, as a teenager, sold his prized books in the front part of his father's wholesale store. Eventually, following their childhood dream, Abdo and Abdulilah opened their first Galaxy Comics, located at 429 5th Avenue, which still stands today. More recently, they, with Mohamed, acquired this second location, formerly the longstanding Mutant Mania 3, a staple of the neighborhood for over 27 years. Ironically, Mania was one top spot that Abdulilah and his friends often frequented as children, combing the shelves for the latest and greatest in comics.

As Abdulilah and Galaxy employee Brian explained, comic books have been making a thunderous comeback due to the increase in their movie adaptations. Recent box office smashers such as the Spider-Man trilogy, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight, and the highly anticipated Watchmen (in theatres March 2009) have resurrected a certain fanaticism that had been dormant in the general public for quite some time. Since then, comic books have been steadily attracting a large and growing audience and easily falling under the category of mainstream pop culture, gaining fans from unlikely sources- myself being one of them!

Also newly popular are graphic novels or trade paperbacks, which are complete collections of previously serialized comic books. These are bound in the same format as paperback novels, making them not only convenient to read but also visually stunning. Most comic books, as I learned, have adult themes and concepts- in fact, Galaxy only has a small section of the store devoted to children's comics. With subject matters ranging from the sociological and political to the more widely read entertainment-based fiction, there's something at Galaxy to pique anyone's interest. For instance, one series titled "Y: The Last Man" chronicles a world where, as a result of an experiment gone awry, only one man has survived in an otherwise female population. Such a storyline, in addition to being unique and thought-provoking, also surpasses gender lines, appealing to both male and female readers.

Aside from comic books, Galaxy also stocks a full line of character collectibles and action figures, from popular Marvel and DC favorites to movie legends such as Hannibal Lecter and Rocky Balboa. They also carry a wide selection of magazines for hit TV shows such as Lost, Heroes, Smallville, CSI, and 24, to name a few.

The next time you're in the mood for some entertainment and a quick history lesson in comics, take a trip around this 5th Avenue 'Galaxy' (appropriately located next to Bay Ridge Alpine Cinemas) for an out-of-this-world experience!

 --Valery Kallen, 12/25/2008

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Hit or Miss

Vintage or antique goods always tend to evoke a sense of nostalgia in me. I get lost in my thoughts of who owned a particular item, if it was someone's favorite, or why they gave it up. These thoughts ran through my mind as I browsed Hit or Miss Treasures, a bargain furniture and antiques shop located at 7114 5th Avenue. With beautiful solid wood furniture, ornate wall mirrors, framed original paintings, and even fine china and silver, there is a treasure to be found for every customer that walks through the door of Hit or Miss.

Owner Mohamed Abdelmagid, a native of Egypt, has been in the vintage and antique goods business for over a decade. He opened this particular location eight years ago and has greatly enjoyed the business of buying and selling used goods. Every week brings new excitement for Mr. Abdelmagid as he frequents auctions in various states to find new wares for his store. He looks for "nice pieces at good prices" that he would put in his own home. He realizes the importance of keeping prices low so that items get sold quicker, allowing him to get newer items into the store in a timely fashion. If you're a regular customer, as most of his customers often become, you'll know that there is new merchandise added on a weekly basis.

Mr. Abdelmagid also knows the value and importance of superb customer service. If you are looking for a particular piece of furniture or artwork (perhaps you need a new coffee table with a glass countertop), you can request the item and he will keep a lookout for it when he visits auctions. When he finds something that matches your description, he'll pick it up and give you a call so you can come in and see it - most times, it's a perfect match! Hit or Miss Treasures also has a great flexible payment policy for more expensive pieces, allowing customers to pay over the course of a month while the store holds their new prized possession.

Walking through Hit or Miss and admiring the selection, I was impressed with the quality and craftsmanship of every item on the floor. Most pieces, especially the furniture, seem to be one-of-a-kind and everything is in "like new" condition. This is due to the fact that Mr. Abdelmagid makes it a point to buy only high quality items. For instance, every piece of wood furniture is either solid oak or cedar - never anything mass produced, but rather finely crafted by skills artisans, usually in the United States. For this kind of quality, it must be mentioned that the prices are a steal! One item that caught my eye was a large chest made of gorgeous cedar, complete with a hinged interior shelf, for slightly over $200. Such a piece in a Manhattan showroom would go for well over $600, but can be found in our very own Ridge for a fraction of the cost at Hit or Miss. Another plus is that every item has a price tag clearly displayed - there is no ambiguity or on-the-spot pricing, which makes for a more comfortable vintage shopping experience.

Another item that had my attention was an elegant Victorian chaise lounge in a sunny yellow cloth. I couldn’t help but imagine the type of person who must have relaxed on this piece, perchance wearing a mink shawl and enjoying a cup of high noon tea. Before my imagination got the better of me, I continued to browse and came across an exquisite grandfather clock with brass triple-chimes, a glass-blown vase in cheery summer colors, and a beautiful painting of a quaint European town that surely belongs on a lonely living room wall- maybe yours!

For anyone who enjoys the thrill of vintage goods shopping or is simply looking for excellent craftsmanship at an unbeatable price, Hit or Miss will definitely have the "Treasures" you're looking for.

 --Valery Kallen, 1/8/2009

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Little Lords Little Ladies

Little Clothing, Big on Style

 Little Lords Little Ladies, an upscale children's clothing store located at 8217 Fifth Avenue, has been a Bay Ridge favorite for over 16 years. Back in the early 1990s, owner Susan Marianovsky had been a fabric buyer in the fashion industry when she gave birth to her first son. When she began shopping for her "little lord", however, she realized that there was a gap in quality baby clothing in the area. Specifically, she was looking for classic pieces that would transcend the temporary trends of fashion. Within a year, Susan decided to take matters into her own hands and open her own children's clothing boutique featuring timeless fashions for girls and boys.

Susan searches far and wide to bring only the best and most unique ensembles into her store. Most clothing is imported from France, Italy, and other countries known for their excellence in fashion, which means that Little Lord's clothing is not only expertly tailored, but also distinctive in style. Little Lords Little Ladies outfits children from newborn to preteen and everything in between. They also carry every category of clothing, from sportswear (jeans, t-shirts, sweaters) and outerwear to special occasion pieces and accessories.

As you mothers and mothers-to-be can imagine, sportswear clothing is absolutely adorable and I strolled the aisles saying "Aw, how cute!" about pretty much every item. Most of the sportswear clothes are sold as complete outfits, featuring a top, a bottom, and an over-layer. For instance, a girl's outfit can consist of a matching shirt, skirt, and sweater. You can buy a few of these 3-piece outfits and mix and match for countless looks. Outerwear items range from puffer jackets to fur coats to rain coats and many other styles. Accessories include hats, scarves, and headbands to match many of the outfits and outerwear items and really complete a look.

Aside from everyday pieces, Little Lords Little Ladies specializes in special occasion wear. They have an immense collection of communion dresses, wedding apparel (flower girl dresses, suits for boys) and holiday outfits, including a Santa Claus inspired dress in red velvet with white furry trim - too cute! Communion attire is definitely one area that Little Lords prides itself on and Susan is always on hand to offer her expert advice to customers looking for the perfect dress for their little ladies. Most customers end up coming in for numerous fittings, as dresses are custom tailored to fit each individual child, and it is evident that Susan works hard to make sure these moments are comfortable and stress-free for her clientele. Little Lords Little Ladies also has a staff designer who will work with you to create a custom creation, should you not find a design that suits your needs - although, with such a large and diverse collection, I would be surprised if this could even be possible.

The store has been a local favorite for so many years that Susan has young adults stopping in to say hello who had shopped in the store as children - two of which have recently got married! This is not surprising as the quality of clothing and the exceptional customer service of Little Lords Little Ladies speaks for itself. If you're in the area and looking to shop for a little person of your own, Susan's whimsical, and yet classic, children's fashions won't let you down!

  --Valery Kallen, 1/29/2009

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Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus

"Choc-Full" of Sweets!

Chocoholics, welcome to paradise! At Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus, located at 7911 Fifth Avenue, whether you're a seasoned baker, an amateur Willy Wonka, or simply have a sweet tooth, you won't be disappointed with the tasty selection at this Bay Ridge confectionary. Established in 1979, Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus originally started out as novelty store featuring a full range of supplies for candy and cake decorating. When current owner Charles Arnone took over several years later, the store evolved into so much more- a complete chocolate and candy emporium!

Arnone has been around sugary delights since he was a young boy and was often found helping his mother create chocolate and other treats in her gourmet shop. He soon developed a passion for the craft and when he was only 19 years old, the opportunity to occupy his very own shop came along when a neighbor was selling the original Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus. He didn't hesitate to take on the challenge and in order to truly make the shop his own, he quickly expanded to include a wide assortment of ready-made candy and chocolates, in addition to the decorating supplies already sold.

            Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus currently boasts over 150 varieties of bulk candy, all neatly displayed in glass jars behind the long counter, creating the appearance of a scrumptious candy rainbow across the wall. Old time favorites such as Bit-O-Honey, Mary Janes and Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum neighbor modern goodies such as Sour Patch Kids, Mike and Ikes, and Swedish Fish, and add a nostalgic feel to the shop. Of course, Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus wouldn’t be complete without "a Lot" of chocolate - over 98 different varieties are sold. White chocolate mousse truffle, almond butter crunch truffle, sea salt caramel truffle. Cherry cordials. Almond bark. Jelly rings. Oreo-covered pretzels. Chocolate-covered marshmallows. Is your mouth watering yet? How about a giant-sized, 1lb. Sugar Daddy bar?

            If your interest lies more in making confections rather than eating them (or in addition to eating them-surely the best of both worlds), Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus is definitely your local source for all cake, cookie, brownie, and cupcake paraphernalia. From metal cake molds and cookie sheets to over 2,000 chocolate molds, there is an item for every dessert of your liking and for any occasion. If you are just beginning your baking adventures, the store sells complete kits and gourmet cake mixes which include everything you need to get started in the right direction. Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus also offers Wilton-method cake and cookie decorating classes which teach you the basics of leveling, icing, and using pastry bags.

            For special occasions such as baby or bridal showers, Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus can create custom chocolate lollipops in any mold of your choosing as treats for your guests. For instance, chocolate lollipops shaped like teddy bears with colorful ribbons make perfect party favors for baby showers or kid's birthday parties. If you crave something simpler, the shop has just installed a 21-color M&M machine enabling you to customize your own bags of M&Ms candy.

            With Valentine's Day around the corner, Choc-Oh!-Lot Plus has all the goods (and inspiration) you need to bake something sweet for your sweetheart. From heart-shaped cookie and cake molds to red and pink sprinkles, your valentine will definitely enjoy whatever tasty treat you decide to create. Of course, they also offer a variety of ready-made Valentine's Day goodies and don't forget to stop by on February 13th and 14th for some freshly-made chocolate covered strawberries!

  --Valery Kallen, 2009

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Legends Sporting Goods

A Local Sporting Goods Legend

With top of the line sports equipment, clothing, and gift items, Legends Sporting Goods, located at 8224 Fifth Avenue, definitely hits a home run! A neighborhood favorite for over 20 years, Legends proudly offers the latest and greatest in sporting merchandise for baseball, football, hockey, boxing, and even darts. But that's not all! Legends is also the sole distributer for Boy and Girl Scout uniforms and accessories in the Brooklyn area, which certainly earns them a coveted patch for distinctiveness.

Peter Lanza, owner of Legends and a life-long sports fan, gained his expertise in the sporting goods field when he and his brother Andrew opened a small baseball card and memorabilia shop named Sports World in the early 1980s. The predecessor to the mighty Legends, the store became popular by hosting memorabilia shows where famous players would come in to sign autographs and take photos with fans. Several years later, when Lanza wanted to expand, he didn't have to look far when he scored a space right across the street from Sports World. It was then that a Legend was born!

For local athletes and sports fans alike, Legends Sporting Goods is the not only the #1 source for equipment, but also for jerseys galore. From your standard authentic MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL jerseys to limited edition gems to rare "throwback" jerseys in mint condition, Legends most likely has a jersey to pique your interest. Not surprising, Lanza says his bestselling jerseys feature none other than the Brooklyn Dodgers, while the store's original 1971 Clemente Pirates jersey remains a throwback favorite.

If you're looking for something specific, speak with a friendly Legends associate to place a special order as they are more than happy to help you find exactly what you need. Another perk of their superb customer service is their custom in-house lettering on jerseys, as well as other clothing items. Getting one's name printed on the back of their favorite team's jersey makes a unique and timeless gift for any sports devotee. Another great gift idea is a custom-made sports plaque which highlights a proud team moment or championship with a photo and gold-tone description plate on a gorgeous wood background. Legends also has a notable collection of vintage baseball cards, going as far back as sealed 1987 Topps cards, in addition to more recent baseball card sets like a 2004 Yankees vs. Red Socks commemorative box set.

If you're a baseball fan, stop by Legends to pick up the highly collectible 2008 Official MLB Championship Series Programs which contain more than 200 pages of coverage. These programs, offered for the American League, the National League, and the World Series, were only available at the stadium or on MLB.com, making Legends an exclusive place to snag your copies of the limited edition guides.

            If you're a player as well as a sports enthusiast, Legends is fully stocked with all the equipment necessary to help you play the game! They provide quality items like American-made Nokona buffalo-skin gloves, as well as the handcrafted Rawlings Gold Glove Series gloves worn by Yankee player Derek Jeter. They also carry a wide assortment of youth and adult wood and metal bats, batting and catcher's helmets, and all types of sporting footwear. For kids, Legends carries the popular protective gear line Heart Guard, which feature a sternum pad embedded inside their shirts to protect and support your little slugger's upper body while they play.

            As the weather warms up and we head to the parks for some summer-time sporting fun, make sure you visit Legends to stock up on your favorite sporting good needs! You may also visit their convenient website at www.newyorklegends.com.

  --Valery Kallen, 2009

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Bay Ridge PIzza

A Slice of Bay Ridge Wholesomeness! 

For a hearty taste of the American dream, head over to Bay Ridge Pizza and Restaurant, where Sal and Tony Tumminello have been making delicious Italian pizza (and more!) since 1978. From the time when they were young and ambitious cooks in Sicily, brothers Sal and Tony shared a vision of moving to New York and opening a cozy family restaurant which served wholesome food made with rich and healthy ingredients. Taking only their savings and themselves, they made it to the Big Apple in 1977 and found a prime location for their dream eatery at 7704 Fifth Avenue. After toiling day and night for months, Bay Ridge Pizza finally made its neighborhood debut in March of the following year, much to the brothers' joy and excitement.

The hard work didn't end there though, as Tony and Sal couldn’t yet afford to hire any additional staff and took on all of the duties that the restaurant demanded. They cooked, cleaned, promoted, and most importantly, made sure that they greeted each customer like they were family stopping by for a homemade plate of lunch or dinner. It was this unwavering passion and commitment, combined with traditionally-rooted culinary skills - and some parmesan cheese sprinkled on top- that quickly turned Bay Ridge Pizza into a local favorite.

Over 30 years later, when you stop by Bay Ridge Pizza for a slice of your favorite Margherita pie or a delicious meal like their Penne Alla Romano, you'll most likely find either Sal or Tony (or both!) still behind the counter. The brothers, now joined by Sal's son Gaspare, still possess the original enthusiasm of their younger selves, determined and always working hard to make sure their customers never leave unsatisfied. The fruit of their dedication is evident as Gaspare notes that many customers "grew up in their pizza parlor and still come back as adults, now bringing their own kids to eat the same food that they grew up eating."

Needless to say, the family-owned Bay Ridge Pizza prides itself on using only the freshest ingredients and making their dough and sauce using the same recipes that Sal and Tony brought over from Italy in the 1970s. Their panini sandwiches are also created using home-baked bread, with nutritious ingredients like chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, basil, and their own homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Because all orders are made fresh and on-premises, customers are able to tailor their meal to satisfy their taste, whether they are dairy conscious or care for less or more salt.

Aside from being an eat-in pizzeria and restaurant, Bay Ridge Pizza offers full catering for all occasions, as well as for schools and corporations. They offer about 40 different types of Italian dishes, including pasta, meat, and seafood varieties, wine by the bottle, and even dessert to make your holiday, christening, or birthday party a tasty success! They also handle the entire food setup, as well as provide wait staff if necessary and even travel into Manhattan, so no party is too big or too small for them to handle.

Back inside the restaurant, I had the pleasure of sampling a Bay Ridge Pizza specialty - their Grandma slice. As a self-proclaimed "crust connoisseur", I was extremely impressed by the crisp, melt-in-your-mouth, thin crust of this divine pizza. It wasn't too doughy or too crunchy and not at all burnt- it was perfect. Atop this super crust was a combination of slightly sweet plum tomato sauce, savory cheeses, and just the right amount of spices to kick up the wholesome, fresh flavor. I felt like I could taste every ingredient, and as I sat in a booth enjoying my slice, I began to conjure up images of old New York in all its glory and two brothers working hard to make their dream come true. At Bay Ridge Pizza and Restaurant, they have truly succeeded.

  --Valery Kallen, 2009

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New Home Furniture

At Unbeatable Prices

Looking for a new living room set or bunk beds for your kids, but think you can't afford it? Well, New Home Furniture's unbeatable prices and incredible selection may change your mind. New Home Furniture, located at 6745 Fifth Avenue, is your local source for traditional and contemporary bedroom sets, dining room sets, living rooms sets, kid's rooms, and decorating accessories- all for affordable prices.

            Sam Asad, owner of New Home Furniture, says the key to his store's success is keeping costs low while providing quality products and superb customer service. Mr. Asad opened his furniture emporium in late 2006 after working in the restaurant industry for 10 years. Ironically, New Home Furniture's location used to be a restaurant prior to Mr. Asad taking over and fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Since that time, his focus has been set on finding the best products for his loyal Sunset Park and Bay Ridge clientele.

He admits that even in modern times, locals tend to invest in a traditional look, so he makes sure that his store is stocked with the latest in classic and beautiful pieces, in addition to more modern ones. Since it is crucial for a client to be 100% satisfied with what they place in their home, New Home Furniture also offers "custom orders" from numerous furniture and accessory catalogues. From an endless selection of bedroom, dining room and living room sets in an array of colors and fabrics, catalogue orders make choosing exactly what a customer desires an easy and convenient process.

New Home Furniture also sells brand new (never refurbished) mattresses in sizes twin to king starting at only $100. If that sounds cheap, try finding a complete living room set elsewhere for as little as $600 or a 5-piece kitchen set for $299! As far as price points go, Mr. Asad maintains that his prices are so affordable that if you bring in a circular with a cheaper price- even after purchasing from him- he will beat it. He believes that in order to keep his customers happy, it is important to try to accommodate all budgets, which is why he's willing to make little to no profit at times. Another customer service gem is that most items come with a 1-year warranty, so if anything happens to break, New Home Furniture will come and fix it for free!

One of my favorite items in the store and something that anyone living in small Brooklyn quarters will appreciate is the "3-in-1: Store, Sit, Sleep" sofa bed. A regular couch at first glance, it opens up to a full storage area under the cushion and also unfolds into a bed. This sofa bed is perfect for a guest room since the storage space can house extra pillows and sheets at arms length. If you're looking for more space-saving solutions, New Home Furniture offers an excellent selection of children's convertible bunk beds. The beauty of these is that they can easily be converted into two separate beds if you happen to move into a bigger place and your kids finally get their wish for separate rooms. Other items of note are the gorgeous crystal chandeliers hanging above you as you walk through the gallery of furniture- so be sure to look up for a luminous surprise while you're browsing at New Home Furniture!

If quality furniture, great selection, and affordable prices aren't enough, New Home Furniture also offers free delivery and in-home setup. They are open 7 days a week and friendly furniture associates are always on hand to assist you with picking out the perfect additions to your home. For a quick glance at some of their pieces and for more information, visit their website at www.newhome-furniture.com.

  --Valery Kallen, 2009

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Shaggie Pet Grooming Salon

From "Shaggie" to Well-Groomed

Amanda Leung has been passionate about hair cutting and styling since she was a young girl- but not the kind for humans. As manager and lead groomer at Shaggie Pet Grooming Salon, located at 6706 Fifth Avenue, Ms. Leung has been taking her scissors and working her grooming magic on her four-legged customers for over 10 years.

When Ms. Leung was only 8 years old, she picked the most obedient dog of her family's many pets, "the best one, the one that always listened to me, and said 'Sit!' and gave him a haircut," she now recalls. As the old saying goes, she practiced and practiced- sometimes giving her pets less than attractive haircuts- until she was almost perfect. When she was old enough to attend college, she knew she wanted to get a degree from the New York School of Dog Grooming in order to take her love of grooming to the next level. She started off as a pet bather in a salon on Long Island before being promoted to stylist. Bathing, as Ms. Leung explains, is the most crucial aspect of the grooming process because you develop the basic skills of how to handle an animal and it's the first contact that the animal has with the groomer.

Aside from the initial bath, (using your choice of oatmeal, flea and tick, or hypo-allergenic shampoo and conditioner) Shaggie Pet Grooming Salon offers the full grooming package. This includes: brushing, hair trimming/styling, nail clipping, ear cleaning, gland cleaning, and complimentary teeth brushing to keep your pup's breath fresh and minty!

Package prices are determined by hair length (short vs. long) and size of breed. For short-haired dogs under 25lbs, prices range from $35-$40, which is incredibly reasonable as it takes about 2-3 hours to complete the grooming process for a small breed. Medium breed pricing ranges from $45-$55 and larger breeds from $60-$75 since they obviously take more time to wash, dry, cut and style. Shaggie Pet Grooming Salon accepts all sizes of dogs "as long as they fit into the tub" and are not aggressive.  Yorkies, Collies, Poodles, Labradors, Shih Tzus, Shepherds and Dalmatians are all welcome!

            Ms. Leung recommends that pet owners begin bringing their dogs to the groomer at 5 months of age, shortly after receiving their shots. This ensures that the puppy properly adjusts to the idea of someone other than its owner washing, brushing and cutting their coats. By the time a dog is a year old, it becomes more of a traumatic experience for them to be introduced to a groomer for the first time, so the earlier the better.

            At Shaggie Pet, Ms. Leung always takes a personal approach to her customers (the pets) and their owners. The walls are covered with photos of her furry clientele, many of which she has seen grow before her very eyes from puppies to full-grown dogs. For holidays such as St. Patrick's Day and Valentine's Day, pups leave the salon in style with holiday-themed bows or a bandana. For instance, this past weekend, all dogs donned green bows or a green, clover-patterned bandana in celebration of Sunday's St. Patrick's Day Parade, which also happened to take place on Fifth Avenue.

            In the spring and summer months, Shaggie Pet Grooming Salon also sells puppies from local licensed breeders, so check out their front window when you pass by if you're interested in a furry friend of your own. And for those of you who already have the privilege and joy of a loyal canine companion, bring them to Shaggie Pet for top of the line grooming and so much more!

  --Valery Kallen, 2009

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Bay Ridge Specialty Pharmacy

Specializing in Customer Service

            While walking along Fifth Avenue, a pharmacy is not something that is likely to catch your eye unless you're running low on toilet paper or you need to fill a prescription.  Bay Ridge Specialty Pharmacy, located at 7618 Fifth Avenue, caught my eye for the latter reason when a big name competitor didn't carry my brand of generic medicine.  As luck would have it, the newly opened Specialty Pharmacy specializes in customer service, not only ordering my meds via next-day delivery, but also offering to deliver them to my residence free of charge!  I was so impressed by the high level of personal attention that I decided to speak with owner Igor Gravov about the other perks his neighborhood pharmacy offers the community.

            Grabov, a native of Odessa, Ukraine, has an extensive background in specialty medications and has been in the pharmacy business since the age of 19.  After obtaining an education at Long Island University's well-known College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and taking business classes at Pace University, he combined his interests of pharmaceuticals and commerce to open Bay Ridge Specialty Pharmacy in March of 2009.  In order to compete with the larger pharmacies in the area, Grabov says his focus lies in providing the best customer service and patient care to his clientele.  With a dedicated staff of two pharmacists and one RN, this growing pharmacy will surely offer up some competition in terms of service.

              However, being a "specialty pharmacy" has its own important appeal that will soon make this small neighborhood pharmacy stand out from the rest.  Within a year, Grabov expects his store to be fully certified to dispense oncology, HIV and hepatitis medications, which may not be obtained at just any pharmacy.  Their specialized pharmacist will also offer prescription compounding, which aims to provide medication with an exact match to a patient's tasting preference, such as flavoring children's meds, or flexible dosage forms, such as crèmes versus lozenges.  This kind of customized service offers customers a more convenient way of taking medications that are often cumbersome.  They will also specialize in fertility drugs, diabetic medicine and substance abuse medicine.

              Bay Ridge Specialty Pharmacy also offers copy and faxing services, a notary, and free pick-up and delivery to all New York City boroughs, which is especially useful for elderly or disabled customers.  Soon, the store will also be the first in New York to use PickupZone, a new service that allow you to choose a convenient neighborhood location (such as the Specialty Pharmacy) as the pick-up point for where your packages are delivered.

              Being from the Ukraine, Grabov also stocks his pharmacy with a small supply of Russian and Israeli over-the-counter medicines and beauty products, such as dry mustard patches and Dead Sea Spa mud masks.  Also unique is the store's variety of organic products featuring brands like Humphrey's Organic Botanicals, Dessert Essence Organics and Avalon Organics.  Aside from these specialty items, the remainder of the pharmacy sells all of your favorite drugstore essentials, including baby products, grooming and shaving necessities, an entire aisle of vitamins, school supplies, children's toys, select electronics and numerous household items.  So whether it's toilet paper or a prescription, head to Bay Ridge Specialty Pharmacy, where personalized customer service is their number one priority!

--Valery Kallen, 2009

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Long's Wines & Liquors

"Longing" For Perfect Wine?

              A few years ago Heather Hamilton, a budding wine enthusiast, wanted to expand her knowledge of this captivating, grape-based beverage and thought, what better way to learn than with a crash course as owner of her own wine shop?  In March of 2008, she brought her idea to life and took ownership of Long's Wines & Liquors, a family-owned-and-operated business established in 1983.  Leaving behind a career in commercial Broadway theatre management and production, Hamilton enthusiastically pursued her passion, diligently studying wines and figuring out new ways to improve the long-standing Long's, already a Bay Ridge favorite.

              Long's, located at 7917 Fifth Avenue, now boasts an eco-friendly green fridge and a chilling well that cools your favorite white wine or champagne 25 times faster than a standard refrigerator --- in seven minutes, your beverage is ice cold!  In addition to some minor renovations, Hamilton has also reorganized the store layout so that wines can easily be located by either grape variety (i.e. Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet), or by a region, such as France, Chile, or Australia.  With more than 700 kinds of wine to choose from, a well-organized store is as necessary as it is helpful, and to make things effortless for even the most persnickety of wine consumers, Long's has informational  labels and reviews placed next to most wines and liquors in the store.

              "We don't like the same foods, so why would we drink the same wine?" reasons Hamilton, understanding the importance of variety for her customer's diverse tastes and stocking her store accordingly.

              If you're only beginning to explore the extensive world of wine, or have forgotten the name of something that once piqued your palate, Hamilton or a member of her friendly staff can assist you with finding exactly what you're looking for, or make a recommendation that might turn out to be your new favorite.  From traditional grape wines to more uncommon varieties such as seasonal apple wine, pomegranate wine and mead, the oldest alcoholic drink known to mankind (made from pure Grade A honey and fruits), Long's certainly has something for everyone.  It even carries one of the largest selections of Greek wine and ouzo in all of New York.

              If you're more into spirits than wine, Long's also carries an extensive assortment of distilled beverages such as gin, brandy, vodka and the ever-popular tequila.  The great selection of infused vodkas caught my attention with exotic flavors like Mountain Huckleberry or Rainier Cherry by 44◦North and Celery Peppercorn or Black Truffle by Modern Spirits.  Many of these premier vodkas bring the level of alcohol down from 40 percent to 35 percent, thereby enhancing their already flavorful taste.

              Hamilton also makes a point to support local distillers and wineries such as Long Island Spirits, makers of LiV Vodka, the first vodka ever to be distilled and bottle on Long Island, and Tuthilltown Spirits, makers of Hudson Baby Bourbon, the first bourbon whiskey to be distilled in New York.  Another local favorite is Brooklyn Oenology, a winery headquartered near Williamsburg that features a different artist's work on each of its removable wine labels.

              If you're looking for a good deal without compromising quality, check out Long's Cheap & Tasty section with all wines under $10, tasted and approved by Hamilton herself.  For a sampling of something new, stop by on Friday and Saturday evenings for the store's weekly tastings and receive a 10-percent discount on purchases of that day's tasting selections.  Check out the website at www.longswines.com for an upcoming tasting schedule, as well as past tasting notes and featured wines and spirits.

              With discounts galore and an unbeatable selection, Long's Wines & Liquors is sure to please both palate and wallet!

--Valery Kallen, 2009

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Skinflints

Satisifes All Appetites!

              Originally established as an ice cream parlor in 1915, Skinflints, located at 7902 Fifth Avenue, is now a Bay Ridge favorite when it comes to hearty American cuisine and a family-friendly atmosphere.  With their juicy, 8-oz. charbroiled burgers, fall-off-the-bone barbecue baby back ribs and mouthwatering mashed potatoes, ice cream is merely an afterthought - - - although it's still served as a dessert item on the menu!

              Currently owned and operated by Gerard Bell and William Gardella, who have happily held the honor for more than 30 years, Skinflints still retains much of its original décor and charm.  The wooden accents, stained glass ceiling panels and even the early-1900s ice cream-making machine all lend themselves to the coziness of the establishment.  Modern-day features slowly snuck in as the ice cream shop transformed into a restaurant and bar in the 1960s and now include televisions at the bar as well as in the two dining rooms and a backyard café, complete with plants and a miniature waterfall. 

              To further nurture this comforting ambiance, the walls of one of the dining rooms are molded into bookshelves that display old family photos, antique-looking trinkets and memorabilia and the countless awards that Skinflints has received for its dedicated charity work over the years.  Bell and Gardella are passionate about giving back to the community and often host events at the restaurant.  They recently closed their doors on Easter to hold an event offering free meals and live entertainment to local senior citizens and do the same every Thanksgiving.  Skinflints is also involved in charity work with veterans, autistic children and underprivileged families, receiving the "Feed-A-Family" Restaurant Award in 2003.

              Aside from the stellar community service for which Skinflints is known,  its other claim to fame is obviously its delicious, yet affordable, menu.  Bell says that most customers are regulars and keep coming back for more, appreciating a well-prepared dish at a reasonable price.  Indeed, as Bell and I toured the dining area, one gentleman shouted his compliments to the chef, clearly pleased with his meal.  Another customer exclaimed, "Skinflints makes the best chili!" referring to the enticing Chili Burger on the menu.

              I decided to taste two items that Bell recommended as top choices: the bacon cheeseburger and Bell's personal favorite, BBQ baby back ribs with mashed potatoes.  Both were outstanding!  The burger was made of thick and tender, freshly ground beef, charbroiled and served on an English muffin with a side of French fries.  I especially enjoyed the pleasantly light taste of the English muffin to the standard burger bun.  As tasty as the burger was, the ribs were even better.  Slow-cooked for 6 hours in their homemade sauce, the tenderized meat gracefully fell off the bone when tugged gently by my fork.  Delighted that I did not have to engage in rib warfare in order to get the meat off its bone, I was able to indulge in the succulent baby back ribs and yummy mashed potatoes with ease.  The burger rang up at a modest $7.50 while the ribs will cost you $16.25 - - - and worth every penny!

              Skinflints has quite a bit of variety on its menu, including 12 kinds of burgers, soups and salads, chicken dishes like Chicken Marsala and seafood dishes like Sole Francaise and Shrimp Scampi.  The restaurant also features nightly dinner specials, so you're sure to find something to savor.  Rooms are available for private parties, so gather up your friends and family, and head over to Skinflints for a wholesome and memorable dining experience at this almost century-old establishment. 

--Valery Kallen, 2009

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A & S Variety

            Everyone loves a good bargain, especially in these rough economic times, and no one knows this better than Eli Seman, owner of A & S Variety. A & S, a men's clothing boutique located at 7407 Fifth Avenue, offers closeout savings on virtually all wardrobe essentials, from undergarments to dress shirts and ties to gym shorts and sweatshirts. With clearance prices as low as 99 cents, A & S is a "must stop spot" for those of us trying to stretch our dollar.

            Seman opened A & S Variety about 10 years ago and has enjoyed a loyal and steady clientele due to his great customer service and competitive pricing.  He orders wholesale from reliable vendors and uses a flexible pricing system, which means leaving room for price adjustments on certain items.  "If you are buying three items and want a price break, just ask," says John, a manager at A & S.  Being negotiable and offering personalized customer service definitely helps this small business stay strong despite having retail giant Century 21 just down the avenue.

            Another key to their success? Designer fashions at super discount prices! A & S carries a great selection of popular men's clothing brands such as Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Nautica, and Levi's. If you're looking for exercise wear, they currently have Reebok DryFit t-shirts for a remarkable $6.99 and Champion running jackets for $9.99. Another brand widely available is Marquis, a maker of stylish men's polo shirts, dressy button down shirts, and high quality t-shirts. Marquis also makes the hip denim line MARQ 75, which A & S carries in a variety of colors and styles. Most of their shirt sizes range from small to XL (with larger sizes available) and pant sizes range from 30 to 52.

            A & S also stock their shelves with everyday essentials like designer socks and underwear (Calvin Klein Boxer Briefs are only $7.99), belts, ties, and baseball caps. They even have leather wallets by Perry Ellis and Joseph Abboud for the unbeatable price of $14.99. Since new items are continuously added, A & S moves many current items to their Close-Out Rack, the place where you can find t-shirts and pants for prices like 99 cents apiece! With prices like these, it is impossible to walk in and NOT find a bargain.

            As the fall and winter seasons approach, A & S will once again be brimming with men's designer sweaters, coats, and leather jackets. They make sure to order designs appropriate for all ages, from the young college-bound man to the many retired locals in our neighborhood and the "everyman" in between. So, if you need to update your outdated closet or just stock up on the basics (and still stick to a budget), check out A & S Variety for a steal of a deal!     

--Valery Kallen, 2009

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Bean Post Pub

Feels Like Home

              The word "pub" is derived from the British "public house", an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic beverages, as well as provide food and entertainment.  But as the the term "public house" implies, a pub is often much more to its patrons than just a place to grab a beer; it's more like a home away from home.  As such, it's no wonder that the cozy Bean Post Pub, located at 7525 Fifth Avenue, has become the local favorite of many in the Bay Ridge community.

              Although open since 1982, the Bean Post Pub has been through quite a few transformations over the past few years under current owner Anthony LoPorto.  LoPorto has his own long history with the pub, starting out as a bartender in 1994 and eventually purchasing the Bean Post eight years later in November of 2002.  While making sure that the pub retained its original charm, LoPorto made a few necessary adjustments and upgrades, giving the Bean Post its new slogan: "Same As Always, Better Than Ever!"

              One of his first changes was removing the rickety computerized liquor system and adding bottled beef -- that's right, the original pub only had beer on draft.  Now the Bean Post proudly boasts more than 60 types of bottled beer, including many specialty beers like De Koninck, Duvel, Chimay and Leffe.  It also has 21 draft lines with four rotating seasonally drafts, currently lined up to feature Samuel Adams Octoberfest, Beck's Oktoberfest, Southern Tier's Pumking and Victory Brewing's Moonglow.  If liquor is more to your liking, the Bean Post has more than 40 varieties of vodka, including local favorites like Grey Goose and Ketle One. 

              Since no drink is complete without something to snack on, LoPorto reopened the kitchen, which had been closed under past ownership, and added a full bar menu.  The Bean Post menu must-haves include homemade buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks and the famous mini burgers made with 100% sirloin and affectionately dubbed "coasters".  The pub also has entrees like honey dijon chicken, shrimp scampi, chicken parmigiana and an assortment of burgers, sandwiches and salads. 

              LoPorto also made some major technology upgrades, adding 12 flat screen TVs to give customers plenty of options when it comes to watching their favorite sports teams or catching the latest news.  The new digital jukebox has more that 250 albums to choose from and even more that customers can download straight from the Internet.  And if you're in the mood for some fun, there are arcade games that feature bowling, golf and hunting, as well as traditional dart board hanging in the back.  On Fridays and Saturdays, enjoy a terrific selection of music from one of four rotating DJs, meaning you won't hear the same guy playing the same tunes every weekend.

              As for ambiance, the Bean Post is cozy and incredibly clean, with plenty of seating both at the bar and around the pub.  Extra-large green leather barstools are another new addition and, boy, are they comfy!  French doors make up the front and corner of the pub and, weather permitting, are opened every Friday evening, allowing a cool breeze to circulate.  The pub fits roughly 100 people comfortably and even offers in-house catering and a DJ, so if you are looking for a fun place to host your next party, the Bean Post can really make your celebration one of a kind.

              However, you don't have to wait for a party to enjoy the Bean Post.  Stop by anytime for an ice-cold beer, delicious food and great company at your soon- to-be-favorite home away from home.

--Valery Kallen, 2009

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Enchanted Florist

Get Enchanted on Fifth Avenue

              In a time where many things are being replaced by "better" or "more efficient" manmade replicas, there is still nothing artificial that can substitute for a fresh bouquet of sweet smelling flowers.  This is probably one reason that Nester Andrianos, owner of Enchanted Florist located at 7515 Fifth Avenue, has been able to stay in business for almost 16 years.  The other reasons?  Exceptional customer service and prices that haven't budged since he opened his shop in 1993.

              Enchanted Florist is a cozy little shop with plenty of cheerful plants, a rainbow of colorful flowers, and tons of charm behind its delightful green and white awning.  They are a full-service florist which means they cover the whole flower/plant spectrum from wedding and sympathy arrangements to contemporary arrangements to green and flowering plants.  They also carry a large assortment of fruit baskets, gourmet baskets, children's candy baskets and balloons.  What's a better way to say thank you to a friend than with a bouquet of bright yellow sunflowers and a Healthy Gourmet Basket filled with delicious fruit, whole wheat crackers, and all natural juice?  Or a dozen red roses accompanied by a Gourmet Picnic Basket containing fresh fruit, cheese, nuts, and crackers to woo that special someone in your life?  If you can dream it, Enchanted Florist can make it happen!

              If you're looking for something with a little more longevity, how about a potted green or flowering plant that will bring joy to any budding horticulturist for years to come.  Enchanted Florist provide a range of plants from the simple pothos to their Azalea Attraction Garden Basket featuring hot pink azalea, dieffenbachia, spathiphyllum, and nephthytis ivy plants that arrive in a handled basket.  And don't worry about pronouncing the tongue-twistin names correctly in order to enjoy the beauty of these lovely plants.  In fact, if you have a specific question or need some tips, Andrianos is the pro with the know-how.

              His recommendation for those of us who are green-thumb challenged is to try a houseplant that is relatively unfussy such as the spathiphyllum, commonly known as the peace lily, which he says "is pretty hard to kill."  This plant, native to tropical regions of the Americas and southeastern Asia, doesn't require a lot of sunlight, enjoys room temperature, and only needs to be watered once or twice a week.  Other simple plants to try are the philodendron (a trailing plant which can grow up to 15 feet or longer), the rubber tree, and the lucky bamboo which is said to bring luck and fortune to those who receive them as gifts.

              For the upcoming holiday season,  Enchanted Florist is offering its usual pre-decorated trees and poinsettias, as well as an in-home holiday decorating service.  They also offer spring and fall cleanup services as well as simple landscaping that includes trimming bushes and putting down grass.  And if you're having an autumn wedding, Enchanted Florist has a variety of beautiful bouquets, boutonnieres, and centerpieces to make your special day warm and bright.

              Visit Enchantmentflorist.com for a complete look at all their plant and floral arrangements, including wedding pieces, corporate gifts, and even Halloween-themed flowers.  Delivery is free for the immediate neighborhood and a reasonable $5 to other parts of Brooklyn.  And for the happiness that a plant or flower will bring . . . priceless!

--Valery Kallen, 2009

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 Le Sajj     

8221 Fifth Avenue  

              On a rainy Thursday, I headed over to Le Sajj on Fifth between 82nd and 83rd Streets.  Like a good reporter I’ve checked out the website.  I find out that it is a family-owned and operated restaurant with over 65 years' experience.  I am already intrigued by the painting of two older women making bread as well as the review from Citysearch review, which reads “Authentic, mouth watering and fresh Lebanese cuisine, hospitality and ambiance.” 

              At La Sajj I am greeted warmly by Marwan Dagher, the owner, and ushered past his lunch guests to a table near the bar where we sit to talk.   I wait while he checks on his guests.  Marwan clearly enjoys personally delivering the food from the kitchen and the interaction with diners.  An indication the reviews about Le Sajj’s hospitality were clearly on point.

             The painting from the website was directly behind me so it seemed like a good place to start.  These women are Marwan’s mother and grandmother, and the painting is a replication of a photo he took of them making traditional Lebanese bread.  The word “Sajj” refers to both the baking of Lebanese flatbread and the iron tool used for baking it.  This time-honored tradition, along with many other elements of Lebanese family heritage, is infused into the food at this restaurant.

              The fragrant, made-to-order, ample portions that emerge from the kitchen are a combination of specialties from Marwan’s family and the skilled Lebanese chef Michllane who adds her own experience and exquisite taste to the cuisine at Le Sajj.  There are over 20 entrees and appetizers to choose from, though when pressed to select one of each to recommend, Marwan swears by the Sajj Cheese Rolls (hand-rolled and stuffed with three cheeses) and Le Sajj Combination (a sampling of their charcoal-grilled best).

              The genuine Lebanese food is complimented by live entertainment.  Friday and Saturday nights the restaurant is full to its 80-person capacity and diners enjoy musicians and singers performing a variety of Lebanese music styles including the traditional Dabke, one of the most popular Arabic folk dances.

              In tough economic times, I can’t help but ask a restaurateur what it is like being in the restaurant business now, how they got there, and how they plan to survive.   Le Sajj has been open for four years and has a steady flow of customers from Brooklyn and a large following from Manhattan.   Marwan was born and raised in Bay Ridge, is committed to the community and works daily to apply his 20+ years of restaurant experience to La Sajj.  When I asked for the keys to his success, he replies “Experience, hospitality, generous and high quality food.  I don’t mind working in the kitchen, serving the food to the guests and I love being out in the community talking to people all the time.”

              Le Sajj is open Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 12 p.m. – 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 12 p.m. – 4 a.m.  For more information about La Sajj visit www.lesajj.comFor private parties and reservations (recommended for Friday and Saturday), call 718-833-7255. 

--Rosalie Drago, November 2009

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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 Hookahnuts     

7214 Fifth Avenue  

             With a name like Hookahnuts I was certain I already knew all I needed to know about the store on Fifth Avenue between 72nd and 73rd  Streets.  They must just sell hookahs and a few nuts – right? What an understatement!  Hookahnuts has imported chocolate, special occasion favors, gifts, ice cream,  hookahs, flavored tobacco and, of course,  nuts.

            Hookahnuts is owned by two sisters and Bay Ridge residents, Doha Khaled and Sabah Jammal.    Their family has made chocolates and other specialty items for generations.  Sabah’s husband has spent years in the import and export business.   Together, the two sisters and their husbands run the business.

              I met co-owner Ms. Doha Khaled at the back of the store for this interview and so had the opportunity to see everything on my way back to meet her.  Before hookahs or nuts come into view, the first items to grab a customer’s attention are beautiful, hand-carved wood boxes and religious items.  These items, bearing the craftsmanship and design from artisans in India, Syria and Lebanon along with the painted ornate tea sets on the following display make striking gifts.

             Regarding nuts, the store features over 25 varieties.  Patrons can choose from an array of natural dried fruit from common items like figs, apricots, raisins or cranberries to more- difficult-to-find options like guava and mango.  Above the nuts are a row of gift baskets, made to order for the holidays – Hookahnuts is one of very few local stores who make custom food gift baskets. 

           The most delightful surprise is the imported chocolates and candies in unique, brilliantly colored and intricate patterned wrapping.   These delicacies are made by Doha’s family in Lebanon and the designs (anything from fuzzy bears and babies to elegant gold leaves and butterflies) make these perfect for wedding or baby occasion favors. 

             When I asked Doha about the origins of this joint venture she said, “We wanted to have a family business using our abilities.  We bring over 30 years of knowledge and relationships which allow us to import the best quality items and offer them to the neighborhood in one location.”

             Current customers include locals as well as people visiting from Manhattan, Long Island and New Jersey.  What must a first-time customer try? “Definitely the custom chocolates,” said Doha. “And, of course, we have hookahs, over 50 designs with a generous selection of accessories, a large assortment of flavored tobacco and alcohol free perfumes.”

             How has business been as Hookahnuts? “This is a time of gift giving.  For the holidays we get many orders from doctor’s offices and businesses for baskets.  For Muslim people, it is a time when it is customary to visit people returning from pilgrimage and bring them gifts too.  We are busy now.”

             The key to their success? “We are committed to making our customers happy and believe in our quality.  We give people samples so they can try our product and they walk away with a good experience.”

              The shelves are stocked so there is still time to get your holiday gift at Hookahnuts.  Hookahnuts is located at 7214 Fifth Avenue.  Hours of operation are 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.,  7 days a week.  Orders can be placed in the store or by phone 718-833-5252 or email hookahnuts@gmail.com.

--Rosalie Drago, December 2009

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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Bay Ridge Animal Hospital

               The Bay Ridge Animal Hospital has stood on Fifth Avenue for 65 years, yet there is not an inkling of anything old at the stunning renovated facilities.  The building, from pavement to rooftop, is dedicated to comprehensive care of our canine and feline friends.  What is behind the new façade?  Open and inviting reception area.  Pristine exam room, dental suite and hospital wards.  Bright and spacious surgical suite.  In short, everything necessary to make it a premier, private, small animal hospital in New York City.

                “I was a theater major in college, dabbled in photography, but my love for animals drove me to go to veterinary school,” said Dr. Howard Hollander in a recent interview. “When I graduated, I went to work for the Animal Hospital of Brooklyn and soon found myself the Director of their Bay Ridge hospital.  After several years there, I purchased the Bay Ridge Animal Hospital and my brother, Paul Hollander, joined me a short time after.”

               Thirty years later, the Bay Ridge Animal Hospital, an AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) member, has five experienced doctors on staff and transformed the space on Fifth Avenue.  The practice has evolved from a 3,000-square-foot hospital into a 6,000- square-foot ultra-modern facility with state-of-the-art dental and general surgery suites.  This enables Dr. Hollander’s team to handle everything from routine exams to life-saving surgery in house.    They have also cultivated a well-trained and devoted staff which gears itself towards preventative medicine as well as providing guidance for owners about proper animal care. 

                  Pet owners travel from all over to receive care from Bay Ridge Animal Hospital, but the heart of the practice is still local Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst residents. “I have worked in Bay Ridge my entire career and love our clientele,” said Dr. Hollander.

                  Bay Ridge Animal Hospital also features boarding.   This area includes kennels and kitty condos as well as cageless runs for dogs.  What is a kitty condo you ask?  Why not stop by for a tour and find out for yourself!

                    A wall covered with pictures of animals all shapes and sizes and thank you notes prompt me to as ask what makes Bay Ridge Animal Hospital so successful.  “We not only treat our patients but are very attentive to the owners needs,” says Hollander.  

                  Bay Ridge Animal Hospital is located at 6803 Fifth Avenue.  They are open for business 7 days a week, Mondays thru Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,  Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., by appointment.  You can reach Dr. Hollander and his team at 718-748-1047, or visit them online at www.bayridgeanimalhospital.net.

--Rosalie Drago, March 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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Bikram Yoga Bay Ridge

                  What’s hot on Fifth Avenue you ask?  A lot, of course.  Though for the sake of this Spotlight on Fifth feature I decided to focus my energy a little and take a look at Bikram Yoga Bay Ridge.

                  There are several terrific options for those who practice yoga in Bay Ridge though the appearance of Bikram Yoga, a special kind of yoga practice, says a lot about the dedication to this great form of exercise. 

                 Bikram Yoga is also known as “hot yoga.”  Each class is 90 minutes long and takes place in a well-heated room.  The heat in the yoga room provides many benefits, including safely allowing for deeper stretching, detoxing the body and increasing heart rate for better cardiovascular workout.  The nature of the classes makes it open to beginners as well as seasoned practitioners – the warmth (of the room and the teacher!) ensures even the self-described inflexible people can engage in the yoga poses.

                 Owner and native Brooklynite Nancy Commings fell in love with Bikram Yoga when she was working as a math teacher.  “You know the kid who is excused from running in every gym class? That was me!“ Nancy recalls.  “I have had asthma and severe allergies my whole life.   I was dependent on medications and used my illnesses as an excuse to avoid exercise,” she continued.  “A friend of mine introduced me to Bikram Yoga as a way of reducing stress.  Before I knew it, I realized that my yoga class was the best part of my day and I decided to go to the teacher training to become a Bikram yoga teacher.” She continues, “After five years of practicing this yoga, I feel like I have a new set of lungs in my body. I have learned how to control my breathing ...I rarely take a puff of my inhaler. I don't take any more allergy medication. It's amazing.”

                As someone who does do yoga regularly, hot yoga can seem daunting at first.  I had all the classic fears: I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to breath in the heated room, that it would be too difficult, and that I would feel drained.  Bikram yoga is definitely challenging and requires dedication but it is well worth it.  Contrary to my concerns, when I stepped out of a Bikram Yoga class I felt healthier, breathed easier, was relived of body aches and felt as though you I could surmount any challenge.

              When I asked Nancy what we should tell people about the benefits of hot yoga, she had this to say: “There are unlimited benefits to practicing Bikram yoga. If you come in and work hard and develop a consistent practice, anything is possible.  Bikram says, use your 'Bulldog determination and Bengal tiger strength.'"   Let me assure you, if you think you don’t have it, no problem.  Nancy’s yoga classes will help you develop it!  

             The studio, on the corner of Fifth and 83rd Street is a welcoming, clean and judgment-free space to learn or practice yoga.  Nancy clearly loves being a small business owner, delighting in all the aspects of running a business here in Bay Ridge – from greeting clients at the front desk to teaching class.  “Bay Ridge is my new home. I love the community in general and the truly wonderful little community that has developed here at Bikram Yoga Bay Ridge over the past year”.

              Bikram Yoga Bay Ridge has an introductory offer: $20 for your first week of unlimited yoga. No experience necessary. Just pick a good class time and arrive 20 minutes early to get started.  The studio is located at 8302 Fifth Avenue.  For more information visit www.bikrambayridge.com, call 718-833-9200 or email info@bikrambayridge.com .

--Rosalie Drago, March 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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Kruchkow's Shoe Store

                  You are doing something right if you are in business for over 100 years, especially when other stores are opening and closing all around you.  So, of course, I was interested in speaking to Seth Kruchkow,  owner of Kruchkow’s Shoe Shop, to find out what the secret is.

                 As I was walking into Kruchkow’s, a waitress was rushing out with a box of shoes in her hand to take her shift on the floor of a Third Avenue restaurant.  This is, after all, Bay Ridge’s official home of the comfortable shoe.

                I’m greeted by John and Frank who are strategically placed at the front of the store to greet and help customers.  John has worked here for six years. Frank’s been in shoes since he was 14.  He is 79 years old now.  You can do the math. “I was born in a shoe store!” says Frank. “Well, across the street from one.”   Rest assured, this place has expertise in selecting the right shoe for you. 

               When I ask for Seth, I’m told he’s in the back.  Kruchkow’s is like a library of shoes, with shelves upon shelves filled with special soles -  complete with rolling ladder.   I stride past brand names shoes like Easy Spirit, Spring Step, Fly Flot, Trotters and Florsheim stacked neatly to the ceiling around the store.

               Sure enough, at the back of the store, Seth is seated behind a lone desk from which he can survey the landscape and call out to well-known customers.  Pictures of his wife Debra and son Adam line the shelf behind him.

               Kruchkow’s Shoe Shop has been in business for 103 years to be exact.  The business was started by Seth’s grandfather in 1907, a time when there were 15 independently-owned shoe stores in the area and nothing existed beyond 86th Street.  Seth graduated from college with a degree in Biology and possessed a skill for writing comics.  While he pursued his comic-writing career (yes, he did some work for Marvel) he worked in the store.  Seth came to the store full time in 1976.

               So how has this business survived?  Seth waves a hand at the row of chairs where John and Frank are and that metal foot-measuring instrument.  (It’s called a Brannock Device!) “We take our time with customers.  We watch them walk.  We pay attention to little details.  We spend time with them to pick the right pair of shoes” Seth replies.  A customer, being waited on hand and foot shouts out, “I always come here to buy one pair of shoes and I always leave with two!”

             “Fifth Avenue has been good to us,” shares Seth. “There are a lot of repeat customers and the people in Bay Ridge give back to the community.”

              When I inquire about the challenges Kruchkow’s faces today, Seth answers earnestly. “Most big manufacturers don’t want to deal with the little, independent retailer.  They prefer the big-box stores and so selection of items decreases when you get to our size business.”  Kruchkow’s continued success though would indicate the assortment of shoes seems perfect for their loyal customers.

              They carry everything for the special needs shoe shopper: wide widths, extra comfort and a variety of specialty shoes from Italy and Portugal.  Pssst -  Easy Spirit’s top- selling shoe in the US is on the shelves for less- than-catalogue price.

                Kruchkow's Shoe Shop is located at 7808 - 5th Avenue and is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 A.M. to 6 P.M.  You can reach the Kruchkow’s team by telephone at 718-745-3446.

--Rosalie Drago, May 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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Bay Ridge Bakery

                  The minute I pull open the door to Bay Ridge Bakery I’m beckoned by the sweet aroma of fresh baked goods.  I can’t pick out any particular item – it could be the soft center of a French pastry out of the oven or a moist middle of a layer cake.  It is impossible to be sure as the curved display case is filled with mini pastries, sculptured chocolates, and cookies.  The shelves and tables are covered with French, Italian, Greek, and American pastries, breads and pies.

                  I’m standing in front of a field of Paximathia (Greek biscotti) waiting for owner, Nick Nikolopoulos.  Ahead of me, the proprietor of a local Greek restaurant is ordering pastries for his establishment.  You know those irresistible cakes spinning in the glass carousel at the diner?  Well, they make them here!  Bay Ridge Bakery has a robust wholesale business.  In the restaurant and diner world they are one of the main suppliers of a full-line of cakes and pastries across the tri-state area.   

                 The work that is done here is a fine fusion of time-honored tradition and modern culinary training.  In 1974, John Nikolopoulos opened Bay Ridge Bakery and brought 30 years of experience in the pastry arts in Europe and his work as a top pastry chef in New York to Fifth Avenue.  His son, Nick, worked alongside him and then studied at the French Culinary Institute, graduating with honors.  Together, this father-and-son team invest their considerable experience and their passion into developing their recipes.  The tasty results are evident from the tiniest cookie to the tallest fantasy wedding cake.  “To see an idea come to life from basic resources is an amazing process,” Nick says.

               This is a true family business.  Wife and mother, Peggy, can always be found in the kitchen working side by side with her husband and son, and their employees.  Nick makes all the high-end cakes, especially wedding cakes and delivers them personally. 

              What are some of their specialties?  Carrot cake and fruit tarts are the favorite among the regulars.  The most elaborate cakes?  According to Nick, “A Cinderella wedding cake, an Arabian-themed three-tiered pillow cake and the gold hat that the archbishop of the orthodox religion wears.”

             My visit takes place on a hot weekday afternoon and the phones are ringing off the hook.  What has helped this business remain so popular?                                                              

            “Trying to keep our pricing at an affordable and competitive level while all of our supplies keep going up in price.  Through all the economic highs and lows, we have never decreased our quality just to save on costs. Our customers come to us because they want the ‘jewelry’ of cakes or pastries.”  He continues, “We are not an ‘overnight’ business. Our longevity in our business allows us to soak in some of the costs and not pass it on to our customers. Although we make less per product than what we used to, we sell more products by keeping the costs down where we can.”

            Nick was born and raised here in the neighborhood.  He currently lives in Dyker Heights with his wife, Eve, and their three boys; John, Chris, and Peter.  "I love this place,” he conveys with genuine joy.  “I have a picture of myself in front of a cake display when I was 4 years old and it is still hanging in the store.  Bay Ridge is multi-cultural and full of life. I want everyone who comes here to feel like our personal guest.”

            You can see their stunning wedding cakes in the Cake Gallery on their website. Bay Ridge Bakery, located at 7805 - 5th Avenue, is open Monday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.  Visit them online at www.bayridgebakery.com or call 718-238-0014.

-Rosalie Drago, June 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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Shiprite

           Though the store name is Shiprite, what is offered inside this store at 7304 5th Avenue goes way beyond shipping.  In fact, after spending a bit of time there, it seems like you can get anything you want done there.

             Signs swaying overhead announce copying, faxing and notary services. You can get rubber stamps and business cards made.  Need an extra set of keys?  Get them while you wait.  Looking to rent a mail box?  They have small, medium and large mailboxes ($9, $13 and $20 per month, respectively).  You can pay bills at Shiprite and get your documents laminated.

             Three mysterious closets as you enter house the package drop-off space.  Ever miss a package because you weren’t home to answer the door?  Well, you don’t have to.  Have your parcels sent to Shiprite and they will store it in their secure area for you.

             I can’t wait to meet the jack-of-all-trades behind this one-stop shop.  Owner, Ecliffe Simon, is deep in conversation with someone when I arrive.   I apologize for interrupting his conversation with a customer.  “He’s not a customer, he’s a guy from the neighborhood who comes in to talk.  I’ve been here 15 years – I have a lot of people who just come in to visit me.” 

            Seeing the same people over and over again is one of the reasons Ecliffe opened a store on 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge.  “I chose this location because of the stability in the neighborhood,”  he explains. “I did a lot of research before opening this business and looked at a lot of neighborhoods.  Bay Ridge is one of the most consistent over time.  I put every dime I saved into this business – I wasn’t going to risk it in some neighborhood that hadn’t proven itself.”

           Mr. Simon decided to open his own business after leaving Wall Street in 1993.  He studied his options – everything from glass repair to cleaning services.  Then he read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine which ranked this type of small business venture as the top ten most successful businesses to be in.  “It was perfect for me.  Something I could start right away by myself and grow into.  Now I have two employees and there are always two people at the counter.”

           Besides the sheer convenience in this one simple location where packaging, shipping and office needs are fulfilled, service and price are what keep people coming back.  According to Ecliffe “You tell us what you want to do and we’ll find a way to do it.  The competition can’t do it as efficiently or cost effectively as we can.  We don’t pay any royalties to a brand name so our cost structure isn’t as high.” 

          Mr. Simon is constantly improving and nurturing his business.  He just added a new service – shredding.  The shredding machine operates on the same principle as the car vacuum at the gas station - you pay for a set amount of time.  Only a few items?  Purchase a minute.  A whole box full of papers?  Purchase five minutes.   “Since it is self-serve, no one will look at your documents but you,” Ecliffe adds.

         Shiprite is located at 7304 Fifth Avenue and is open 9:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays.  You can contact the Shiprite team at 718-630-5655.

-Rosalie Drago, June 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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Havin' A Party

          Under normal circumstances, entering a business establishment to find shelves lined with heads would be a concerning sight.  Not so, though, at Havin' A Party.  The content costume craniums of Winnie the Pooh, Darth Vader, Popeye, Buzz Lightyear and Barney sit ear-to-ear waiting among hundreds of their friends to be called into duty for a birthday party or Halloween celebration.

         The kids’ costume section provides every imaginable option.  If defending the homefront is a priority, children can choose from a desert commando, the green army men of Toy Story, famous superheroes, Harry Potter or sword-swaying Zorro.  Every major trade is covered from doctor to construction worker.  The princess world is well-represented with something to stir the imagination with a single wave of the wand from ones tiara to ones toes.

           Speaking of stirring the imagination, Havin' A Party has a full complement of costumes and wigs for grownups that will spice up any gathering.  Gentlemen can have their choice from categories like Beast and Bloodsuckers, Cops and Robbers, Swashbucklers, and Super Heroes and Villains.  The ladies can dress up as a Film Favorite like Dorothy or Marilyn Monroe or they can choose from a host of other frolicsome frocks including Frisky Felon, Pirate Wench, Gangster Moll, Army Cadet, Lioness and much more. 

           Did I mention the accessories?  Everything you can think of (and many you wouldn’t have thought of) are hanging in here.  Spats, gold teeth, an inflatable boom box, a priest collar, and a ball and chain.  Tired of being an attractive, athletic hunk?  No worries!  There is a Nerd Kit complete with glasses with tape, a pocket pen protector and bowtie.   

          “We're Havin' A Party provides everything but the room, food and guests,” owner Marc Davis says proudly.  That includes characters, DJs, balloons, caricaturists, look-a-likes, rides and games as well as supplies like tables, chairs, decorations, plates, and cutlery.  Marc will make sure you have everything you need for your gathering.  He has been in business for over 17 years right in the same spot.  And why Bay Ridge?  “People are always having parties here.  It’s great.  I’ll help someone with their son’s 10th birthday party and, before you know it, that kid grows up and I’m helping him with his own kid’s party.”

           When it comes to children’s parties, they have all the accoutrements for a themed event.   You can choose among classic (Winnie the Pooh) or current characters (Dora, Spongebob) and those that span the decades (Star Wars, Sesame Street, Batman).  You can even pick and pack the goodie bags here, too. 

          Fran, a loyal employee for the past six years tells me, “Marc is friendly and very pleasant to work with.  Party planning is stressful – he makes everything easy.”  Being the one-stop-shop for party-and-event needs (they have rolls of tickets AND those great big scissors for ribbon-cutting events) and being willing to go the extra mile is the key.  “I’ll open the shop during a time we are usually closed if you need us.  I’ll bring things out to the car if you can’t find parking,” said Marc. 

           We're Havin' A Party is located at 8414 Fifth Avenue.  You can learn more about them at www.brooklyncostumes.com.  You can also call 718-836-3701 or email brooklyncostumes@gmail.com
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-Rosalie Drago, July 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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Rocco's Pizzeria        

           I’ve been eating pizza since I had to stand on my tippy toes and hang by my fingertips to see the man at the counter.  Back then, pizza was just a large, round, plain pie.  I thought it was magical the way the “pizza man” tossed the dough high in the air, swirled the sauce (“gravy” in my family) around, effortlessly pitched mounds of mozzarella cheese across it and slid it in the oven.  I just couldn’t wait.

          At 38, there is still something fascinating and comforting about a pizza place…and Rocco’s pizza is no exception.  The Loccisano family has been making pizza since 1980 when Rocco Loccisano opened his shop.  His sons, Joseph and Danny, now run the place with the same talent and passion for pizza and Italian fare.  There are over 10 different types of pies on the menu.   Joe and Danny prepare both traditional style pizza and gourmet pizza. You can take in the delectable aroma as you gently break open a fresh baked, steaming calzone.  Or you can tuck in your napkin and prepare your knife and fork for a taste of made-to-order Italian favorites including Veal Marsala, Penne Vodka, Chicken Caesar Salad and fish – everything is prepared using special family recipes.   The daily specials are both delicious and dollar-wise. 

           The counter is teeming with customers.  People wearing everything from business suits to Baby Bjourn’s are waiting for a taste of Rocco’s great eats.  “We provide a level of service that is above the rest. The ingredients in our products are of the highest quality and it reflects in the end product,” Joe explains.  “Danny and I strive on keeping our products of the high standard that customers are accustomed to.”

             If you think the lines are impressive at the pizzeria, you should see them surrounding Rocco’s during the Fifth Avenue Festival.  Rocco’s is home of the official annual Brooklyn Pizza Eating Contest which is a festival feature.  The contest, which draws people from around the tri-state area, is the family’s way to thank the community with a celebration and also an event to raise much-needed funds for local charities.  The 2010 champion is “Furious Pete” Czerwinski – he ate 27 slices in 10 minutes!

            Pizza seems to be the one thing that is recession-proof around here.  “There are many challenges a small business faces in today’s climate. But we just try to follow the basic business principles that are foundation for our success. Our pizza and food taste fresh and good all the time. Customers like our service and the friendly atmosphere in our establishment,” says Joe.

             Well, they certainly have a recipe for success.  Come see for yourself.  You can even start practicing for next year’s pizza eating contest!  Rocco’s is located at 7818 5th Avenue and is open 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.  You can find out more at www.roccospizzaon5th.com or give them a call at (718)238-7658. to Friday 10:30

-Rosalie Drago, August 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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    Sadam Ali Boxing & Fitness Center

           It is 8:18pm and a three-quarter full moon is rising in the night sky.  There is a very welcome cool breeze.  I am on my way to the Sadam Ali Boxing & Fitness Center on the corner of Bay Ridge Avenue and Fifth Avenue.  This is my first nighttime interview.  I’ve been missing out on Bay Ridge at night:  the streets are busy with a different kind of energy.  As I make my way there, I’m reminded of why I love living here.  One block has a group of guys playing Mariachi music with their families in the basement.  A few doors down Italian tunes float out a second-story window and then Egyptian music pours onto the street from a nearby café.  The whole world lives here, people from everywhere, and it is a beautiful thing.

            As I wait for the traffic light, an electronic message board above the center invites people to join the gym and promotes Sadam Ali’s next fight.  People of all ages are coming in and out.  The gym is owned by the boxer and his father, Mahmoud Ali.  Mahmoud, out in front, greets me warmly at the door and welcomes me inside.  “Come in, let's go downstairs and you can speak with Sadam.”

           This just became one of my most exciting interviews!  As a child my father would let me sit on the couch, squeezed between him and a gaggle of my Italian uncles while they watched “the fights.”  I loved the way they screamed and yelled, leaped up off the couch, shook their fists at the television, vehemently told the fighters which punches to throw and cheered on their favorites.  Now I was going to meet a professional boxer right here in Bay Ridge?  All of a sudden I became nervous.

           We head down the stairs to the brightly-lit gym.  Each heavy bag, the ring and every piece of equipment are occupied.  People of all ages are here – though a majority are young.  Sadam Ali steps out of the ring and joins me on a folding chair for the interview. 

            He’s 21, born in Brooklyn.  The lean welterweight looks like the guy standing next to you on line at the supermarket – but he’s no regular Joe.   In 2007 he became the first boxer from New Your City to win an Olympic Trial since Riddick Bowe in 1988.  During the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing he became the sole American lightweight permitted to compete in three Olympic qualification tournaments and is the first Arab American to represent the country in the Olympics.

           And now, he is here in Bay Ridge, right on Fifth Avenue, where he and his personal team of trainers can teach you how to box like a pro – or if you prefer – get in shape like a pro boxer.

         “I started boxing when I was eight,” Ali begins. “I admired Prince Naseem Hamad.  My father would take me everywhere to find a gym and train every day.  It was hard to find a good gym.  I always knew I would open a gym so kids could have a good place to train.”  He continues, “I’ve been through it all.  I know what to teach them, what mistakes they should avoid.  I train them personally – me and my coaching team.”

         And he’s not kidding.  Three of the superstar coaching team are there during the interview:  Andre Rozier (trainer to Joe Greene, Danny Jacobs, Curtis Stevens and Gary Stark Jr. and designer of boxing apparel) , Sharif Younam (credited with reviving Paulie Malignaggi’s career ) and Lenny B. Wilson.  Sure enough they are working one on one with the members.  They even have a closed-circuit TV to monitor their charges when they have to go leave the training floor for a minute – calling out corrections from the other room.

         So what is the essence of the training at Sadam Ali’s Boxing and Fitness Center?  His father explains, “Usually people learn from one coach.  At a traditional boxing gym people pay a membership fee and then people pay for one coach to train them.  Here membership includes training from four coaches.” He continues, “When Sadam enters the ring, he has tools from four different styles of boxing to use.  He can put them together so he can adapt quickly to any challenge.”

         This gym, this business, goes beyond just building strength and speed – they build character, too.  “Many children come here.  They stand out on the street.  We invite them in.  Often, their parents can’t afford a membership.  We are looking for a way to create a program to train them.  It is good for them.  The kids that stay learn discipline, this is the place to learn how to reach your goals.”

           What do you need to become a successful professional boxer? From the man who noticed and cultivated it in his son, Mahmoud says “You have to have heart.  You have to give it your all.  You can’t quit.  You have to go out of your way.  You have to compete.”

           Men, women and children train here.  One of the members is a woman training for the Golden Gloves.  In the fall the boxing and fitness center will have a program exclusively for women run by women boxing trainers.

            Sadam started this business with the money he earned at his fights.  If membership fees don’t cover the rent, he pays for it out of his own pocket. So when you watch him on Pay- Per-View you are contributing to our neighborhood.

           The center is also the official home to Everlast boxing equipment.  You can purchase clothing, shoes, gloves – you name it.  Located at 6825 - 5th Avenue, Sadam Ali Boxing & Fitness Center has trainers onsite during two sessions, from 11:00 a.m. – 3 p.m. and from 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.  The gym is open for members to train on their own in between.  For current hours, membership and more information, call 718-764-6655. to Friy 10:30

-Rosalie Drago, August 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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    Waldinger's Pharmacy

          This is a tough time for pharmacies.  Many health insurance carriers are making it mandatory for members to order prescriptions online and thus the core business of the local pharmacy is diminishing.  With this knowledge in hand, I’m not sure what the mood will be at Waldinger’s as I head over there on a scorching summer afternoon.

          After I’ve been rejuvenated by the cool air inside, I see it’s not just the atmosphere that is refreshing.  Waldinger’s has found a way to serve its loyal customers to help keep the relationship going.  In addition to the standard over-the-counter medications, cosmetics and office supplies, this pharmacy has decided to specialize in three additional things: diabetic items, medical equipment and surgical scrubs. 

         The diabetic items are far from drab.  All natural, sugar-free Joseph’s, Aunt Gusse's and Winnie's cookies/cake items line the shelves.  In between is everything including jams, chocolate and hard candy, snack bars, salad dressing, syrup, pancake mix and pasta. 

          The medical supplies cover equipment, orthopedic products and convalescent care.  Scrubs are available in all colors and sizes.   

          Michael Panfel and Frank DeRosa have owned and run Waldinger’s for 30 years – they fill the prescriptions themselves.  “People have been coming here to fill prescriptions for years.  Then the insurance companies started requiring that people use mail order.  They would call to ask questions about the medicine and apologize that they couldn’t buy it here.” Michael explains, “We don’t mind answering questions and helping them understand what they are taking.  Our customers are loyal, they come back to buy over-the-counter medicine.”

         When I asked about the remarkable selection of sugar-free items and the abundant supply of medical items and scrubs, Michael informs me, “We listened to our customers.  They would come in and ask ‘where can I buy sugar-free food’, ‘where can I get this brace’ ‘what local stores carry scrubs’ – we just followed their lead and started stocking those items.”  What started out as a few garments turned into a whole wall of scrubs.  “We just outfitted an entire class of graduating medical assistants,” Michael tells me.  As for the sugar-free items, “We’ve seen diabetes rise dramatically in the local population.”

        Genuine concern and attentiveness are what draw people to Waldinger’s.  Another great attribute to Waldinger’s is the competitive pricing.  They were featured in the Daily News in April in an article about saving money in Bay Ridge. 

        You can visit Waldinger’s at 8318 Fifth Avenue or you can contact them at 718-745-2100.

         -Rosalie Drago, August 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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    No Quarter

          Bay Ridge is known for its restaurants and night life.  The bar scene is full of tenured establishments which have sometimes served legions with libations for several generations. So when a new saloon hits the scene it is always piques the interest of Bayridgites.

         No Quarter is no exception.  Over the last few weeks the doors were propped open in the midday summer heat as the finishing touches were being put in place and passer-bys kept stopping to peer in and shout, “When are you opening?”, and to sign up for the pool and dart league.  Thanks to the abundant network of people on Facebook, even the soft opening was filled.

         Owners Gail and Joe Dermondy have over 20 years experience in the business and have invested in all the essential accoutrements for a proper watering hole – 5 flat screen televisions, a brand new tap with 8 tap lines, pool table, dart board and the ability to broadcast all the essential sports games.  The distinguishing feature here?  The atmosphere at No Quarter is particularly inviting.

          What is better than sipping your spirits among skulls and cross bones?  No Quarter is filled with the essence of a Pirate ship – though less of a raider/marauder type and more of an worldly adventurer.   The brick wall looks like a nautical chart, old-world style lamps hang and two skulls flank the bar mirror.

          “My husband and I wanted to offer Bay Ridge a new place to lay back and relax,” Gail tells me.  When I comment on all the nifty nautical décor she steers me toward the rear of the bar.  “The heart of the bar is in the back,” she says.  Besides the pool table and dart board beautiful fantasy-style paintings hang.  A giant octopus, a precious mermaid and a mythical ship are custom pieces painted by local artists in oil and acrylic. 

          Now about that name.  Even though Gail and Joe have received numerous “good luck” notes with quarters in the envelopes and several inquiries as to whether this references the crazy parking and parking meters on the avenue, the name has nothing to do with currency.  Officially, “No Quarter” means “no surrender.”  Interestingly enough, it is also is the seventh song on English rock band Led Zeppelin's fifth album Houses of the Holy, released in 1973 – though I am not sure if that song is one of the hundreds of songs in the new Touch Tunes (a modern version of the Jukebox).

          You can give them a call at 718-921-5203  to find out the date of the official  grand opening.  No Quarter is located at 8015 -  5th Avenue between 80th and 81st street.  They are open 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday, and 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. on Sunday.  You can call for more information.        

         -Rosalie Drago, September 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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    Man'ou Che

           Guess what I learned this week? Pizza for breakfast in the Mediterranean doesn’t have to mean leftover cold Italian pizza from the fridge! On the corner of 77th and Fifth you’ll find the newly opened Man’ou Che.  Though there are a variety of terrific dishes here, let’s start with the one this eatery is named for, manouche, a Lebanese breakfast pizza.  

          Several manakeesh (manouche is singular, manakeesh is plural) line the display at the counter.  They resemble a thin-crust pizza spread with delectable toppings that go beyond tomato and cheese.  The varieties at Man’ou che include Zaatar (thyme, sesame, soumack and oil), feta cheese, ground meat, Labneh (tomato, mint and olive) and seasonal vegetables.  The aromas of these delightful dishes overwhelm you when they arrive at the table.  With bold flavors and soft airy dough these make for a savory and nourishing meal.  The stars of the lineup here are the not-to-miss thyme-and-feta pizzas, though I must say that the Chocoba (chocolate, banana and hazelnut) was a yummy treat too.  Their menu also includes traditional appetizers, sandwiches and platters.  The falafel, hommos and tabbouleh vegetarian sandwiches are popular with the lunch crowd.

           The counter is manned by Joseph Mako who greets the regulars and helps new customers select from the menu.  Each dish is prepared to order by Joseph’s mother, Naema; father, Icho and brother, Hanna.  This family brings years of experience working in Lebanese restaurants along with the family recipes for many of the dishes served here, including the soft, fresh pizza dough.

          “This is something we’ve always wanted to do,” Joseph tells me. “We were just waiting for the right spot.  When this corner opened up on Fifth Avenue, we were ready to open our restaurant.  Fifth Avenue is a great place – lots of foot traffic.”   Man’ou Che is definitely a well-liked lunchtime spot.    While I enjoyed the mini spinach and cheese manaseesh, the door constantly opened and closed with a steady stream of lunchtime customers.  Business men from a local bank dined in with a variety of dishes, staff from a nearby medical office took grape leaves to go and a couple from Montreal enjoyed lentil soup and spinach pies.

           The popularity shouldn’t be surprising, though: many people are discovering and enjoying the flavorful and healthy foods from the Middle East.  Man’ou Che offers fresh, delicious varieties

         -Rosalie Drago, September 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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    Gyro Station

        Before passing one of the long red awnings located on the avenue take a quick glance at the wall inside.  If you immediately glimpse a graffiti-style subway car pulling into a station, then you’ve arrived at your destination - the restaurant Gyro Station. 

        Ashraf Elshowki opened his restaurant three months ago and commissioned a mural that stretches around the entire establishment covering all its walls (and ceiling!) with renderings of the subway, the city skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even Coney Island beaches and landmarks.  A prominent local NYC graphic and graffiti artist, Lord Roc, (who’s also co-founder of one of the largest outdoor graffiti art exhibits in the world) emblazoned the Gyro Station name in the banner of an airplane and a blimp hovering above his cityscape and even painted the ceiling to look like a sky.  Enough about the art – let’s move on to the food!

        When I arrive, Ashraf is prepping for the day.  I asked about the restaurant’s name and learn that he wanted to be sure to convey the nature of his business.   “Like a train station, you can stop in any time and get something quickly and inexpensive.  People need affordable food, now more than ever.”   He has kept his commitment to serve food conveniently and at a good price.  The place is open from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. every day!  The sandwiches are $4.99.  Platters (Gyro, Shish Kebab, Chicken, Arabic Sausage, Shawarma) with rice, or French fries, and salad are $9.99.  Larger entrees like Lamb Chops, Quail BBQ, T-bone steak are $14.99.  Special soups are just $2.99.  Vegetarian sandwiches are under $4 and there are a variety of fresh smoothies, milkshakes and vegetable juices (including sugar cane).

        The food at Gyro Station is a blend of Turkish, Egyptian and Arabic styles.  I enjoyed a tasting of the Bashmail, Spinach Pie, Falafel and Baklava.  When the Bashmail and Spinach Pie arrived, I was amazed at the towering portions set before me.  The Bashmail is at least 3 inches high and the Spinach pie is perhaps only a half-inch shorter.   They are simply delicious!  The flavor is very balanced – everything is tasty and none of the spices are overpowering.  Bashmail is an Egyptian dish similar to Lasagna with mix of lamb and beef nestled between layers of penne-style pasta in a special creamy sauce.  Ashraf’s Spinach Pie is mostly spinach with a touch of cheese so I feel like I’ve had my greens and I don’t feel guilty about eating the cheesy extra calories.  Of course, I can’t help but feel guilty when it’s time to indulge in the fresh desserts.  Home-made desserts created on premises like Baklava, Kanafa, Lady Fingers and rice pudding are under $3.  Why such abundant potions?  Ashraf explains, “People should enjoy their food, really taste it.  I want them to feel like they have had enough, if they want more to eat - it is there for them.”

        As I sampled the food several people stopped in for lunch.  They watch through the glass counter as Ashraf himself prepared their food.  The usual chef had to take the day off, something that would have other restaurant owners frustrated, but not this one.  Ashraf moves effortlessly and with joy around the kitchen.  You can tell he loves this place and loves to serve this food to his guests.  And besides, he is used to multitasking – he is a single father to a bright, 8-year old son whom he speaks of with great affection.  Ashraf treats the guests like family.

          The Chicken Schwarma and Falafel seemed to be the most popular.  Richard, a local business owner, swears by the Schwarma.  “Ashraf makes it just the way I like it – lots of BBQ sauce and on the thin Syrian bread.”

          Gyro Station offers catering services.  The place also has enough space to easily host a small lunch meeting (seating for about 20 people) – the portions and price make it a great place for groups.

          Gyro Station is located at 6917 Fifth Avenue.  They are open seven days a week 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.  They accept credit cards and provide free delivery.  You can give them a call at 718-748-3271.

         -Rosalie Drago, December 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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    Mando Food Mini Mart

       Living in Brooklyn, it’s common to pass several mini-markets in one short walk.  I don’t know about you, but I hardly ever gave them a thought really.  They are seemingly unremarkable; they have basic sundry items, you always know what is inside and things don’t change much.  Then I realized on my visit to Mando Food Mini Mart that this is exactly why they are important.

       I entered the store to make my usual rounds; walking the aisles to take note of the contents.  All the items you might need for a quick restock are here - canned vegetables and soups, rice and crackers, kids' snacks, paper goods, cleaning items, frozen food, health and beauty items.  Your favorite brands, too: Bertolli olive oil, College Inn broths, Yardley soap…they are all here and reasonably priced.

       So what is the big deal you say?  A lot.  This place has been taking care of Bay Ridge residents for years in the small ways that count.

       First, the aisles and check-out counter are filled with people, all of whom have been coming to this place once or twice a week.  They know the owner and the owner knows them.  He pays attention to what they buy and makes sure he stocks all the things they need and use on a regular basis.  He knows that one woman prefers all her groceries in a thicker plastic bag to avoid spills and carefully packs her items in several bags to make them easier to get home.  He beckons a stock boy to arrive speedily from the back to pack and carry items for a young mom with three kids in tow.

       I wait for things to slow down a bit.   While a gentleman orders lunch from the deli counter (spiced ham and cheese on a roll), I slip in and ask owner, Mando Muntass, how he has learned to take such good care of his customers.

       “You want the whole story?” he asks with a smile.  “I’ve been here 27 years.  I started as a delivery boy at 16, became a stock boy, then a manager.  I got married, had a family and the owner offered to sell me the place.”

       I am thrilled to hear this; it’s been a long time since I heard a happy tale of the American Dream – people working their way up to own their own business.  The original owner was smart to sell to Mando, too.  “All the customers watched me grow up in this place.  They come here because they know me and I know them.”

       When I ask how he stayed with the same job for so long, Mando replies, “The people of Bay Ridge were so generous and kind.  I made $50 a day in tips as a delivery boy.  It was more than my parents made.  It made me want to work more.”

       In addition to the great service and knowledge of the Bay Ridge clientele, a few things do stand out: the deli counter, with its full assortment of cold cuts and specialty sandwiches, and free delivery for groceries and sandwiches. 

       While Mando admits it was scary to risk everything to buy this business, he says it turned out well.  “I have the people of Bay Ridge to thank for teaching me the value of good, hard work since I was young.  I love this business and it is the right thing for me.”

       Mando Food Mini Mart is located at 7212 Fifth Avenue.  They are open every day, 8:00am – 10:00pm       

         -Rosalie Drago, December 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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    Pharmacy on Fifth       

      Pharmacies are in good supply so when it was time to interview the owner of Pharmacy on Fifth, I was eager to learn what prompted him to start this business.

      The day I visited, the workers were busy accepting deliveries of merchandise.  The pharmacy is stocked with all the necessities: baby care, over-the-counter medicine, medical supplies, vitamins, creams and ointments (including organic items), eye care, foot care, candy, cards and stationery. 

       Patrons can also find some special ancient remedies such as Shifta Healing Honey and Black Seed Oil.  (Shifta Honey is an unfiltered, unheated and unprocessed honey with no added sugar and reputed healing properties for cold season and beyond.  Black Seed Oil ,made from Egyptian black cumin seeds, is used for treating respiratory problems, skin infections, and digestive problems.)

       Owner, Habib Joudeh, emerges with a smile from his small office in the back.  I am eager to meet him at last.  Business and civic leaders alike speak highly of him, noting his genuine concern for people, commitment to helping ensure wellness no matter what the circumstances, and his work connecting the Arab and American communities. 

       As he makes his way from the back of the store to the front, every customer he passes greets him by name.  We sit at the desk where he informs and assists people with insurance (Health Plus and Americhoice) and discuss Pharmacy on Fifth.

    Habib opened the pharmacy seven years ago.  “I was in the grocery business.  Customers expressed a need for help with medicine and prescriptions and general health issues.  I decided to open a pharmacy.  It is a family business - my nephew, Aktham, is the pharmacist.”  When I asked which health issues are of the most concern, he replied, “Diabetes is the disease of the century – it is prevalent here.  We also do a lot of work with customers suffering from high blood pressure.”

      Pharmacy on Fifth hosts lectures throughout Brooklyn educating people about topics related to diabetes, high blood pressure and prostate cancer with partners like Lutheran Medical Center.

     When asked why he opened on Fifth Avenue, Habib explains, “This is a diverse community and a good one.  The BID has brought a lot to the area.  When businesses work together and promote one another, things change and everyone benefits.”

       Stop by Pharmacy on Fifth, they offer screenings for diabetes and high blood pressure and always have a 10% discount for seniors.   If you are grabbing a last-minute toy, they have some of the classics – Mr. Potato Head and a Hall of Fame Toy Pack complete with a Slinky, the famous Duncan Butterfly yo-yo, and an Etch-A-Sketch.

      Pharmacy on Fifth is located at 6914 5th Avenue.  For more information call (718) 238-9600.

          -Rosalie Drago, December 2010

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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  Step Into Stride       

       In May of 2010, the corner of Fifth Avenue and 78th Street became home to Step Into Stride Physical Therapy, when local resident and physical therapist, Brian Mabrey, opened his practice.

       Step Into Stride offers a variety of treatments for orthopedic conditions such as sprains and strains of the spine, and all the joints of the body, as well as rehabilitation from orthopedic  surgeries.  They offer treatment for neurological disorders of the brain and spinal cord such as multiple sclerosis, conditions of the inner ear like vertigo, and paralysis of the extremities due to nerve impingement.  They help patients manage sympathetic pain syndromes.  In addition, services are provided to older adults with specific conditions affecting the geriatric population.  They can also treat athletes, toddlers, and school-aged children with gross motor disorders.  While these services are crucial to Bay Ridge residents, Step Into Stride stands out in several ways.

       First, there is a clear emphasis on wellness.  “There is more to the business’ design,” Brian explains.  “It is more of a community-based health center.  I place more emphasis on a healthy lifestyle, and avoiding injury and disease.  These days people are so busy and they don’t make time to take care of themselves.  We help them do that here.”   

       To this end, Step Into Stride has yoga and Pilates classes.  These services prevent injury (many injuries come from weak muscles and structure), promote overall fitness and assist with rehabilitation.  Pilates helps to strengthen the core muscles and brings awareness to the muscles used for body function.  Yoga has many benefits and, as it relates to physical therapy, it is a good tool to help alleviate arthritis and general joint pain.  There are group and private sessions. 

       Second, Mr. Mabrey has a connection with his clientele and the neighborhood, and he believes it is important to support the local community.  His office is adorned with works from local artists and patients.

       What kind of patients come to Step Into Stride?  “Everyone.  The weekend warrior who has injured themselves in a recreational activity, people with back and neck injuries or issues with their knees or shoulders.”

       When I ask if Brian has noticed any trends he reports, “A lot of parents have inquired about weight loss and strengthening for their children.  Also, adult illnesses among children and adolescents such as Type II diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels.  It is one of the reasons we introduced yoga and Pilates classes. Kids are just not getting the amount of exercise they require.”

       Brian brings a Masters in Therapy and ten years' experience (five of which were spent in a hospital setting in rotations gathering skills and training) to his practice.  But it is his love for the work that makes him good at his job, “The thing I love about this business is the detective work involved to address my patients’ concerns. It is similar to solving a riddle or puzzle. The patient tells you what’s wrong and then it is my job to sort through and make sense of the sign and symptoms based on what the patient expresses.  I love what I do and am committed to my patients.”

      Right now, Step Into Stride is offering one-hour group classes for $10 and one-hour private sessions for $60.  Two people can share a private session and, if they don’t offer a class at the time you need, it might be available upon request with advance notice.   This is the time to grab a buddy and keep that New Year’s resolution to be healthy and get in shape

      Step Into Stride is located at 7725 Fifth Avenue.  They are open Monday and Wednesday, 10:00 am -8:00 pm; Tuesday and Thursday, 10:00 am -2:00 pm and then 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm; Friday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; and Saturday, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm.  Flexible spending accounts (FSA) are accepted and they have a no interest payment plans through Care Credit.  You can learn more about Step Into Stride at www.stepintostride.com or by calling 718-921-8780.

          -Rosalie Drago, January 2011

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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  Foot Doc Mike     

       If you look up “foot” in the dictionary,  you get something like “the terminal part of the leg, below the ankle joint, on which the body stands and moves.  Such a part considered as the organ of locomotion.”  If this extremity is so crucial to our movement – why do we neglect it so?

       When was the last time you thought about your feet?  I mean really thought about them?  You ask them to carry around your weight all day, stuff them into shoes that look good (but don’t always feel good).  They only really get attention in the warmer months when, for some, they are exposed.

        Usually something severe like a fracture or sprain happens before someone goes to a foot doctor.  We usually “walk off” foot pain and other conditions either because we see footcare as a luxury or don’t take the condition seriously.  But it is crazy when you think about how little we consider the two appendages that carry us around all the time.

       This is what I’m thinking as I am about to interview Dr. Michael Szczepanski (a.k.a. Foot Doc Mike).  I’ve passed the prominent window display announcing Foot Doc Mike many times.  I think I avoided this interview due to a mixture of ignorance and guilt.  The only people I ever knew to visit a podiatrist were my grandparents, and ancient aunts and uncles, and I am painfully aware (no pun intended) of how I regularly ignore my own two crucial appendages on a daily basis. 

         You can’t miss the storefront and its welcome departure from the standard medical facility.  Whimsical and inviting, a penguin gleefully strutting around on his Happy Feet and a skeleton wearing sneakers (those are the sneakers Doc Mike wore during the 2007 NYC Marathon -  timing chip and all). When I ask about the window, he says, “The medicine we practice is serious but the surroundings should be enjoyable.”

A Cleveland, Ohio native, Doc Mike has been in practice for over a decade and February 1st is his fourth year on Fifth Avenue.  Why feet?  He explains, “I get to do everything and see all kinds of patients.  I do everything from dermatology to surgery and see athletes, kids, the elderly.  Anything that has to do with the feet I get to do it”

One of the biggest misconceptions about foot care is that foot pain is normal.  “The feet should not hurt,” Doc Mike informs me. “Even if it seems like a little thing it is always best to consult an expert.  If you think something is wrong with you car, you take it to a mechanic right away.  This is the same thing.”

What type of patients does he see?  All kinds.  “We see a lot of simple injuries from just walking around the house.  Nails and other things stuck in the foot.  You should always wear socks or slippers to protect your feet in the house.” He continues, “Diabetes can lead to nerve damage and a restricted blood supply to the feet, resulting in cold, painful feet.  Diabetes related foot injuries are often slow to heal and have an increased risk for infection.”

Doc Mike’s practice specializes in medicine and surgery of the foot and their mission is to educate and train people about good foot health.  Doc Mike offers some great “Do’s and Don’ts” of foot care on his website, www.docmike.org - things like – don’t use heat to treat foot pain, heat increases blood flow and therefore will increase swelling and pain.

Their website declares that they care for the feet of people ages 0 – 127.  Really?  “Yes!” he responds emphatically, “I have a three-month-old with her toes turning the wrong way.  We also do missionary work with Millennium Sistas where we travel to the Caribbean where we provide care and sponsor schools in Jamaica and Trinidad.”

Dr. Szczepanski and his team are also active in the community-leading organization called Shoes For Kids (they collect new or nearly new shoes for kids).  If you have new or nearly new children’s shoes you can drop them off at his office. 

Foot Doc Mike is located at 7708 Fifth Avenue and takes most insurance plans.  Hours of operation are Monday and Thursday 10:00am – 6:00pm and Friday 10-3.  Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday by appointment only.  Call (718) 748-7544 or visit www.docmike.org.

          -Rosalie Drago, January 2011

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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  Mejlander & Mulgannon     

       I admit to passing Mejlander & Mulgannon many times and saying, “I have to stop in that place,” especially when I noticed the banner announcing “Homemade Dinners”.  When you lead a busy life (and who doesn’t?) a good homemade meal (that starts at $9!) to take home is a big help. 

      On this chilly day, Tommy Mulgannon-Stramka graciously offers me a cup of hot coffee or Irish tea as he changes the signs announcing the specials above the counter.  Born and raised in Bay Ridge, Tommy will celebrate his 20th year in business in May. 

       I stroll past the display of specialty items, products from Ireland and Norway including jams, chocolate, tea, soup and crackers.  I wait at the sitting area; there’s a wood countertop with stools in a welcoming Old-World style.  Pictures of Brooklyn adorn the walls.  Tommy continues his family’s tradition and legacy in Bay Ridge.  On a special shelf set apart is a firefighter’s helmet.  It was worn by his grandfather and namesake, who also owned two small businesses in Bay Ridge, a bar and a liquor store. 

       The hot food area is filled with great comfort-food dishes, all Tommy’s recipes; chicken pot pie, Swedish meatballs, honey-mustard ham, meatloaf, skirt steak, chicken marsala and sides including mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and rice. 

        I ask what keeps his customers coming back and before Tommy can answer, a customer shouts out from the line, “I’ll tell you why.  They are amazingly clean.  They have a great staff and fabulous food.  They are part of home, part of Bay Ridge.” 

        M&M (what regulars call Tommy’s place hesitant to take a stab at pronouncing the name on the awning) serves something for every time of day.  For breakfast: fresh jumbo egg platters, breakfast sandwiches, waffles, pancakes and French toast.   Each includes a free cup of coffee.  You can sit with a paper, catch the news on the flat screens and get ready for your day.  The three-egg omelettes served with home fries and toast start at $4.00. 

        Next there is lunch.  On the line today, customers include a teacher, a firefighter, a doctor and a medical assistant from a local practice.   “The most popular sandwiches are the combo heroes.  We have over 20 combinations named for firefighters, cops and sanitation workers.  Our best seller is the Cardiac Arrest.  The M&M comes in second,” says Tommy.  For the record, the Cardiac Arrest is loaded with roast beef with melted mozzarella on hot garlic bread with butter.  The M&M’s Favorite consists of chicken cutlet with bacon, melted Swiss cheese topped with tangy barbecue sauce on a hero.

        Having a party? Mejlander & Mulgannon has a full-service operation.  “If you are having a graduation or some type of celebration, we bring everything to you.  We can do a barbecue or buffet with full staff, fully catered in our own back yard.”  The catering menu is great for the office too.  They offer continental and deluxe hot breakfast.  Their lunch offerings include platters, sandwiches, wraps and heroes.  There is a full menu of options for cocktail gatherings and dinners. 

        Like most of local businesses, foot traffic has declined here, though Tommy tells me his regular customers have been coming back for years.  “I am really excited about our new program.  It is a VIP program to thank your loyal customers.  It will give discounts on daily purchases and catering.  The only thing you have to do is shop and eat here and provide an email and telephone number.”

         Mejlander & Mulgannon is located at 7615 Fifth Avenue.  For more information call 718-238-6666.  M&M is open Monday – Friday 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (8:00 pm. in summer), Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Sunday 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

          -Rosalie Drago, February 2011

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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  Chiquitita Mexican Grill     

      The bright yellow orange storefront calls attention to Chiquitita Mexican Grill at its location on Fifth Avenue near the corner of 84th Street.  This restaurant opened just a few months ago on September 9th and began serving fresh Mexican food including tortillas, tacos, fajitas, burritos, ensaladas, quesadillas. Special sides include guacamole, salsa verde, pico de gallo and chili con carne. Soups include chicken vegetable soup and lentil soup. Everything is prepared in-house daily.

      Owner and Brooklynite Jenny Chong has been a restaurateur for over  10 years and has put a lot of thought and effort into Chiquitita.   Before opening her own restaurant in The Bronx, she worked in Mexican restaurants for several years. It was there that she fell in love with the Mexican food and culture. “I wanted to open Mexican restaurant that emphasizes the healthy aspect of Mexican cooking  that would also appeal to the many peoples and cultures of Bay Ridge”, says Jenny  “Our main focus is to use the freshest all-natural ingredients available on the market. Next we dialed back on the hot spices and instead put them in sauces served on the side of the meal.  Our meats are fresh – not frozen  - and, very important, we never use pork or pork-based products in the restaurant so that our Arab and Jewish neighbors should feel comfortable eating here.  After all, we want to feed everyone in the neighborhood.

       Vegetarians and non-meat eaters are not limited to just rice and beans either.  Their dinners, burritos, fajitas, quesadillas, tacos and enchiladas are served with sauteed mushroom, spinach, shrimp or fried cod as well as beans, lettuce and tomato.

       A variety of sauces, marinades and beverages offer a unique twist.  The chicken and steak are marinated in a special house sauce.  The tostones are served a tangy garlic mojito sauce.  The two signature drinks are a homemade iced tea is infused with a special blend of spices and orchata - a cinnamon-rice-milk drink both served on ice.  Chiquitita also serves non-alcoholic Sangria and Mexican sodas.

      When I asked what was the biggest challenge in opening Chiquitata, Jenny responded “Being Chinese!  People think that a Chinese person can’t or shouldn’t have a great Mexican restaurant.  I ask people to come in, try it and give it a chance before making any assumptions.”

     There are plenty of reasons to respond to Jenny’s invitation to give Chiquitata a try.   In addition to fresh flavor, the meals are a great value.  Currently a tasty lunch special such as the Chicken-Potato Salad served with a Tostada costs $3.00.  Guests can order in or take out family-style fajitas which includes 12 tortillas, peppers, onions, beans and salsa for between $17.95 (chicken)  and $19.95 (steak).  Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are currently $1.

     Ms. Chong is deeply committed to the restaurant. “I plan on building a business I can pass down to my four children (ages 19, 17, 5 and 3)”, Jenny adds enthusiastically. “ I am excited about working here in Bay Ridge and investing in our community.”

     Guests can eat in or take out and catering is available for groups up to 26.  Chiquitita Mexican Grill is open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Sunday – 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.  For more information about Chiquitita Mexican Grill, call 718-238-3228.  Their website www.cmgtacos.com will be up in a few weeks.

         -Rosalie Drago, March 2011

 Rosalie Drago is a consultant providing marketing and economic development services to neighborhoods and small business in Brooklyn.  She works with neighborhood associations to create programs, events and conduct research that provide the much-needed support to help small businesses survive and prosper.  For more information visit www.dragobrooklyn.com.

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  Badran Halal Meat Store and Grocery    

      The new Badran Halal Meat Store and Grocery likely strikes a note of familiarity with the residents of Bay Ridge.  The colorful flags drawn between the store sign and the wires of the street side announce the new location.  While the store has only been on 5th Avenue for the past 5 months, in fact it simply moved from their former location of 30 years on 8th Avenue. 

       According to the manager, Mohmoud Badran, the family-owned store came to Bay Ridge for the “diversity in [the] community.”  As he explained, “In Bay Ridge, everybody is here, everybody.”  

      Mohmoud also noted the importance of serving not only patrons from our large Middle Eastern population but also establishing a more “mixed customer” base drawn from the broader local public. 

     Badran’s Halal Meat and Grocery doesn’t just supply Halal meats for our local religious communities.  The store also is fully stocked with many other products.  These range from the everyday necessities with a clear nod to Middle Eastern goods, such as the tins filled with olive oils perched in the front window, to an interesting selection of tea that includes those with cardamom, mint, and cumin.  Badran’s also offers a great selection of coffee, both whole bean and ground.  If you buy a bag of whole coffee beans, the store will grind it for you free of charge.  The hookahs, elaborate water pipes that are used to smoke tobacco, however, are just for decoration.   

       The large array of meats available, including a wide variety of roasts, shows Mohmoud‘s skills as a butcher. The front window advertises, “ground beef and stick meat,” but there is much more that he prepares.  He also works with both lamb and chicken regularly.  During his careful work, he noted the importance of the manner in which an animal is slaughtered.  In order for meat to be considered Halal, or clean, the blood of the animal must drain out of the body, rather than remain within it after the slaying.  Mohmoud also noted the similarity of the term to what the Jewish community considers a kosher preparation of meat.

       Mohmoud explains that when he works with meat, “everything I do I think of as special.”  Clearly, he takes great care with his products and has great pride in his work.

       The store also offers a selection of olives in their deli case and a variety of cheeses, including feta and haloumi, the latter of which can be surprisingly hard to find in more general grocery stores, in their well-stocked refrigerated section.

       Badran’s Halal Meat and Grocery is located at 6920 5th Avenue.  Their phone is (718) 748-5800.  They accept all forms of payment.  They are open 7 days a week from 8:30 am until 11 pm and offer free delivery. 

         -M.K. McGarrity, July 2011 

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  Cedars Pastry and Ice Cream    

        The bright case filled with jewel-colored ice cream welcomes customers upon entering Cedars Pastry and Ice Cream shop.  Beyond the ice cream counter, the entrance to the store opens up to reveal many more cases filled with an impressive array of Middle Eastern pastries for the entire length of the store. 

        The ice cream offered is simply a delight on a warm summer day.  The flavors, at least 10 on any given day, all homemade and made using organic ingredients whenever possible, are creamy and vibrant.   The store specializes in creating a subtle contrast between fruit and cream for their fruit flavors, from the guava, which frequently sells out, to the strawberry and mango, which are highly popular as well.  Perhaps the best, or at least my favorite, is the pistachio, but it is rivaled by the ashta.  Ashta is a subtly sweetened heavy cream, a house specialty that you can get with or without nuts.  I recommend doing your own taste test and ordering scoops of both.  If your craving hasn’t yet been met, they offer not just cones or cups, but pints, to go.

        Cedars is a family enterprise and has been open for 3 months.  The Kabdout family recently moved to Bay Ridge from Michigan seeking a “fast paced and busy life” according to the manager, Ahmed Kabdout.  He went on to note, “in New York you are never bored.” At the Bay Ridge Cedars, the Kabdout family has ensured that no customer will be.  Their experience in Michigan in creating ice creams and pastries certainly shows.  While new to Brooklyn, they are clearly working from generations of experience.

        Towards the back of the store, you discover trays filled with traditional Lebanese pastries:  the Macaron, Mushabek, and Awamaa are lightly bronzed yet glistening.  These fried dough creations, which are covered in a honey syrup, are delicious.  The texture of these pastries vary from the surprise of the Macaron, which reminds you of a plump latticed Madeleine, to the tenderness of the Awamaa, a small ball that bursts with sweet flavor.

        Cedars also offers multiple incarnations of baklava, and when asked what sets their baklava apart from others in the neighborhood, Ahmed noted with pride, “our baklava has fine nuts such as pistachios and cashews and a good crunch.” 

        Cedars offers a hospitable atmosphere with many tables at which you are invited to linger over your pastry, ice cream, or even delight in a coffee or smoothie while reading your morning paper.  They also offer large trays of selected pastries and will help customers design a tray or two for special events from a small party to a large reception.

       Cedars is located at 7204 5th Avenue.  They are open 7 days a week: from 9 am to 10 pm Sunday to Thursday and from 9 am to 11 pm on Friday and Saturday.  Their phone is 718-238-8111.  For more information or to place an order online, check out their webpage at   www.baklavastore.com.

         -M.K. McGarrity, July 2011 

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  Brooklyn Men's Suit Outlet      

        The focus on fashion in Bay Ridge has long resided on one end of Fifth Avenue, near 86th street, but the new Men’s Suit Outlet on the 6700 block brings a much needed fashion retailer to the other end of the avenue.  The new Brooklyn Men’s Suit Outlet has a wide selection of suits and jeans for every man on the street.

         The business owner, Mike, and his son, George, come from a family with men’s clothing in their DNA.  Mike’s father was an Italian tailor.  The family has built on this family tradition and tailoring expertise of over 60 years in men’s clothing to open a store to provide high quality suits at exceptionally good prices. 

         There are two different purchasing options available in the shop:  The customer can choose a certain number of suits for $148 or for $198.  Yes, that’s right, $198, for the higher option.  You can choose either purchasing plan, but the difference is not only in the number of suits but also on the styles and brands selected.  Either arrangement also includes both 2 shirts and 2 ties.   A good deal quickly becomes an amazing shopping bargain for the discerning consumer. 

         The store, open for just 5 months, is entirely devoted to menswear.  According to Mike, the suits they have available are “all current styles,” “name brands,” and made from “Italian wool.”

         While suits are clearly the focus of the store, and the options available are plentiful for customers of every size and taste, a fine selection of men’s jeans is also for sale.  The jeans are a good deal at 2 pairs for just $20.  

         The racks of suits are organized by size, and customers are free to browse.  Yet, there are a number of knowledgeable salesmen ready to help if you have questions or need some guidance during your purchase.  The salesmen are friendly and approachable, and they also have a great soundtrack of music playing that keeps everyone in the store moving.  Perhaps because of the fun atmosphere, the salesmen greet every customer with a smile and provide an entertaining welcome.

         In fact, if you have a more formal occasion to attend, the Brooklyn Men’s Suit Outlet can help you out—they even have tuxedos. 

        The Brooklyn Men’s Suit Outlet does not have a tailor in house, but they do have arrangements with a tailor just a ½ block away.  Should you need alterations to any purchase, just let them know, and the staff will direct you. 

         The Brooklyn Men’s Suit Outlet is located at 6720 - 5th Avenue.  They are open seven days a week:  Monday to Saturday from 9:30 am to 7:30 pm and Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.  For more information, call 718-680-0124.

                 -M.K. McGarrity, July 2011

 

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  Spa Me, Inc.      

         The bustle of pedestrians and rumble of traffic quickly fade when you enter the serene interiors of the new Spa Me Incorporated at 74th Street and 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge.  The soothing orchestral music and the quiet elegance of the spa ensure that relaxation is at hand.

         Spa Me Incorporated has been open in their newly designed location since February.  The spa is a classic beauty and wellness enterprise in many ways.  The diaphanous curtains give a comforting effect and the deep browns of the private treatment rooms calm clients as they listen to trickle of small water fountains in the background. 

         The spa offers a welcome respite from city life and offers body care including anti-stress, Swedish, pre-natal, deep tissue, aroma, Thai herbal, and hot stone therapies as well as head and scalp treatments.  There are a full range of waxing services provided as well as make up applications.  They also offer more focused attention for facials, including those targeted for sensitive skin and acne.  In fact, you can even have your waist or thighs wrapped for a slimming effect or your entire body wrapped with mud, seaweed or ginger honey.  

         What sets Spa Me apart from other spas in the area, however, are a few select treatments that are unusual and take a great deal of care.  These include the “RF” or Radio Frequency Firming Facial and the Radio Frequency Eye Treatment.  The Radio Frequency is an electronic frequency that warms up the skin with a specially applied serum that both concentrates the frequency and penetrates the skin. 

          These Radio Frequency treatments, a staffer explained, “firm and tighten” the skin and give “great results.” 

         Another specialized or hard to find treatment are the “Eyelash Extensions,” which unlike other faux eyelashes that are applied in a single strip are applied one single lash at a time, giving a fuller effect.

         Spa Me Incorporated is a great destination for a group of girlfriends taking time to pamper themselves or perhaps celebrating a milestone.  The spa can accommodate up to 6 people at once.  It is also a great spot for couples to reconnect and share a soothing experience.  The spa offers couples body therapies of 60 or 90 minutes that include chocolates and champagne. 

        The friendly and gracious staff at Spa Me Incorporated are all extremely well skilled in their profession with a minimum of 5 years of spa experience.  They invite you to call for an appointment, particularly if you want to schedule acupuncture, but are also happy to have folks drop in for their other services that don’t require appointments. 

        Spa Me Incorporated is located at 7405 5th Avenue.  They are open 7 days a week from 10 am to 8 pm.  Their phone is 718-836-1888.  For more information about specific treatments or to make an appointment online, check out their webpage at www.spamenyc.com.

                         -M.K. McGarrity, July 2011 

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  BK Cleaners and Laundry Center      

         The new BK Cleaners is the first organic dry cleaners in all of Bay Ridge.  The BK Cleaners, however, doesn’t just offer organic dry cleaning but also a full range of laundry and tailoring services.  No chemicals are used in the BK dry cleaning process.

          The proprietors and co-managers, John Bai and Abdo Abuhamad, are proud of their efforts and final products.  According to Abdo, it took over a year for the pair to obtain the proper permitting from the appropriate agencies and community councils.  The location, at 82nd Street and 5th Avenue, is freshly painted and newly designed specifically to aid the healthfulness of the dry cleaning process.  Unlike the organic BK, traditional dry cleaning uses chemicals that can possibly harm not only the staff but also the local environment, creating vapors and waste products that are a nuisance and perhaps even a danger. 

          BK Cleaners is proud that no chemicals are used in their dry cleaning process.  Instead of potentially risky and often unknown  (to the consumer)  compounds,  BK Cleaners installed a brand new hydrocarbon machine that uses the natural element of carbon dioxide, CO, to clean  fabrics.  Clothes are placed within the hydrocarbon machine and rinsed with liquid CO; this rinse yields excellent results that are similar if not identical to the crispness of the traditional methods.       

           Along with their organic Dry Cleaning, BK Cleaners has 4 tailoring stations with a dressing room for fittings.  Everyone at BK Cleaners has many years of experience working with clothing from the tailors to the machine operators and counter staff.  In fact, Abdo became interested in opening a Dry Cleaning business after he worked for over 25 years on the retail side of the garment trade on 86th Street.

           BK Cleaners also offers regular wash, dry, and fold laundry services, all of which are performed in house.  You don’t need to worry that an item of your clothing will be lost in transit somewhere.  It won’t leave BK Cleaners until it is either picked up by or delivered to you.

          You can drop off and pick up your laundry or dry cleaning at your convenience, but they also have free delivery and pick up services.  If you need a 1 hour rush or same day dry cleaning, they are happy to oblige.

           All garments are dry cleaned for $3 except for coats and dress shirts, the complexity of which will determine the price.

          John proudly proclaimed of their pricing system, “ we are very fair,” and went on to note, “we provide high quality service.”  Abdo cheerfully followed up, “Everyone here does a professional job.”

         BK Cleaners and Laundry Center is located at 8123  5th Avenue.   For more information, call 718-238-3668.  They are open 7 days a week: Monday - Saturday from 7:00 am to 7:30 pm and Sunday from 11:00 am to 7:30 pm.

                          -M.K. McGarrity, July 2011 

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  California Girl

          The new California Girl shop at 5th Avenue and 85th Street has been open just 8 weeks, but the style of clothing evokes  the timeless fashion of “California Dreaming.”  The easy summer dresses, embellished halters,  and a wide selection of accessories  are perfect for the hip teenager and even trendy women in their 20s and early 30s.

           The proprietor, Kevin Hanley, is proud to open the store in the neighborhood where he grew up.  He has spent over 30 years in the clothing business and has been running his west coast location of California Girl in Palm Desert, California.   He recently decided to bring his successful retail model back to Brooklyn and is happy to be on 5th Avenue.  When asked how he would manage bicoastal stores, he said, “I’ll  spend 6 months in New York and 6 months in California to make sure things run smoothly.”

          According to Kevin, the “price point” of California Girl fashion is “popular” and within the budgets of neighborhood residents. 

          The store, brightly lit and freshly painted a vibrant off-white tone, has new hardwood floors; such a pristine interior highlights the vivid fashions.  California Girl carries  a wide selection of pieces in many natural fabrics such as linen and cotton, all of which are brought to Brooklyn from Kevin’s clothing  suppliers in Los Angeles.  The “look” of the clothing suggests an easy stroll in Santa Monica or Venice Beach and when accessorized a night out in our local hot spots.

           The store has two on site co-managers, Eka Fida and Tania Aca, who act as assistant buyers for Kevin, but who also specialize in customer service  and personal styling.  They know what is current and what is selling off the racks quickly.  They can help you pick out an outfit, look through the accessories, and recommend what suits you best.  The graciousness and helpfulness of the staff is easily apparent to even a casual customer and clearly helps to not only draw new customers but keep their growing customer base returning again and again.

           The store currently is running a “Summer Clearance Sale” with great discounts.  Stay tuned because after the summer merchandise is gone, they are planning an even bigger sale for “Back to School” to promote their new fall stock.

          The location of the Brooklyn store is within easy reach of the 86th Street subway station, but even if you can’t make it there in the short term, Kevin is working on a web page and plans to launch an online presence soon. 

           California Girl is located at 8402 5th Avenue.  For more information, call 718-748-0859.  They are open 7 days a week, from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm and on Sundays from 11 am to 6 pm.    

                         -M.K. McGarrity, July 2011 

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  Bay Ridge Chicken and Grill

          The new Bay Ridge Chicken and Grill brings the delightful flavors of the Mediterranean to the neighborhood serving fresh grilled meats, always prepared as “halal” or “clean,” as well as a wide variety of Middle Eastern and classic American fare.

          The new restaurant, located on the northern part of 5th Avenue at Senator Street, welcomes its patrons and buzzes with activity.  Huge windows open to feature tables alongside a wide counter and sizzling grill, the smells of which surely entice passersby with every breeze. 

          The owner, Ehab Hamouda, began cooking while a college student in his native Egypt.  After coming to the US, he had a “halal” food cart where he cooked on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.  His 25 years of experience in Manhattan certainly shows in the delicacy of his menu at this first sit-down restaurant.  Since the opening of the restaurant on April 1, 2011, Ehab has been preparing food for the restaurant every morning.  He can often be spotted behind the counter cooking or out front greeting customers.

            Bay Ridge Chicken and Grill brings the local and the global together at once.  Ehab’s special spices are all imported from the Middle East, and his meats are provided by a local “halal” butcher at Badran’s Meats, who is right across the avenue. 

            Ehab noted of his spices, “With taste, I go for what I like.  Friends at other restaurants even ask me for my seasonings in jars for them.”  He went on to describe the importance of using “halal” meats: “The taste is different.  You feel it.  We feel it.” 

           The menu has much to offer.  You can order traditional Middle Eastern sandwiches such as a “gyro” (spit roasted lamb or chicken), “kofta” (ground and spiced beef or chicken),  “kebabs” (marinated pieces of grilled chicken or lamb) and even “falafel” (ground chickpeas) as well as platters that include rice, salad, and sauces.  Yet, you can also get a California cheeseburger, Philly cheesesteak, shrimp basket or popcorn chicken. 

          There is much to entice the hungry residents of Bay Ridge.  You can order a breakfast of egg and cheese with sausage or “foul medames”, a classic Middle Eastern breakfast preparation of fava beans. 

          For the health conscious, the salad options are plentiful, from a garden salad and grilled chicken salad to a “whiting fish” salad.  If you have a sweet tooth, the cakes and ice creams are at hand to tempt you.

          As the menu reflects and Ehab noted, “We serve everyone.” 

         The wonderful combination of cuisine is available in house and by delivery (free in Bay Ridge with a $9.99 minimum).  The prices are extremely reasonable.  There is a lovely garden space out back for outdoor dining, which would be a perfect location for an event or shower.

         Bay Ridge Chicken and Grill is located at 6715 5th Avenue.  Call for more information or to place an order  718-745-5200 and 718-745-5202.  They accept Visa and Mastercard as well as cash.  They are open from 9:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.    

                         -M.K. McGarrity, July 2011 

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  World Mall Bridal Dreams

          Bay Ridge’s most recent addition to the neighborhood’s vibrant marital industry, World Mall Bridal Dreams, brings a fresh and elegant global perspective to our local wedding fashion trade.

            World Mall Bridal Dreams is in fact the first US location of a long established business that originates in Jordan.  The broad perspective brought from the bridal design industry in the Middle East is uniquely perched to serve the diverse residents of Brooklyn.

            According to the proprietor, Suha Abuzahrieh, the shop specializes in “classical elegance [and] is open to everybody.”

            The store, with in-house alterations and design available locally, will help with all wedding preparations and planning beyond the fabrication of the gowns and dresses for the bride and bridesmaids.  They also create and stock gowns for flower girls and mothers of the bride. 

             Given the international vision of the store, the designs are suitable for women who are interested in dressing in customary New York modes or in the elegant styles of the Middle East.  Traditional floor length Palestinian gowns, for example, are available that have delicate bead work, rich threading, and full sleeves.

              If you are in the market for a gown outside of wedding festivities, definitely head to World Mall Bridal Dream.  In fact, they have designs for young women and girls, both knee and full length.  They offer dresses suitable for sweet sixteens, quinceañeras, communions, christenings, and parties of all kinds.

             The accessories line the walls above the gowns and behind the counter on which crystals, rhinestones and dramatic sparkle are noticeable.  The store has a full line of shoes, evening bags, jewelry, as well as favors for every possible celebratory occasion.  There are even pairs of extravagantly decorated toasting flutes available that can be made to order.  They offer similarly ornamented candles, albums, baskets, and handkerchiefs.

             Their alterations staff will gladly oblige you in customizing a design or reimagining a fashion trend that you fancy.  The prices are competitive, and the staff will work to interpret your vision of opulence in your own price range.  The seamstresses specialize in hand beading and embroidery but can also pleat the most delicate of fabrics.

             They ship worldwide and offer brand names with custom work and full customer service.  An appointment is not necessary except on Sundays.

             World Mall Bridal Dreams is located at 7905 5th Avenue.  They are open Monday- Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm and on  Sundays by special appointment.  For more information, call (347) 282-7667 or (718) 333-5041, fax (718) 871-2848, or email fastworldmall@yahoo.com or bridaldreamsmall@yahoo.com.   Check out their webpage www.bridaldream.com

                           -M.K. McGarrity, July 2011 

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  Mussels and More

        Residents strolling past the new restaurant at 80th Street and 5th Avenue may well think they are cruising Ocean Drive in Miami’s South Beach rather than 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge when they look inside the sleek interior--blond wooden planks line a long bar cooled by ceiling fans.   The marine blue awnings and wide sidewalk cafes on both sides of the corner eatery welcome patrons for leisurely meals, festive cocktails or sociable bites.

        The chef, Phil Pucciarelli, has designed a Mediterranean-style menu focusing on locally-sourced seafood, particularly mussels, depending on the best catches of the day available at Hunts Point market and other fresh local vendors.  Phil has 15 different pots of mussel available with an average of 1 lb. of mussels per order as well a healthy variety of other seafood items such as octopus, crab and lobster, in addition to a full raw bar.  The menu influences trend strongly towards Greek, Italian, French and Portuguese.  Honoring the Bay Ridge location, Phil has wisely included some innovative pasta dishes and has even reimagined  the “Lento-style” thin crust pizza that is famed in the neighborhood.  For less adventurous or perhaps just land-loving diners, there is also a good variety of classic steak and chicken on the menu.

         Both the fresh mussels menu and the modern aesthetics add vibrancy to 5th Avenue.  What sets Mussels and More apart from other local eateries is not only the style of the space and menu but also its low-key atmosphere.  The clientele is locally based with an apparent casual elegance.  Upscale in its effortlessness yet  lacking pretension, you can spot someone in a T-shirt next to someone sporting a custom-made suit.   Both are equally welcome at the breezy bar tables or in the back dining area. 

According to the manager, Jon Vasvari, “The casual but high end” [aesthetic] “works well.”

The bar commonly runs a special of 4 domestic beers in a bucket for $10.  Such reasonable prices extend to other parts of the bar and dining menus.   Mussels and More is a great spot for a happy hour and after work crowd  or a family enjoying a casual night out or a Sunday brunch.

The place is packed even on a Monday or Tuesday evening with patrons spilling out into the sidewalk café areas. The inside bar accommodates large parties at its elevated tables or extensive bar.  The back dining room can be reserved for private parties, luncheons, or showers.  Phil is happy to have such groups order from the regular menu or help you design a unique menu for your special event.

Mussels and More is located at 8001- 5th Avenue.  Call for information or reservations 718-680-3390. They are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; the kitchen closes at 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends.         

                           -M.K. McGarrity, August 2011 

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  Expressions

        Expressions, a new clothing and home boutique at 72nd and 5th avenue, brings a mix of fashion from across to the Middle East to Bay Ridge with a unique New York blend.

        The short white cocktail dress covered with ivory fabric roses stands opposite a floor- length spaghetti strap blue gown with an embroidered bodice.  The juxtaposition of these two party dresses suggest the broad customer base the store serves.  From trendy and cutting-edge to classic and refined, there is something here for every woman to wear to a casual garden party, family affair, or an elaborate wedding celebration.

        The bright display of cotton and linen scarves line an interior wall and suggest the best fashion forward way to bring a pop of color to an understated outfit worn on a hot summer day.  Headbands are lined up in adorable little pouches along one wall so the discerning shopper can pair both. 

        The shop imports many of its items direct from the Middle East.  They have traditional Islamic dress and current styles popular in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Yemen.  You’ll see floor length garments for women with elaborate bead work along the hemline, the sleeves, or even along the front pieces of the gowns.  Such time intensive and delicate work is difficult to find here, but Expressions has a wide selection for customers in their late teens to their mothers and even grandmothers.

         As a shop assistant explained, “We have everything to match every style.”

         The bright orange of the sign mirrors the orange walls inside that pop the many accessories for sale.  Leather bags and jewelry also make a distinct impression.  A Yemeni necklace and earring set  is set aside in a special case to highlight the gold and carnelian – colored work.   Satchels and hobo bags made evoke the best of imported leather work available today.  Evening bags, earrings, and even perfumes from celebrity brands you will find at any major store, are offered at Expressions.

         Home accessories and special gifts are also a part of the offerings at Expressions.  Comforter sets and candles are plentiful.  A smaller number of  fine linens and plush towels are also for sale as well as endearing baby items.  You can easily pick up both a gift and an outfit to wear to a baby shower.

        Expressions is located at 7207 -  5th Avenue.  They are open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., though they close at sundown during Ramadan.  For more information, call 718-680-0650.

                            -M.K. McGarrity, August 2011 

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  Salon Da Noi & Spa

        Lush is the operative word for the newly expanded Salon Da Noi & Spa.  The Salon Da Noi has been well established on the avenue for four years and offers extensive beauty services.  The newly enlarged space increases the amenities and luxury of its personal grooming and style options many times over.

        The salon owner, Olympia Colandrea, a native of Italy who came to Brooklyn as a teenager with her family, is committed to sharing her style traditions with her own daughter, Daniella DiBenedetto, the salon’s bridal coordinator.  Her larger family actually has a well- established history in the restaurant business.  Perhaps this accounts for the sense of a festive welcome that greets customers with gracious offerings from the coffee and refreshment bar or the sense of indulgence that is readily apparent throughout the newly enlarged space.

         Olympia clearly brings her European flair to Brooklyn thorough the myriad of personal style and grooming services available at the Salon Da Noi.  “You don’t need to go into Manhattan for the latest styles and trends.  Come here to us,” she exclaims. 

         Olympia brings in stylists from Paris and other trendsetting hot spots to offer classes on the latest development in hair, makeup, and personal grooming for her committed staff.  She affirms, “I believe in education.” 

         The Salon Da Noi expansion became necessary because of the consistently-growing business.  Olympia offers special group packages for wedding and other group parties. These range in price depending on the options chosen and services rendered, but range from $70 to $160 per person.  As a part of the festivities the group will get mimosas and a selection of bagels or fresh fruit, whichever if they prefer. 

         The atmosphere is fun yet refined.  The walls appear layered with rich tones of rose and cream.  What sets the Salon Da Noi apart is not only the personal service and dedication to working with the individual client (Olympia and her staff will provide the latest trends or the most classic styles) but also the color bar where you can watch your color being made while surfing the net via the complimentary WiFi.  The makeup stations have gorgeous yet comfortable seating and an open plan so the parties of girlfriends can watch each other’s transformations, with complimentary mimosas in hand.

        The lower level of the space is filled with private rooms for full body treatments including laser hair removal, spray tanning and massage.  All of the practitioners are licensed appropriately.  In fact, the salon is now hosting a medical team one day a week for special laser treatments to address more intense skin and vein issues. 

        The music on the upper level is energizing, but the music below is pure relaxation.  You can also take a siesta outdoors in the lovely garden, appointed with tables and filled with greenery, or enjoy a separate outdoor smoking lounge.

        Salon Da Noi is located at 8214 - 5th Avenue.  Call 718-491-3000 and check out their webpage www.salondanoi.com for more information. They are open 6 days a week:  Tuesday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday to Friday 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  They will also accommodate bridal or special event groups during hours outside of their regular schedule.

                            -M.K. McGarrity, August 2011 

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  De Lo Jewelry

        DeLo Jewelry carries fine sterling silver, stainless steel, gold and platinum plated, costume and replica pieces with a strong focus on bridal and special occasion jewelry. Yet, the newest jewelry store in Bay Ridge carries much more than its name suggests.   DeLo also surprises customers with its stock of fun children’s accessories, perfumes, and trendy personal items for men and women. 

         The stored is named for its owner, Delores Rubino.  Delores is a native of Dyker Heights and has lived in the Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge area since, as she says, "forever."

         DeLo is Delores’ first business venture.  She worked in the transportation industry for 10 years when her company downsized.  Laid off in a tough economy, she was nevertheless thrilled to be asked to be bridesmaid for a dear friend.  As a member of the wedding party at a store with the other women picking out accessories, she had a stroke of insight.  She explained that critical moment at that shop when she thought:  “Why couldn’t I do something like this?”  She added, “with better prices.”  

         From a woman suddenly without work, Delores has become a successful entrepreneur.

         Delores kept true to her original flash of inspiration.  Her store sells everything a wedding party might need to create amazing ensembles for the special day.  She has earrings, necklaces, bracelets, clutches, wristlets, and even a striking collection of rings.  You can also find great deals on accessories, such as sunglasses,  for less formal events. 

         Delores regularly holds jewelry parties for customers in private homes with gifts provided for the evening’s hostess.  What she most enjoys about being on 5th Avenue is developing even more special customer relationships.  Delores is such an outgoing and friendly person, people often pop into the shop to tell her the latest news and catch up on trends. 

         Delores will work with any budget, though she is proud to note that nothing the shop is priced over $50 and many of the items are in fact priced significantly lower.  Given her personal story, she is sensitive to the tough economic situation that many people face.  If you give her your budget, she will work with you and even hold items if you need time to think or budget. 

        Delores sources her merchandise locally and is committed to giving the residents of Bay Ridge an affordable place to find accessories.  Her most popular wares range from trendy feather earrings and clips to enduring classic sterling silver hoops and cuffs.  Many of the more classic pieces are in fact suitable for both men and women.  For men, especially, there are great selections of stainless steel and sterling silver money clips available.

        Delores has a great eye for the latest styles aside from jewelry and can advise moms on cutting-edge items for themselves or for their daughters.  Customers can choose from a fine array of fashion forward fedoras or name brand perfumes.  For little girls, the selection of butterfly/fairy wings and tulle tutus is rivaled only by her selection of hair ribbons and sweetly decorated flip flops.  Pairs of rainbow wings hang in the entryway and zebra-striped wings hang on the wall inside. Pale pinks, vibrant yellows and deep browns draw the attention of passersby.  The price point for these wares, and particularly the wings, are significantly lower than her competitors.  

   DeLo Jewelry is located at 8023 - 5th Avenue.  Call 718-541-9204, email DeLoJewels@gmail.com or check out the webpage at www.DeLoJewels.com for more information or to schedule a private jewelry party.   

                            -M.K. McGarrity, August 2011 

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 Bereket Halal Meat & Grocery

       The Eastern Mediterranean is brought close to Bay Ridge in the new Bereket Halal Meat & Grocery store.  Bereket has a wide selection of “halal” or “clean” meat, including beef, lamb, chicken, and goat, in a variety of preparations that are sure to attract many customers.

       The appeal of “halal” transcends culture according to one of the store owners, Ferah, because of the very freshness of the product that the preparation ensures.  Since the animal must be butchered in a certain manner, all of the meat is processed and sold locally.  There is no long delay of transport or storage.  The turnover of Bereket’s meats is quick and efficient with items often making it into home kitchens the same day they are cut. 

       Ferah and her co-owner and business partner Adanan have much experience in Bay Ridge and have another location at Senator Street and 5th Avenue.  They wanted to expand their business in the area because of their familiarity with the customers and community.

        The new store has been open only a few days, but its design is already drawing in new customers.  The front wall of the grocery is clear glass, and the interior is honeyed wood, which contrasts nicely to highlight their many items for sale.  These range from a wide selection of olive oils, pistachios, peanuts, and chickpeas (both yellow and white, dried and toasted) to an impressive array of  teas, coffees, and sweets.   The teas are both loose or in bags and are adjacent to dried sage leaves which can be added to the brew quite easily.   The sweets are of such variety that any new customer is sure to find something to his or her liking.  The flavors range from date and pistachio to chocolate and yogurt.  In fact, they even have some chocolate eggs with tiny toys inside on the front counter for children.   

         On shelves that line the entire perimeter of the space, hookahs or sheesha, elaborate and beautiful water pipes used for smoking tobacco, are also available for sale in a variety of sizes and designs. 

          The open olive bar in the center of the store holds a lovely display of both green and black olives, of the Sera variety for the most part, some of which are spiced with lemon and marinated with mushrooms.  The black marmara birlik meqa olives glisten in the daylight.

          As you can see, there is much to offer in Bereket.  According to the cashier, Rana, who clearly takes great pride in the store: “Little things make a difference.”

          Bereket Halal Meat & Grocery is located at 7218 - 5th Avenue.  Call 718-333-5715 for more information.  They are open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

                            -M.K. McGarrity, September 2011 

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 K-Spirit Taekwondo

       K-Spirit Taekwondo offers great options for active exercise and self defense in the grand Korean tradition of martial arts in a pristine new studio between 80th and 81st street.

        Master Cho, a well-respected instructor at K-Spirit, has been a student and then a master of this particular art since he was a young boy in Korea.   He draws on his extensive experience from his days in a Korean Army Martial Arts unit and his time at Texas A & M University’s Cadet Corps. 

        Master Cho explains the philosophy of K-Spirit Taekwondo as “a holistic approach” that instills a sense of “confidence” and “discipline.”

      He notes the significance of the school: “Our Do-Jang [martial arts school] name, in Korean, means Korean Spirit Taekwondo on students' uniform:  (Han) means Korean, (Eol) means Spirit, (Tae) means Do, Kick, it means all foot techniques, (Kwon) means Fist, it means all hand techniques, [and] (Do) means The (right) Way.  I  picked the name because I saw a lot of Taekwondo school[s] run for only business, not teach the right Taekwondo, so I wanted to introduce American people [to] the same Taekwondo as [the] Korean [people] and give them a fair chance to learn the real Taekwondo.”

       What makes K-Spirit Taekwondo unusual in the area is its affiliation with the international board for the sport, Kukkiwon.  When students achieve the next belt level, their certification is not simply drawn up in the local office but is registered at and then sent from the Kukkiwon headquarters in Korea.  This ensures that personal achievement in the sport transcends the local school, and the student has his or her belt status registered internationally.

        Classes are offered every afternoon and evening.  The age range of the students goes from 3.5 to adult (which includes students in their 60s or 70s).  The schedule of classes generally follows the school day for the younger students, whereas the later evening classes are for more mature students.  Classes include both genders, and it seems like a great way for young men and women to learn respect for themselves and one another in a well-mannered yet challenging environment. 

        Beyond the traditional Taekwondo which is full contact, K-Spirit also offers classes on Olympic Taekwondo, a style promoted by the Korean government for international competition to draw greater cultural recognition to the sport.  This newer style has more limited contact due to both restrictions on where you can hit and the body padding required for its athletes. 

       Taekwondo is not simply another form of exercise, but it is an ancient Korean art that stresses personal control and self government.  Students are taught to focus and engage in a martial arts philosophy grounded in centuries of tradition.  Practitioners of Taekwondo learn to heighten their concentration, confidence, and physical conditioning.  It is great for self-defense and weight management. In fact, special women’s self-defense courses are also available. 

      Uniforms are required, and the students clearly relish putting on the crisp whites with their appropriate belt level.  The variety of colors of belts hang adorn one wall, hanging above the heads of students as they practice, giving a physical manifestation of the long term goal of black belt for all the students.

      Both adults and children who might be interested in signing up for a class are encouraged to take a free trial lesson or class.  The studio is bright, open, and welcoming to anyone curious about K-Spirit Taekwondo.  There are gleaming wooden benches lining the entryway that allow students to calmly take off their shoes and for proud parents or partners to watch the progress of their loved ones.

       To celebrate their new studio, K-Spirit Taekwondo is offering a grand opening special: a 1 week trial program for $19 with a free uniform. 

    K-Spirit Taekwondo is located at 8020 - 5th Avenue.  Call 718-745-1700 or email info@kspirittkd.com for more information.  Classes are offered daily.

                            -M.K. McGarrity, September 2011 

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 Mike's Donuts

       Mike’s Donuts is a classic American donut shop that has been offering Brooklyn residents a tasty and economical treat since the mid 1970s.

        The appeal of Mike’s Donuts clearly rests in their hand-cutting techniques, natural ingredients, and traditional recipes.  Unlike national competitors, Mike’s Donuts makes all of their products fresh daily with a personal touch.

        According to Gus Neamonitis, the proprietor and son of the original owners, the business is still a family affair.  Gus’s parents, Mike and Christina, still take a strong and active interest in the shop.  The recipes are unchanged family classics.  Some of the delightful donuts on offer include: sprinkled, sugar, boston creme, glazed, jelly, coconut, apply, cherry, crumb, cruller, and cinnamon bun, to name but a few.  Mike’s Donuts also prepares a healthy variety of muffins: carrot, whole wheat, blueberry, banana nut, oat, and raisin.  Croissants filled with chocolate, cheese, and cherries are also available as are bagels and bialys.  To go along with your sweet treat, Mike’s Donuts offers coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate, juices, and tea, as well as sodas and bottled water. 

       While the care that is taken with the product sets Mike’s Donuts apart from its competitors, part of the appeal of visiting the shop is beyond the donut itself.  Stepping into Mike’s Donuts is akin to entering a timeless American enterprise.  Mike’s Donuts offers a sense of home and the familiar to everyone who walks through the door.  The counters and tables are easily recognizable to every customer; they are sparkling clean and yet unpretentious.  The shiny chrome and maroon stools provide a moment or two of rest for the regulars on their way to work where they enjoy the sensation of chewy dough, sprinkled with natural sugar, and cut by a baker working just steps away.  Mike’s Donuts isn’t just an occasional stop for its customers, it is often a ritual.

         The prices at Mike’s Donuts really can’t be beat.  While you can often pay $2 for a single cup of coffee in Brooklyn, especially downtown, at Mike’s, for that price, you get the coffee and a donut.  They offer a baker’s dozen (13) for just $6.  Muffins are $1 and croissants are just $1.25.

        Beyond the bustling retail counter, Mike’s Donuts also wholesales its products to many outlets across the city.  They generally have a rush on such wholesale orders around 5 a.m.  To meet such demand, they bake almost around the clock.

      Gus proudly explains, “We haven’t changed the process.  We make old-fashioned donuts, hand-cut and fried in house.”  He went on to note, “Nobody has the product that we have.”

18-7Mike’s Donuts is located at 6822 - 5th Avenue.  They are open 7 days a week from 4 a.m. -7 p.m.  For more information or to place an order, call 718-745-6980 or check out the website at www.mikesdonuts.com

                            -M.K. McGarrity, September 2011 

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Jean Danet Pastry

        Jean Danet Pastry has been a much loved establishment on 5th Avenue for 50 years, but they have recently expanded their offerings in a dramatic move with the hire of Alex, the baker from the recently closed Leske’s Bakery.

        Before this recent addition to the staff, Jean Danet was a full-service pastry shop, but with the specialized baking of Alex, Jean Danet is servicing an entirely new aspect of the community.  They now offer not only the famed Leske’s black and white cookies, notable for their fluffy icing and delicately spongy texture, but also the traditional Scandinavian and Irish specialties for which Leske’s had been so well known.  The new additions to the offerings at Jean Danet Pastry include Irish Soda bread, Kringles (Danish pretzels), and Sticks (tubular pretzels), Limpa (Norwegian bread) and Julekage (Scandinavian holiday bread).

        Pat Giura, the owner of Jean Danet for 13 years, is proud of the additions to their repertoire.  He explained, “It was a good opportunity for us.  We wanted to find a way to accommodate all these people who were losing Leske’s.”

        As local residents and devotees know, Jean Danet Pastry has evolved over the years; their recent additions only serve to continue their history of innovation.  What makes Jean Danet Pastry unique are its broad offerings and sense of hospitality.  Beyond pastries, cookies and bread, they also have a sizeable wedding and special occasion/theme cake business and an in-house wood-burning oven pizzeria.  The pizza is known for its rich yet subtle flavor that comes from the mozzarella that is made in house.  The ingredients are fresh.  The items are made daily, and the quality is evident.  To keep up with demand, the ovens work nearly 24 hours a day.  The staff at Jean Danet is welcoming yet efficient.  Sales are handled quickly but with a sense of graciousness. Tables are available for eating in and lingering over a cup of coffee with your pastry, but you can also connect to the Internet on their free WiFi (just ask for the code at the counter).

       Pat comes from a family with a long history in Brooklyn baking; his father owns Savarese Pastry in Borough Park.  Pat is clearly dedicated to the local community, and he is particularly committed to supporting the Wounded Warrior project that helps returning veterans who have sacrificed so much to serve us so well.   

      Jean Danet Pastry has a loyal and consistently growing customer base. They are known widely for their appearance on the “The Secret Life of Pastry” program.  Yet, with the unique Irish and Scandinavian items now on offer, this Brooklyn business is sure to expand their reach even further.  In fact, according to Pat, Jean Danet Pastry recently began taking orders for a Pennsylvania Norwegian Society.   

     Jean Danet Pastry is located at 7526 - 5th Avenue.  They are open 7 days a week: Monday – Saturday 7 am – 10 pm and Sunday 7 am – 9 pm.  For more information, call 718-836-7566, email info@jeandanet.com or check out their website at www.jeandanet.com

                            -M.K. McGarrity, September 2011 

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Picardi Brothers Meat Market

        The venerable Picardi Brothers Meat Market  has been serving customers in Bay Ridge for many years.  The meat market offers every variety of meat products imaginable, from the smallest cutlets to an entire animal, should you be interested in roasting a pig to celebrate a holiday or special occasion.

        The owner, Frank Cottone, left Italy at 16 and came to New York for the opportunities.  He started his first shop in 1967 in Manhattan but then found he wanted a Brooklyn location. He bought Picardi Brothers in 1976 and has remained at his Bay Ridge location ever since.    Frank explained, “I was born on top of a butcher shop, my Grandfather’s shop, in Palermo, Sicily.  This business is my life.”

        The commitment that Frank has to the meat business shows in his dedication to the store.  He greets customers and staff with the same graciousness and warmth.  The front of the store is vibrant and welcoming, with a cheerful cashier always willing to answer questions and ring up purchases.  Yet customers can also see into the rear preparation area and see skilled butchers cutting fresh meat with remarkable speed.

         While Frank has spent many years in New York in the meat business, he prides himself on both the selection and the value of his products.  Frank believes that it is Picardi Brothers’ “quality and reputation” that have allowed the shop to thrive for so many years.   He went on to note, “We never say no.”

         In fact, it is Frank’s willingness to go out of his way for customers that ensures his model will endure for many years to come.  They will happily deliver special or large orders to customers in Bay Ridge. 

         Picardi Brothers offers deli products as well as freshly butchered meats.  The market makes it own salads, such as tuna, chicken and shrimp.  They also feature Boar’s Head among its prepared meats counter.

          This brightly lit establishment offers an impressive selection of merchandise.  You can find chicken, beef, pork, and veal in every preparation or cut.  If you are looking for a special meat item, such as a crown roast, just ask.  Cold refrigerated cases line the periphery of the shop, while shelves filled with grocery staples occupy the center.   There are weekly specials available, based on market prices.

          Picardi Brothers Meat Market is located at 6926 Fifth Avenue.  They are open 6 days a week: Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed Sundays).  For more information, call 718-748-9140.

                                    -M.K. McGarrity, September 2011 

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Beverly Trimming Shop

         The Beverly Trimming Shop has been on 5th avenue for 30 years but maintains a stock of sewing and crafting supplies that captures every fabric and supply trend of the last century.

         The owner, Rosemarie Fistanic, became interested in the shop because of her sister, who was a devotee.  Rosemarie had recently retired from the airline industry and wanted to experience what it would be like to own and manage her own business.

         Beverly Trimming Shop is named for its original location on Beverly Road where Rosemarie estimates that it started around 100 years ago.  The long endurance of the shop surely results from and is reflected in their extraordinary stock. The trimmings aspect of the shop is not to be underestimated.  The shop has an entire wall of buttons, some dating from the earliest part of the twentieth century and perhaps even from the late nineteenth century.   They range in color, size and material: gold and silver, early glass to the modern plastic, made with rhinestones or covered with luxurious silks.  The buttons seem like a jewel encrusted sewer’s garden, perched along an entire side length of the building. If you have a garment that is missing a button or two, they are happy to match it for you from their extensive stock.

         Balls of styrofoam for crafting and bolts of fabric on either side of the door welcome the visitor into a cozy den of gorgeous textiles.  The store stocks a nice range of crafting supplies but will also special order any crafting items that a customer requests.  Some of the fabrics are vintage and are so desirable that the shop has welcomed enthusiasts from China and Japan who look for inspiration in their own design by using period American styles.  It is also not uncommon to see local New York costume designers who come for perfect touches for their latest productions.

         Tulle and lace line shelves fit for anyone outfitting a bridal or communion dress.  Silk bolts, raw and refined varieties, are perched on shelves; their tones are luminous in the subtle light of the store.   Ribbons, grosgrain and velvet, seem to grow out of shelves by the cash register.  Yarns and threads for knitting and crochet as well as embroidery are enticing in their colorful display cases.

         Chiffons, silks, satins, and organza can easily be had.  In sewing parlance, notions (zippers and pulls, buttons, snaps, closures,  pins and supplies of every variety)  are plentiful.  Beverly Trimming Shop has an enormous selection with an unusual mix of vintage and contemporary design;  it is a “go-to” destination for anyone interested in sewing and crafting.

         Rosemarie sums up the appeal of the shop, “This is a service store.  We don’t just sell today’s fabric.  We have vintage.”   In fact, the store represents the best of both worlds, modern and vintage, with a selection of fabrics that will surely provide inspiration for anyone’s new project.

       Beverly Trimming Shop is located at 7820 Fifth Avenue.  Call 718-680-2731 or email BeverlyTrimming1@aol.com for more information.  They are open Tuesday – Saturday from 11 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.  Closed Sunday and Monday.

                                    -M.K. McGarrity, October 2011 

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NY Party Land

         The N.Y. Party Land store has everything the discerning customer might need for the fall holiday season, from Halloween costumes and Thanksgiving designs to a fitting end to the final celebration of the season,  confetti for New Year’s Eve.

          The store is configured almost as a seductive maze, costumes and material hang from the walls and ceiling,  to entice customers into slowly discovering everything they need for an event.  N.Y. Party Land has party supplies such as tablecloths, napkins, cutlery, cups, strings of lights and decorative objects for every occasion.  Balloons for weddings, baby showers, and birthdays are also available. 

           The bright costumes for the upcoming Halloween celebration are clearly marked.  The price points for the merchandise are reasonable and competitive.  You can clearly get a deal on a costume here.  Princesses and superheroes are traditional favorites for young children and are available in abundance, but you can also get timelier costumes such as the latest Michael Jackson or other celebrity in the news.  Masks of popular figures are also for sale.  Disney designs in general (the Little Mermaid in particular) seem well represented.  Fairy wings glow with bright colors in sizes suitable for a range of children (and older folks who are always young at heart).

           Should you wish to organize a theme party, just wander the aisles, and you are sure to find a source of inspiration.  Large plastic palm trees might seem just the item to serve as a centerpiece for your special event.   If you like to celebrate the change of seasons, rather than the endless summer that the palm tree represents, you can find an autumn tree filled with brightly colored orange, yellow, and red leaves.   Whatever your theme or choice, you will find decorations, cards, and assorted merchandise to support  your party motif.  Glitter and silly string are at hand in multiple colors and textures.  Party favors and hostess gifts of many kinds are also for sale.   They have a wall of wrapping paper. 

           The store has been on 5th Avenue for 10 years now and is committed to serving the local community. They are developing  an online presence so even local customers can have the convenience of online party supplies.  According to a manager at the store, “We try for the lowest prices.”

           N.Y. Party Land is located at 7624 Fifth Avenue.  For more information call (718) 765-1555 or fax (718) 765-1551.  You can also check out their webpage www.partynowny.com.  They are open 7 days a week from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm.

                                     -M.K. McGarrity, October 2011 

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Joe's Appliances

        Joe’s Appliances has been a fixture on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge for decades.  The phenomenal service available and broad selections of their appliance stock ensure that they will remain the “go-to” destination for such domestic purchases.

       Originally known as Joe’s Radio and TV Service, which gives an indication of the duration and history of the shop, Joe’s caters to every client on an individual basis.  This remains true whether you are a private homeowner looking to replace a single item in your kitchen or laundry, a landlord remodeling a unit from top to bottom, an architect designing an entire building, or a contractor putting the finishing touches on a new space.

        Their loyal customer base relies on their service and sophisticated product lines, from the moderately priced to the high end luxury models.  The store has an excellent crew of longtime employees who specialize in service. 

        Joe’s Appliances primarily draws from the wider New York metro area, and will deliver all around from upstate to the Hamptons as well as the neighboring 4-5 states.  The rates for delivery depend on the weight and dimensions of the order.  Yet for customers who have moved out of the area, they will also deliver to such far off destinations as Florida. 

         The owner, Arline Lewis, who originally began as a staffer in the store and purchased the enterprise from its original “Joe” in 1973, explains, “We give fabulous service.” 

        Joe’s Appliances doesn’t advertise but relies simply on word of mouth and a loyal customer base.  If you order your appliance from Joe’s, and on the rare chance you have some difficulty, call the store, and they will arrange for a service call to your residence.    They install what they sell and back their products with great confidence.

       The pieces of equipment that Joe’s Appliances has available go from the most basic refrigerator for a few hundred dollars to a deluxe model for several thousands.  They have classic appliances and esoteric brands which many Bay Ridge residents may recognize:  Thermador, Viking, Liebherr, Eloctrolux, GE, Maytag, Kitchen Aid and many others.  Italian design has a prominent place in the showroom not only because of its quality but also because local residents often request the latest in styles from Italy.  The Italian ranges are especially impressive and in true Italian fashion exude aesthetic beauty as well as practical function.

        Joe’s Appliances stocks refrigerators, ranges, ovens (conventional and convection), dishwashers, air conditioners, hoods, washers, and dryers.  They also stock smaller household machinery such as hand mixers and microwaves for the convenience of customers who wish to do all of their appliance shopping in one location.

       Joe’s Appliances is located at 7812 Fifth Avenue.  For more information call (718) 745-2800 or fax (718) 836-6000.  They are open 5 days a week:  Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm with extended hours on Thursday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.  They are closed Wednesday and Sunday.

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, November 2011 

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Mirna's Engravables

        Mirna’s Engravables is a delightful jewelry store that specializes in unique engravable items from the smallest of medallions or charms to the largest of platters or dishes.

       MIrna’s Engravables has been on Fifth Avenue for 5 years.  The store is the second location for the owners, George and Mirna Khayata .   MIrna manages their Bay Ridge location and is committed to serving the unique needs of the neighborhood.  She offers a special touch with local residents and will work with whatever budget you have available for your purchase.  George has another location in Manhattan at 55 W. 47th Street (LL Suite 670B).  

       The Bay Ridge shop frames their merchandise with a touch of elegance.   They offer gifts for every possible special event:  birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and showers of all varieties and traditions.   They stock favors for parties as well as gifts for children of all ages.   Card cases, compacts, beads, charms, watches, and all manner of precious metals fill the gleaming cases that line the shop.  Glassware and picture frames are perched atop shelves high atop the walls.

       George has been in the engraving industry for over 35 years.  He not only engraves items, but he also designs unique jewelry for customers.  He is happiest when working on a one of a kind piece.   George explains, “Everything is personalized.  I love my job because I like art.  I practice my hobby in jewelry.” 

       As a master engraver, very few people can bring the skill and delicacy of the art of engraving to their work in the way that George Khayata does. 

       According to Mirna Khayata, “I have your budget in mind. I can always help [even for] last minute gifts.”  In fact, Mirna further notes, “I can get anything fast.”  The store offers an incredibly quick turnaround for engraving, often available on the same day of purchase.

      Mirna’s Engravables accepts multiple forms of payment from cash to credit cards (no checks, please).  They also offer layaway plans and will establish long term schedules should the client require such flexibility.

       The store has an abundance of unusual and one-of-a-kind items.  Yet what sets Mirna’s Engravables apart from their competitors is the sense of community that is created with their customers.  Often you will see the same folks stop not only to purchase a gift but also to say hello.  Clearly, Mirna’s Engravables is a shop that offers not simply beautiful jewelry and engravables but also a warm and gracious welcome for every customer.

      Mirna’s Engravables  is located at 7520 Fifth Avenue.  For more information call (718) 238-1035, fax (718) 238-1029, or check out their webpage www.mirnaengravables.com.  They are open 6 days a week:  Monday - Saturday from 10:30 am to 6:00 pm with extended hours for the holiday season until 7:00 pm.  They are closed Sunday. 

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, November 2011 

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Sagar Fashions

        Sagar Fashions brings the glittering touch of South Asian style to Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge.  A family business open for just 2 years, the store has quickly become the “go-to” place for traditional fashions from the subcontinent such as Salwar Kameez, Choli, and Sarees in the neighborhood.

        The store owner and manager, Ketherin Patil, saw a need in the community for fashions outside of conventional American and Middle Eastern styles.  Sagar is the only shop on Fifth Avenue that exclusively stocks clothing and accessories from India and PakistanMs. Patil feels her business can reach new customers while serving a traditional community in Brooklyn.  She explains, “New York is like a melting pot.”

         The cultural diversity that Ms. Patil values is also reflected in the incredibly broad selections of her stock.  Each garment is unique.  The different styles reach across every spectrum of possible colors and combinations.  While every piece is carefully folded and preserved, with the help of Ms. Patil, customers are invited to touch the merchandise if they are interested in particular pieces.   She enthusiastically displays the delicacy of beading and the intricacy of the stitch work with every gesture when opening a garment to its full measure.

         The store is simply packed with merchandise: scarves, necklaces, bangles, and garments of every imaginable style line the periphery of the bright space.  There are many different fabrics available from silk and chiffon for fancy occasions to cotton and poly blends for everyday use.  Sagar Fashions also stocks seasonal items for holidays. 

          Sagar Fashions offers items for men, women, and children.  The garments are one of a kind and custom made, usually by hand.  The detailed work required to make such special clothing is simply stunning.  Gold threading and elaborate patterns adorn a considerable amount of the items for sale.

        Ms. Patil also offers henna work to customers, who can simply stop in and have gorgeous designs made with that time-honored dye placed on their hands, wrists, and arms.  No appointment is necessary. 

        Ms. Patil is offering readers of this Spotlight on Fifth Avenue piece a 10% discount if they bring a copy of it with them while they make their purchases.

       Sagar Fashions is located at 7912 Fifth Avenue.  For more information call (347) 274-0500.  They are open 7 days a week:  Monday - Saturday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm and Sunday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm    

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, November 2011 

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Farmacon Pharmacy

      The venerable Farmacon Pharmacy is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Founded in 1971 by the Demetriades family, the Pharmacy remains a stalwart of excellence and personalized service after decades in the competitive health and wellness industry.

        Farmacon has a reputation for groundbreaking innovations.  In fact, the first pharmacist in house was none other than Penelope Demetriades, a graduate of the Columbia University Pharmacy School in the late 1950s, when a woman pharmacist was definitely a rarity.    The accomplishment that this represented for a woman in that day is remarkable.  Yet, the Pharmacy remains committed to such trendsetting even on a smaller scale today.  In fact, they are the first in the neighborhood to provide flavorings of medications for both children and pets. 

        While Penelope remains a strong presence at the Pharmacy, today customers are helped by her son, John, the resident Pharmacist in house.  The rapport that the Demetriades family shares with its customers is clearly apparent.  While I was visiting the storefront, several customers walked in and said with a cozy familiarity, “Hey John, can I have some help?”  Of course, John immediately stepped to the front of the counter, recognizing his customers by name, and said, “Sure, what do you need” and “How can I help?”

       Farmacon Pharmacy is proud of their customer service.  What separates this family shop from their competitors is their history of service.  It is not uncommon for the Demetriades family to have served children in the 1970s who now bring their own children in for medications.   The Pharmacy staff is familiar not only with an individual patient history but is also often familiar with an entire family history.

       According to John, who literally explains that he “grew up in the business,” the “personalized service at Farmacon [ensures that] we treat each customer and his or her individual needs.”

       The staff at the Pharmacy is highly trained and experienced.  They will work with customers dealing with insurance challenges or in need of advance vacation supplies.  Unlike larger chain pharmacies, Farmacon will perform “prescription compounding” for unusual dosage forms and strengths.  They work with patients and doctors to make sure that the patients’ personal health remains paramount. 

       Aside from the usual personal care products from reading glasses, children’s care products, personal grooming, over-the-counter medications, and cards, Farmacon Pharmacy also carries surgical supplies, hospital beds, wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and commodes.  They accept all insurance plans including Medicare and Medicare Part D plans.  They also offer seasonal merchandise for all the holidays.  In fact, their Christmas window displays have developed a local reputation as one to watch. 

       Farmacon Pharmacy is an intimate family enterprise that serves the larger community with their rich history, uniquely coupled with the latest innovations in pharmaceutical technology.

       Farmacon Pharmacy is located at 8007 Fifth Avenue.  For more information call (718)238-1090 or fax (718) 748-9275.  They are open 6 days a week:  Monday - Saturday from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm.  Closed Sunday.       

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, December 2011 

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Ridgeboro Opticians Inc.

        Ridgeboro Opticians specializes in offering a caring, personal touch with the most contemporary options for your eyewear needs.

         The owner and resident ophthalmic practitioner at Ridgeboro Opticians, Joseph Sollecito, has been at this location for over 30 years.  He is an original Brooklyn boy who grew up in Bay Ridge.  Joe learned the trade as a young man working in an ophthalmic practice in the neighborhood.  When he decided to strike out on his own at the age of 26, his commitment to the area remained strong.  He bought this longstanding ophthalmic practice on 5th avenue that has continued to grow.

         Joe prides himself on being an ophthalmic professional and an educator.  Since he was so inspired as a young man in the field, he retains a striking commitment to the ophthalmic education of the next generation.  As a Professor of Ophthalmic Science, Joe ensures that the best practices will endure amid the next cohort of professionals in Vision Care Technology.  As Joe explains, “I believe in enlightening.”

        What makes Joe and Ridgeboro Opticians unique in the field is this sense of enlightenment.  Joe is not simply interested in formally educating his students; he is also interested in a friendly and relaxed way of educating his clients.  He will work with those folks who might need extra care after surgery for cataracts or just those who are trying best to meet the challenges of macular degeneration or glaucoma.   He takes particular care of each individual and his or her needs.

        He won’t try to sell various products or eyewear trends to clients unless he feels it will benefit them noticeably.  He also takes special care to highlight the costs versus benefits, the opportunities and the limitations, of every option from which the client might have to choose. The price point of the eyewear at Ridgeboro Opticians is extremely reasonable. 

       Ridgeboro Opticians offers the latest in eyewear trends as well as classic styles.  They stock a plethora of designer frames and offer both transitions and progressive lenses, both basic models and high end lines.  They also have an interesting display comparison of sunglasses with anti-glare technology.

        Joe notes that “Honesty has kept me in business.”

        Local ophthalmologists often refer patients to Ridgeboro because of their reputation for integrity and sensitive candor.  Such referrals often even come particularly to Joe because of his steady assurance and one-on-one assistance for every possible challenge a client might encounter.  There is a licensed optician on staff as well as a friendly and experienced support staff.  Walk-ins and appointments are both welcome.

        Ridgeboro Opticians is located at 8009 - 5th Avenue.  For more information, call (718) 748-0513.  They are open 6 days a week: Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Closed Sunday. 

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, December 2011 

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Brooklyn Art and Frame

        The venerable paint, art supply, and framing shop, Brooklyn Art & Frame, has been in business in various forms for over a century and continues to reinvent itself.

         The store, previously known as Holbro Paint Company of Bay Ridge, was the go-to spot in Brooklyn for Dutch Boy paints and a variety of wall coverings in the early and mid- twentieth century.  Yet, in the 1980s, the framing business took off.  Today, the shop retains paint, primarily for the fine arts or crafts projects, and will order any supply you need, but the framing business dominates.  Recently, a memorabilia enterprise opened in the shop; while under separate management, it does integrate into the art supply and framing aspects of Brooklyn Art & Frame nicely.

        The store owner and manager, David Kyvik, grew up in the business with his father.  David has reimagined and reconfigured the space for the twenty-first century.  The old tin ceilings are now covered with modern tiles, but the classic elements of the original store remain.   David has retained the core of the shop and his family’s critical connections in the community. 

         David’s reputation as a trustworthy merchant and excellent critical eye for paint and framing is well known.  Customers of longstanding still come in for his recommendations for their projects.  While the type of supply you may need will likely be available outside of the neighborhood, what separates Brooklyn Art & Frame is the discerning aesthetic judgment of the staff.  This professional perspective is invaluable for anyone trying to decide on frames, matting, or paint.  David can recommend brushes for certain projects, types of wood for specific frames, and of course many variations of color.  All work is handled in house. 

        Customers often bring in unusual or valuable objects or images for framing.  Art classes (primarily painting-- oil and water color) are offered every Saturday for adults in a studio on the second floor.  They still stock a full line of fine art supplies, and they are the only shop in Bay Ridge to do so. 

         As David notes, “You get a fair shake and a fair price at Brooklyn Art & Frame.” 

        Brooklyn Art and Frame is located at 7709 - 5th Avenue.  For more information, call (718)-745-7734.  They are open 6 days a week: Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Closed Sunday.

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, December 2011 

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Onofrio D. Oro

        The fine jewelers, Onofrio D. Oro, has relocated from their long established 13th Avenue location to the heart of the Bay Ridge with a prime spot on 5th avenue.  

         The well-known jeweler, Onofrio Demattia, is a native Brooklynite who began his career in the jewelry business with a course at New Utrecht High School.  His initial course of inspiration was refined through his success at a top line design school and ensuing world travels.  Committed to the neighborhood, Onofrio blends local desires and taste with world class sophistication and elegance.

        Onofrio designs one-of-a-kind pieces.  He works from custom-made wax molds for his metals and crafts unique settings for precious and semi-precious stones.  One of the most stunning works on display in the shop is a 187 carat aquamarine.  The gorgeous greenish blue tones mesmerize anyone who looks for more than a moment.  Also on display are stunning collections of unique stones with many examples of opal, topaz, tourmaline, and tanzanite.  Onofrio also works with unusual fossils and resins to bring out the most lustrous of nature’s work.  One particular fossil seems so sparkling, its green and maroon tones seems as bright as light; the gold that surrounds it highlights the piece even further.

        This store offers everything from gifts in the twenty-five dollar range to thousands and thousands.  He has something unique and eye-catching at every possible price point, from works in sterling silver and gold to platinum.  Even if the size of the piece is modest in proportion, the design quality will identify it as one of Onofrio’s works.  His chains are sometimes unusual in their shapes yet are always entirely fitting to the scale of the gems.

        While the store maintains a wide variety from which customers can choose new pieces, they also refashion and redesign works that customers bring into them, especially those cherished family mementos handed down that might need an updated setting.  They will even melt down and recast the metal from your original piece, so it truly retains its original sentimental value.

        The store also has locations on the three Queens: the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, and the Queen Victoria, cruise ships.  These elegant vessels are suitable for such gorgeous works.   As Onofrio explains with wit and a smile, “If we are good enough for three Queens, we are good enough for you.”

        Onofrio D. Oro is celebrating the holidays with a grand opening sale, with up to 70% off certain pieces, until January 1, 2012. 

       Onofrio D. Oro is located at  7407 - 5th Avenue.  For more information, call (718)-680-5723 or check out www.onofriodoro.com.  They are open 7 days a week: Sunday to Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.    

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, December 2011 

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The Owl's Head

       The Owl’s Head, a new wine bar in Bay Ridge brings the best of reasonably priced vintages and locally sourced goods to a cool, vibrant bar space at 74th Street just off of 5th Avenue.

        The Owl’s Head is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.  The bar was started by John Avelluto, a native Bay Ridge resident who has pursued art at Brooklyn College, and his partner, Steven Weintraub, an art gallery professional, who both clearly bring a talent for aesthetics and design to the establishment.  They have achieved a cozy yet expansive feel for the bar.  It offers a Brooklyn rustic atmosphere: high tin ceilings, exposed pipes, and a gorgeous 15 foot maple bar roughly hewn from a single tree in the Berkshires.  One entire wall of chalk board lists wines by the glass or the bottle as well as olives, cheeses, charcuterie, and a wide selection of paninis and crostinis. 

        The Owl’s Head is named for both the well-known local park at 68th Street between Shore and Colonial, which John enjoyed as a runner and student at Xavarian High School, and for the owl, the symbol of the town of Mola in the region of Puglia, from where his family emigrated a generation ago.  John learned the restaurant and wine business from his father, who has worked in the industry for many years.

        John, as a native Brooklyn boy, is committed to using locally sourced products and goods.  He is committed to Bay Ridge and notes that The Owl’s Head is perfect for those looking for an easygoing space in between the family-style restaurants and the sports bars in the area.

        According to John, the mission of The Owl’s Head is “to make wine tangible for everyone.  Every bottle we have is under $40.” 

        In fact, the price points of many of the bottles are noticeably below that mark.  Glasses range from $6 to $13 and bottles from $21-$39.  They also have a nice selection of beer available. 

        The owners have established a relaxing spot to linger with friends or on your own.  There are no televisions hanging on the walls, yet the Owl’s Head offers free WiFi.  The bar invites patrons to enjoy a refreshing glass of wine and delicious food with your laptop or iPad perched on one of the tables.  Keeping with this unpretentious and low-key approach, the owners are planning on adding wine tasting and cheese pairing/making classes soon. 

          Friend them on Facebook or check out their webpage www.theowlshead.com to follow the current schedule of events.  They also accept bookings for private parties.

        The Owl’s Head Wine Bar is located at 479- 74th Street at Fifth Avenue.  For more information, call (718) 680-2436 or check out www.theowlshead.com.  They are open Tuesday-Thursday from 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-12 a.m., and Sunday, 2-8 p.m. Closed Monday.     

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, January 2012 

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Sunset Ace Hardware

       Sunset Ace Hardware is the neighborhood’s prime destination for home improvements from lawn and garden care to paint supplies, interior fixtures, and even outdoor living. 

       The store manager, Joseph Klein, and the paint department manager, Rush Chati, are committed to offering excellent customer service.  They excel in problem solving and will work with clients who meet unexpected home care challenges, from individual homeowners to building superintendents, and specialized contractors.

      Rush Chati’s paint department will offer aesthetic consultations and computer matching of color.  They are a Benjamin Moore dealer.  Bring in a swatch of wallpaper or fabric, and the staff will offer you advice on certain color palates to coordinate as well as general painting techniques.

    Sunset Ace Hardware is well stocked with every item imaginable.  In operation for 35 years, this family enterprise offers plumbing supplies, chains, space heaters, shades, custom cabinetry and vanities, keys, and much more.  Seasonal items are available as needed.  Special orders are taken and can be habitually filled in just a few days.  The store is well-organized and efficiently run.  The aisles are clear and easy to navigate should you wish to peruse all of your options before you head to the counter.  The rapport the staff has with a large number of returning customers is clearly evident in the ease and recognition offered to folks walking in casually for advice on their purchases. 

      Sunset Ace Hardware participates in the Ace Rewards program.  Membership is free.  You receive a membership card and keychain tags to use when making purchases. Given 1000 points for signing up, you can subsequently accrue points via shopping for rewards (10 points for every $1 you spend with 2500 points yielding a reward of $5).  You will also get sale reminders, opportunities for bonus points, coupons, special rebate offers, and even a birthday reward.

       The price points at Sunset Ace Hardware are competitive.  They accept all major credit cards in the store itself and will take payments via PayPal online.

       Sunset Ace Hardware is located at 8111 Fifth Avenue.  For more information, call (718) 748-0960 or check out their web page www.sunsethardware.com. They are open 6 days a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (winter hours) or 2:00 p.m. (summer hours), and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.  Closed Saturday. 

                                      -M.K. McGarrity, January 2012 

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Richie's Bay Ridge Carpet & Linoleum

     Richie’s Bay Ridge Carpet & Linoleum Corporation has been a fixture on Fifth Avenue for over 35 years and remains the go to home improvement destination for both residential and commercial flooring in the area.

      The owner, Richie Wells, was born and raised in Bay Ridge.  He began what has become a family business after learning the trade in a local flooring and hardware establishment and then moving briefly into the wholesale side of the industry.  Yet, selling and installing flooring brought Richie back into the retail aspect when he opened his own flooring store in the late 1980s. 

    Richie’s Bay Ridge Carpet & Linoleum is an establishment that has built its business through word of mouth and full service.  They will order materials for you to install or will handle the installation for you.  They also remain committed to their products if you need maintenance. 

     Well known to local building superintendents, Richie’s of Bay Ridge offers many flooring products.  These include: wall to wall carpet, carpet tiles, runners, area rugs, linoleum, vinyl tiles, laminates, outdoor carpeting, ceramic tiles, and porcelain tiles.

    Richie attributes his success to his many blessings and a great staff.  They offer what Richie terms, “soup to nuts” service and will handle all your flooring needs.

    “Everyone here is family or is treated like family.  We all have at least 15 years of experience,” Richie said.  He continued, “We are fair with what we charge.”

      The price points of his materials are competitive.  You can even buy a remnant that was cut and trimmed to a standard size (5’x8’, 4’x6’, or 3’x5’).  The designs available range from classic solids to innovative patterns.

      What makes Richie’s Bay Ridge Carpet & Linoleum stand out from its competitors is the commitment to treat not just the staff like family but also the clients.  Loyalty is prized in the Wells family and that loyalty is evident in the rapport with their customers.

      They are open 50 weeks a year and will happily deliver to New Jersey and Connecticut or ship across the country.

      Richie’s Bay Ridge Carpet & Linoleum Corporation is located at 7710 Fifth Avenue.  For more information, call (718) 745-5110, email at bayridgecarpet@yahoo.com,  or check out their web page www.bayridgecarpet.com.  They are open 6 days a week: Monday –Saturday from 9 am -5:30 pm, though will remain open later by appointment.  Closed Sunday.

                                        -M.K. McGarrity, January 2012 

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Bagel Villa

     Bagel Villa offers not just a wide selection of the revered New York City, old-fashioned, hand-rolled bagels made in house but a plethora of delicious food.  Savor the Bagel Villa experience by eating in-house, with take away, or even with local delivery (free with a $10 minimum).

      Started by a local family as the entrepreneurial brainstorm of their son, Joe, who wanted to open a bagel shop while still in a local college, the business is clearly a success.  In operation for just 4 years, Bagel Villa is a great spot on 5th Avenue for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

      The staff at Bagel Villa is both hospitable and kind.  There is an easy rapport between the folks behind the counter and their customers, with jokes and greetings volleying back and forth amid orders.  An efficient operation, particularly during crunch times of the day, food is prepared to order and delivered with great speed without sacrificing any flavor.

      The menu items are far too plentiful to list here.  Customer favorites include: the Greek and Italian paninis, the Honey Bee and Greco wraps, and the everything bagel, whole wheat everything bagel, and the sesame whole wheat bagel.  Also known for their soups, the minestrone and lentil are famed for the fresh, delicate, and rich flavors.  Griddle and bakery favorites, such as pancakes, French bread, muffins, croissants, and pastry, are also available. 

       Bagels come with all sorts of options and toppings from the traditional butter and cream cheese to the unexpected chocolate/hazelnut spread and peanut butter.  The list of options for topping is impressive, but you can get a cold or hot sandwich on a bagel too.

     According to one staff person, many ingredients are imported directly from the Mediterranean, with Greece and Italy providing the special flavors that make Bagel Villa’s food so delicious.

      A full selection of drinks is on hand, from the every day options of sodas, juices, and mineral waters to highly specialized and unique offerings such a Greek Frappe.  This frozen iced coffee drink is delightfully refreshing and can be made with or without sugar or an artificial sweetener.

      Bagel Villa also offers catering for special events.  Heroes of 3 and 6 feet, trays of salads, hot foods, Greek delicacies, and special bagel wheels can be made to order.

     Bagel Villa is located at 7221 Fifth Avenue.  For more information, call (718) 745-1175, fax (718) 745-1170, or email bagelvilla@verizon.net. They are open 7 days a week: Monday –Saturday from 6:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. and Sunday from 6:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

                                             -M.K. McGarrity, January 2012 

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Orchid Florist Inc.

     Orchid Florist offers flowers, plants, and gifts of all varieties for every occasion. This venerable Brooklyn flower shop stocks much more than their name implies.  While orchids are a mainstay of the business and continue to be extremely popular, Orchid Flowers produces bouquets, arrangements, and boxes of cut flowers ranging from the ever popular and traditional roses and lilies to the most exotic blossoms imaginable.

      The store sits just off the corner of 71st Street and 5th Avenue. If the lush plant life and tasteful decorations in the front window don’t capture your attention, the delightful aroma of flowers will surely tempt you to venture inside.  In fact, it is the whiff of air coming out of the shop itself that strikes passersby as an usual but pleasing scent.

      Once inside, you will see a wall of refrigerated cases with bouquets ready for delivery and an adorable row of teddy bears waiting for placement in special gift orders. 

      Orchid Florist delivers to throughout the city boroughs and Long Island.  They also have a network for floral deliveries outside of the local area and will be happy to take your order.

      Special events, such as weddings and other large parties, are happily accommodated with just a month’s notice, according to Dan, a helpful and cheerful member of staff. 

      Flowers cut for delivery in vases generally last longer, and the shop is well-situated to provide any size arrangement or bouquet you might need.

      While they may import blooms from as far away as Ecuador, Mexico, and Holland (just imagine the fields of tulips in that country), they make every effort to source their plants locally.  This attention to growth zone means that their plants will not “shock” at the New York climate and thus be more likely to thrive. 

     The “quality of flowers” and “their freshness” separate Orchid Florist from its competitors, according to Dan.

      Orchid Florist also offers a special service of building and lobby holiday decorating. They work on many buildings throughout the city, particularly throughout the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s seasons.  The shop is getting ready for the next big holiday, Valentine’s Day, and has a plethora of gorgeous roses to choose from, whether they are for your wife, mother, girlfriend, dad, husband, or boyfriend.  The staff at Orchid Florist is happy to recommend the size and color of any arrangement.

      Orchid Florist Incorporated is located at 7102 Fifth Avenue.  For more information, call (718) 833-8949 or (800)547-1245 or check out their web page www.brooklynorchidflowers.com. They are open 7 days a week: Monday – Saturday from 9 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

                                        -M.K. McGarrity, January 2012 

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A List Tattoos

     A List Tattoos is a custom shop for body art that will carry out both American and Asian styles of tattooing and work with customers to bring their ideas into the forefront of the creative process.

     The shop owner and master tattoo artist in residence at A List, Steve Kane, has been tattooing professionally for well over a decade.  He apprenticed in the art locally (in the East Village) and decided to establish his own enterprise in Bay Ridge because of his fondness for and knowledge of the neighborhood.

     Steve began his career in the business by attending conventions in the field. He became more interested in pursuing this body art and has committed his life to its pursuit.  He notes that tattooing used to be more unusual but is now entirely mainstream. 

     A List Tattoos will accommodate any request, from a portrait of a well-known figure to an avant-garde concept.  The staff at the shop will work with customers who have an idea of what image they might like but are unsure of just how they would like the design to appear.  They will also provide coverage work for someone who is interested in altering a previous design.

     They are also more than willing to walk through and explain the process to new clients who have not previously had any tattoos. It is a delicate art; the ink must penetrate enough skin to remain in place yet not go too deep to the layers beneath the skin that will not hold pigment. 

     “I’m interested in the expressive,” said Steve Kane who continued, “We are a custom shop.”

     According to Steve, the goal of an artist is for design and color endurance.  Clearly, Steve Kane is committed to doing good work.  Dedicated to the artistic representation of ink on the body, Steve remains enthusiastic about every image and has built a loyal clientele.

     The business of A List tattoos operates primarily through referrals and word of mouth.  Consultations are free.  Tattoos are by appointment; though walk-in service may be possible, it is best to call ahead.  Piercings are done on the weekend only.

     A List Tattoos is located at 7123 Fifth Avenue.  For more information, call (347) 578-7999, email alistindustry@gmail.com, or check out their webpage at www.alistindustry.com. They are open 6 days a week: Monday –Saturday from 2:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m. (winter hours) and 12:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. (summer hours). Closed Sunday.

                                             -M.K. McGarrity, January 2012 

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Sweet Arayssi Middle Eastern Pastries   

     Sweet Arayssi Middle Eastern Pastries brings the best of the eastern Mediterranean’s sweet traditions to Bay Ridge with over a century of experience.

      The Sweet Arayssi bakery is currently operated by two sisters, Amal and Rima.  They opened the enterprise in Bay Ridge in the 1990s with their father after the family emigrated from Beirut.  Their father started working with his own father at the age of 14.  This great grandfather opened his original shop in Lebanon in 1844.  Lucky for the residents of the neighborhood, they brought the best of their family’s culinary expertise that has been refined exceptionally well since the mid 19th century.  The family has been baking ever since, both remaining true to such a significant culinary inheritance but also conscious of recent innovations in the field.

      The sisters have continued the best of their father’s and great grandfather’s recipes yet have established a modern baking facility with wide open tables filled with packaged cookies and treats.  Across from the generously filled tins that line one wall is a counter filled to extremes with trays of sweet delights.  The ever popular butter and sugar cookies are juxtaposed with the unusual semolina cookies and turmeric cakes.  They offer the classic maamaal cookies, with choices of date, walnut, and pistachio as well as baklava (1 lb. for $10 or 2 lbs for $20).  Coconut macaroons, marzipan cookies, and petit fours are also plentiful.

      Many of the most delicate of the cookies and cakes are coated in a delightful sugar syrup.  The bright pink and red tones glisten in the well-lit bakery.  Shelves above the counters are filled with Cortas products such as pomegranate molasses and other concentrated fruit juices such as tamarind, blackberry and date, are mixed with water for a refreshing drink. 

     “Love of family” and “customers who crave something from home” are the keys to success according to Rima.

      Sweet Arayssi will ship anywhere in the United States. Their prices are quite reasonable.  They are happy to take orders of every size and even to cater weddings or other large events.

     Sweet Arayssi Middle Eastern Pastries is located at 7216 Fifth Avenue.  For more information, call (718) 745-2115, fax (718) 745-2820, or check out their web page at www.arayssi.com.  They are open 7 days a week: Sunday – Saturday from 9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m., including all holidays.

                                        -M.K. McGarrity, January 2012 

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Balady Halal Food Market

     Balady Halal Food Market provides fresh Halal (or “clean”) meats and an impressive selection of grocery and gift items from across the Middle East and North Africa.

      Balady means “my hometown” in Arabic.  The Masoud family, proprietors of the market, is proud of their heritage and opened the market in 2003.  Essa Masoud, the manager and one son of the four who are involved in the shop with their father, explained that Balady Halal Food Market is unique because they stock dry goods and gift items from across the Mediterranean region.  They make an effort to provide cooking supplies from every area and will special order unusual spices or items upon request.

      “We provide great customer service and attention to detail,” explained Essa Masoud.

     The market works with four butchers to provide Halal meats.  They will take special orders for large occasions and holidays as well as provide regular sized portions for everyday needs.

     The storefront is well designed with wide aisles and a spacious layout.  The window displays attract attention with a selection of merchandise available within the shop. They entice without clutter and showcase the range and delicacy of the products.  Once inside, the style of the market continues to please customers.  Beautiful metal lanterns and eye-catching baskets hang from the ceiling; elaborate mosaic backgammon sets that also often reverse for chess line the shelves above the checkout area.  Backgammon is a popular game in the Middle East, and one of these gorgeous sets inlaid with mother of pearl and fine wood would make an elegant present for a birthday or housewarming.

      The market stocks an enormous selection of dry goods as well as dairy, grains, spices, nuts, meats, chocolates, and some frozen items.  What seems most impressive is not simply the range of the products but the depth of the selection amid certain items.  For example, pomegranate molasses is a popular ingredient in many recipes, but at Balady you can select from a variety of brands of such molasses, depending on whether you prefer it thick, light, sweetened, or merely condensed from juice.

      The Masoud family has a web page for the market under development, but you can also stop by and browse the aisles to find or order your favorite spice or sweet treat.

      Balady Halal Food Market is located at 7128 Fifth Avenue.  For more information, call (718) 567-2252 or (800) 852-5046, email essa@baladymarket.com, or fax (718) 228-8114. They are open 7 days a week: Monday – Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

            -M.K. McGarrity, January 2012 

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