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A Glimpse into Orthodox Crown Heights, Courtesy of a Hipster-Hasid Uniter

On a recent summer morning, Rabbi Yoni Katz stood a few steps away from the Kingston train station, in the heart of Crown Heights, as he has been doing every day for the past two years. He was waiting for his guests to show up so he could usher them into a local library and begin his $69-per-head tour of the Hasidic community. As I exited the station and made my way down Kingston Street, I recognized his red beard and laid-back posture from an online profile and cheerfully walked up to him. More →

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Lawsuits Stall Development of Greenpoint Superfund Site

170ED418-7CE1-41A4-A9FF-98252165CAC5In passing, the old plastics factory located at Franklin and Dupont Streets in Greenpoint seems like an abandoned industrial relic. In actuality, the curved, art moderne NuHart building has become an increasingly attractive property that has swapped hands several times in just a few years. But the 1930s building is tagged as a superfund site—meaning it contains hazardous waste threatening the environment and public health—and a legal standoff is preventing it from being razed for a 325-unit apartment building. Monday, neighbors demanded answers about the state of the project and the complicated cleanup process. More →

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These 15-Year-Olds Are Sweeping Brooklyn and Putting Your High School Band to Shame

If you haven’t yet heard of Brooklyn-based Control the Sound, get ready because their high-energy mix of funk, rap, and rock will have you bobbing your head and dancing while wondering, “Wait a minute, just how old are these kids?”

Elijah, Carter, Audrey, and Kai are basically all 15 (Audrey is 14 but her birthday is in October), and after seven years of jamming together, they’re winning over audiences. “We’re definitely getting more fans now than we were before,” bass player and singer Audrey Frechtman told Bedford + Bowery. 

Audrey Frechtman

After their last live show, Maplewoodstock in New Jersey, a group of kids approached the band to swoon over them and request pictures. “It felt like a moment when we truly were being recognized,” said Frechtman. “It was really nice because it hasn’t really happened before like that.”

The weekend prior to that, they didn’t let a little downpour dampen their energy during a performance at Caracas Arepa Bar in Rockaway. They’ve played venues as varied as Brooklyn Bowl (opening for DJ Questlove), Littlefield, Brooklyn Museum, Rockwood Music Hall, the Queens Night Market, and even MCU Park in Coney Island. 

As fourth graders, they were all individually into music. It was their parents who nudged them to start a band. Now, they’re “their own little friend possy,” said Steve Frechtman, Elijah’s father and the de-facto manager for Control the Sound. Steve helps organize the band and makes sure they stay focused, which is necessary because they’re, well, teenagers. 

Elijah Frechtman

They get together to practice in the basement of drummer Carter Nyhan’s home in Park Slope. They’ve made it their own little music studio; signs and posters about festivals and gun violence are plastered on the walls, and cables crisscross the sound-absorbing carpet. A motivational message scribbled on cardboard with a black sharpie catches the eye: “Anyone can be cool… but awesome takes practice, yes it does.”

The close friends are tied together in various ways. Audrey is Elijah’s cousin, and Carter and Elijah are so close Elijah drops by Carter’s house unannounced. Trumpet player Kai Blanchard is a self-described introvert who is grateful that the band has forced him to step up and be more confident. “I struggle with socializing,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting better at it.” 

Kai Blanchard

According to Elijah, who plays guitar and is the lead singer, the off-stage synergy between band members has really started to pay off this year. “I can tell when Carter is going to hit a stop just by the way he moves his arms,” he told B+B. “You just develop this connection which is almost psychic, when the band can just stop on a dime without really rehearsing it and it’s awesome. It’s so much fun.”

Asked what excites him about drumming, Carter says, “Something is very appealing about banging on sticks when you’re a little kid; it just kind of tumbled from there and I’m still playing today.”

Watch our video, above, to hear more from Control the Sound.

Photos and video by Jo Corona.

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This Podcaster Is Charging His Guests $275 Per Session, and They Seem to Love It

(Photos: Jo Corona)

Back in 2014, Uluç Ülgen fled romantic disillusion in the East Village and made a trip to his birth country of Turkey. There, the shy Istanbul native encountered strangers who gave him a hand—with food, transportation and emotional support—without asking for anything in return. He returned to New York City and created the mürmur podcast, an “homage to the strangers who saved his life.” More →

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MoMA PS1 Warm Up Starts This Weekend, and It’s a Jungle Out There

Hórama Rama by Pedro & Juana, presented as part of the Young Architects Program 2019 at MoMA PS1. (Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo: Kris Graves)

Welcome to the jungle, ravers!

The MoMA PS1 Warm Up, the longest-running summer dance party in Queens, starts this Saturday and repeats weekly through August. This year, when New Yorkers make the pilgrimage to the museum’s courtyard to sway in the summer heat and revel in the beats of up-and-coming DJs and rappers, underground electro pop, and more, they’ll be immersed in a Yucatan-inspired “jungle,” the brainchild of Mexico City-based architectural firm Pedro & Juana. More →

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LGBTQ-Friendly Senior Housing Development Cleared For Controversial Elizabeth Street Garden Site

Raymond Figueroa, president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition, at a rally to save Elizabeth Street Garden last year. (Photo: Ryan Krause)

In the latest chapter of a divisive issue that has pitted garden advocates against city officials and affordable-housing supporters, the City Council approved Haven Green on Wednesday, potentially cinching the fate of the Elizabeth Street Garden, where the city wants to build the development for senior citizens. Now, the project must win in the legal arena as well, after two grassroots organizations filed lawsuits against New York City the first week of March. More →

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After Nearly 40 Years in the Subway, a Flower Man Stops Peddling

(Photos: Jo Corona)

Since his early twenties, Peter Tsoumas would open his flower kiosk with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the Greek-American newspaper Ekirikas in the other. A man with a gruff countenance belying a winsome personality, Tsoumas started his business in the late 1960s in Jamaica, Queens, but in 1980 the MTA leased him a nook in the 1st Ave L train station and he has remained there ever since.

“I came in young and I leave an old man,” he told Bedford + Bowery on Monday. After almost half a century of selling flowers to rushing New Yorkers, the Greek native is retiring. Friday will be his last day.

One of his daughters wanted to make a Friday reservation for dinner at Kyclades, the Greek tavern just outside of the train station, to celebrate the date. But Tsoumas said no. “I don’t want my kids to spend money on me. Also, Friday my head is going to be like this,” he said, making a gesture as if it was exploding. He has already started cleaning the shelves from his corner kiosk and the void of the missing objects has been hard on him. As the flowers surrounding him dwindle in numbers—his last purchase was at the beginning of the week—Tsoumas was left reflecting on his memories and his life decisions.

Peter was born Periklís Tsoumas in March of 1948 in the idyllic Western Greek coastal town of Nafpaktos, where young people live a “beautiful life,” in his words, and where Greek mythology says descendants of Hercules built a fleet to invade the Peloponnese.

When he was seven years old, young Tsoumas picked up a book about the US and later that night summarily decided he was going to go to America. His father thought his son had gone mad, but Tsoumas just said, “Yes, I read a book, it says so many nice things.” And so when he turned 20, he traveled to New York. The year of his arrival, he opened the first store in Jamaica and soon after that married his wife, also of Greek descent. “Thank god, I’m happy,” he said.

Although the imminent shutdown of the L train station would have forced Tsoumas to close his shop anyway, he thinks the train repairs came at the right time. “My energy is no good no more,” he said with his heavy Greek accent. “I can’t do it no more, I’m tired.”

Tsoumas remembered that when he first started his business, flower concessions such as Gus Florist, Flowers for all Occasions populated the train stations in the city. Regular folk bought flowers everyday; they “needed” the flowers, he said. Fridays was a particularly good sales day, as were the long dreary days of winter. But now, the money was to be found doing flower arrangements for weddings, funerals or parties, “nothing else.” Tsoumas bemoaned that young people don’t “believe” in flowers anymore and the big retail companies are snuffing out small tradesmen with their wholesale prices.

As we spoke, an elderly woman with big eyes approached the stand and rested her cane against one of the station’s columns as she gazed at the bouquets. Tsoumas came out from behind the flowers and told her he wouldn’t be there next week. “I have bad news, I’m leaving. I’m retiring,” he said, leaning briefly into her.

“Oh, congratulations!” the woman replied and patted him gently on the chest.

“Thank you so much, I appreciate it,” he said.

The gray-haired woman said that she had known Tsoumas for at least 20 years and that whenever she visited the neighborhood she would get flowers from him. She wished him good luck and reminded him to keep doing “something” after retirement.

He nodded, smiling. That is a fear he has: stopping. “If I make it past the first six months I have a long life ahead of me,” he said, sitting back on his black and metal stool. He compared himself to an old car. If you keep it running, it will sputter along. But if you stop the engine, “kaput!” Tsoumas interjected. “But the car goes to the garbage… Me? I go six feet down.”

Cognizant of this, the flower man has his first months of retirement carefully mapped out: on July 6 he travels to his hometown—the place with the long history and crystalline-water beaches. Family members will take turns traveling to meet him at the house he and his wife have there. Tsoumas flies back to New York in September.

The prospect of spending a lot of time with his three granddaughters excites him. “One week, two weeks I stay home and relax. And after that? Tell me,” he asked, shuffling his white tennis shoes back and forth.

He’s thinking that even with the flower concession gone, once a month he might visit the neon-lighted station that provided him with his livelihood so that he can hang around and greet his formerly faithful clientele. One of those customers, a spectacled man clad in elegant wine-colored pants and a vest, approached Tsoumas’ corner.

“Hey Peter, how you feeling, man?” he asked.

“I’m okay,” Tsoumas replied, his squinting face quickly breaking into a beaming smile.

On Friday, Tsoumas will end his professional life giving away whatever flowers he doesn’t sell.

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Think Strays Are Cute? ‘The Cat Rescuers’ Will Give You Paws

Latonya “Sassee” Walker (images courtesy of “The Cat Rescuers”)

For four years, New York film directors Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence followed cat rescuers as these unsung heroes went about the uphill battle of feeding, adopting, trapping and neutering Brooklyn’s exploding population of street cats. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the resulting documentary, The Cat Rescuers, starts its national theatrical run at the IFC Center on July 5. More →

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‘Son of an Immigrant’ Packs Up Corner Store That Gave NYC a Taste of Mexico

“Everything I ever had from here was spectacular,” a customer said to Guillaume Guevara, founder and owner of Miscelanea, the East Village corner store that became the go-to place for homesick Mexicans as well as New Yorkers in search of a more contemporary Mexican experience, free of luchador masks and sombreros. But on Tuesday, after a four-year run, it was in its final stretch: closeout sale day.

Guevara, a Mexico City native, thanked the woman as he busily tended to the other customers who, like lost ants, kept streaming into the bodega located on 63 E 4th St. They snatched the remaining $1 and $3 items from the shelves of the 450-square-foot store as they lamented it was closing, all in one beat.

Thirty minutes before locking the doors, Guevara exchanged bills with a customer, took swigs of his Mexican Coke—made with sugar in lieu of corn syrup—and nodded as yet another person expressed their disbelief. “We’ve known for about a month,” he said, probably for the hundredth time. To the inquisitive, he cited the rising costs of rent, payroll, taxes and garbage removal as the main culprits. In recent years, even the price of avocado—which they spread on just about everything—went up.

“But what about you?” the 37-year-old said, flipping the focus back to the customers’ lives. “What do you do?”

He came out from behind the counter to open the near-empty fridge and offer me a refreshment. “It’s on me,” Guevara said, making me choose between glass bottles of luridly-colored Jarritos or a non-alcoholic grape soda called Sangría. My brain jumped back to childhood memories of sipping the fizzy drinks during family vacations in Acapulco or during languid waits at nondescript rural highway stops. I accepted a Sangría.

In strict terms, miscelanea (or miscelánea—with an accent over the á—since we’re speaking in strict terms) translates to miscellaneous. But for anybody raised south of the border, the word is emotionally charged. Misceláneas—delis, corner stores or bodegas—aren’t just the last step of a supply chain, they’re places that are intimately tied to how Mexicans experience food and culture as they go about their daily activities.

In New York City, Miscelanea was the sole purveyor of this market/takeout food experience, Guevara assured. “Even if it’s hard to believe, we were the only miscelánea,” he said, although he agreed he couldn’t be 100 percent sure.

“You can go to Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx and find a store that self-describes as a Mexican corner store. But then you’ll find that the person taking your order is Ecuadorian, the products Venezuelan or Colombian, the food Dominican or Puerto Rican and yes, maybe they sell some authentic chips or Mexican food, but that doesn’t make the place Mexican. Even if it’s hard to believe, a place like that didn’t exist,” he told B+B later over the phone.

Bedford + Bowery, one of many outlets that wrote about the deli’s opening back in 2015, called it “the perfect place to go if you want a bit of Mexico in New York, but can’t handle any more Frida Kahlo meets donkeys meets sombreros meets lone cactus.”

Guevara knew how to make heads turn, offering kids’ sundries side by side with face masks made of Tulum-sourced clay and cookbooks by celebrity Mexican chefs. One time he announced he would give 10 percent of the returns of his hats and beanies brand, Son of an Immigrant, to the ACLU, in support of the nonprofit’s work defending migrants rights. Last year, he started accepting payment in Mexican pesos.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Guevara said. “People always want a reason, they want you to tell them what exactly went wrong. But this isn’t as if I ruined a Rum and Coke drink because I went too hard on the rum. It’s hard to pinpoint what happened.”

In the end, he said, the expenses exceeded the revenue. But he was proud of what Miscelanea accomplished. “There were sales, there were fans, noise, business and all that. I see this as a triumph,” he said. More than 300 reviews on Yelp gave the upmarket grocery a five-star rating.

He also expressed sadness. “For the partners, family, my employees, suppliers, clients; the people who believed in us and who believed in me,” he said on his way to pick up his three-year-old from school. After doing that, he and his wife had a farewell celebration date at Casa Enrique, a Mexican hotspot in Long Island City. “You should go if you haven’t,” he mentioned.

In Miscelanea’s last beating moments, the counter, fridge and wooden shelves displayed a motley assortment of “Mexico is the Shit” jackets, cooking wooden mixers, dried epazote herbs and chillies of the mulato and ancho varieties, traditional Mexican popsicles and other popular sweets, bottled grasshoppers (chapulines), Oaxacan cheese, corn to prepare pozole soup as well as tortilla-ready corn in masa, one lime squeezer, and hats and beanies from Guevara’s Son of an Immigrant brand. A propped-up white book with the serendipitous title Las cosas pasan por algo, o no (Things Happen for a Reason, or Not). A small basket even offered half-a-dozen units of the first aid antibiotic Vitacilina, whose advertising jingleVitacilina… ¡ah qué buena medicina!” was so popular in the country it’s forever engraved in the collective memory of its people.

A woman trailed in and asked about the wooden bench situated at the store’s entrance. On a lucky day, clients would find a spot on the bench to sit and enjoy their tender and juicy meat or scrambled-egg tortas. “Oh, you want it? Take it!” he said, as he wiped it dry from the day’s rain, “I had it custom made.” Guevara sold it for under $20 and helped the woman load it into a van.

The retail entrepreneur has called New York City his home for more than a decade. But now he has plans to fly with his family back to Mexico City, where he hasn’t lived since he was 17. “I went to study in Europe and never returned,” he said, and added, “I want my son to learn Spanish properly.”