Tag Archives: Astoria

Queens HS student wins US Congressional Award Gold Medal

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Garden School

One Queens high school student has stood out from the rest for her dedication to serving the community.

Astoria resident Julia McKenna, a senior at the Garden School in Jackson Heights, was one of 13 New York State students to win the 2014 US Congressional Award Gold Medal.

The Congressional Award, this year handed out by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, is given to students who meet goals in community service, personal development, physical fitness, plus exploration and expedition.

Those who are awarded the gold medal are required to have a minimum of 400 hours documented for volunteer service. McKenna managed to log more than 550 hours volunteering at organizations such as the New York Blood Center, Special Olympics, Dellamonica Senior Center, Common Ground Outreach and more.

Along with community service, McKenna is also co-captain of the varsity volleyball and basketball teams and won Academic Honors last year.

According to a statement released by the Garden School, McKenna’s dedication to serving the community “is a great example of Garden’s mission of ‘social involvement’ in action and we could not be more proud of her.”


Astoria 8-year-old wins young inventor award for monster toy line

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Black family

For one Astoria 8-year-old, monsters aren’t scary. Instead, they have helped her to accomplish more than most kids her age.

Lyla Black is the founder of Lyla Tov Monsters – plushy, handmade toys that are the “guardians of a good night’s sleep” – and on Nov. 21 she was awarded the Young Inventor of the Year at the 7th Annual Toy & Game Inventor Awards in Chicago, Illinois.

“We were hopeful but had no idea the outcome,” said Erin Black, Lyla’s mother. “We were surprised when they called her name.”

The Lyla Tov Monsters (a play on Hebrew words that mean “good night”) are inspired by Lyla’s original doll, which she made at age 3 as a gift for her father, Eric. The toys are made by Lyla and her parents and siblings.

The husband and wife team has been making the toys out of their Astoria home since 2009, bringing together 30 years of experience in children’s media. Erin is an Emmy Award-winning costume designer for her work on “Sesame Street” and Eric has worked for the Jim Henson Company and Scholastic Media.

“It was a very fun and kind of an overwhelming experience for us,” said Erin. “[The award] was really rewarding because it’s been a lot of work, but it’s also been a lot of fun and it’s been a great family adventure. We’ve both enjoyed giving vision to our daughter’s idea.”

The family grew the business through word of mouth, first starting to sell at local craft fairs and then opening their online store at www.lylatov.com.

Since starting, the business has sold thousands of dolls, and the monsters are now carried in such local shops as Tiny You in Sunnyside and Long Island City and Raising Astoria in Astoria. The toys are also at The Jewish Museum gift shop in Manhattan.

For the Annual Toy & Game Inventor Awards, Lyla was accompanied by her mother and grandmother. When her name was called as the winner of the Young Inventor of the Year the usual “shy” 8-year-old marched up on stage and looked to the audience of more than 300 adults and delivered her acceptance speech, said Erin.

According to Lyla’s parents, the award gave the affirmation that others regard Lyla’s creative vision as highly as they do.

“I was surprised,” said Lyla about hearing her name be called for the award. “I was a little scared. I was excited too.”


City Council passes Astoria Cove development project

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

The City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve the Astoria Cove mega development on Tuesday, clearing the way for the major land use project.

The project now goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio for his likely approval. He has already praised the project after concessions were made by the developer to boost the amount of affordable housing included. He has five days to either sign or veto the measure.

Earlier in the month, Astoria Cove developers delayed the City Council Land Use Committee vote to strike a last-minute deal with elected officials concerned about having enough affordable housing in order to win committee support for the project.

Now more than 460 units of the 1,723 total apartments throughout the 2.2-million-square-foot project on the Astoria waterfront will be affordable housing.

Developers also agreed to hire union labor for construction and building maintenance jobs associated with the project, and commit to building a ferry dock.

“This agreement shows what we can achieve when the private and public sectors work together,” Astoria Councilman Costa Constantinides said. “This agreement provides real benefits to the neighborhood and will help further link our booming communities along the East River.”

Astoria Cove will consist of five buildings, three on the waterfront ranging from 26 to 32 stories and two on the upland portion of the site, including a six-story residential building.

The project, which is anticipated to take more than 10 years to complete in four different phases, will also include about 84,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, a school and some retail.


Star of Queens: Thao-Nguyen Le, co-director, Vietnam Heritage Center

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


BACKGROUND: Thao-Nguyen Le was born in Vietnam. Her family immigrated to Seattle in the ’90s. She went back to Vietnam to work for a startup after a career at KPMG and then came back to the U.S. She has been living in Queens for the past two years. She finds Astoria to be very quaint with its tree-lined streets.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Le develops and implements programs for Vietnam Heritage Center, recruits and manages volunteers, organizes special community events to celebrate Vietnamese culture, and cultivates and maintains relationships with donors and community members.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “I hosted two festivals — the first of their kind in the city — celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and the Moon Festival, in February and September respectively,” Le said.

“Together, they brought 1,000 people to celebrate. There is a lot of work involved, with recruiting and training around 50 volunteers, and creating a program that will draw people in.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Seeing the organization grow and reach its full potential,” Le said. “Trying to balance different facets such as fostering and building relationships with advisors and board to get donations, train volunteers and retain them, how to reach out, get people interested in Vietnamese culture to come together for events.”

INSPIRATION: “The community I serve inspires me,” Le said. “The students learning Vietnamese, the young people who come to volunteer after spending long hours at work, and all the people who come to support us for our events.”


Seven-story residential building The Marx coming to Astoria

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Fogarty Finger

An early rendering of a new seven-story residential building called The Marx, which is planned for Astoria, was revealed Thursday.

The new structure at 34-32 35th St. will replace two small houses and a parking lot, according to 6sqft.

The building will have 33 units throughout nearly 30,000 square feet, according to filings with the Buildings Department.

Fogarty Finger is designing the project, which will also have 18 parking spaces. In addition, the Manhattan-based architecture firm is working on an 11-story condominium building in Long Island City for Charney Construction & Development.

Also in Astoria, developer New York Lions Group is working on an eight-story, 77-unit condominium called The Baron, at 14-07 Broadway.


Elmhurst woman writes Queens walking tour book

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Image courtesy of Adrienne Onofri

One Elmhurst woman is hoping her new book will help readers step out their doors and take a stroll while exploring all that Queens has to offer.

Adrienne Onofri is the author behind “Walking Queens,” a new book that features 30 detailed walking tours through the borough exploring architecture, distinct cultures in different neighborhoods, historical landmarks, celebrity homes and natural scenery.

“There are one or two books about neighborhoods in Queens but really no guide book completely dedicated to Queens,” Onofri said. 

The opportunity to write this book came after Onofri, a licensed New York City sightseeing guide, wrote “Walking Brooklyn: 30 Tours Exploring Historical Legacies.” 

Her publisher became interested in doing a version for Queens, and Onofri said she jumped at the idea because a lot of people had asked her to write a walking tour book for the borough she has called home for decades.

“I liked the idea because I can say I live in Queens,” Onofri said. 

To compile the book, which took about a year to finish, Onofri traveled the borough on nothing but her two legs and public transportation. She sketched out routes based on what she already had in mind or knew she wanted to include. Other locations, she said, she roamed and discovered in order to create the detailed walks. 

“There are a lot of people that drive around and don’t get around in public transportation much,” Onofri said. “[The book] is just encouraging them to go a few neighborhoods over, which they would normally drive pass on the highway.”

The neighborhoods featured in the book go from Long Island City and Astoria all the way to Howard Beach and the Rockaways. Along with these, Onofri also spent time in the borough’s parks such as Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Alley Pond Park and Rockaway Park. 

The book, with photographs taken by the author, includes maps of the area that will be walked, nearby trains or buses, points of interest in the neighborhood, historical facts and detailed directions of how to get around. 

Part of the Hunters Point Historic District on 45th Ave. in Long Island City (Photo by  Adrienne Onofri)

Part of the Hunters Point Historic District on 45th Ave. in Long Island City (Photo by Adrienne Onofri)

“There are things you walk past and don’t notice,” Onofri said. “This book has the discoveries of things that you might not take the time to notice regularly.”

While working on the book, Onofri said she realized there were instances where she noticed things she hadn’t before. Also, one of the issues was trying to fit as much as she could in the 254-page book, with some things just not being able to be included. 

“There was a lot of stuff to learn, whether it was just some place I had been only a couple of times or a place I really didn’t know much about before,” she said. 

Onofri said she is still conducting tours in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. 

To contact Onofri to schedule a tour, email walkingqueens@gmail.com.


Astoria’s Cats Eye Marcom wins five awards in international competition

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Cats Eye Marcom

One Astoria firm brought home the win and caught the eye of those in its industry.

Cats Eye Marcom, a marketing, design and consulting firm based in the western Queens neighborhood, won five awards at the 12th Annual Horizon Interactive Awards, an international interactive media competition.

The firm was recognized in four categories. It received Silver Awards in E-Commerce/Shopping for the BBES Lingerie website and Print for the Marathon Energy Brochure. It was also honored with Bronze Awards for Restaurant/Food Industry Website for Hell Gate Tiki and for Advocacy/Non-Profit websites for both The Dominic A. Murray 21 Memorial Foundation Inc. and Peter F. Vallone Jr. for Queens Borough President.

“We are extremely honored to have won five different awards,” said Sonja Mylonas, CEO of Cats Eye Marcom. “We work extensively to create the most innovative, engaging and successful websites we can — creating a reflection of each individual we work with. We look forward to growing and learning, and continuing to design cutting-edge websites.”

The Horizon Interactive Awards was an international competition that had over 1,600 entries from over 24 countries. The panel of judges consisted of industry professionals with diverse backgrounds, as well as an end user panel, that evaluated categories ranging from online advertising to mobile applications.

“Winners in this year’s competition highlight the best blend of technology, cutting-edge thinking, outstanding user-experience and overall aesthetics,” said Mike Sauce, founder of the Horizon Interactive Awards.


Astoria group created with focus on whiskey

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by 1GS Photos Francine Dominguez

For Astoria resident Emily Ross-Johnson, one sip of whiskey was all it took for her to fall in love with the complexity of the spirit, which she now hopes to share with others in her community.

Ross-Johnson founded the Astoria Whiskey Society in 2012, and last spring the group, which began with just eight friends in a living room, was opened to the public.

“I really fell in love with [whiskey] and its complexity,” Ross-Johnson said about the experience of tasting her first single malt scotch in graduate school.

Part of her love for the spirit led to Ross-Johnson attending a lot of whiskey events and tastings around the city. After doing so, she realized that there was a lack of local bars and restaurants offering whiskey tastings and she wanted to break down the drink for others in her community.

“I knew I was creating something that wasn’t happening already. I wanted to create an environment for other people to learn about whiskey but more laid back,” Ross-Johnson said. “I wanted to create more interest in whiskey in my neighborhood. It’s about people feeling unafraid and not intimidated and being able to just relax and enjoy with the purpose of educating themselves.”

Every month the Astoria Whiskey Society, which has over 180 whiskey enthusiasts on its mailing list, gathers for whiskey tastings at bars and restaurants throughout the western Queens neighborhood.

Along with tastings, Ross-Johnson also works to bring representatives of specific whiskey brands to the monthly gatherings so members can learn about each brand through presentations.

Blood Lust Cocktail (Photo courtesy of Emily Ross-Johnson)

Blood Lust Cocktail (Photo courtesy of Emily Ross-Johnson)

The Astoria resident said that this interaction also helps as an opportunity for local businesses to try new products and for the brands to establish themselves in Queens, when they normally wouldn’t look to penetrate in the Queens market.

“I want to help diversify the crowd that typically drinks whiskey. Part of my mission was to reach out to a younger, diverse group,” Ross-Johnson said. “But we’re open to everyone. We want to create an environment that everyone is comfortable.”

During the gatherings Ross-Johnson encourages participants to ask questions, try new whiskey and socialize with others. She also hopes these meetings allow others to explore Astoria and all it has to offer.

“I created the group because I want to enrich my neighborhood and my community,” Ross-Johnson said. “I want more people to come to Astoria and see how awesome it is.”

To introduce new comers to the spirit, Ross-Johnson also creates cocktail recipes during each tasting that incorporates whiskey and makes the introduction a lot smoother and “more approachable.”

In 2015, the group plans to have more events that are “whiskey-centric” along with the monthly tastings. Bringing together Ross-Johnson’s other passion of singing opera, she is also looking to bring music and whiskey together in the future.

The Astoria Whiskey Society’s next meeting will be in January, with date and location still pending.

For more information visit astoriawhiskeysociety.comwww.facebook.com/AstoriaWhiskeySociety or follow @AstoriaWhiskey.


24-Hour Repackathon set to break record

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of City Harvest

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, one organization is looking to make a difference while also setting a new record.

City Harvest, a food rescue organization founded in 1982, will host its second annual 24-Hour Repackathon on Thursday in Long Island City with the mission to help feed hungry New Yorkers across the five boroughs over the winter and holidays.

“This is part of our initiative to keep shelves at food pantries stocked for the winter,” said Samantha Park, manager of communications for City Harvest. “For a lot of people they have to make the difficult choice between paying rent and putting food on the table for their children.”

During the event, which will be held at City Harvest’s LIC Food Rescue Facility located at 55-01 Second St., more than 300 volunteers will repack bulk food donations into family-sized packages for 24 hours straight.

Participants include members from corporations such as Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Wells Fargo and many others. Restaurants, including Astoria’s Butcher Bar, will also donate food for volunteers.

“It’s just a great way to give back. The holidays are around the corner and people are always thinking about ways they could help,” Park said. “These are big businesses in New York City giving back to the community.”

Starting at 5 p.m. Thursday, volunteers will arrive in groups of 50 for three-hour shifts in which they will repack packages that will go out to over 500 food pantries and soup kitchens across the city.

At last year’s inaugural 24-Hour Repackathon, City Harvest set a world record by repacking close to 215,000 pounds of food, according to Park. This year, the organization plans to surpass that record with the goal of repacking 225,000 pounds, enough to feed more than 2,000 families.

During the last shift on Friday, which will end at 5 p.m., special guest volunteers will include U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former New York Knicks player John Starks.

“There are times that we can all come together and help each other,” Park said. “That’s what our organization is all about, having New Yorkers come together and help each other out.”


$27K stolen from man at Astoria check cashing store: police

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYPD

A suspect followed a man into an Astoria check cashing store before stealing his $27,000 bag of money, cops said.

The suspect trailed the 36-year-old victim into the store, David’s Check Cashing, located on 31st Street near 23rd Avenue, at about 11 a.m. on Oct. 23, police said. He then held up his hand, covered with a bag, indicating that he had a gun, and demanded cash from the victim.

The victim handed the suspect a bag containing about $27,000 in cash and the suspect fled, cops said.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.


Underground fire breaks out in Astoria

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Graphic Image

A possible utility fire broke out underground in Astoria Thursday afternoon, causing evacuations in the area, fire officials said.

The fire started about 2:45 p.m. on 36th Street near 24th Avenue, according to the FDNY. No injuries have been reported, but nearby homes have been evacuated as a precaution.

The cause of the flames, which were coming up through the sidewalk, may be from an underground transformer, according to ABC New York,

Con Edison has been called to the scene to investigate.






Ukulele shop opens its doors in Astoria

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

One new shop is strumming its way into Astoria, bringing the sounds of the tropics to the big city.

Uke Hut, located at 36-01 36th Ave., held its grand opening on Halloween and has brought what manager Jeff Novak calls the only shop of its kind to the northeast United States, selling ukuleles, offering lessons and bringing together the ukulele community.

“We’re dedicating ourselves exclusively to ukuleles, and the aim is to have quality instruments at all price points,” said Novak, who has been playing the ukulele for four to five years. “We’re aiming to be a full-service shop.”

The corner shop is owned by musician Ken Bari Murray, who hopes to bring a new center for music to the community.

Uke Hut offers all types of ukuleles and strings for sale, and although the lessons and performances have not yet started, these aspects will be emphasized as the shop seeks to serve the western Queens neighborhood.

Professional ukulele musician Sakai, who has been playing the instrument for the past seven years, will be one of the teachers at the shop.

“Astoria is an up-and-coming neighborhood and it’s a vibrant neighborhood, and I think it would be a good tip for us and we’d be a good tip for the general area,” Novak said. “We’re easy and accessible. We’re there for their needs and we’re working for all level of needs.”

The shop is still being set up, but customers are welcome to stop by Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. The store’s official website ukehut.com is still under construction as well.

“It’s an easy instrument to play compared to others. It’s very portable. It’s been said to be a very happy instrument. You never see a sad ukulele,” Novak said.

A ukulele meetup will be held at the shop on Friday at 7: 30 p.m.


Report: Queens rent prices increase in October

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Chart courtesy of  MNS Real Estate.

Prepare to pay higher rents if you want to live in Queens.

An influx of new luxury buildings in Rego Park and the continued popularity of Astoria contributed to the average price for an apartment rising to $2,097 in October, according to the Queens Rental Market Report released by MNS Real Estate.

The prices for studios, one and two-bedroom apartments represents a slight jump from September, with notable changes in rents coming from Rego Park and Astoria.

In Rego Park, the average price increased because of new luxury buildings, according to the report.

“A notable growth spurt continues to take place in Rego Park as prices bounced back after a slight downturn last month,” the report said. “Developments such as The Contour at 97-45 Queens Blvd. and more recently, The Rego Modern at 99-39 66th Ave. are leading this progression.”

Renters in Astoria paid 5.3 percent more in October than September, the report showed. Studio prices in the neighborhood jump 7.05 percent to an average of $1,772.

See the full report here.


Astoria Cove wins City Council committee support after last minute deal

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

Astoria Cove developers delayed the City Council Land Use Committee vote on Wednesday to strike a last minute deal with politicians and win approval for the project.

Based on the agreement, the number of below-market rate housing in the development will increase to 27 percent from 20 percent. About 468 units of the 1,723 total apartments throughout the 2.2 million square foot project on the Astoria waterfront will be deemed affordable.

Developers also agreed to hire union labor for construction and building maintenance jobs associated with the project, and commit to building a ferry dock.

Councilman Costa Constantinides, who promised to fight for more affordable housing units, fully embraced the project following the deal.

“The agreement will help transform Astoria for the better,” Constantinides said. “For the first time in city history, this developer will be required by law to provide permanently affordable housing that is within the reach of Astorians.”

The project still has to go through a full City Council vote on Nov. 25.

In addition to the Land Use Committee giving its approval, Borough President Melinda Katz has also had a change of heart due to the negotiations.

“The modified Astoria Cove proposal is consistent with Queens’ commitment to responsible development and is now closer to par with many of our chief concerns, namely housing, transit options and skilled labor,” Katz said in a statement. “Once built, this project will become a landmark accomplishment that we can be proud of here in the Borough of Queens.”

Astoria Cove will consist of five buildings, three on the waterfront ranging from 26 to 32 stories and two on the upland portion of the site, including a six-story residential building.

The project, which is anticipated to take more than 10 years to complete in four different phases, will also include about 84,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, a school and some retail.


Identify this place in Queens

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


Do you know where in Queens this photo was taken? Guess by commenting below! The answer will be revealed next week.

Last week’s answer to “Identify this Place”: Norwood Gardens in Astoria