Category Archives: interview

CHB Interviews: Kathleen Hyppolite of kat flower

kathleen hyppolite, kat flower

Grady’s Collective Market on Fulton is becoming a really cool mixed bag of wares – new, vintage, home furnishings, paper goods and now flowers.  Kathleen Hyppolite launched kat flower at the collective a few months ago and has recently moved her blooms to the front of the shop.  CHB chatted with her about her new business, how it fits into the Collective and flower shopping tips for spring.

1. Tell us about Kat Flowers and how it fits in to Grady’s Collective.
kat flower is boutique flower shop that combines charm, elegance, simplicity and beauty.  like the rest of grady’s collective market, the assortment of flowers is well-curated, dynamic and fresh, interesting yet always accessible.  having fresh flowers as part of the collective is reminiscent of the markets in paris, amsterdam and london, however we remain true to our unique brooklyn style.

2. What’s your background, and how did you start arranging flowers?
i am a native brooklynite and event planner of many years and have had the opportunity to work and collaborate with some of the city’s best floral designers.  i have always loved playing with flowers, arranging them for myself, family, friends and clients. i got tired and frustrated of having to leave my neighborhood for flowers and being limited to the farmer’s market and deli tulips.  i want to make beautiful, fresh, high-quality flowers accessible.

3. What kinds of flowers are typically available this time of year?
spring is springing so there is so much beauty to choose from.  i love tree blossoms…dogwood, forsythia, peach and of course cherry.  also lilac, sweet peas, hellebores, tulips, narcissus, hyacinth, daffodils and jasmine.

4. What kinds of services do you offer?
kat flower sells blooms by the stem, hand-tied bouquet and arrangement. for gift orders, we buy fresh per order so please contact us and we will arrange something special for the next day. for weddings and events, please email kathleen@katflower.com for a consultation.

5. What do you recommend as a floral gift for a romantic partner who isn’t into the cliche dozen roses?
a floral gift is no different from any other kind of gift — it should be thoughtful, personal and meaningful.  if they like fresh scents, an arrangement with freesia, hyacinth or lilies would be lovely.  if they love color, ranunculus and tulips have quite a range.  if they love simple beauty, you can’t go wrong with an orchid.  and i also am in favor of the perfect single stem…a single peony or dahlia would definitely make me happy.

(flower photos by derrick raphael)

Kathleen maintains a blog on her latest inspirations and inventory at http://katflower.blogspot.com/.

kat flower
923 fulton street (inside gradys collective market)
cross streets clinton & washington avenues
c train to clinton-washington

tuesday-wednesday 12-7
thursday-friday 12-8
saturday 11-7
sunday 12-6

CHB Interviews: M. Blaise Backer

In honor of MARP’s 10th Anniversary, CHB spoke with their director – M. Blaise Backer – about the organization’s history, his job and how we can get involved as neighbors.

1. You’re celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project. How was the organization started?  Could you also explain the difference between MARP and the BID?
MARP, our non-profit local development corporation, was actually born out of an economic development committee at Fort Greene SNAP, another local non-profit located on Myrtle Avenue. It was decided back in the last 1990’s that the committee should spin off into its own organization given the critical need to focus on Myrtle Avenue’s economic development. A number of key local stakeholders, including representatives from Fort Greene SNAP, JPMorgan Chase, Pratt, St. Joseph’s, LIU, and local merchants, residents, and funders came together to found the organization, form the initial board of directors, and incorporate in 1999. They hired MARP’s first executive director, Jennifer Gerend, shortly thereafter. In 2002, MARP sponsored the formation of the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Business Improvement District, in cooperation with a steering committee made up of Myrtle merchants and property owners, and it began operations in April of 2005. Together MARP and the BID use the umbrella name Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership to represent many of the initiatives, campaigns, and events that are a product of both organizations’ operating budgets and boards.

2. What’s your professional background? How long have you been heading MARP?
I have a graduate degree in Urban Planning from NYU Wagner, and an undergraduate degree in Business from the University of Virginia. I’ve been at MARP since the fall of 2002, and became its executive director in June of 2004.

3. Do you live in the neighborhood?   If yes, is it great to spend all of your time in the area, or do you miss commuting to a different neighborhood?
Yes, I’ve lived in Fort Greene for 8 years, and walk to work every morning. It’s great to have such an easy commute, as I’m not much of a morning person, but I definitely do less leisure reading without a subway commute. It’s helpful to be able to walk most of Myrtle Avenue every morning and evening as part of my commute in order to monitor the physical condition of the streetscape and to have casual interactions with the avenue’s small business owners.

4. What is a typical day like on the job?
This is a truly difficult question to answer, and I’m rarely able to capture the essence of a typical workday. My job entails everything from managing the organization’s finances and contracts, writing grants and fundraising, collaborating on the day-to-day aspects of various organization programs with my colleagues, corresponding with MARP’s board and with city agencies and elected officials, and responding to calls and emails from various local constituents. I have days where I’m outside using my hands by helping the Ingersoll residents to build planting beds for the community garden, other days where I’m helping to negotiate a lease between a new merchant and a property owner, and others where I barely leave my desk as I deal with some of the administrative requirements of running a small non-profit.

Continue reading

CHB Interviews: Jeff Arancherry

BellaWatt1_NYC0035

Jeff Arancherry grew up in Westchester county. He started playing bass at 15 and slowly starting picking up percussion instruments as his interest in music grew. After college, he was able to purchase enough equipment to create quality demos, but found that he lacked the time to learn how to use any of it due to his new career. After switching careers and moving to Brooklyn, he joined Bella Watt, to which he contributed songwriting and arranging. He currently teaches high school math in Brooklyn and uses his free time working on various projects, including transcontinental collaboration the Death Valley Girls.

Do you live in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill and how long have you lived here?
I live in Fort Greene and I’ve been here for about 5 years.

Where did you move here from?
I moved here from Stamford, CT, where 16 year-olds drive cars that my parents can’t afford.

As a musician who’s played in a few different projects, how do you feel about playing music in NYC? Is it harder or easier than other places?
NY pretty much has a scene for everyone. The opportunities for collaboration with musicians who have a diverse musical background are much more plentiful than, say, Stamford.  However, there is such a large quantity of music being produced here that the chances of getting decent exposure are minimal. From the perspective of one who wishes to play in front a packed room of strangers, doing music here is harder than other places because there’s always some other band playing somewhere else. In the end though, the optimist in me believes that this causes the driven musician to refine and develop her or his sound to increase the chances of reaching a larger audience. The cynic in me recognizes that this also causes struggling bands to disproportionally focus on image and promotion rather than the music itself.


What are your favorite places to see live music in the city? In the neighborhood? How about your favorite places to play?

For venues in the city, I really love the sound at Webster Hall Studio. I’ve never heard live guitars sound so full before. I try to avoid going to shows at larger venues simply because I enjoy being able to tune in to individual instruments to understand how each one contributes to the overall sound. In our hood, I’ve seen Mum at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. It was pretty nice to be able to walk 3 minutes to get to a show.  It’s really a beautiful place, and the sound was great, especially considering how many musicians were on stage. I also like seeing music at the Paul Robeson Theatre, another gorgeous spot. As for places to places to play, Mercury Lounge, Pianos, and Ace of Clubs (formerly Acme Underground) have amazing people working the sound. Monkey Town is also a pretty unique place to play.


What are you listening to right now?

I’m really into Cornelius’ Sensuous right now. I feel as if every few years I come across an album that completely changes the way I think about music. Sensuous is definitely one of those, as was Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew and Live/Evil, Prefuse 73’s Vocal Studies, pretty much every Meshuggah album, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, and Squarepusher’s Music is Rotted. Other bands I’m currently into are Irepress (Boston), 375000 Yen (Paris), Hailu Mergia and the Walias (Ethiopia), and 1980 (Paris). I spent a month in Peru this summer and came back with a bunch of Cumbia from the 60’s that I’ve been jamming out to. I’ve also been revisiting Sunny Real Estate after seeing them at Terminal 5 a couple of weeks ago. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a new album from those guys.

Do you have any shows coming up?
I don’t have any shows schedule right now. I just started a new instrumental band with a couple of new dudes I met recently as well as a drummer I played with in an older band. We don’t have a name or demos yet, but we should be playing shows by January.

Listen to Jeff’s solo project here.

CHB Interviews: Melanie Flood

Clinton Hill resident and photographer Melanie Flood (of Melanie Flood Projects) curates art shows out of her Washington Avenue home.  We ask her more.

Photo Credit Carolyn Louth

1. How long have you lived in Clinton Hill?  What brought you here?
I moved to Clinton Hill from the East Village in 2004 to move in with my then boyfriend, now husband, Matt. I’m from Queens, so moving to Brooklyn was a big deal to me. (Sad to admit, Brooklyn is better!)

2. What’s your professional background?  How did you begin curating art shows in your home?

I’ve been taking photographs since 1989, when I received a camera as a Christmas gift.  It’s the only thing I’ve really ever been interested in.  I studied at the School of Visual Arts and received my BFA in Photography. Once I graduated I worked at Zingmagazine, a quarterly art magazine, I became Managing Editor and began curating projects of artists I admired- like Jenny Holzer and Todd Hido. After I left Zing, I worked as the Photo Editor of the New York Observer.  After a three years at the Observer, I decided it was time to focus on my own creative endeavors. While trying to get my photographs shown, I realized how the entire emerging photography community had at some point become an online only situation. It is very difficult to get a gallery show as an emerging artist, unless you want to show in a crowded group show, which requires a participation fee! I felt that it was time to shake things up a bit, and that’s when I decided to open up my home as an alternative venue to show emerging artists. I love the intimate setting of being in a home; people are more relaxed, it’s more of a dinner party atmosphere.

3. What makes the Clinton Hill art scene unique?
What makes it unique is that there isn’t a ‘scene’. You don’t think of Clinton Hill like you would Williamsburg.  What I love about this, is what I love about living in Brooklyn- you have space to think, to work, and to exist, without being in the midst of a hipster-influenced neighborhood. You can create without all these outside influences bombarding you. There are so many wonderfully creative people living right next to each other that I didn’t even know about until I started Melanie Flood Projects- Photographers Christian Patterson, Carey Kirkella, Peter Riesett, artists Sari Carel, Adam Stennett.

4. What’s your favorite thing about the neighborhood?
First and foremost, the diversity. I love that there are people of all ages, races, and religions living on top of one another. I guess New York is like that in general, but our neighborhood really still reminds me of the New York I grew up in. We’re not really labeled as one particular type of place. We’re not Greenpoint, we’re not Park Slope, we’re not the East Village. We do our own thing.

5.  Favorite restaurant:
The General Greene

6. What do you think the neighborhood is lacking?
I used to think stinky cheeses & baguettes. But, now with Fresh Fanatic open, I don’t think it lacks anything. Had you asked me four years ago, I would’ve had a list!

7. Do you have a favorite neighborhood story or experience?
Election night! Myrtle Avenue turned into a late night block party. It was great to see so many smiling, excited faces, organized chaos, passengers hanging out of their car windows, high five-ing police officers, banging on pans, drinking champagne on my corner. I will never forget it.

8. What’s one change you’d like to see in the neighborhood?
I would love if police enforced no commercial traffic on Washington Avenue. It’s a real loud, smelly drag!

9. Subway lines: G or C?
Neither; I walk to Dekalb and Flatbush and take the B/Q.

10. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why?

Cardamon Rose. Sassy & Sweet. Just like me.

Read more about Ms. Flood’s gallery on The Local.

CHB Neighbor Profile: Meet Gnarly Vines Owner Brian Robinson

brian

Do you live in the neighborhood? How long have you lived here?

Brian has lived here for seven years.

Are you involved in any community-based groups?

For six years he was a member of the Clinton Hill CSA and just this year joined the Ft. Greene one. Last year he hosted a wine tasting and potluck for the Ft. Greene CSA. As the father of three young children Brian has been involved in charity events for P.S. 11, The Co-op School, The Dillon Child Study Center, Brooklyn New School and Carousel Children’s Center by contributing wine to their fundraisers or donating private wine tastings for their live auctions. Brian is also an avid swimmer who just participated in the Brooklyn Bridge Swim.

Describe your career path. Is this your first foray into the retail side of the wine business?

Brian started out working in a family business that distributed welding and industrial supplies. At around the age of 30 he left that and started working at Phillips Auctioneers as head of their wine department. This made sense because wine was already a passion for him. His specialty was appraising, authenticating, and cataloging private collections. After a few years at Phillips he moved to Christie’s and later to winebid.com, an internet auction site. Having concluded that he was no longer enamored with the idea of collecting wine, he decided that he wanted to start selling it instead. In November 2007 he opened Gnarly Vines on Myrtle Avenue. Brian first caught the wine bug in the late ‘80’s as an intern for Aire Liquide in Nanterre, a gritty, industrial suburb of Paris. One of the things that struck him while there was how wine was consumed by the common man. He remembers fondly drinking inexpensive, rustic Côtes du Rhône with the truck drivers at lunch in the company cafeteria. Brian eventually received a formal wine education through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), where he earned both the advanced certificate and diploma.

I really appreciate your and your staff’s lack of pretension and the fact that the store carries plenty of great bottles of wine in the $10 range. Could you talk a bit about the store’s philosophy?

Brian says that anyone can pick a winner for $50, whereas in the $10 category you really distinguish yourself by your selection. At the lower price points there is a wide range in quality. When selecting value wines, he first looks for the absence of any obvious flaw. In general Brian tries to avoid mass-produced wines and prefers smaller producers and more environmentally-friendly wines. Brian’s assessment of wine combines both objective and subjective selection criteria. His philosophy is to pick a winner in every category and to not have too much redundancy. He describes his overall wine philosophy as adventurous. He observes that people are typically much more adventurous when it comes to food but relatively conservative (or play it safe) with their wine. He hopes to change that.  Brian is a big proponent of wine tastings and believes that as much as possible people should taste before they buy. He’s been conducting tastings since 1994, and the store provides a great space for them.

Continue reading

CHB Interviews: Jerome Chou of Branch

IMG_8740-300x225

You may have noticed a curious table set up in front of CitiBank’s parking lot at Move About Myrtle the last two Sundays.  The volunteer group, Branch, is dedicated to setting up a temporary public library to counteract library budgetary cuts and reduced operating hours.  I was curious as to how the group got started and how it works.  Branch volunteer Jerome Chou explained.

1. How did Branch come about?  How many people are involved?
The project is a response to the recession and budget cuts that have affected all kinds of public spaces (parks, libraries, transit). Branch creates a low-cost temporary intervention to reclaim public space, in partnership with the people using it.

About a dozen volunteers are involved with the temporary Sunday library, but we really see this as a community-based project.  For instance, about 150 people signed up for library cards on opening day last week, and we asked them to recommend a book for our collection, and to write it down on a book cover (we have a lot of donated printer surplus covers). We installed over 100 of those covers on the fence along the parking lot. So visitors are basically curating the content and transforming the space collectively–that’s the goal of the project. This week, we’ll be asking people for their ideas about designing and programming the space.

IMG_0992.JPG

2. Is the program directly affiliated with the Brooklyn Public Library?  If not, how have they responded to the project?
We’re not affiliated with the BPL, but we’re all big supporters. We’re thrilled that starting this weekend they’re able to resume Sunday services and late-night hours at a number of branches throughout Brooklyn. We hope that our project gets people talking about how important libraries are, especially in a recession.

3. How does Branch work?  Where do you get the books from?  Do people need to get a library card?
People sign up to get a library card, which is free to anyone, and Branch will be open 1-5pm every Sunday until the end of October. We’re getting donations from publishing houses and individuals, but we definitely need more help with books–especially with the “wishlist” that visitors are generating (it’s going up on our website, www.branchlibrary.org). At the end of September we’ll begin loaning books, with a one-book-per-visit limit. In the meantime, we’re providing a “reading room” complete with lawn chairs, free sunday papers, and earplugs.

4. How did you end up at the bank parking lot?  How long will Branch be operating there?
Our original idea was to house the project in a vacant storefront, but we couldn’t find landlords who were willing to rent space one day a week. One of our volunteers contacted MARP through an urban planners network, and MARP suggested hosting the project on the Citibank lot as part of their Move About Myrtle events in September. Citibank agreed to allow us to use the lot until the end of October.

IMG_0993.JPG

5. What is your background, and how did you get involved with this project?
I’d been going to the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library almost every Sunday until it closed. It seemed like terrible timing–there were a lot of news reports about how people were using libraries more than ever in the recession. I talked to a group of friends–designers, artists, planners, librarians–and we all felt like we could use this time to start a community organizing and design project: work with local residents, pool our resources, use low-cost or donated materials, and create a temporary public space.

I’ve worked as a community organizer for Brooklyn ACORN, a city planner for Baltimore City, a project manager with the firm Field Operations on Freshkills Park, and with the Design Trust for Public Space. Branch combines a little of all of those things–organizing, public space, design, and a lot of logistics.

6. What do you foresee the future of public libraries to be?
I’m not an expert, but it’s pretty obvious if you visit the BPL main branch on Sundays that the library is an amazing resource, and will be for a long time–as long as there’s adequate funding.

7. How can someone get involved with Branch?  Does Branch have several locations, or just in Clinton Hill?
Anyone can get involved: just e-mail librarybranch@gmail.com or visit us every Sunday to volunteer, donate books, or just sit and read the Sunday New York Post. We’re just in Clinton Hill this fall, but definitely this model could be replicated. We got an e-mail from someone in the Bronx asking about it.

8. What neighborhood do you live in?  What’s your favorite thing about Clinton Hill?
I live in Crown Heights, but I’ve lived in 3 different apartments in Clinton Hill. One great thing is we’ve talked to people from every kind of background–racial, economic, you name it.

9. Any favorite Move About Myrtle activities?  (aside from Branch, of course!)
I’m dying to check out the Roller Rink.

10. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why?
Coffee Oreo–it’s my favorite, might as well be it.

CHB Interviews: Alex Sniderman

alexs

I recently sat down in Tillie’s with Clinton Hill resident Alex Sniderman, member of The Nu-Sonics, to talk about Wayne Kramer, the neighborhood and being a musician in NYC.

A: So, what can I tell you first?

G: Well, I definitely want to hear the MC5/Wayne Kramer story.

A: Everybody wants to hear that one. I grew up mostly in Tennessee, outside Nashville and, this is all ancient history now, but there used to be a record store called Tower Records—remember that? They had a magazine, Tower Pulse, and I had a band at the time called the Tone Def White Boys. We were sort of flailing around, trying to get shows and do things. A friend of mine volunteered to play drums and he was not really a drummer, but he was having some success as a singer-songwriter. Through a weird series of coincidences, he had a really great gig at the hip spot at the time in Nashville on a Friday night. His opening band bailed and he didn’t have anybody.

Anyway, we read in Tower Pulse that Wayne Kramer from the MC5 had moved to Nashville and we thought that was kind of weird.

We were rehearsing for this gig and we were terribly nervous because there was going to be a crowd there and it’s a small town. My feeling was that if you suck…

G: …You have to start over?

A: Yeah. So, we were all just totally nervous and rehearsing like crazy. The more we rehearsed, the worse we got. And so, to break the tension, we started joking, “we should call Wayne Kramer and get him to be our guitar player. Haha, wouldn’t that be a laugh?” We kept goading each other and finally I said, “I’m calling information and if he’s listed, you have to call him,” pointing to the bass player, Josh. I called and he was in there, so Josh had to call him. He called him up and he (Wayne Kramer) thought the name was hilarious. It was the Tone Def White boys, D-E-F, which was kind of a mistake because everyone thought we were a rap group…

G: Or mistook you for something like Def Leopard?

A: Right, that too. He thought that the band name was hilarious and thought that we were spunky and we just happened to have this good gig on a Friday night in a nice club, and there was a little story in the paper about us, so I think that may have convinced him. “We’ll put you on the guest list!,” like that’s going to impress him—I’m sure he’d never been on a guest list before.

So, it was a big laugh and we didn’t expect anything from it. Secretly, of course, maybe. I don’t even know if I’d ever heard the MC5 at that point.

The time came to do the gig and I remember standing upstairs in the dressing room and being like, “this is it. I’m going to have to move after this gig.” We came down and from the first note it was just magical. We all felt it. There was this synergy and it was very palpable with the audience. Everybody went crazy. I stood up on stage and felt like, “this is where I’m supposed to be and everything makes sense.” I was totally overwhelmed by the fact that we were any good, much less the fact that we were stomping and cheering.

I had forgotten all about our little phone call earlier in the week, but Josh was like, “is there a Wayne Kramer in the audience?” And a guy at the bar raised his hand! We went over to talk to him and he was like, “you guys were great. Who wrote those songs? We have to make a record!”
Continue reading

Saturday is Clinton Hill Day

dsc01417-copy

(pic by Clinton Hill Chill)

Clinton Hill Day, a neighbor-organized celebration, takes place tomorrow in the PS11 park.  I asked Clinton Hill Chill, one of the event’s founders, to tell me more about the event’s history and what will be going on this weekend (the 11th annual event).

1. What is Clinton Hill Day and how did it start?

– Clinton Hill Day is a Community, family and friends BBQ/Park Jam. It started 11 years ago by a group of us, teens to early twenties, initially for one of their birthdays. We pooled our monies together, for a dj, tables & chairs, cotton candy & snowcone machine plus enough food to feed the whole hood. In the 70’s to early 80’s this kind of thing was commonplace, but there’s a whole era, that missed out on this. Seeing so many people, from elders to kids, having a good time, we decided to have it every year thereafter as a day to celebrate the neighborhood and community we come from.


2. What kinds of activities usually take place?

-There’s usually some games for the kids. Every year there’s also a dance routine put on by some of the neighborhood kids. For me as an adult its just a day to grill out, kick it with family, friends, neighbors, listen to music and absorb everything I love about the hood.

3. If a neighbor wants to drop by and share in the fun, what can we bring?  Food?  Games?

-Everyone is welcome! Unless your coming to challenge someone to a throwdown ala Bobby Flay I don’t think bringing food is a necessity. A lot of people bring there own grills-myself included but there’s also a community grill to feed everyone…if you want to bring something feel free. Also make sure to bring positive energy and good vibes, there can never be enough of that!

4. Who comes up with the cool t-shirt ideas? [the ‘Clinton Hill Chill’ t-shirts originated at this event a few years back]

My friend Twin who’s been a key organizer of Clinton Hill Day from day and Guz Designs located on Putnam betw. & Grand ave & Cambridge place. The first few years it would have the date and year but since he stopped doing that shirts have become some what of a hood staple.

See you there!

CHB Interviews: Deb Howard

Recently I met with Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) Executive Director Deb Howard in her office on Dekalb Avenue.

deb1

Hi Deb.  Do you live in the neighborhood?  How long have you lived here?
She said she lives on Adelphi Street and has lived in the neighborhood since 1974.

Where were you educated?  Please describe your career path.  How did you get involved in housing advocacy work?
Deb has a B.A. in Urban Studies from Knox College.  During her senior year she participated in an urban studies project in Chicago.  After that she became a VISTA volunteer for two years at “The Voice of the People,” where she got involved in tenant organizing and helped manage apartment buildings.  But she says that it was primarily music that brought her to New York City.  In 1974 she and a bunch of friends rented a triplex apartment on Clermont for $300 a month and started auditioning for different rock operas.  Two of them got into “Hair.” In the mid-1970s Deb ended up traveling all around the country performing in both “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” After her daughter was born in 1984, Deb became a stay-at-home mom.  She remembers coming across a job ad for a housing advocate in the window of PACC’s office on Dekalb Avenue and thinking this was something she could clearly do.  On January 2, 1990, she started working at PACC.  At the time, the organization only had three employees and a bookkeeper.  Now the community development corporation (CDC) boasts almost 60 employees and four offices.

What other community-based groups are you involved with?  I know that you sing with the wonderful Lafayette Inspirational Ensemble which is based at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church.  Could you talk a bit about the latter and what it means to you?
Deb was a founding member of the Lafayette Inspirational Ensemble 14 years ago.  Unfortunately her busy schedule often conflicts with the group’s concert and rehearsal schedule, so she no longer sings with them regularly.  As a member of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, she sings in the main choir every Sunday. She’s had a passion for singing since at least the age of 5. At the church she’s the chair of the capital campaign and has overseen the roof and church tower renovation as well as the restoration of seven stained-glass windows.  In addition to being active at the church, Deb serves on two boards:  South Brooklyn Legal Services and as treasurer of the Association of Neighborhood Housing Developers.  She also mentioned that she was the president of Friends of the Clinton Hill Library for 17 years organizing their fundraising events but had to give it up when she became the executive director of PACC.  She regrets that the organization was not as active after her departure and hopes that it’ll somehow be revived, perhaps by a local young mother who can find time for the commitment.

What are some of your favorite places in the neighborhood?
Deb loves the Irondale Theater Center, which found a great space as its home in Ft. Greene.  She also spoke enthusiastically about Jamel Gaines’ Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn which has Saturday classes at The Ronald Edmonds Learning Center MS113 on Adelphi.  As for local restaurants, she said she frequents Chez Oscar and the Black Iris, especially because she often works late, and they’re convenient to the office.  Deb also mentioned Yu Interiors as a great place for Christmas gifts.  In general, Deb loves architecture and looking at historic buildings.  A couple of the buildings she’s been obsessed with are 418-422 Classon Avenue between Quincy and Gates, one of PACC’s recently completed projects, and the old Brooklyn Fire Dept. Headquarters on Jay Street.

deb2

The Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) is celebrating its 45th anniversary and will hold a big party on October 21st at the Irondale Center.  I asked Deb to talk about some of their current projects and to tell me about some of the work they do that CHB readers may not be aware of.
Deb highlighted four major areas in which PACC is active and stressed that one of its key functions is to link individuals to other groups and to engage in coalition building.

* Advocacy issues: PACC focuses on issues that affect the community such as affordable housing and economic justice and works in partnership with other organizations to effect legislative change in Albany.
* Issue of predatory equity: This refers to private equity funds and developers who purchased rent-stabilized buildings at untenable prices during the recent real estate boom. Many of these buildings are now in jeopardy and tenants in danger of possible foreclosure. For example, PACC worked hard to get the Anti-Harassment Act passed in City Council in May 2008 and this spring in Albany to strengthen vacancy de-control laws which were weakened in 2004.  This piece of legislation protects older tenants from landlords who try to harass them out of their rent-stabilized apartments so that they can raise the rent above $2,000.  As an example, she names Dermot Realty, which bought up 25 buildings in Downtown Brooklyn and has been notorious in harassing older tenants.  PACC is instrumental in helping tenants to organize against such tactics by aggressive developers.
* Home foreclosure: They have three counselors on staff to help people struggling with possible home loss. PACC helps people stay in their homes. She notes how Central Brooklyn (thru Jamaica, Queens) was targeted by subprime lenders. Due to Obama’s housing legislation, more loan modifications are now possible.  Last year, they saved 146 homes, and they hope to save 190 this year.  Her organization is very active in the state-wide coalition “New Yorkers for Responsible Lending,” which promotes community economic justice and works to eliminate discriminatory economic practices.  PACC also offers practical homebuyer workshops on an ongoing basis.  The cost for attending all five workshops is $50, at the end of which you receive a certificate enabling you to get access to affordable mortgages and free counseling.
* Commercial revitalization/economic development: The goal being “targeted attention” to the revitalization of commercial corridors. They recently received a $200,000 grant from the Main Street program for façade improvements on Fulton Street between Grand and Bedford Avenues. Another achievement she mentioned is PACC’s initiative and persistence  in encouraging Capital One Bank to open a new branch on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Fulton Street. Before it opened a few weeks ago there were no banks in a 23-block stretch of the street.  Capital One has a strong small-business lending policy.  She also pointed to the Fulton Street Business Improvement District (BID), which PACC was instrumental in helping get signed into law last December.  Fulton Street business owners’ monthly assessments of $80 per 20 ft of storefront will begin in October, and the BID board expects to launch their program in September.

At their June 24th Annual Meeting, which was held at Gibb Mansion on Gates Avenue, they elected three new members to their Board of Directors: Tom Eastman, Lincoln Restler, and Jabir Suluki.  The election of the new Board was followed by a lively discussion by Benjamin Dulchin, Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), and Keith Getter, management consultant at Neighborworks America, about the role nonprofits have today in preserving affordable housing.  Though both acknowledged that these are tough times, the consensus seemed to be that PACC is in better shape than most nonprofits because it is fiscally sound. Additionally, PACC believes in and has built partnerships and coalitions which play a role in navigating successfully through stressful economic times.

Would you like to comment on the current status of the Fulton Street BID?
Deb believes that the BID will be beneficial to merchants and is convinced that there’s a real benefit for it to be associated with a community development corporation. One of the chief aims of the BID is to provide targeted marketing for businesses, something which has been proven to bring new business to commercial corridors.  In the case of the Fulton Street BID, particular emphasis will be placed on sanitation, security, and marketing.  Among the items slated for the program’s launch this fall are a new website, a holiday marketing campaign, better street cleaning, security personnel and holiday lighting.  Deb said the BID will enable them to attract capital dollars for the street so that it can be spruced up even more. In fact, Councilwoman Letitia James has just awarded the BID a $400,000 grant for new benches, banners, flower pots and garbage cans on 23 blocks of Fulton Street.

Which new projects are you particularly excited about?
One of PACC’s key roles in the community is as an asset and property manager to maintain the affordable housing it has developed. PACC acquires and develops properties coordinating construction and long-term financing and applying for various types of subsidies to make them affordable.  Typically this requires a commitment of 30 years or more. The organization currently manages 57 buildings comprising a total of 550 residential and commercial units, but this year they’ll add about 300 new units.  They anticipate launching a  property management business in February 2010 as a new income stream that will help ensure organizational sustainability.  Their new office at 900 Fulton Street was opened explicitly for this purpose.

Finally, I asked how people in the neighborhood can support her organization and get more involved in the important work it’s doing.
Deb said that they can become a member of PACC and start attending their quarterly breakfasts to gather info and see how to become involved in community housing work.  One way would be to start by joining the PACC Leadership Group or Young Friends of PACC, the housing or economic development committees which advise the PACC Board.  And of course people can always make donations.  For more information, please visit their website at www.prattarea.org. You can also follow them on Facebook.

CHB Interviews: Helen Lim, Massage Therapist

IMG_0490

I’ve been having a few very rough weeks at work, leading to sleepless nights and sore back muscles.  When I heard that a neighbor certified in massage therapy had an at-home massage service, I jumped at the chance and invited her to come by.

Helen showed up on the dot, toting a giant padded bag containing a portable massage table (when set up, it was just as sturdy and comfy as a table at a spa).  She set up in my bedroom and, after asking me what was bothering me (pinchy neck, tight shoulders), proceeded to give me one of the most intuitive massages ever.  What could be better than having the massage come to you after a long day at work?

Being that Helen is a CH resident, I couldn’t resist asking her some questions about massage, as well as her background and experiences in the neighborhood.

1. How long have you lived in the neighborhood?  What brought you here?

I have been living in Clinton Hill since 2005 with a small break in
California for about 9 months.  I am a native New Yorker so I have
always been here.  I have lived in Astoria, Greenpoint, Williamsburg
and now Clinton Hill. It has been my favorite place to live so far and
I hope to stay.

2. How did you become a massage therapist?  What did you do before this?

I went to an accredited school called the Swedish Institute and
received an associate’s in occupational studies.  Before that I was
working at a music venue called N6.  Massage therapy is my first
career where as many people who enter the profession do it as a second
or third.

3. Tell us about some of the benefits of massage.  How can regular
massage be helpful?

The benefits depend on what the client needs.  The overall benefit is
stress reduction.  Regular massage is a great way to prevent injuries,
heal a recent injury quicker or to manage a chronic condition.  I
recommend a certain amount of sessions based on the client’s needs.

4. You’re currently doing house calls.  What does a client need to do
to prep for a visit?

Not much. Just make sure there is enough space for a massage table.
If the client wants to have music, set that up.  Its really up to
them.  I bring sheets and the oil.

5. You’ll be opening a home office for massage appointments in August.
Did you have to set your place up creatively to accommodate for your
business?

I haven’t set the home office up yet but I am imagining that I will
need to be creative in setting up something professional in my home.
I want it to remain warm and inviting but feel like you are still
coming to a place of professionalism.

6. What kind of massage do you?  How does that compare to the
massages classically offered at a spa?(shiatsu, deep tissue, hot
stone, sports, etc)

The massages offered at a spa are parallel to what I offer.  I do
deep-tissue, swedish, shiatsu, pre-natal.  I just do these services in
the comfort of the person’s home as of now.  when I have the home
office, I will offer the same services but all these treatments are
geared to be therapeutic as opposed to a “luxurious treat” which spas
tend to offer more of that.  Spas are a once every year or twice at
most.  I would really like people to think about incorporating massage
as a monthly regimen.  The results are amazing when you are consistent
with it.  I guess that goes for anything that is good for you.

7. What is your favorite place to hang out in the neighborhood?

I have to say I find myself dropping dollars at Choice Greene these
days.  The sandwiches are heavenly and the nice back yard space makes
for a serene lunch break.  The ladies at Sweet Revenge are awesome and
I like to grab a cocktail from time to time.

8. What’s the one thing (if any) you feel the neighborhood is missing?

A korean restaurant!  I love the food of my people and if I didn’t
have to go to Queens to get it, more power to the nabe.  I am sure
other people would agree, right? [Ed. YES!  Great idea!]

9. Atlantic Yards: Yay or Ney?

I say ney for a few reasons.  I don’t think all the promises that have
been made by the developers and the city to give the people they are
goingto displace a home is true.  I actually went to ask questions
about this project a few years back to the councilman in prospect
heights and he advocated all the jobs it would create to first help
build it and then to run and maintain it.  I do think that more jobs
would be positive.The traffic would be horrible as it already is
pretty congested on Atlantic ave.  It seems like a very complicated
thing.

10. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why?
Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup. I won’t hand over all the goods of
me at first.  You need to work and dig to find the rewards; as it
should be.  And when you do, you’ll be glad you did.

(Want to try out your own massage at home?  Email her for pricing and appointments at helen.massage-at-gmail-dot-com.)