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.

5. In your opinion, what is the Partnership's biggest success? I guess I’d consider our biggest success the fact that with all of the economic development work we’ve done on Myrtle over the last decade, and with all the private and public money that we’ve helped to attract, that we’ve still managed to keep it a predominantly locally-owned retail strip with a high percentage of minority business owners. The corridor actually has a higher percentage (about 78% at the moment) of minority- and woman-owned businesses today than it did when MARP started. That, along with the fact that 97% of the businesses are still independent and locally owned, is evidence that MARP’s strategy of gradual, community-based economic development that has a strong grounding in preserving neighborhood character and context, can minimize the retail gentrification and small business displacement that can often accompany major economic development initiatives and the emphasis of new construction over the preservation of existing building stock.

6. What do you hope to see in the next ten years? I’m anxious to see the pedestrian plaza and major streetscape improvements we’ve spearheaded between Hall and Emerson completed (estimated to be done in about 3 years), and to see the remaining vacant lots along Myrtle and down by Flatbush get developed with attractive buildings. Other than that, I’d like to see Myrtle Avenue with a healthy retail mix, full of interesting, independent businesses, with the sidewalks fully planted with street trees large enough to provide a mature tree canopy, with all the historic buildings fully restored and all the storefronts with open-mesh security gates (or no gates), and fully-functioning and reliable B54 bus service.

7. Any advice for Phillipp Kellogg, the head of the new Fulton BID? Phillip and I know each other well, and I think the new Fulton BID is in very good hands. We’ve already spoken a few times since he started, and my staff and I are here to help Phillip in any way that we can. Once some of the basic BID services are up and running, I recommended that he work on raising some outside funding to help property owners rehabilitate some of the rundown historic buildings through matching grants, particularly on the Clinton Hill end of the avenue, and to work to fill those retail spaces with businesses to lower the vacancy rate and attract foot traffic.

8. What kind of services does the Partnership provide to local businesses on the avenue? The Partnership provides most of the traditional services that a BID provides (Maintenance/Sanitation, Marketing, and Beautification), plus a lot more due to the additional fundraising and programs that MARP is able to provide. The Partnership oversees the marketing program for the avenue, which includes everything from our branding campaign, ‘Home Grown & Locally Owned,' to special events like our recent ‘Move About Myrtle’ events on Sundays in September, to special promotions and programs like the Holiday Windows Contest, Explore Myrtle Avenue, the Myrtle Windows Gallery and our Public Sculpture Program.  We also created and manage the website, and our quarterly email newsletter and Facebook profile. The Partnership pays for sidewalk sweeping on Myrtle seven days a week, 14-hours a day, to keep the avenue clean and to prevent the garbage cans from overflowing, and we get graffiti removed once a month. We provide a lot of one-on-one assistance if a merchant is dealing with a problem with a city agency or utility company, and do what we can to cut the red-tape that they all inevitably face at one point or another. We provide a lot of assistance when it comes to new entrepreneurs looking for a retail space on Myrtle, and will help to negotiate leases with property owners that we know. We provide signage improvement matching grants of up to $1000, and façade improvement matching grants or interior build-out matching grants for historic buildings of up to $10,0000. We also have a summer youth mentorship program that currently places 15 high school students from Ingersoll, Whitman, and Farragut Houses at each of 15 Myrtle businesses. The Partnership pays their salaries for 20 hours/week, while the merchant provides supervision. A lot of our other programs are not necessarily direct assistance to businesses, but rather focus on the avenue as a whole as we continually work to draw more foot traffic to the retail corridor and improve its public space. For example, we facilitate the planting of new street trees, pay to have the young trees watered twice a week during the warm months, pay to have the tree pits weeded and mulched about twice a year, and do a lot of urban planning work and advocacy to improve the streetscape and transportation infrastructure in the area. We also have a Food Access Initiative, which has helped to start-up the Fort Greene CSA two years ago, spearheaded the creation of the Ingersoll Community Garden between Prince and Ashland, and is doing its best to attract a new supermarket down by Flatbush.

9. How can someone get involved with the Partnership?  Are there volunteer opportunities available? The MARP board actually has a few open seats available, and the nominating committee will be meeting with potential candidates over the coming months. So if you have a lot of energy, passion, and skills to devote to a local organization like MARP, I encourage people to get in touch with us so I can forward their resume to the board. We do have a lot of people get in touch with us expressing interest in volunteering, and we’ve honestly had a hard time leveraging all of this interest because we do not sufficient personnel to properly manage volunteers and potential projects that they could work on. In particular, we’ve had a lot of young professionals who work in the urban planning field approach us about creating a sort of a Fort Greene/Clinton Hill Urban Planner Corps that we can rely on to help us with facilitating Charrettes and community outreach projects, but again, we haven’t had the capacity to take this on yet. It would be great to have some help with this if any of your readers are particularly passionate about getting involved.

10. I won't ask you to pick an absolute favorite hangout given your position, but where do you like to grab a bite or relax locally? Well, I really try to mix it up a lot, given that I know how important it is to support the neighborhood’s independent businesses. And given that I work on Myrtle and live closer to Myrtle, I try and show a lot of love to DeKalb and Fulton on the weekends, and also tend to explore the other great neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I really can’t think of a place that I frequent a lot more than any other, with the exception of the Fort Greene GreenMarket every Saturday morning.

11. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why? I’d have to go with Cherry Garcia. Part yuppie, part hippie, with irregularly-shaped chocolate bits.

Bike Shop at 478 Myrtle?

bikes Last week, I noticed that the space formerly occupied by the Healthy Body vitamin shop (478 Myrtle) has been transformed into a bike shop!  I remember the space was once a makeshift bike shop and repair outfit, and now it seems to be back.

The folks at the Myrtle Ave Partnership confirmed that it's the same operator as before (and the owner of the building).  No word yet on whether the shop is temporary or permanent.

Barking Brown to Add a Second Location

Back in 2006, readers were less than pleased when a Quiznos opened on Myrtle Avenue. (And yes, CHB has been publishing since 2006!) We had all hoped for a non-chain. They've since closed.


A source tells me that Barking Brown will be opening a second location there in order to split up their products (clothing and accessories).


Their current store is located at 468 Myrtle between Washington and Hall.

Myrtle Windows Being Painted for the Holidays!

Artists are beginning to paint their windows on Myrtle Ave storefronts.  Local artist and friend of CHB Ellie Balk will be painting on Sunday and invited readers to stop by: "HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS"

Please join me at Karen's Body Beautiful (MYRTLE-BTWN WAVERLY/CLINTON) this SATURDAY/SUNDAY as I create a "Stained Glass" Map on the front window for the MARP Myrtle Ave. Windows Project.

• Holiday windows will be on display through the end of December and all visitors and shoppers will be able to vote via text message for their favorite storefront design from Monday, November 23rd until Sunday, December 13th (winners will be announced shortly afterward).

The Project from Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project (MARP):  "We hope that this unique program will help to drive visitors to the avenue to view your works, and to support our merchants (the majority of whom are local, independent, small business owners) during this holiday season by shopping locally."

Ellie painted the beautiful mural on the side of Tillie's!

Designing the Myrtle Avenue Pedestrian Plaza

Plaza Bloga The deadline for the Myrtle Avenue Pedestrian Plaza Call for Ideas is TOMORROW.  (The service road near Bergen Bagel was chosen this past spring as a NYC DOT Public Plaza Project site.)

For more info on how to submit, check out the post on Myrtle Minutes.

MARP has also set up a Facebook group to follow the progress and to allow people to submit ideas, news and feedback.

As evidenced by the packed tables outside of Bergen Bagel during Move About Myrtle, this plaza will be well-used.

Myrtle Holiday Windows Returns!

Holiday Windows_ JOSEPH TYLER SALON  (5) It's hard to believe that the holiday season is almost here once again.  That said, Saturday is November 1!

Myrtle Ave Partnership will once again be coordinating a holiday window painting contest for storefronts on Myrtle Ave.  If you're artistically inclined, please consider submitting an idea.  last year's entries were awesome.

The Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership is excited to announce the second annual Myrtle Holiday Windows Contest!

To usher in this holiday season we’re inviting local artists to use storefront windows along Myrtle Avenue as a canvas for festive holiday art, and to compete for some great prizes at the same time! The goal of the project is to bring contemporary art and holiday cheer to the Myrtle Avenue streetscape while helping to promote both local businesses and artists. Artists or small teams of artists will be paired with local merchants to create a festive holiday window design in a portion of the storefront window.

The window ‘decorating’ must occur Thursday, November 12th through Sunday November 15th, bringing creative holiday spirit – and hopefully shoppers – to Myrtle Avenue throughout the weekend. The holiday windows will be on display through the end of December and all visitors and shoppers will be able to vote via text message for their favorite storefront design until Sunday, December 13th (winners will be announced shortly afterward).  The top three designs will be awarded Myrtle Avenue gift certificates valued at $250 (first place), $100 (second place) and $50 (third place).

Visit our blog from last year to view the winning windows:

Visit our Flickr site for photos of all the 2008 holiday windows:


  • The materials used to create the holiday window scene may include paint, lights, paper, or any other material agreed upon between the artist and the merchant.  Be creative!
  • If paint is used, it must be temporary and easily removable (all products applied to the windows must be removable and must not damage the glass in any way). Painting will take place on the INSIDE surface of the storefront window.
  • The Partnership will supply a $50 stipend per storefront window to cover supplies and services.
  • If selected, artists must commit to painting their assigned window between Thursday November 12th and Monday November 16th. This time can be determined during discussions with the merchant partner.
  • Artists must include the Myrtle merchant in the design process to ensure that the concept is appropriate for their business.   At least one, in-person meeting to discuss preliminary ideas is required.  The merchants are very excited about this project, and looking forward to working with a local artist. Some of the most popular designs in 2008 creatively incorporated the business theme somehow. This is not required, just an idea to provide some inspiration!

How to apply to become a Myrtle Holiday Windows ARTIST:

Please send the following VIA EMAIL to by Wednesday, November 4th:

  • Name, address, telephone and email contact information
  • Select up to three Myrtle Avenue businesses that you would like to work with from the list below(or you can let us pair you with a Myrtle merchant if you don’t have a preference).
  • Very briefly, tell us about your proposed design ideas for the storefront window.
  • A simple sketch, photo or other imagery that represents your idea would be very helpful
  • Photos or links to examples of your past work.

Lunchtime With Tillie: Maggie Brown

“Must … get … food. Somehow, someway … must eat.” Those, my friends, are the words of a hungry man whose daughter is transitioning to a later naptime.

Hey everyone, It’s Van and Little Miss New Nap Schedule Tillie, with more “Lunchtime” adventures. I was almost afraid we’d have to change the name to “Dinner With Tillie” since she’s sleeping now from late morning to early afternoon. But we made it out before Happy Hour and went to Maggie Brown on Myrtle Avenue for our latest excursion.

So our day, like most LWT days, started off pretty regularly: There was nothing major on the agenda, except for a little playground action, which we knocked out in the morning. We came home and I tried to put her to sleep, thinking she’d be up at a reasonable hour for lunch. Well, turns out that plan of mine wasn’t what she was looking to do, which she made pretty clear to me by jumping up and down in her crib. I took her out of it and brought her to her little play area with the idea of that winding her down. But by the time she started showing some signs of exhaustion, it was 12:30! That’s around the time we go out! I guess she’s good, but what was I going to do? The only thing I had for breakfast was a snack pack of Lorna Doone cookies!

I could’ve fixed something or ordered delivery, but that would’ve been pretty lame: “Lunchtime With Tillie’s at Van’s House.” And this was the only day this week we were going to be able to go out, working around our busy story-time and play-group schedule. So I buckled down and got ready for the test of my endurance. After two hours and some change, just when I started hallucinating and seeing visions of pizzas dancing around my head, she woke up! Sure, it was 2:45, but I figured we could make it out quick enough. Good thing I packed up her stroller with her food while she was out.

We’re walking down the street to our original destination, and all I can think of is “food, here I come!” Then Tillie starts coughing and the next thing I know, she spits up all over herself! So we took a U-turn back to the house, threw on some fresh gear and were out once again.

As it was now about 3:15 and I was about to start eating Tillie’s Goldfish crackers, I figured we should go somewhere a little closer to the house. Maggie Brown, which is almost across the street (and makes one of the best burgers around), was the way to go.

We got there and the dining room area was completely empty. It was a nice day, so everyone must be outside, I thought, so we might as well join them. There was only one other table seated, to my advantage, as there would be fewer obstacles to getting a quick meal.

I took a look at the menu to make sure there was nothing new to veer me away from my usual: a Maggie Brown burger with bacon and cheese. (I know I write about them a lot, but I promise there’s more to my diet than bacon and cheese!) I placed my order, then took out Tillie’s food: some elbow macaroni with spaghetti sauce, zucchini and spinach I made the day before for her. Tillie’s mom and I thought this would be a good way to get the baby some green veggies in her system. I got called out the day before by TM for the lack of vegetables in the pasta and I was all defensive, telling her I just cut them small; that’s why it doesn’t look like a lot.


As I fed Tillie this serving, though, I realized her food was pretty skimpy on the spinach and zucchini. So after calling Tillie’s mom and apologizing for being indignant, I went back to feeding Tillie.

Before T got halfway through her food, mine came out (I guess there’s something to be said for late dining) and it was one of the most beautiful sights my eyes had come across all day (after T and TM, of course)! I ate a couple of those golden-brown fries to appease my appetite as I still had Tillie-feeding to do. I gave Tillie a couple of more bites of her light-on-the-veggies pasta before taking a bite of my big, juicy burger, which was just perfect. Maggie Brown does the bacon cheeseburger right: Melt the cheese over the bacon, then you don’t have rogue pieces slipping out and you get the winning combination in every bite. Amazing!

After that first bite, I knew I needed more right away. I didn’t bring any finger food for Tillie to eat, but luckily, I could slip her a fry or two or eight to manage while I worked on the burger. Then I could work in more macaroni for her, too. It was a delicate operation, but we pulled it off! She had half a banana for dessert and then we started to pack up.


I would say the whole experience was worth the wait. We got to sit outside on a lovely afternoon, I had a great lunch with excellent service and Tillie was in a pleasant, well-rested mood. My meal wasn’t the cheapest on the block at $12.50 (adding bacon and cheese will get you every time), but was well worth it. If you have the inclination and time to spare, I recommend going. It’s a perfect spot for the post-nap crowd!

Lunchtime With Tillie: La Stalla

Hey there, neighborhood! Van here (and Tillie there) with the latest on dining for the infant and adult set.Before I get into the story of our trip to Mexican/Italian restaurant La Stalla on Myrtle and Ryerson, I’d like to share a brief tale with you, of simpler times, of happier times at that location. I call this, “When La Stalla Was Los Politos II.”

Once upon a time, there was a restaurant called Los Politos II that was really good; I used to even think it was better than Castro’s. Then one day, it became La Stalla, which serves both Mexican and Italian food. I never tried the Italian, but the Mexican was nowhere near Los Politos, yet I still held out hope it would measure up. It never did. The end.

So that’s a little background on where I’m coming from with La Stalla. It’s been hard for me to accept Los Politos being gone, but every now and then I’ll go to its successor looking to recapture the magic of the past. That’s what partially inspired me to take Tillie there (plus the fact it’s right across the street from our house doesn’t hurt!)

Anyway, we went—shells and cheese and a banana in tow—on one of these cool autumn afternoons that we’ve been having. I thought the place would’ve been fairly empty, but there were a few tables filled. We took one close to the window and got some key Tillie ingredients to set us up for success: a high chair and a menu, which our extremely nice waitress left behind for her to play with.


I took a look at my own menu and decided to go with the enchilada. I asked our waitress which sauce had more kick to it and was told the green did, so I went with red because I thought Tillie could have a bite or two of corn tortilla.

While waiting for my order, I decided to start feeding Tillie some of her go-to meal, the old shells and cheese. She had a few bites, and then my food arrived. It came in no time at all, but right away I had some issues with it.

You see, I really don’t get the idea of it being a Mexican/Italian restaurant with separate options. You either do some kind of funky fusion or have two separate staffs working on each side of the menu (which La Stalla might have, I don’t know) or you don’t do it at all. I think both sides are bound to suffer.

So I don’t know if my nose was playing tricks on me or what, but I swear my enchilada smelled like it was covered in spaghetti sauce! It actually took me a minute before I tried it. While I was steeling myself for that, I looked at the rest of my food: a big mound of gummy-looking rice and the skimpiest amount of black beans distributed on Myrtle Avenue. The bean-to-rice ratio was definitely off here! lwtlastalla-food

I got up the nerve and tasted the enchilada, and while it wasn’t spaghetti sauce on top, it wasn’t anything that I’d be interested in trying again. I tried to offer Tillie a bite and she just turned her head away. Smart kid, that one! I wished I could have done the same, but I soldiered through and ate it.

After that, I broke out the banana for Tillie, which she was pretty excited about. I thought to myself, “Man, it must be nice to be happy about something your eating!” Once she finished that, we were off.

I have to give La Stalla this: Its lunch special ($6.95) is one of the best-priced that I’ve come across, and it includes a free soda. The staff there was super-friendly and there’s plenty of space for your stroller (I didn’t even have to fold ours up). The food on the other hand leaves a lot to be desired.

I guess I have to face facts: Los Politos isn’t miraculously coming back and it’s time for me to move on. But I’ll always have the memories.

30 Days of Yoga for $30! ENDS THURSDAY

Move With Grace's 30 days of yoga for $30 deal expired Wednesday... but she's willing to extend it ONE DAY ONLY FOR CHB READERS!  Readers must purchase the special online by 7pm, Thursday, October 1.

Today is the final day to sign up for the $30 for 30 days of Yoga!

After today new students can still try us out for for one including ALL classes on the schedule for $49 for 30days.

The Fall special for membership at the studio is $79/month for your first 3 months and then $89 for the remaining months. One may cancel after 6 months.

Click HERE for the yoga special!

Move With Grace 469 Myrtle Ave

CHB Interviews: Theresa King, Myrtle El Photographer

1. Where in Brooklyn did you grow up? Tell us a little about the Brooklyn childhood experience. Until I was seven years old, we lived in Bedford Stuyvesant as tenants in a brownstone. My father then took a position in Brighton Beach where we lived for many years and where I graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School. I then left Brighton and spent some years on Clinton Avenue, Franklin Avenue and Atlantic Avenue which was my last apartment in Brooklyn.

As a child and young adult, I recall the warmth of the different neighborhoods, the feeling of extended family, the variety of images, street games, schools, - the local candy stores where we were always made to feel welcome, the unique vistas from each neighborhood and most certainly the diversity of the population. Is there a Brooklynite of my generation who can ever forget the delicious smells from the local bakeries? Brooklyn is an awakening of the senses and a unique, diverse and special universe of its own and I am proud to have been raised there.

2. How was the El different from the subway? Did people prefer one or the other?

The elevated trains brought light, air and street life to those riding them. One was no longer on a subway under the ground where dark walls, fellow passengers and Ms. Subways and other ads were your only companions.  Indeed our subways take us quickly from one station to another while we read, doze, study, and often use the time in many productive ways.  We are still underground individuals waiting for our stop so that we can get out, go upstairs and see the light of day.

I found the El a different experience. Much like a painting or a poem simply looking out of the windows at the passing scenery - the small apartment buildings so close that you could see folks eating at the kitchen table, almost touch the oil cloth on the tables and linoleum on the floors and imagine yourself part of this unknown family.  Sometimes the profusion of television antennas on the roofs became a picture in itself. Then there were the distant views - office buildings large and small, and of course the people walking, the young girls and other family members looking out of a window for hours at a time. They always had a small pillow to lean on and I used to wonder, "what are they thinking, what are their dreams, who are they" - these strangers who live among us, but with the constant rumble of a train going past them. Do they even notice us as we notice them? Do they even hear the El anymore?  There are still some elevated portions of subway lines operating and I enjoy riding them. I still think of the people in those buildings and still think and visualize scenes and life around them. As for preference, I can only guess. The dreamers and visualizes among us, I imagine still love the elevated trains that remain. 3. What do you remember about Clinton Hill and Fort Greene during the days of the El? Have you been back to Myrtle Avenue recently? If so, has anything remained the same?

I haven't lived in Brooklyn since the 1970's. I still recall lovely brownstones on Clinton Avenue, businesses on Myrtle Avenue, and the struggles, successes and kindness of the people who lived there. In connection with the photo exhibit at the New York Transit Museum, Sunday, October 18, 2009, I will be leading a tour of my photographs in the exhibit. And on Saturday, November 7, 2009, I will lead another tour group of youngsters and their families down Myrtle Avenue. We will all take photographs and it certainly will be a learning experience for me as well as for the young photographers.

4. People were obviously very fond of the El.  Did anyone lobby to preserve it? My recollection is that a small group did attempt to save it to no avail. I've done a bit of searching recently on the internet, but haven't come up with anything in the archives. It would be wonderful if an interested reader of this article found some information and shared it with us. 5.  How does your Brooklyn background influence your artistic work? Brooklyn is a feast for the eyes, an ever-changing place, a home to a multitude of ethnicities, and a profoundly unique and incredible borough of New York. I've yet to meet someone from Brooklyn without a strong opinion, a willingness to "step up" when asked as well as a sense of belonging to a community. Brooklyn is ENERGY. How could I not be influenced by this place where I was raised and lived in different neighborhoods, met many people of different backgrounds, religions and beliefs? It opened my eyes to settings, people, interactions, styles of architecture, cultural differences and so much more. My photography is a product of these sensory and personal experiences- from riding the El, the subways, the trolleys, to walking to school - from the beach at Brighton to the Botanical Gardens to the cheesecake at Juniors, and the Cyclone at Coney Island - From the music in Prospect Park during the summer to the street corner A cappella groups on so many street corners. I credit my native borough with creating who I am and wherever I am, I always manage to let people know that I AM FROM BROOKLYN.

Lunchtime With Tillie: Myrtle Thai

The Tillie Exotic Experimentation Express keeps on rollin’! And lucky me, I get to go along for the ride!Hey there, Clinton Hillers, it’s Van, and that epicurean adventuress Tillie, with this week’s Lunchtime segment. For our latest neighborhood food stop, we decided to stroll on down to Myrtle Thai, located on Myrtle Avenue. (I didn’t really have to give any direction indicator there, did I?)

My own past with Myrtle Thai used to only consist of ordering pad Thai while I was hanging out across the street from it at Rope bar, back when Myrtle Thai was at its old location between Vanderbilt and Clinton. Tillie’s mom kind of changed my train of thought on the restaurant, though, with her serious Thai background. After college, she joined the Peace Corps and went to a village in Thailand for a couple of years. She still speaks Thai pretty good and makes some delicious dishes: not bad for a gal from Maine!

As I realized there was more to the menu than noodles with peanuts, I’ve grown to become appreciative of the wide variety Myrtle Thai has to offer. Probably now my favorite dishes are the red and green curries. And I always get chicken with the red and shrimp with the green: I don’t know, those options just work out for me, I guess!

Strolling by the new spot one particular day, I decided to stop in. And since I had Tillie with me, too, I figured she should come along as well! This was my first time going there for lunch and what really struck me was the menu: in particular, the price! The lunchtime deal is $5.95 for the entrée, a salad and a spring roll. In these days of joblessness, I don’t know how it could get much better than that!

We went in and were pointed to a seat by the window, which seemed to be the best spot in the new location for a high chair. This seemed to work well with Tillie as it appeared she was completely captivated by the people walking along the sidewalk. But I had to pull her back to attention: Didn’t she know she had Thai food to try?

The waitress came by to take my order, and I decided to go for the green curry with chicken. If you noticed earlier, I said I usually have the chicken with the red, but this time I decided to switch it up. What can I say? I’m a wild and crazy guy! Plus, in consultation with Tillie’s mom, we determined that the green was the milder of the two sauces. I asked if I could hold the salad and instead get an extra spring roll because I saw the salad of our table neighbor and it looked pretty unappetizing to me—just some iceberg lettuce, a couple of tomato chunks and a whole mess of thousand island dressing.

lwtmyrthaifood While I’m waiting for my food to come out, I broke out with Tillie’s. I packed her some pureed carrots and grapes—two great dishes that go great together as far as she’s concerned. By the time I gave her a couple of bites of the carrots, my food arrived: a pretty big bowl of the curry, a mound of steaming rice and two spring rolls with a spicy dipping sauce.

After taking a couple of bites for myself, I determined that the spice level was definitely low and enough for the Tillster to handle, so I set aside some of my rice and put the merest essence of curry upon it. Initially, I was worried about my own curry-to-rice ratio because it seems whenever we get delivery from Myrtle Thai, the amount of rice sent along is always skimpy. But I had plenty of grains to spare this go-around!

I paused in the carrot feeding and gave Tillie (who happens to love rice, by the way) a bite of her special treat and she really took to it. She first gives you that look of curiosity, like “What the…?” but if it’s not trickling out of her mouth after the first taste, then you know you’re good!

lwtmyrthaitillie So after some rice, I was struck by a moment of inspiration and thought, “Why not put a little dab of curry in her carrots? You know, jazz them up Thai-style!” That was a hit, too. I held back from dipping her grapes in the sauce, but only just!

And thankfully for me, my curry-to-rice ratios held up despite Tillie putting a dent in the dish. The food was excellent: chicken and bamboo shoots galore, which I enjoy as it gives the food a nice textural contrast. Plus, the spring rolls were cooked to perfection and the dipping sauce was a nice complement.

Myrtle Thai ended up being a great choice for us. We were the only adult and stroller rider in the place, and it seemed to be a tight fit in this new spot. I’m sure if more people came, they would figure out a way to accommodate the extra load. With the amazing food, great prices and wonderful service, it’s worth trying!

Call for Local Artists

With the overwhelmingly positive response to the four Tree Hugger Project sculptures that took up residence on the avenue for the past 11 months (and who have now moved on to Pratt’s Sculpture Garden in case you want to pay them a visit), we are anxious to bring more creative energy to the streets of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. The RFP for Temporary Public Sculpture (PDF document) seeks existing and/or proposed artworks for temporary installation (up to 11 months) at various outdoor locations along Myrtle Avenue. A full list of sites is below, while a map of the avenue and each site’s location is within the RFP document. The submission deadline is October 1, 2009, at 5 PM.

Artists or teams of artists alike are invited to apply to have pieces installed at any or all of the proposed locations. All interested artists are STRONGLY encouraged to visit Myrtle Avenue to view all the sites in person before applying. Each site has its own character and context therefore a visit is important to truly understand and communicate the impact an artwork will have on the space.

The proposed public sculpture sites are located at: 1. Ingersoll Houses: Myrtle near Prince (adjacent to the Community Center) 2. Ingersoll Houses: Myrtle and Navy Street (west side of Navy) 3. Ingersoll Houses: Myrtle and Navy Street (east side of Navy) 4. Ingersoll Houses: Myrtle and St. Edwards 5. Whitman Houses: Myrtle near North Portland 6. Whitman Houses: Myrtle between North Portland and Carlton 7. Whitman Houses: Myrtle near Washington Park (adjacent to commercial building) 8. Northwest corner of Fort Greene Park at the intersection of Myrtle and St. Edwards 9. Northeast corner of Fort Greene Park at the intersection of Myrtle and Washington Park 10. Green Streets Triangle at the intersection of Carlton and Myrtle 11. Wide sidewalks at Clinton and Myrtle 12. Wide sidewalks at Hall and Myrtle

The basic qualities we are looking for in proposed artwork are ARTISTIC MERIT, SITE SUITABILITY, DESIGN AESTHETIC, DURABILITY, and LOCAL. Basically, we’re looking for work showing creative and technical talent that fit the proposed site while maintaining a strong visual impact. The artwork will be installed outside so it must be able to endure any and all weather, whether it be surprise 80 degree weather in April, snow storms in January or thunderstorms in March! And lastly, preference will be given to local Brooklyn-based artists.

For more information contact Meredith Phillips Almeida at (718) 230-2689 or

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.


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, 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.


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 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.

Michael Jackson Window Display

In more local art news... At 583 Myrtle Avenue (near Classon Avenue), Clinton Hill Simply Art & Framing Gallery, est. 1991, has devoted a display window exhibiting Michael Jackson headlines and collectibles. The window exhibit began Saturday to accompany the announcement of the framing gallery's new blog ( and to encourage her Fort Greene/Clinton Hill/Bedford-Stuyesant neighbors to discover Myrtle Avenue south.

Gallery owner L.B. Brown has posted an encounter she had with Michael Jackson on the new blog, which also gives details of a limited-time framing service discount offered to Michael Jackson fans.

The window exhibit can be viewed now through Sept. 9, 2009, 24 hours a day.

*Leave a comment on their blog, print it out and bring it in for a $10 discount (through October 31, 2009).

Move About Myrtle: Updated Schedule

Below is the updated schedule of events for this Sunday's Move About Myrtle extravaganza!  Clinton Hill Blog will co-sponsor the ROLLER RINK between Emerson and Grand. Come on over with your blades or old school skates and help take over the street!  SKATING STARTS AT NOON.

Greening Your Urban Jungle... a workshop for Your Budding Concrete Cultivator Join local food educators and activists for an afternoon of easy and exciting urban greening. Come learn the basics of starting your own plants from seed, building raised beds gardens, food recycling from scraps to soil and the diversity of New York's growing season. All activities take place on the Food Block on Myrtle between Hall and Ryerson. (Led by Eric Rodriguez, Eric Thomann, Vandra Thorburn and T. I. Williams)

Myrtle Windows Gallery – Opening Reception Come celebrate the newest installation in the Myrtle Windows Gallery series at Pillow Café (505 Myrtle) from 4pm-8pm. The reception is free, and light refreshments will be available! Meet and support local Brooklyn artists!

The BRANCH Project The Citibank parking lot at Clinton and Myrtle will be transformed into a temporary library branch, free to everyone! On September 6th, volunteer designers and librarians from Branch will work with local residents and visitors, kids and adults, to plan and design the space. Come out and tell us how the library should look and what kind of books and activities it should offer. Architecture For Humanity will also display ideas generated from a design competition on the temporary library.

Free Screen-Printed Tote Bags by Pratt’s Pressure Print Collective Pratt’s printmakers will be silk screening LIVE onto canvas tote bags that will be given away to the visitors (while supplies last)! Support sustainability by picking up a reusable shopping bag at Move About Myrtle (between Ryerson and Grand, beginning at 11am)

Brooklyn Urban Arts Market & Roller Rink! The Brooklyn Urban Arts Market returns! This annual open-air market anchored by live music, DIY fashion, and local creative culture. Rock out with youth band School of Rock All Stars at noon, or dance to the old-school jams of DJs Soul Summit at 3pm. A temporary roller rink (which has a special guest co-sponsor this week – the Clinton Hill Blog )will bring some additional ‘throw back’ flavor to this year’s events. Get your trendy back-to-school shopping done too with local favorites like Harriet’s Alter Ego and Coup d’Etat Brooklyn (Myrtle between Emerson and Grand).

Free dance and yoga classes Brought to you by local yoga and dance studio Move with Grace , this block will feature free yoga, dance, and themed dance parties on each of the four Sundays. The first Sunday includes Mom and Me Yoga (11am), African Dance with drummers(1pm) and Caribbean Flag Celebration! (Myrtle between Washington and Hall)

Hoopdancing Class for All Ages! For kids (and the inner child in all of us), Myrtle between Ryerson and Grand (note change in location) in front of the Post Office will be devoted to good old-fashioned fun! Street games (think: four square), hula hoops, jump ropes, and sidewalk chalk will be on hand for open use throughout the day. From 1pm-3pm, take part in a free Hoopdancing Class with Fitnotic trainer Sheryl Wilson. Learn a few tricks and get a great workout!

Mmmm…Cooking Demos and Free Tastings! In front of Associated Supermarket (between Hall and Washington), we’re setting up a cooking station where all kinds of healthy food will be prepared by local chefs of all ages! Teen Iron Chefs (12pm-2pm) will be hosting interactive cooking demonstrations with seasonal, locally grown produce donated by Greenmarket farmers. Taste the fare of soon-to-open Sans Souci, a new Caribbean restaurant on Myrtle between Washington Park and Carlton, from 2pm-4pm.

Merchant Specials + Promotions -Five Spot is hosting an eating competition (food category still TBD) and music throughout the day outside the restaurant to celebrate their 13th Anniversary (Myrtle at Washington) -Enjoy free smoothie samples at Karrot (Myrtle between Clinton and Waverly) -Come to Green in BKLYN to recycle your batteries and cell phones (Myrtle between Clinton and Waverly) -Learn how to make your own pesto at Anima (Myrtle between Washington and Waverly) is providing a treats and a pet pool so that your animal friends can enjoy themselves too (Myrtle at Washington)

Stay tuned for these programs at upcoming Move About Myrtle events.... ...Parks Department Mobile Units featuring free skates and the Wii Fit! ...New York Transit Museum brings historic photos from their collection to preview their upcoming Myrtle Avenue El exhibit, "Last Day of the Myrtle Avenue El: Photographs by Theresa King," opening on September 29th. (A preview here in the NYTimes Local blog.) ...Design Workshops for the upcoming Myrtle Avenue Pedestrian Plaza ...Recycled arts & crafts projects with Livable Streets Education ...A mobile farm in the back of a truck! ...Bike safety lessons for kids from Bike NY ...and much more!

Thanks to our sponsors: Pratt Institute, Associated Supermarket, and Society for Clinton Hill.

Expanded Summer Streets Comes to Myrtle Avenue

myrtle ave, clinton hill Last summer, the DOT initiated an exciting new program that shut down a major Manhattan thoroughfare to automobiles, creating safe street space for people to walk, bike and play.

Through September, 14 street locales will play host to a Summer Streets event, including an event right here in Clinton Hill!

Move About Myrtle will be held Sunday September 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th, 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. on Myrtle Avenue between Clinton Avenue and Emerson Place,  and is sponsored by Myrtle Ave Partnership.

Pretty great, especially since September is one of the most beautiful months in the city.

So far, there are several really creative activities planned, including a roller rink in the street!

Here's a block-by-block summary of the activities planned for September 6th:

Emerson-Grand The Brooklyn Urban Arts Market returns! This annual open-air market anchored by live music, DIY fashion, and local creative culture. Rock out with youth band School of Rock All Stars at noon, or dance to the old-school jams of DJs Soul Summit at 3pm. A temporary roller rink will bring some additional throw back flavor to this year's events. Get your trendy back-to-school shopping done too. Brought to you by MARP, Rebel Music Management, BAM, Deutsche Bank.

Hall-Ryerson Celebrate local farmers, local restaurants and local food initiatives with your neighbors on Myrtle between Hall and Ryerson, a block dedicated entirely to a delicious topic: food.

12pm -3pm CSA Potluck Picnics -With blankets and home-cooked food in tow, the Fort Greene CSA will be taking over a plot of the food block each week to host potluck picnics open to all. The first potluck will be an eat-in to raise awareness and take action for real food in our schools, and initiative championed by Slow Food USA.

12pm 2pm Teen Iron Chefs - Every Sunday, a small crew of local teens will be hosting interactive cooking demonstrations with seasonal, locally grown produce donated by Greenmarket farmers.

4pm 6pm Local Chef Cooking Demonstrations-Chefs from newly-opened Myrtle restaurant SanSouci will showcase their tasty Caribbean fare.

All day: Raised Garden Bed Construction - Local food activist Tree Williams from LiveSip will host an all day interactive event constructing and planting a mobile raised bed garden to be donated at the end of the day.

Washington Hall Brought to you by local yoga and dance studio Move with Grace , this block will feature free yoga, dance, and themed dance parties on each of the four Sundays. The first Sunday includes:

11am Mom and Me Yoga Bring your mat! 1pm African Dance with drummers s Bring your rhythm! 4pm Caribbean Celebration Bring your flag!

Waverly Clinton For kids (and the inner child in all of us), this block will be devoted to good old-fashioned fun! Street games (think: four square), hula hoops, jump ropes, and sidewalk chalk will be on hand for open use throughout the day.

1pm-3pm Hoopdancing Class- Join Fitnotic trainer Sheryl Wilson, CPT, for a free beginners' class in hoopdancing - the latest fitness craze sweeping NYC! Class is appropriate for children and adults of all ages. In addition to hoopdancing instruction, Fitnotic specializes in prenatal, postnatal and mommy & me group fitness classes and personal training programs. Learn a few tricks and get a great workout!

Merchant Specials + Promotions

Five Spot is hosting an eating competition (food category still TBD) and music throughout the day outside the restaurant to celebrate their 13th Anniversary (Myrtle at Washington)

Enjoy free smoothie samples at Karrot (Myrtle between Clinton and Waverly)

Come to Green in BKLYN to recycle your batteries and cell phones (Myrtle between Clinton and Waverly)

Learn how to make your own pesto at Anima (Myrtle between Washington and Waverly) is providing a treats and a pet pool so that your animal friends can enjoy themselves too (Myrtle at Washington)

Myrtle Windows Gallery - New Works

4pm-8pm Opening Reception at Pillow Cafe (Myrtle between Ryerson and Grand? Celebrate the opening of the fourth Myrtle Windows Gallery installation, which brings the works of local artists to storefront windows on Myrtle between Hall and Clinton. This exhibition is curated by Kennis Baptiste of The Rising Arts Gallery, and includes photography, paintings and multi-media works.

Interested in helping out? Myrtle Avenue Partnership need  a small army of volunteers to make this happen, and they're lucky to have partnered with NY Cares for all four events. If you're interested in helping out give Meredith a shout at

See you there!  (Well, not on the 27th, which is the day after my wedding!)