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 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

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.

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.

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, 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.

I know that you use your shop as a gallery space, which is a terrific idea. Do you primarily focus on local artists? What is your curatorial policy or philosophy? Do you have someone on staff who handles this?

Brian says that almost all of the work they display is by local artists. He’s frequently amazed at the talent of friends, neighbors, and customers and loves to showcase it.  He has noticed that having new art in the store every six weeks improves the morale and spirit of the people entering it. As a rule he gives the artists tremendous leeway and allows them to determine what they want to exhibit and how.

Are you actively involved in the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Business Improvement District or the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project LDC?  Have these organizations been helpful to you regarding marketing and community outreach and/or in other ways?

Brian is an active member of the Myrtle BID who regularly weighs in on various issues and searches for ways to dialogue with other small business owners. He feels that sharing information about services is crucial and believes that small businesses can work together in many ways beyond just marketing.

Did you have any special events or promotions linked to the “Move About Myrtle” events on Saturdays in September (or doesn’t that affect your section of the avenue)?

Even though Myrtle Ave was not closed to traffic directly in front of Gnarly Vines, they conducted in-store wine tastings during the ‘Move About Myrtle’ events to bring people further down the avenue and capitalize on the increased foot traffic on the street.  They are also participating in Explore Myrtle Avenue, a frequent-buyer program, where if you spend $10 at five or more businesses you become eligible to win one of four Myrtle Avenue Shopping Sprees valued at $400.

Has the store been adversely affected by the severe recession? Have you noticed any “recessionary” buying trends amongst your customers?

Brian says that it’s hard to say because he’s only been in business for a couple of years. His business tends to be on an upward trend right now with his customer base growing. People in the neighborhood are still discovering the store.  As for buying trends, he has seen a decrease in sales of bottles over $30, as customers tighten their budgets. At the same time, some families choosing to stay at home and cook rather than go out for a nice dinner might decide to spend more on wine in order to make the evening special. Brian observes that their strong collection of bottles in the $10 range has been selling briskly. Fortuitously, his firm belief that wine should be affordable positioned him well for the recession.

You mentioned that the store will be celebrating its two-year anniversary this fall. Congratulations!! What sort of events do you have planned around this birthday?

To mark the anniversary they’ll have a series of in-store tastings, and like they did last year they’ll bring in food from several local restaurants, pairing food with wines over a series of days.

Brian says that at some point he would like to organize more wine dinners at local restaurants. In 2004/5 he led a series of wine tasting dinners in the neighborhood that were pretty popular. During the last year he organized a South African winemaker dinner at Madiba, at which he presented wines from the beloved and established Seven Sisters Winery as well as introduced two new South African winemakers.  At another recent wine dinner at Chez Lola, he presented Miquel Angel Cerda, one of his favorite wine makers from Anima Negra in Mallorca.

Finally, what are some of your favorite places in the neighborhood?

Brian mentions Yú Interiors as one of his favorite stores. To him, its incredibly charming owner Ludlow Beckett epitomizes the style, elegance and attitude of Ft. Greene. With three small children and a new business, he doesn’t get out as often as he’d like but when he does he hates to leave Fort Greene/Clinton Hill. He tends to be very partial to his Myrtle Avenue neighbors A Bistro, Chez Lola and Anima. Having just written an article about pairing Spanish wine with the African cuisine in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, he’s currently a big fan of Bati (Ethiopian), Kif (Moroccan), and Grand Dakar (Senegalese).  A nightcap at the Hideout is a great way to end a local night out.

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.

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!”

G: So have you found that he's just helped you along with way?

A: Yeah, he's been a real mentor and a real sounding board. He's very gracious and he's a good guy.

G: The Nu-Sonics: why?

A: We wanted a name we could all agree on. I liked it because it was stolen from Edwin Collins, the guy from Orange Juice.

G: And how long have you lived in Clinton Hill?

A: Since 1998.

G: How do you feel about the changes the neighborhood has gone through? Do you feel nostalgic for the way that it was or do you think there are good things and bad things?

A: I think it's a combination of both. I have a new song called “Mr. Brooklyn,” which talks about all these different neighborhoods. There's a line “Hey Mr. Clinton Hill/big changes down on Murder Avenue/dear Fort Greene folks/get out of the way of that double decker double stroller.”

I think the changes have been mostly good. I don't like the fact that rent-wise it's gotten so crazily expensive. We couldn't afford to live here anymore if we had moved here now.

It's like anything else; good and bad. I don't know how you feel about the flea market, but I'm not crazy about that. It turns the neighborhood into such a crazy thing on Saturdays and it used to be so nice to just hang out.

G: Well, all of the sudden you have to wait in line to have brunch.

A: I dunno. I don't really go for brunch, but I bet you do.

G: Yeah! I love brunch.

A: It was such a quiet, beautiful place, and I don't think it's been overrun or ruined or anything, but it's just a lot more crowded. It's good and bad. Don't move to your car on Saturdays, my advice to you!

G: Well, I don't have a car, but if I did...

Do you think this neighborhood is particularly good to live in as an artist or a musician?

A: I think there's a lot of inspiration around. I think NYC is a great place to be if you're a musician.

G: Do you have any favorite local bands or any advice to local musicians trying to get their stuff out in the scene?

A: I would say the important thing is just to find a scene you can be part of, but more than that, just do it because you want to do it. And nothing is personal, even if it has your name on it. Don't take anything personally, because if you do, you're done. You've got to realize that you are not your music.

You can hear songs and learn more about the Nu-Sonics at their website.

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.


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 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.)

CHB Interviews: Sarah Peck of Ortine

Sarah Peck Clinton Hill resident Sarah Peck opened Ortine, a restaurant in Prospect Heights, last year.   The restaurant now has its own vegetable garden, and will be using harvests for restaurant dishes.  CHB asked Sarah about her business and what she likes best about living in Clinton Hill.




1. How long have you lived in the neighborhood?  What brought you here? Since 2004.  All of our friends were moving here.  Needed more space after we got married. 2. Tell us about Ortine, your new-ish restaurant in Prospect Heights. It's a european style cafe (open for pastry, coffee, breakfast, sandwiches and a few hot entrees all day) with a seasonal, local & homemade emphasis.

3. How did you pick PS as the place to open Ortine?  Why not Clinton Hill? Limited commercial space in Clinton Hill.  Feels like the same neighborhood.  We live in 5 blocks away.

4. You worked as a GM for restaurants for the last decade.  What led you to open your own place?  What lessons did you bring with you from the other places you've worked? Liked working in a restaurant but wanted to couple it with my own ideas about eating locally and sustainably.

5.  Any advice for aspiring new business owners? Make sure you have enough money!

6. Ortine offers a lot of intriguing menu items.  Tell us about some of them. Everything is very handmade.  We work hard to prepare ingredients ahead of time and then assemble them for service in a very small, all electric kitchen.

7. Ortine now has its own garden.  What kinds of vegetables are grown there? So far many greens, tomatoes, beans, watermelon & an herb garden are planted.  Still some time yet for harvest.

8. What's your favorite area restaurant (aside from your own, of course)? A few favs are:  Franny's, Bonita, Geido...

9. What's the best part of living in Clinton Hill? Great infrastructure; big wide streets & huge old trees

10. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why? Rhubarb - sweet & tart!

Ortine 622 Washington Ave (@ Pacific)

CHB Interviews: Alexis Gutierrez

As promised, children's librarian Alexis Gutierrez of the CH library branch answered some questions for CHB about our local branch and how to get involved: When did the CH branch first open? 1974. (For more branch history and trivia, click here ) Is there any remodeling planned for the near future? Clinton Hill is certainly due for a renovation-- we would love more space and central air, just to name a few things!  However, due to the current economic situation, all construction and physical branch improvement projects have been pushed back by a few years. Just last year, Clinton Hill was one of the next libraries in line for a renovation, but unfortunately the renovation was pushed back to 2013.

How long have you been working at the CH Branch? Since February 2008 Have you worked at other branches?  If so, what sets the CH branch apart? I've only worked at this branch. But from visiting many of BPL's other 59 locations, it's clear to see it is definitely one of the smaller and busier branches! A few of the things that make CH special are our bookdrop for returning books (only a few libraries have them anymore) and our book donation bins. They are a simple free pile, no strings attached-- sometimes you can find some real treasures there!

What is the best part about being a children's librarian? I really love sharing stories with younger kids and talking about what to read next with older kids! Kids always see special little things in the books that I don't right away. It's also nice to find the perfect book for a child who doesn't see themselves as liking reading that much, and watch as they actually enjoy it.

What kinds of events does the CH branch hold, and how can we find out about them? The branch offers programs for kids, teens, and adults. For adults, we have things like movies, book discussions, author visits, and general interest presentations. For teens, we have visiting artists and performers from time to time. And for kids, we have storytimes, visiting artists and performers, arts and crafts programs, and games. To find out about them, visit and select "Clinton Hill"-- you'll see a list of everything going on. You can also pick up a monthly calendar of events at the branch. Anything fun going on this summer? Yes! Summer Reading '09: Be Creative! starts June 4th. Summer Reading is a great way to connect with others who like to read, while reading what you want at your own pace. Fun activities are happening in libraries all summer long and everyone, from babies to adults, can sign up. And it's free! For a list of Summer Reading events and booklists for all ages, visit Register at any BPL location beginning June 4th.

What is the best way to volunteer or otherwise help the branch? Right now, as you have heard, is a really critical time for the library. We face massive budget cuts that could cut our public service hours down to 25 hours a week, which means the library won't be open mornings, after 6pm, or weekends. Please, if you can, write to your city council member and the Mayor letting them know you do not support this funding cut. Let your friends and family know what's could happen to all of Brooklyn Public Library's 60 locations if this cut goes through. What is your favorite aspect of the neighborhood? The G train-- just kidding!  I like how people here really value books, stories, history, education, culture, and their library. I meet interesting people all the time. I moved to Brooklyn from Indiana two years ago and worked in the library there, and noticed right away that people read more here.  And of course I like the tree-lined streets.

If you were a favorite flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why? Coffee-- sweet and caffeinated!

Robin, if people have questions about the library, would you send them my way or pass along our phone number-- 398-8713 ext. 5? I am finishing up 3 classes for my Masters in Library Science right now and probably can't check the blog for comments as much as usual, but would still like to help with reader's questions if there are any. Thanks! -Alexis

Artist Profiles: CHB Interviews Big Bang TV

bigbangtv Matt Brehony, of band Big Bang TV, explains why you should come to his next show…and why you can’t be a blogger unless you have an opinion about Crocodiles.

A little about his band: Big Bang TV is what happens when four people who can't agree on anything try to make music.  Matt is a singer/songwriter, Scott is a hip/hop DJ and producer, Joe was metal drummer turned electronic musician, Andrea's last gig was playing accordion for a female folk trio.

Frantic, post-punk guitars stumble in and out of pools of atari synth and turntable chirps.  Male/female vocals lazily dance around each other until they’re swept up by a driving break beat and booming bass. It’s music that is both catchy and complex, intimate and epic, comforting yet slightly creepy.

How long have you lived in the ‘hood?

Two years this July.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Clinton Hill/Fort Greene as a musician? Is there anywhere in particular you like to go to see shows in the neighborhood?

One of the best concerts I've seen anywhere was Chocolate Genius at the Five Spot.  This was like five years ago...long before I lived in Clinton Hill.  The performance, the venue and the crowd were just perfect.  It was one of the few times I've been to show with an audience that was truly diverse (in just about every sense of the word).  It was like everything I had fantasized New York being back when I lived suburbs of Virginia.

Quite stupidly, I haven't been back to the Five Spot since and it's a single block from my house.  It's similar to how I used to take the bus from DC to New York to visit the MOMA and, now that I literally work across the street from it, I can't find the time. ...hmm, maybe I'll hit both this weekend.

When’s your next show and why should we attend?

Why, I am delighted you asked.  It's Saturday, June 20th at The Mercury Lounge.

Reasons to attend our performance:

1) We're a really good live band--we will WORK HARD for you! 2) Mercury is an excellent place to see show 3) We're playing with Arpline (formerly The Kiss Off) who we'd be a huge fans of even if we weren't also good friends with them 4) We're also playing with Crocodiles, of whom apparently everyone on the internet has an opinion.  If you wish to be a contributing member of the blogosphere you should form this opinion fast and expresses it vociferously and anonymously. 5) This may be our last show until our album release party in late September.

You can listen to Hollywood by Big Bang TV here and find out more about the band at their website.

CHB Interviews: Valerie Joyner

hollyhoodfinal-cover CH resident Valerie Joyner just had her first novel, Hollyhood, published, after working in the TV industry for many years.  CHB asked her a few questions about the book and her time in the neighborhood. 1. How long have you lived in the neighborhood?  What brought you here?

I landed in Brooklyn in the Fall of 1999.  I moved here from Los Angeles and ended up in this area based on the recommendation of a friend.  She told me lots of artist lived in the neighborhood. It sounded like the perfect place since I was moving here to benefit from the strong writing community found in NY.

2. You've just published your first book!  Tell us what it's about.

Hollyhood follows the life of Ty Hart, a young black television producer. His hit show comes under scrutiny when the ratings drop and the studio execs want to change the format of his show to appeal to the white audience.   And everyone else around T is pushing their own agendas.  Determined to live his dream, he must use his street smarts and savvy instincts to keep his show on the airwaves.

3. How did you end up with a book deal?  Any advice for aspiring authors looking to get published?

It was a long journey to getting a publishing deal.  I completed Hollyhood in 2005.  Then I started sending out query letters to agents I though might be interested.  I signed with one, then another and then a third.  The first two agents were too busy and perhaps too big for a new writer like me. It was the third agent Mondellea Jones, who aggressively shopped my manuscript.  Many editors passed on it.  Hollyhood was not an easy sell.  Finally Esi Sogah at Avon Books expressed interest. But when the deal finally went down, I was once again without an agent.  It took weeks to find someone to handle the deal.

I always tell aspiring writers, sending query letters to agents WORKS.  Agents really do read query letters.  That process was always very successful for me.

4.  You worked on TV shows in the 90s.  Which ones?

I worked on In Living Color, The Wayans Bros and The Jamie Foxx Show.

5. What was your favorite show to work on and why? Hands down....In Living Color.  I was surrounded by all these amazingly talented and funny people each day.  Tommy Davidson, Jamie Foxx, Jim Carey, Marlon Wayans to name a few.  And this is in addition to a team of comedy writers.  What sealed the deal was the ping-pong table in the office. It was just a few feet away from my desk. Best gig ever!

6. How significantly did your TV show experience influence your book?  Did you use any real life examples?

My experience figures significantly in Hollyhood.  It was based on my experiences and the experiences of co-workers.  The story lines are not real life, but there are many production details and nuances that are very real.  I went out of my way to give readers a realistic look at the weekly schedule of a TV production and how it is produced.

7. Any plans for a second book?

Absolutely.  I have two that I've started.  Just need to finish one.  :-)  Finishing is the hardest part.   I'll write a Hollyhood sequel, if there's a demand.

8. What's your favorite place to hang out in Clinton Hill?

I have two.  Tillies.  I wrote most of Hollyhood there.  And Kush Cafe.  It's off the beaten path, Grand and Putnam. Great food.

9. What one thing would you change about the neighborhood?

I'd forgo some of the bike paths and make Dekalb Avenue and two lane street again.

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

Baskin and Robbins Jamoca Almond Fudge.  I'm hip (coffee is soooo hip), a little nutty and chocolate through and through.


Valerie will be signing books at Sucre (520 DeKalb Ave) on June 20 at 6pm!

Finally, here's a funny book promo:

CHB Interviews: Brian Vargas

In an effort to highlight some of the neighborhood’s many talented and diverse musicians, here is the first in a series of artist profiles. vargas_hi_res

Bryan Vargas, a native Brooklynite, teaches music at St. Joseph's College and has a band called Bryan Vargas & Ya Esta, which plays what he describes as “funky latin jazz.” Bryan’s music, which is fresh and rhythmically focused, has been praised by NY Newsday and The New Yorker.

How long have you lived in the ‘hood? I've lived in my current Ft. Greene apartment for 6 1/2 years, moved in Oct. 2002. I also lived just around the corner from 98-99. The interim time was spent hopping between Williamsburg, Park Slope, Sunset Park and Queens. I spent my early childhood in South Williamsburg, and a large part of my life was spent accompanying my Mom & Grandma to the Fulton Mall as they shopped at A&S (now Macy's), the Albee Square Mall (now a pit, soon to be condos), and the Dime Bank next to Junior’s. We often took the G train, but if we drove, Ft Greene was the in-between neighborhood we traveled through. So I have strong, vivid memories of the old Ft Greene of the 70s and 80s, and memories of the occasional lunch in a neighborhood spot.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Clinton Hill/Fort Greene? Way to many to mention. What I love most about the neighborhood is the general vibe. I truly feel relaxed as I walk down the streets. Other Brooklyn brownstone neighborhoods have a hustle and bustle that we just don't have here. Folks here are CHILL. People get along. They help each other out. They play with each other's dogs. It's a great place to live. I also love the food. We have some of Brooklyn's best restaurants, and I love the fact that I never have to leave the neighborhood to eat if I don't want to. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much I love Ft. Greene Park. I think it's the greatest small park in all five boroughs. It has a peaceful serenity to it that you feel as soon as you step foot on the block. I'll save what I DON'T like about the 'hood for another time. For now we can stay positive!

Is there anything particularly special about living in the neighborhood as a musician or artist? Any neighborhood secrets you can share with us? To be honest there are LESS musicians living here than there were when I first moved in. I had tons of friends in the area, and I'd see famous and semi-famous and not-so-famous musicians walking down the street every day. A lot of these folks have been priced out over the years and relocated to Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Long Island City or elsewhere, which is really too bad. There are still a lot of musician folks around here, but now we that we have the "celebrities", the actors and such, it's a much pricier place to live. That being said, there are so many GREAT things about being a musician here. For one thing, bumping into all the musician folks that are still here - and the ones who have managed to find deals and still move in! Since we're a REAL neighborhood here, it's easy to start up a conversation on the street, whether you know the person or not. The close location to all the different types of transit is a huge help. All the subway lines, the LIRR, the buses, the bridges, even the BQE. I can get anywhere I need to go in the city easily. So I can play ANYWHERE. And since we're so close to the bridges, late night, post-gig cab rides home are affordable and the cabbies are usually cool with the trip into Brooklyn. Since I teach guitar as well, students can reach me easily from mass transit, and the drivers can park fairly easily. There are also GREAT resources here. Like BAM! How can you beat that? Great bands every weekend in the Cafe, and I've even been able to play there a couple of times. And they have the bigger shows, Next Wave Fest, all that. I even saw David Bowie going to a show there one time! You can't beat that for a great neighborhood resource. We've also got the colleges in the area. And as horribly LAME as the Guitar Center is in the Atlantic Ave, "Target Mall," it's saved my ass a few times. Last minute guitar strings, and things like that. And then some of the restaurants have really good music, like Madiba and Chez Oscar. And we get the Afro Punk Fest. And the BAM Dance Africa Fest. And Dope Jams on Myrtle Ave. There are so many great things about living here. I could go on all day.

What are your favorite NYC venues to play? To see shows at? My favorite place to play is Joe's Pub. Great backline, very professional, and folks love going there. I also love playing at a place up in East Harlem called Camaradas. The owners there go out of their way to make everyone feel like home, and they have the best audiences in town. Best Brooklyn venue, hands down, is Southpaw. I wish we could play there more often. And I must add Rockwood Music Hall in the LES has the best backline in NYC, and despite the venue's small size they work really hard to make the music sound top notch. My favorite places to see shows are Prospect Park Bandshell and Central Park Summerstage (although we've played at both of these too!). Free music, great, diverse lineups, and free for all. You get the coolest crowds and the best vibes there. I try and go to as many of these as possible every year. I hope they go on forever. Honorable mention should also go to Le Poisson Rouge, which may be the best new spot in NYC.

When’s your next show? Excellent question! Well, I just finished my MA Thesis (MA in music, of course...), so I put gigs on hold except for private parties. So the next step is to start booking some gigs again! We'll have some things happening soon. Go to our Myspace page for the latest updates.

You can purchase Bryan’s album, Afro Latino Soul, here.

Listen to Guerrerros Africanos.mp3 from Afro Latino Soul.

CHB Interviews: Jason Voegele of Republic

Local art collective Republic will be hosting a fundraising event at Le Grand Dakar this Friday!  Proceeds will go to the Gisimba orphanage in Rwanda, which sees that its children attend school and become prepared to lead independent lives.  Info is below, as well as an interview with Jason Voegel of Republic!

As the first in our ongoing REACHING OUT program of recurring charitable fundraising projects, REPUBLIC and CREATE FOR A CAUSE are working together to involve our local communities and New York City at large in a campaign to keep Gisimba Memorial Center equipped with the basic necessities it requires to stay in operation and to help provide the children who live there with basic healthcare, food and education. The proceeds from the campaign will also be distributed through the Memorial Center to support sustainable revenue generating projects within the Kigali community.

Friday, May 29th at Le Grand Dakar Restaurant in Clinton Hill Brooklyn, REPUBLIC will be hosting an extraordinary evening of celebration and fundraising with dance performance, music by Indoda Entsha percussion ensemble, food by master chef Pierre Thaim and drinks with a silent auction and exhibition of photography by contemporary Rwandan artists.



1. Jason, how long have you lived in the neighborhood?

I’ve been in this neighborhood with infrequent absence since 1991.

2. What brought you to Clinton Hill?

I went to high school overseas in Taiwan. The President of Pratt Institute at that time went on a tour of the international school systems in south east Asia and because I had already been very dedicated to making a run at a career in the arts and my dream was to move to NYC, he invited me to come to Clinton Hill and pursue my interests at Pratt. Until the day I moved here I had never been to New York City. So Clinton Hill was my introduction to NYC as a whole.

3. What has been the biggest change you've seen since moving here?  Has it been a good change or a bad one?

Well obviously the standard of living has increased tenfold. Back in 91 there were very few social gathering points in the neighborhood outside of the school. Most people I knew spent their free time in the emerging Williamsburg community or in Manhattan. Over the years as the neighborhood grew, all of the community staples began to pop up. Places like Tillies and 5 Spot set in motion the big boom in restaurants and bars and coffee shops that lured people back to our neighborhood. Good community politics were at work too, getting rid of the crack dealers, reinvesting in the community school systems, fixing up streetlights and finding investors to fix up all the beautiful homes on Washington and Clinton were all huge steps in progress that were undeniably good.

4. You were once involved in Artspace NYC, based in the neighborhood.  What was that organization about?

ArtSpace was conceived by Lauren Culbreth, Sean Mcloughlin and myself in late 2006 at 20 Grand Avenue between Flushing and Park. It was a great opportunity to experiment with a traditional gallery space in creative and inventive new ways. We produced about 23 or so exhibitions and events during our time there. Sean left the group in early 2008. Almost all of our exhibitions were in conjunction with local and national charitable organizations such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation or the Brooklyn Center Against Domestic Violence. The purpose was to try and engage our community through a marriage of our creative talents and the common concerns and passions of our fellow Brooklynites. We wanted to infuse our community with the same energy that turned DUMBO and Williamsburg in to models of the art world experience but do it in a different way. Our audience was diverse and became an unlikely opportunity for various individuals and social groups to come together on a regular basis when there would be no reason for them to meet otherwise. The quality of the exhibitions was the first priority. Once we managed to control that we really began to reach out and participate in the re-emerging art community in an exciting way. Through ArtSpace, Lauren and I produced film festivals, a young curator program, mixed media exhibitions and really cut our chops on production in those years. Eventually we gave up our gallery space and began to develop relationships with other venues and organizations to execute our projects at various locations throughout the city. Our collaborations with the Brooklyn Art Collective and several other very talented groups really helped to bring shape and form to the tranformation that turned ArtSpace into Republic.

Very quickly we realized that if we built a strong diverse team we could tackle multiple projects simultaneously and produce projects that we never could have done on our own. One by one the perfect people walked in to the picture at the right time and Republic was born.

5. The group has relaunched itself as Republic Brooklyn.  How many people are involved, and what are the goals of the organization?

Well, the official name of the organization is Republic Worldwide with subdivisions in various locations. It is through the founding group, Republic Brooklyn that we drafted our mission and developed the formulas for our various projects. Republic AU based out of Sydney, Australia will be following up Republic Brooklyn very shortly when the go live in the fall. We are also working with a team in Manchester, England to launch Republic UK. The original founding members were Drew Kassl, Samantha Katz, Aubrey Almond, Lauren Culbreth, Konah Weisel, Ian McGivellry, Tyler Wriston, Jason Isch, Charles Merritt and myself. There are many other members that are active within the group in various other capacities. Specifically Marissa Forbes and Douglas Antonio are involved daily.

Republic was conceived as an assembly of individual artists, designers, entrepreneurs and representatives from autonomous art organizations, who have come together to produce exhibitions and events that transcend the sum of their unique parts. The principles of Republic fundamentally reflect the same ethical charter, dedication, and standard of quality that creative and critically thinking fraternities have organized themselves around for eons. We want to inspire like-minded people in varied communities through high caliber artistic programs, community service and creative curatorial projects. Our personal goals are to strengthen the character of our individual members by providing meaningful opportunities for fellowship, charity, creativity and leadership. We are trying to build something new so - much like Clinton Hill, we are constantly evolving and adapting new ideas.

6. How can local artists get involved with the organization?

Come and find out about all of the interesting things we do and find information about all of our members and collaborators at

We are on all of the usual networking sites as well. Submissions for specific projects or collaborative ideas should be directed to

Come meet us this Friday May 29th at Le Grand Dakar on Grand Avenue between Lafayette and Clifton Place for our fund raiser collaboration with Create For A Cause. Dance, Music and Art with a silent auction to benefit the Gisimba Memorial Center Orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda

7. Is Clinton Hill a good neighborhood for artists to live and make a living?  Why or why not?

Well as someone who spent the majority of his time in Clinton Hill as a struggling artist, the neighborhood has always been a melting pot of creative energy. However, for the longest time everyone I knew worked in the city (Manhattan) and lived in Clinton Hill. It’s really great to see so many new neighborhood based businesses and organizations emerge over the last several years. When ArtSpace NYC was operating our gallery out of 20 Grand we were amazed at the diversity and numbers of the other creative productions blooming all around us. I think there is a sense now among all of the Clinton Hill community that something has changed for the better. It’s a feeling that the community is getting stronger by working together.

8. What's your favorite local hangout?

Although the germ for Republic has been tossing around in my head for years it was at Vesper Bar & Lounge on Myrtle Avenue that open conversation about forming the group and the induction of the various members of the board occurred. So that place rocks. I’ll tell you what though, Le Grand Dakar and Brooklyn Public house are my new two summertime favorites.

9. Would you change anything about the neighborhood if you could?  If so, what?

You know I really think this neighborhood is in a constant state of evolution. It’s really a shining example of a neighborhood getting it’s act together over a long patient time. I think we are on the right track and any things I could ever want to change about Clinton Hill could easily be achieved through continued collaboration and partnerships among the people in our community.

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

I would be the cone. Somebody has to be.

Seriously though pistachio is my game. I think I was asked this question once in a job interview.

CHB Interviews: Cassidy Vare, Bespoke Bicycles

A few weeks ago, we announced the opening of Bespoke Bicycles on Lafayette.  We spoke with owner Cassidy Vare about his new business and cycling in the city. cassidy

1. When did you decide to open a bike shop?  How did you pick Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene?

I've been dreaming of opening my own shop for years now. I wasn't going to do it this year, but I got laid off from another shop in October, and decided that, perfect time or not, I had to do my own thing, the way I've always wanted to. In a way, getting laid off was the best thing for me.

The location was a bit of an accident. It used to be a car service, and it wasn't until after I'd already moved in that I realized how perfect it was to reclaim a storefront from the clutches of cars and turn it into a bike shop. I'd been looking at Fort Greene for a while, and I always pictured a spot on Dekalb or somewhere nearby. But when it came to walking the neighborhood and looking at spaces, this one was the only one I saw. The price was right, the space was small but "just enough."

2. How long have you been cycling?

I guess it's been about seven years now, since I first moved to Brooklyn. I got a crappy mountain bike just to get from middle-of-nowhere (at the time) Red Hook to anywhere else. Well, that bike got stolen pretty quickly, and it wasn't until I had the second bike that I figured out how much I liked not only riding it, but also taking it apart and figuring it out. It wasn't long after that before I started working in a shop, and I haven't thought much about doing anything else since. 3. What's your personal history?  Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I was born in Colorado and grew up in Connecticut, and I was in and out of NYC from the age of ten. I knew pretty early on that this was the place for me, and when I was nineteen I moved here to go to Hunter College. New York (and even more so, Brooklyn) is the first place I really feel at home so far in my life. However, I did get a little burned out on the city after a few years, and decided to ride my bike to Seattle WA, to visit some folks and see what the west coast was like. I ended up meeting Kim, the woman who's now my wife, there, so I'm obviously really glad I went, but I can't say that Seattle itself agreed with me. I convinced Kim to move back with me, and we now live down in the ambiguous region between Park Slope and Sunset Park.

4. Do you see bikes as an important part of neighborhood (and city) culture?

They're absolutely vital. For me, a bike is the fastest (and cheapest) way to get almost anywhere in the city. A year's worth of Metrocards will cost over $1200. That same $1200 will buy a very fine bicycle that will last much longer than a year. But more importantly, a bicycle is a powerful social tool. You'll see things riding a bicycle from one place to another that you'd never see taking the train. You can also stop to chat with the people you pass every day. I learned the geography of Brooklyn from riding a bike. I learned who lives where. Bikes change the way we live--they bring us down to a human scale, and they remind us what it's like to be people around other people.

5. What kinds of services are you offering at the shop?

We are a full-service repair shop--we'll fix your flat, or take your bike apart and put it back together. My goal is always to make a bike better than it was when it came in. Of course, we sell things too. We have a line of Raleigh bikes, a stock of parts of all types, and accessories to make it easier to use your bike every day, for every purpose.

6. Explain the shop's name.

Well, this follows up nicely. We are also here to build up bikes to order. The word 'bespoke' isn't too popular here in the US, but it's an English word meaning 'custom-made' or 'made to order.' It's used mostly to refer to clothing and of course has the connotation of highest quality. I'd like to think that I can offer all of that in a bicycle. I'm here to provide exactly the bicycle that each client wants. I'll start with the frame that best fits your needs and go from there. This can be an affordable process, but depending on what you want the bike to do or to look like, the only limit is physics.

7. Many of us grew up riding bikes and then left them behind as we became teenagers and adults.  For someone looking to hop back on after years of hiatus, what kind of bike do you recommend?

Well, my first answer is: Any bike at all! Whatever bike you choose will be so much better than no bike at all that it's hard to compare! But if I don't let enthusiasm carry me away, there are some practical concerns. If you're in the market for a bike, first of all look for one that works. I've seen too many people come into shops with about three-quarters of a bike they've just bought for $50, hopeful that we can make it work. It's more expensive in the long run than paying two or three times as much up front for a bike that works properly.

8. Favorite place to ride to in the city:

I like the section of the west side bike path in Manhattan, above 79th Street up to the north tip of the island. Not many people ride that far north, so it's peaceful, and much prettier than below 79th St. I also really like riding the Rockaways.

9. Favorite hangout in the neighborhood:

The folks at the Smoke Joint are great, and it's conveniently right next door to the shop! I like Bonita and The General Greene a lot too. My friend lives on Quincy Street--does her house count?

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

Jamocha Almond Fudge. Because it's amazing.

Great Wall of Brooklyn

You may have noticed the giant painting on the side of the Chez Lola building, on Myrtle Avenue.  It's the first in a series of public art works aimed at beautifying the commercial strip, engaging local artists, and creating dialog. Per their website, "The Great Wall of Brooklyn is an independent artist-run public art organization that will be launched in the historic Fort Greene neighborhood in Spring 2009. It will feature the work of Brooklyn-based and international artists. Located on the side of a four-story building at the corner of Myrtle and Vanderbilt Avenues, The Great Wall introduces large-scale art made in Brooklyn to the community each quarter."

Works will include painting, sculpture, projection and light projections.  The official "opening" will take place on Saturday, May 9 from 3-6 pm.  The piece will also be a featured stop on the annual SONYA Stroll, May 16-17 (more on that in a separate post!).

The debut painting, Achtung Baby...Here Comes the Next Great Depression, was created by Charlotta Janssen.  Janssen is the owner of both Chez Ozkar and Chez Lola, and her gorgeous works can be found hanging in both restaurants.  CHB asked her a few questions about the project and her history in the neighborhood:

charlotta 1. What inspired you to start the GWOB project?

This big gray wall really needed some color , something to make an  impression, especially when I got the stats from the DOT: around 15 000 vehicles pass this crossing daily on Myrtle and around  7800 pass this crossing via Clermont. Advertising is the obvious,  but I wondered if this wall could have a different meaning. I  brainstormed with friends as to how to make it an art  entity. This  is my first attempt.

2. What kinds of art do you hope to display on the wall in the future?

Art that has a critical edge, that displays an artist's critical  point of view as well as style, that concerns social commentary 3. How can an interested local artist get involved with this project?

We are currently working on the criteria, hoping to have it by the  launch (5.09.09 3-6 pm). These criteria will then be available via  the website or at Chez Lola

4. Tell us about Achtung Baby - what inspired you, and how did you get the piece installed?

I wanted a strong piece - and this feels strong. I may be stating  the obvious with the next great depression, but it is also a  celeberation of the GREAT depression, getting pushed out of one's  comfort zone into the moment. It is a retro image, but I stil think  you can feel the individuals of this family: Jones' Family Car is  the title of the piece.

5. What do you think have been the most successful public art projects in the neighborhood?

SONYA - much respect ... BAM public projects ... Spark and Swoon  (graffitti artists in the hood) ... MARP's window project ... there  is always space for more. 6. You own two very successful restaurants in the neighborhood.  How did you get started?

This is a long and scary tale. In brief I never intended to open a  restaurant, I only decorated, designed and expedited restaurants  till I got fed up with people cutting corners and cutting down on  great ideas for restaurants with atmosphere, they always save on the  decoration - I completely understand business is rough, but I had  all these ideas stuffed in my head.

7. How do you think the current recession will affect artists and the art created?

Very positive and very negative. I think it will make for great art,  but if you need to sell art now, you may not be in luck. Layng low  and painting this GREAT depression away is what I think is the best  to do ... not always doable for some though.

8. How long have you lived in the neighborhood, and what brought you here?

I've been commuting from downtown Manhattan since 1998, wanting to move here since 2000, had a giant space for a great rent, but couldn't stand Manhattan. The moment I lost the lease (2005) - there  was no other place I wanted to be. I do miss going over the bridge  on my bike every day though - the BEST

9. Favorite thing about the neighborhood:

Diversity and characters! Nobody's smooth, everyone has an edge and  a heart and will definitely give you a piece of their mind. So paintworthy. 10. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why?

Oh my, this is the toughest, maybe pistachio? Strange color, yet  edible? A fruity flavored nut?

Great Wall of Brooklyn 387 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205 Tel: 646 290 7253

Neighbor Interview: Selah Eric Spruiell

Last week I spoke with Clinton Hill activist, musician, actor and proud Obama supporter Selah Eric Spruiell over dinner and drinks at The Speakeasy on Greene.

As the new CHB contributor interested in doing neighbor profiles, I thought I would start off by interviewing someone I know.  Selah and I met about five years ago at The First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn Heights.  A lifelong resident of Brooklyn who grew up in the old Weeksville neighborhood of Crown Heights, Selah moved to Clinton Hill about 15 years ago. He says he discovered the area by accident when he was at Lafayette High School, needed to do summer classes, and wound up in summer school at Brooklyn Tech.

Fort Greene in 1968 was an incredible bohemian scene, which Selah quickly became hooked on. Artistically inclined, he also took advantage of an opportunity he had around that time to take classes in music and drama at Pratt Institute.  His drama teacher there was the TV and film actor Joe Morton.  He also got bass lessons from Bill Lee, Spike Lee’s father, who lived on Cambridge Place near DeKalb.  Additionally, he studied with Ahmed Abdul-Malik, who was Thelonius Monk’s bass player for a long time.  It wasn’t until 1979 that Selah got his first apartment in the neighborhood, which was on South Oxford Street.  A long-time housing advocate and youth worker, Selah currently works in the court system.

I asked him about his path to becoming an activist and musician.  Selah comes from a solidly middle class and political black family.  His father worked as a correction officer and was involved in the Democratic Party, where some of the people he helped elect was Sam Wright, the former Brooklyn City Councilman and State Assemblyman, and Stanley Steingut, The former Speaker of the State Assembly. Selah’s mother was a probation officer who was also one of the founding members of Progressive Women for Civil Rights.  Both parents went on the March on Washington.  Selah’s cousin was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  He introduced Selah to jazz and took him to a SNCC Convention, where he met Stokely Carmichael and H. “Rap” Brown, two of its most prominent leaders.  While still in high school, Selah joined the Black Panther Party.  Nowadays he describes his politics as “progressive”—not nearly as radical as back then.

Following in his parents’ footsteps, Selah’s been involved in the election of practically every black politician in Brooklyn.  He met his wife, Bernette Carway-Spruiell, while working on former State Assembly Member from the 57th District Roger Green’s campaign and has also worked on the campaigns of Velmanette Montgomery, Major Owens, Letitia James, and most recently Hakeem Jeffries.  Not surprisingly, he was an early supporter of Barack Obama.  A Working Families Party member, he belongs to the North Brooklyn/Crown Heights Club.  During the primary election, the North Brooklyn/Crown Heights Club joined forces with Brooklyn for Barack and their efforts brought out people in droves for Obama in the 10th and 11th Congressional Districts.

Selah’s family was also musical. His father had a great voice, and his mother trained in opera at Morgan State University, one of the historic black colleges. She was offered a scholarship to study opera in Germany, but chose to raise a family and became a social worker instead.  Growing up, Selah’s mother would play piano, and he along with his sisters would sing at different churches in Brooklyn. Selah sang in church and school choirs.  During high school and college, Selah performed with several rock, R&B and jazz bands.

I was curious about Selah’s work with The Fort Greene Project (, a music ensemble he leads.  He explained that it was never a band in the traditional sense of the word, but more of a community of musicians that Selah works with on special projects.  The group is currently on hiatus.

Besides being a talented musician, Selah also studied drama while a student in college, at the Afro-American Studio and at The Negro Ensemble Company.  He’s done Off-Off Broadway theatre and was involved in the Black Theater Movement.  In addition, he’s had walk-ons for shows like “Sex & the City” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

I asked Selah what his thoughts were on how the neighborhood has changed as it’s become more gentrified over the last decade or so.  Selah says the neighborhood has clearly changed a lot since gangster rapper Biggie Smalls held rap sessions with his cohorts from the Junior M.A.F.I.A. Crew in P.S.11 Park.  He insists on correcting the false impression people have that Biggie was from Bed-Stuy.  In fact, Biggie was from Clinton Hill and grew up on St. James Place.  Bed-Stuy’s motto is “Bed-Stuy Do or Die,” and it probably appealed to Biggie’s handlers as a more obvious place for a gangster rapper to hail from.  Selah believes that youth music culture is still alive and well in the neighborhood; it’s just become more bohemian and less rough over the last decade or so.  He wishes that weekly “Slams” such as The Brooklyn Moon Cafe’s Friday Poetry Night would come back.

Selah says that Brooklyn is a wonderful place and is convinced that Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are way hipper than the Village; however, he doesn’t like the high rents or how housing prices have skyrocketed.  In his view, newcomers unfortunately don’t always respect the culture of the people already here.  As an example, he mentions how a few years ago new brownstone owners near Brown Memorial Baptist Church on Washington Avenue complained to the police about “noise” coming from the church’s renowned choir during rehearsals.  His advice to them would be, “Don’t try to change everything. There were people here before [you], and they have a right to be here as well.”

Finally, I asked Selah what some of his favorite places in the neighborhood are.  While he seldom finds time anymore, he enjoys hanging out in the sculpture garden on the Pratt campus and in Fort Greene Park. Madiba would definitely be his favorite neighborhood restaurant. For entertainment, he highly recommends saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood, who plays Thursday nights at Frank’s Lounge on Fulton Street.   Youngblood used to be an associate of Jimi Hendrix. Before we ordered another drink and chatted further off-record, Selah insisted, “You have to check him out.”

Support a Local Gay Business (Even if You’re not Gay!)

When Jessica Wolvek was growing up, she never saw a wedding in her future, because she knew she was gay, and the possibility of a woman marrying another woman was not a possibility in that era. Ironically enough, she now makes the wedding dreams of (mostly) heterosexual women happen as a floral designer, producing the floral arrangements for their weddings and receptions. She gained her expertise in floral design when she was living in Japan in the early ‘90s, teaching English as a Second Language. As it happened, a national floral design champion lived in the same town, and Jessica was given the opportunity to study the art of floral design (ikebana) with her. When she moved to San Francisco after her stint in Japan, she managed to hone her skills working for a highly recognized floral designer there. When she returned to her hometown of Brooklyn, she started experimenting with doing floral design for her friends’ weddings, When she received standing ovations at the weddings for her work, she realized she could make a go of starting her own floral design business. She started her business, FLEURS, three years ago, after many years of working very unhappily in NYC government. She runs Fleurs from her beautiful Bed-Stuy brownstone. Jessica finds it extremely fulfilling to work closely with brides making their special day become a reality. And, her impossible dream has come true for herself – Jessica will be having her own wedding after all. She will be marrying (of course not legally) her long-time partner this June, the ceremony will be taking place at Fire Island. You can see example of Jessica’s work, the press she has received, and get contact information at her website: