Tag Archive | "Community Board 7"

Bengali immigrant savagely beaten

Police are searching for two suspects in the assault on Bimal Chanda in his Kingsbridge apartment. JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

The fatal beating of a Bengali man in his Kingsbridge building last week has shaken members of the north Bronx Bengali community, who now believe he was targeted because of his ethnicity.

Bimal Chanda, a 59-year-old former taxi driver, was robbed and severely beaten on the second-floor landing of his apartment building on 190th Street just off of Fordham Road on the morning of October 29. He died in the hospital four days later from severe head trauma, leaving behind a wife and a 16-year-old daughter.

Friends were shocked at the brutal assault of Chanda, who emigrated to Kingsbridge from Calcutta, India nearly 30 years ago.

“He was an innocent guy who was killed intentionally,” said Mohammed Ali, a member of Community Board 7, who had been friends with Chanda for more than 10 years. “The Bengali community is very afraid of this biased crime. It’s a hate crime.”

Ali said Chanda, an acute diabetic, was moving from his apartment on the third floor to a condominium in Parkchester, because of concerns about crime in the area. He and his wife were picking up the last of their possessions in the apartment when Chanda left to purchase tape from a nearby 99-cent store.

That’s when two men grabbed him from behind on the staircase and struck him on the head with a metal object. The commotion could be heard throughout the apartment building, which has no security cameras or working locks on the front entrance.

“I heard a big noise,” said first-floor resident Nidia Rodriguez, whose 16-year-old son attended elementary school with Chanda’s daughter. “Then I heard his wife screaming.”

Another resident on the first floor, Sara Inoa, rode in the ambulance with an unconscious Chanda and his wife Chaya, both of whom she had known for 17 years.

“She came banging on my door, asking for help,” said Inoa. “He was lying on the floor with his head bleeding. For me, he was dead right there.”

Ali said he doesn’t believe the incident was just a robbery, since Chanda still had his cell phone and more than $80 in his pocket when he was taken to the hospital.

“Robbers, they target us,” said Ali, referring to what he said has been a series of thefts and attacks on Bengalis in the neighborhood in the last couple of months. Ali helped organize a rally Thursday after Chanda’s funeral in Parkchester, where Chanda’s wife and daughter now live.

Police have placed notices inside the building where Chanda was killed, on 190th Street. (JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

Police have released a video of the two suspects, described as male and black, between the ages of 20 and 25, and approximately six-feet tall apiece. Notices of the attack have also gone up in the apartment building, including one written by residents demanding the landlord install cameras and fix the broken locks on the front door.

Chanda’s death is one of three homicides that occurred within one week in the 52nd precinct, which encompasses Kingsbridge, Bedford Park and Norwood.

A 35-year-old man was stabbed to death in the lobby of an apartment building on Grand Avenue near Fordham Road on Tuesday morning. Police have yet to identify the victim, or any suspects in the case.

On Saturday morning at around 4 a.m., a 21-year-old man was shot in front of an apartment building on 2843 Bainbridge Avenue, near 198th Street, a few blocks from where he lived on the Grand Concourse. Detectives on the scene said that the man had been in an argument with several other men when the shots were fired. The victim, Edwin Valdez, who was shot in the chest, was still able to walk to 198th Street where he was able to receive help. He later died at Saint Barnabas Hospital.

Bainbridge Avenue was cordoned off by police between 198th Street and 199th Street all morning, including a portion right in front of the Academy of Mount St. Ursula High School. Police have not identified any suspects.

The early morning killing convinced some longtime residents in the Bedford Park neighborhood that it was time to leave.

“I’m moving upstate,” said Linda Matos, a mother of four, who heard the gunshots that morning from her apartment two buildings down.

“The Bronx is disgusting. You’re so used to it. For my children, I say to God every day, please protect them.

Police have released video footage of the suspects sought in Chanda’s killing.

Posted in Crime, Featured, North Central BronxComments (0)

Back in baked goods

On a crisp mid-October morning in the northwest Bronx, a weary middle-aged woman lifted one tray after another filled with colorful cupcakes, creamy cheesecakes and pieces of baklava, a honey-soaked Mediterranean delicacy, inside their glass display racks. Flags flanked the “Grand Opening” sign outside the shop on 204th Street and Bainbridge Avenue in Norwood. Curious customers offered congratulations to Ana Mirdita on her bakery’s opening day, again.“Welcome back. We missed you,” said one elderly woman tenderly to Mirdita, after ordering a fresh loaf of Italian bread.

Two mysterious fires within a seven-month period had destroyed the family-owned Bainbridge Bakery in 2009, an iconic part of Norwood’s business section since 1981.

For the owners, husband and wife team Ana and Tony Mirdita, the bakery’s reopening ended their arduous struggle to keep doing what they’ve done since moving to New York from Montenegro more than 30 years before: provide Bronx residents with freshly-baked breads and sweet pastries.

“It’s so far so good,” said Mirdita, softly. “I think we will do well again. If God’s willing, everything is going to be all right.”

It was no wonder why Mirdita was saying her prayers. Luck was against the couple two years earlier, when a five-alarm fire destroyed 10 businesses along Bainbridge Avenue, gutting their bakery. She and her husband Tony, 62, a baker trained in Montenegro, were days away from reopening.

“We lost $1 million in the second fire. We lost everything,” said Mirdita, who looked stressed even on this more festive day.  “It was a big mess.”

Police eventually arrested a nearby diner owner, charging him with insurance fraud and hiring an arsonist. But it wasn’t enough to help the Mirditas. They didn’t yet have fire insurance. Having already taken out an additional mortgage on their home to invest in the bakery, the couple was left with nothing, and were forced to shut it down.

Losing their livelihood was agonizing, Mirdita said, adding that  the small business bureau and a local bank refused to help them rebuild.

“It was especially hard for my husband,” said Mirdita, adding that Tony, who is an ethnic Albanian, was hospitalized several times due to stress-related health problems.

Other businesses along Bainbridge Avenue had received a token of $1,000 from the city’s Department of Small Business Services after the mysterious first fire, but nothing after the second fire, said a local official.

“They didn’t receive any direct financial support,” said Fernando Tirado, district manager for Community Board 7. “I think maybe they had false expectations about what small business services would provide in the long-term.”

Instead, the couple turned to family and friends, who loaned them $350,000 to open up a new shop, Ana’s Bakery, last year in Williamsbridge on the Pelham Parkway.

But the troubles didn’t stop there. The Mirditas soon found out that the loyal customers of Norwood did not follow them to the new location.

“I come here, biggest mistake of my life,” said Tony, from the Williamsbridge bakery a couple of weeks ahead of his Norwood reopening. “There’s no business. There’s no customers. The rent is high over here.”

When a shop beside the still vacant lot that once held their Bainbridge Avenue bakery became available earlier this year, the couple jumped at the chance to move back. The Mirditas borrowed another $80,000, hoping that this third return would be their last.

The diner owner was charged with arson in the second fire. Mohammed Quadir, 51, is expected in court on November 22 of this year. The Mirditas said they were not following his case and barely knew Quadir before the fires.

Meanwhile, residents said they are ecstatic that the bakery has returned to its roots in Norwood, especially since many of the stores destroyed in the 2009 fires were never rebuilt.

“I’m pretty excited to have the bakery back,” said Greg Jost, 35, deputy director of a housing advocacy group and resident on nearby Rochambeau Avenue. “It’s still a pretty big drag to have a big vacant lot here, but I’m happy they are coming back.”

As to why the stalwart couple has never considered finding other ways to make a living, Ana Mirdita made it clear that the bakery business is in the family blood. One of her three children can often be found baking through the night, she said. He is expected to take over the business at some point. However, it’s Tony’s  devotion to the delicate art of creating tarts, pastries and cakes that has kept the family going.

“He’s a baker all his life,” said Mirdita lovingly of her husband. “It’s his baby.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Food, Money, North Central BronxComments (0)

Norwood business owners still waiting to rebuild from the ashes of last year’s fire

A year later, the boarded up site of Norwood's Oct. 2009 fire. Photo: Elisabeth Anderson

A year later, the boarded up site of Norwood's October 2009 fire. Photo: Elisabeth Anderson

A field of dust and debris emerged in the heart of Norwood’s shopping hub on Bainbridge Avenue last Halloween, when a five-alarm blaze destroyed 10 retail shops in one large lot and badly damaged four more.  A full year later, the rubble remains at the first lot and no redevelopment has begun.  Two local small business owners are speaking out about their anger over the lack of action.

“I think it’s outrageous that the property hasn’t been developed,” said Allan Freilich, whose Freilich Jewelers is just over a block from the blaze site on 204th Street. “This is a community issue.  It makes us look like what the South Bronx looked like in the early 1970s.”  Freilich remembers those days.  The 58-year-old Bronx native starting working part-time in his father’s store 40 years ago and would eventually come to take over what is now the oldest family-run jewelry business in the borough.

His friend Bill Curran, 37, who owns and directs funerals at the John F. McKeon & Son Funeral Home, added that the fire created a big burden for residents, including him; he lives in an apartment above the funeral home on Perry Avenue, around the corner from the location of the fire.  “It’s affecting people’s ability to get essential day-to-day items in their community, and many people don’t have a way to go to a neighboring community to get those items,” he said, mentioning everything from fresh fish to baked goods.

Forty-five percent of residents in the jurisdiction of Community Board 7, which includes Norwood, receive public assistance, according to the Department of City Planning.  Traveling for everyday supplies simply is not practical for most.

As the Norwood News reported on Nov. 5, 2009, it took 198 firefighters more than five hours in the early morning hours of Oct. 31 last year to extinguish the flames that enveloped two buildings.  Ten storefronts had addresses ranging from 3083 to 3105 Bainbridge Ave. in one building.  Four others, from 3109 to 3119 Bainbridge Ave., were located in a second; these stores have since re-opened.  The destroyed stores included minimarts, a Mexican restaurant, a Dunkin’ Donuts, a fish market, a barber shop, a nail salon, a record store, and a realty group.

Rumors swirled then and until recently about where the fire originated and what caused it.  According to Community Board 7 district manager Fernando Tirado, the fire department reported at last week’s general board meeting that the investigation is now complete and there was no evidence of any criminal activity.  The fire was deemed accidental.

Construction crews were frequently on the site for the month or two after the fire to demolish what little remained, Curran and Freilich said.  They returned to wrap a plywood fence around the remaining dirt pit, and have not been seen since.

There were happy endings for at least two of the stores affected; European Minimarket moved to a vacant storefront down the street.  Bainbridge Bakery made a fresh start with a new name, Ana’s Bakery, on Williamsbridge Road in Kingsbridge.

But that is not necessarily a happy ending for Norwood, Freilich said.  The neighborhood no longer has a bakery.  The other shops that have not reopened mean lost jobs, lost services, and lost foot traffic on Bainbridge Avenue.

“People want to shop where the neighborhood looks clean and the businesses are thriving,” Freilich said.  “Having a huge series of boarded up property doesn’t make for an inviting shopping area.”   He thinks the entire 204th Street/Bainbridge Avenue retail corridor, which spans more than six city blocks, is hurting.

Curran worries about what the issue could mean for the community, and how that might ultimately hurt his business.  “This has not impacted my business immediately,” Curran said.  “However the continued condition as it is will force people to relocate to other neighborhoods, which will then impact me.”

Freilich says the fire has also taken an emotional toll on people here.  “It’s a psychological attitude of depression, of look what’s happening here,” said Freilich, who once headed Norwood’s now-dormant 204th Street/Bainbridge Avenue Merchants’ Association.  He said that in all the years he has been in Norwood,  he has never seen the neighborhood struggle so much.

While many Norwood residents and retailers look optimistically eastward to Webster Avenue, where a proposed zoning plan promises plenty of new retail and housing space, Curran and Freilich urge Norwood officials to pay attention to the area that has long been this community’s commercial heart.

There is speculation that the affected lot will be sold.  It is run by West Bronx Stores Inc., which is owned by Evelyn Jacobsen.  Jacobsen did not return repeated requests for comment.

“If the owner doesn’t want to build, sell to somebody else who will develop the property,” Freilich said.  “All the residents and business owners are suffering over this condition.”

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