Tag Archive | "Soundview"

From Street Vendor to Shop Owner

A green photo album rests on her open hands. Inside, there’s a collection of carefully photographed flower arrangements. “I love plants, sometimes I feel like they’re talking to me,” said Carolina Bernal, 54, a Mexican immigrant who has been running her own flower shop in the southeast Bronx for two years. Surrounding herself with flowers has become a safe haven for her, having left everything she ever cherished behind. Bernal is one of millions of Mexican immigrants who have risked their lives by crossing the border to the United States, trading their homes and families for an uncertain but promising future. Despite paying taxes and contributing to the U.S. economy, this group of undocumented immigrants lives in fear of deportation in an era of Donald Trump. Flowers in the fridge   Life in the barrio Bernal’s story as a hard worker starts when her life as a student came to an abrupt and unexpected end almost 40 years ago. Born and raised in Santa Cruz Meyehualco — a poor neighborhood in eastern Mexico City — she was the second daughter in a family of nine children. Her mother kept pigs, geese, turkeys, and chickens to feed the family. Her stepfather provided for everything else. When Bernal turned 17, her stepfather died, taking her childhood with him. He died of a liver disease. “He passed away from getting so terribly mad,” she said, holding her hands together, shifting her gaze to the floor. As one of the oldest children, Bernal had to help her stay-at-home mother; she started looking for a job as an accountant’s assistant. The first man she interviewed with tried to sexually abuse her, so instead she took a low-paying shift in a plastic factory situated in the industrial belt that surrounds Mexico City. Her life as a working high school student did not last; Bernal had to drop out of school to work both night and day shifts. She promised herself she’d only quit school for one year while things got back on track. But she ended up working for the company, Plásticos y Reparaciones de Monterrey, for the next 15 years. Bernal began as a floor employee in a plastic injection plant. She had to work three shifts a day to buy one pair of shoes. It was 1982, she was barely 19, and Mexico was experiencing one of its most notorious economic crises. As time went by, between one shift and the other, injecting plastic day in and day out, she slowly began to exercise leadership among the employees. Ten years later, Bernal had worked her way up to quality control manager. She was in charge of making sure their main client, the rum manufacturer Bacardi, was happy with the product. “At that time, I was negotiating millions of pesos. My signature carried weight,” said Bernal, as she sat on a plastic chair in the corner of her shop filled with flowers. “You know, engineers and businessmen would look at me and say ‘now, this woman is a motherfucker’ because I knew my business and delivered impeccable results”. By this time, Bernal was 30 years old, and a single mother to a 5-year-old son. That’s when she married, had a daughter, and her life took a dark turn. “A smart woman can go as far as she wants, until she falls in love,” said Bernal holding her now 23-year-old daughter’s hand behind the shop counter. Her husband, she said, was jealous and possessive. She had a miscarriage and quit her job. Just like that, 15 years of her life came to another abrupt end. Her daughter Gaby was born when she was still battling postpartum depression from her previous pregnancy. Soon after, she got a divorce. Bernal went back to work for Bacardi, but her responsibilities as a single mother of two children were overwhelming. When she discovered the public school her children attended in Mexico City was illegally charging her a fee and putting her children to work mopping and scrubbing floors, she placed her kids in a private Catholic school. In order to pay for the exorbitant tuition, Bernal moved in with her mother, went back to school, and started a business making school uniforms. Five years later, her business collapsed when she lost her car in a crash and could no longer deliver the uniforms. With piling debts and no better options, she decided to cross the border into the U.S., making her way to 116th Street in Harlem. After sleeping in a church for a few nights, she moved to the Bronx. That’s how, nine years ago, a 43-year-old Carolina Bernal crossed the Mexico-U.S. border through the dessert under a blazing sun. She was the oldest immigrant and only woman in the group of young men she was traveling with. Exhausted, one day she decided she couldn’t keep going, and asked to be left behind while lying on a hot black rock.Mexican flags The boys wouldn’t have it. “Vámonos Doña Carolina”, said Bernal quoting her travel companions when they lifted her up from the rock. “That’s when people started calling me Doña”, she explained in Spanish, making it clear that her nickname was a sign of respect, due to her age. Doña Carolina then became one of the 11.3 millions of immigrants without proper paperwork in the U.S. as of 2015, according to the PEW Research Center. Even if Mexican immigration has been decreasing since 2007, 49% of all undocumented immigrants are still Mexican; the majority of them work in service sector jobs, like flower design.   An unassuming entrepreneur At age 43, and still without a high school degree, Doña Carolina found herself working as a nanny, a private cook, and a kitchen aid in several Mexican restaurants. It was in 2007 after one of her long night shifts at the Pancho Villa restaurant that she took a cab home because she was too tired to navigate the subway. A drunk driver hit the taxi, and Doña Carolina was badly injured. She sued and was given a small settlement of $5,000, which she used to open Carolina Flower Shop. Unable to work long shifts in the kitchen because of her new disabling column lesion, she looked for something that didn’t require as much physical work. Selling flowers was her solution. Before owning her store, Doña Carolina sold flowers out of a bucket on the sidewalk. She stationed her mobile business in front of a small shop on Westchester Ave., in the shadow of the No. 6 line. But her life as a hawker only lasted a couple of months. Just when the flowers started freezing in the winter cold, the tenant of the shop moved out. Doña Carolina took the opportunity and used her savings as a down payment for the rent. Doña Carolina had managed to secure a commercial space and open her own small business, but she didn’t know the first thing about actually arranging flowers. She taught herself quickly, using YouTube videos and practicing with fresh stems. Her customer service experience in Mexico prepared her for serving the clients. Today, Carolina Flower Shop, a couple of blocks north of the St Lawrence Ave. subway station, brims with bamboo bunches in different-sized pots and multicolored alstroemerias resting in buckets of water inside the fridge. She has good-luck pink mini cactuses sitting sturdily next to elegant orchids. The green plants with leaves reaching up next to the wall are believed to bring prosperity to new businesses. Inside the fridge, carnations look like pompons shoved against each other and gerberas explode in a rainbow of colors. In the corner, white lily buds are about to bloom.
Flower trade

Illustration by Alejandra Ibarra

Back in early 2014, when Doña Carolina’s enterprise was on the pavement, she used to get her flowers from warehouses like Select Roses in Hunts Point. Those big depots have container-sized refrigerators where the flowers are stacked in boxes. The warehouse owners import a bunch of 25 roses for $2. Nowadays, Doña Carolina gets her flowers from a Korean deliveryman who goes directly to the airport customs office and delivers boxes of flowers twice a week to the doorstep of Carolina Flower Shop. The Korean middleman sells the same 25-rose bouquet for $17 to the florists. Doña Carolina buys each rose at 60 cents more than its original value. She compensates for the cost of shipment and delivery by producing creative merchandise like flower arrangements and bouquets. Each bouquet has about 12 roses, adorned with cheaper flowers used as filling, and various green leaves of different shades and shapes. She sells the bouquets — perkily poised in their cellophane wrapping — starting at $70. Creating value is not the only challenge faced by Mexican shop owners like Doña Carolina. She’s also had to learn how to revive a flower that has been kept in refrigeration for months. Withered flowers are easily identified; their twigs don’t snap when broken, their leaves are pale and opaque, and their buds are often stuck in the opening phase, like a teenager in arrested development. In order to bring them back to life, Carolina slices their stems diagonally, making it easier for the plant to absorb water. According to the Department of Labor, there were 2,980 floral designers in New York in 2015, the second most in any state after California. Florists like Bernal earn an average hourly wage of $14.49 and an approximately $30,140 a year. Floral designers in New York are not among the best paid in the industry. In nearby Connecticut, florists make more than $36,000 a year, on average. Soon after her business opened, Doña Carolina’s daughter joined the family in the Bronx. With a college degree and her mother’s earnings, Gaby came to New York City, and now helps her mom run the flower shop. Gaby is in charge of finances, social media accounts, English speaking costumers and theme party paraphernalia. Doña Carolina manages everything else. “In spite of all the problems she had, my mom is an independent woman who never needed a man to succeed,” said her daughter, Gaby. When her daughter finally made it to the U.S., she hadn’t seen her mother in seven years. “When she saw me here, she found a grown woman instead of the little her she had left behind.” The two make a good team, they say. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they laugh, but they always support each other. “I have to rinse her tears and tell her that she’s wrong, just as she does with me,” Gaby said. With no previous experience in the flower business, Doña Carolina’s biggest asset is customer service. She figures out ways to accommodate her clients, like when the employees of a deli off Grand Concourse needed a bouquet delivered on Sept. 29. Doña Carolina charged $15 for delivery and then paid for her daughter to take a cab to the deli, tucked behind Bronx Criminal Court. The flowers were for a woman who was forced to retire after nine years because of health problems. Holding the bouquet with her arthritic fingers, the woman said she loved the red and white arrangement. In late September, Feliciana Danielle popped into Carolina Flower Shop with her husband. They were looking for a centerpiece for a black and gold themed party. Doña Carolina quickly sprayed a couple of green branches with gold and black spray paint and gave Danielle time to think. After the $90 order was placed, Danielle said she was a returning customer. “I had been here years ago, when I bought the flower arrangements for my wedding.” She came back, knowing Bernal would know how to put together an arrangement that met all her needs. Doña Carolina opens her shop every day at 8 a.m. After all her ordeals, she won’t stop working until she achieves her final dreams. Her next challenges are obtaining legal residency, getting a car to expand her business, and buying a small house in which she can spend her last days. “I’ve been run over once and again,” Doña Carolina said. “But no matter what comes my way, I keep getting up.”

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Challenging The Party Machine: Newcomer Runs Against Incumbent in the 85th Assembly District

Michael Beltzer speaks with a local worker.

Michael Beltzer speaks with a local worker.

The position of district leader doesn’t usually attract much attention in election coverage or amongst voters. It is unpaid, listed low on the ballot, and doesn’t involve direct legislative power. Despite this, Michael Beltzer, a 30-year-old independent democrat in the 85th Assembly District, has dedicated much of the last year to campaigning for the job. The race pits him against longtime incumbent, Marcos Crespo, who is also the assemblyman for the district, chairman of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, and chairman of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. It’s a David versus Goliath contest with low stakes, but Beltzer said it’s important to challenge the party machine. “The way leadership has traditionally been is that there’s very consolidated power, a very top-down kind of hierarchy,” he said. “That’s where I have real fault with the leadership style in the Bronx. We can’t keep the next generation at bay.” Beltzer said his goal in the campaign is less about winning and more about showing that it’s possible for politically engaged citizens – not just established party members – to run for local positions. “It’s a test of pure electoral politics,” he said of the race. The role of district leader as Beltzer sees it, is to be “the eyes, ears and voice of the community.” But in the South Bronx, where voter turnout is notoriously low, there’s a bit more to it. In addition to monitoring and raising community issues to elected officials, district leaders are responsible for staffing poll sites for elections. If a district leader is also running for Assembly, this is particularly advantageous. “If you do your work correctly, you can go into the election with 300 votes in the bag,” said Michael Benjamin, retired Assembly member for the 79th district. Beltzer, a Long Island native, moved to the South Bronx in 2007. He got his start in New York politics working for John Liu on his 2009 campaign for comptroller, where he discovered the importance of making direct contact with individual voters. “You could tell that nobody really touched them, they never really met politicians, they didn’t know how do access local government,” he said. He sees the role of district leader as an opportunity to close the gap between residents and their elected officials. “Your elected official should come to your tenant association meetings, be at your church events, and be at the park having conversations,” he said. Beltzer has taken a very hands-on approach to canvassing. He collected all of his own signatures for his nomination petition, and spent weeks meeting residents and registering them to vote. He is fearless about approaching people, is unfazed by rejection, and recites his introductory spiel perfectly every time. It begins with description of the position, with an emphasis on the fact that it’s unpaid, and includes a reference to the fact that his 6-year-old daughter goes to school in the district. The official requirements to run for district leader are very straightforward – be a resident of your district, be registered democrat and get 500 signatures on a nominating petition – but getting on the ballot without County support in the Bronx is not an easy task. The nominating petitions of non-party candidates are often heavily scrutinized for cases of voter fraud – if a signature or an address doesn’t look quite right, it can easily be discarded. Given this, it is advisable to collect double the required of signatures, if not more, on nominating petitions (Beltzer collected 1500 signatures on his petition). Without a campaign staff, this is a labor intensive and time-consuming process. In addition to this, candidates need to have the resources to defend their petitions in court if accused of voter fraud. Because Beltzer isn’t working full-time at the moment, he was able to dedicate more time to this process than some of his contemporaries. Candidates who are endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee, on the other hand, can tap into the party’s manpower, legal, and financial resources. “If you run against County, you’re not running against an individual,” said Julio Pabón, who ran for council and lost twice against County-backed candidates. As a member of the Bronx Young Democrats, Beltzer initially tried to get County support for his campaign. He pitched the idea of running for district leader to his assemblyman, Marcos Crespo, the current district leader, in 2014. Eventually, though, he decided to run on his own. “I couldn’t just sit out a year, wait my turn, do things the ‘right’ way,” he said. Assemblyman Crespo could not be reached for this story at the time of publication. Because of the difficulties associated with running against County endorsed candidates, few independents have tried to run in the past, allowing many officials to keep their positions for decades at a time. In the 2014 New York State primaries, the incumbent reelection rate was 96.67%. In next today’s election, however, there are several unaffiliated candidates who are challenging County-backed incumbents. While chance of any of these candidates winning is low, they say the act of running – and providing an alternative to voters – is powerful in itself. For democracy to work, Pabón said, “we need to run people for every position – from dogcatcher up to US senators.” The challengers say they hope that by campaigning hard, registering people to vote, and raising community issues, incumbent candidates will be forced to do more on-the-ground work too. For Michael Beltzer, if he is able to make any impact on the polls the campaign will have been worth it. “If we see an increased voter turnout,” he said, “there’s power in that and people will pay attention.”  

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Bangladeshi families prep for controversial specialized high school exam

About 40 middle school children—all but one from Bangladeshi immigrant families in the Bronx—sat quietly inside a stark classroom at Khan’s Tutorial in Parkchester on a Sunday afternoon in September. Barely audible from the upstairs classroom were the sounds of children playing at a nearby park as the 12 and 13-year-olds reviewed fractions, greatest common factors and least common multiples. Eighth grader Rafsan Zaman, with the beginnings of a moustache and a mouthful of braces, reviewed again and again the one math problem he missed on a practice test from that morning. Rafsan’s name was up on the Khan’s Tutorial room whiteboard as it had been nearly every week. It meant that he was the top scorer on the 100-question practice exam for the specialized high school admissions test, known as the SHSAT, the all important gateway exam into the city’s eight legendary, elite public high schools. It was set to be given on October 24 and 25--in just two weeks.
Eighth grade student Rafsan Zaman studies nearly 15 hours a week for the specialized high school exam he will take at the end of the month.

Eighth grader Rafsan Zaman studies nearly 15 hours a week for the specialized high school exam he will take at the end of the month.

Still, for Rafsan, one wrong answer meant there was room for improvement. Parents said they can spend up to $4,000 for the year-long tutoring program. Their hopes for their children's futures depend on a high score. “Every time the score comes back it gives me more information of what I need to study,” said Rafsan, tightly clutching an algebra practice book under his arm. The eighth grader expects to get into Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, considered the best of the best of the elite schools that include Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and LaGuardia School of the Arts. Admissions decisions are based solely on results from the highly competitive SHSAT, a requirement that is currently up for debate in the state legislature. “It sets the way for college and career,” Rafsan said. Three rows behind Rafsan sat Rahat Mahbub, also an eighth grader, but with a younger face and gentler demeanor. Rahat worried that his reading comprehension scores would not be good enough. His mother, Taamina Mahbub, enrolled him in Khan’s SHSAT prep program in June of 2013. She feels almost the same pressure as her son, and urges him to keep studying. “The process is stressful and the culture is competitive,” Taamina Mahbub said. “I am really nervous—usually the parent is more nervous than the child.” For the last two decades, this private SHSAT tutoring company has successfully targeted the city’s growing Bangladeshi immigrant community. Khan’s Tutorial, a 20-year-old institution begun in Queens, recently set up its second center in the Bronx, following the Bangladeshi immigrant migration from Jackson Heights to Parkchester that began in the 1990s. The website advertises prices at $15 per hour. Parents said they pay as much as $4,000 for their children to attend tutoring nearly two years before the exam, hoping a high score will help guarantee placement in a good university down the road. Since its founding in 1994, Khan’s has sent 1,400 students to specialized high schools. Some students come two weeks prior to the exam for tutoring, some start as early as the sixth grade. The company’s administrators recommend that students prepare for the exam at least one year in advance. “For South Asians or Asian Americans, the SHSAT has been the common path to pursue in our culture,” said Sami Raab, director of Khan’s Tutorial in Jamaica Queens. “You see testing as important and that carries over to first generation children.”
Khan's Tutorial, a prep center for standardized tests like the SHSAT, opened a second location in the Bronx this year to accommodate the growing Bangladeshi community in Parkchester.

Khan's Tutorial, a prep center for standardized tests like the SHSAT, opened a second location in the Bronx this year to accommodate the growing Bangladeshi community in Parkchester.

For students who are well prepped, scoring high on the SHSAT is possible, but for those who can’t afford tutoring programs, or don’t know about the test at all, access to specialized high schools remains out of reach. Bronx students have historically ranked at the bottom in the city in terms of the number of children who take the test, and who score high enough to be considered for admission. Although the city provides free tutorials, such as the DREAM Specialized High School Institute (SHSI)—a rigorous 22-month program offered to sixth graders with high test scores and financial need—some feel that more needs to be done. Many, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, believe that the single test criterion is unjust and leads to student bodies in the elite schools that do not represent the public school population. Last year, 375 Latino and 243 African American public middle school students were offered admission at the eight specialized high schools, compared with 2,601 Asian and 1,256 white students; this in a system where 72 percent of the public school students are black and Latino. After a complaint lodged by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the increased controversy over the schools’ one test admission process, Mayor de Blasio proposed a bill in June that would allow for criteria such as attendance and grade point average to be considered as well. Those in favor of the bill claim the legislation would give students without extended tutoring and prep, a better shot at specialized high schools. Assembly member Luis Sepulveda who represents Castle Hill and Parkchester, is a co sponsor on the bill. He called the 12 percent of African American and Latino students at the elite three specialized high schools—Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science “dismal” and “unacceptable.” “Anyone can have a bad day and do poorly on a test,” Sepulveda said. “Schools have to look at other criteria. It’s not solely about your education, it’s about your involvement in your community.” The day after de Blasio proposed the bill last June, coalitions in favor of the test formed in protest.  Don’t Abolish The SHSAT and CoalitionEdu, as well as parent and alumni associations from the specialized schools, argued that the test did not cause a lack of diversity in the high schools. Instead, they said, the fault lay with a school system that failed to prepare more diverse students to pass it. Don’t Abolish The SHSAT has collected 4,198 signatures through its website and CoalitionEdu offers politicians’ contact information, urging parents and students to get involved. These groups claim the school district’s lack of communication about the test leaves students from low socioeconomic backgrounds out of the loop until it’s too late to study. “The overall issue is failing K through Sixth grade and middle school systems throughout New York City,” said the head of Khan’s Tutorial, Ivan Khan. “By proposing a more holistic approach, wealthier families will have better access to more subjective resources. We strongly feel that those should be explored further rather than changing the criteria.” While Khan’s Tutorial addresses the bill from the corporate level, tutors keep the issue at bay during weekend test prep. Rafsan and Rahat had two more Saturday classes before they took take the two-hour test alongside 27,000 other eighth graders on October 25 or 26. “It’s just a test,” said Rahat, with uncommon calmness. “I know it’s the most convenient way, but one Saturday moment doesn’t determine everything.” Rahat’s mother believes an essay or report card should be included. His stay-at-home mom has seen too many bright students miss out on the opportunity to go to a specialized high school because of the single criterion. “It should change,” Mahbub said. “One test is not fair. One or two points and you have to go to another school.” Still, tensions are high as the test date approaches. It may abate after the test is given, but will likely return in February when the results are announced. Middle schools, tutoring centers and the Parkchester neighborhood unofficially referred to as Bangla Bazaar, will buzz with the news of who got in where. And who didn’t. Mohammad Rahman, a 14-year-old from Castle Hill, remembers the day last February when his SHSAT results came back. Fifteen months of prep at Khan’s in Castle Hill and countless hours studying at home were for naught—Mohammad’s scores weren’t high enough to get accepted. He would not join his brother at a specialized high school. “I felt to an extent ashamed I didn’t get in,” Mohammad said. “My mom felt I should follow in [my brother’s] footsteps.” Now a freshman at Manhattan Center for Math and Science, Mohammad thinks maybe the single test process isn’t fair. “People just study the test format,” he said.
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Wasi Choudhury writes the top scoring students' names on the whiteboard as incentive for all of the students to study harder. "Everyone's goal is to get on that list," he said.

  Photocopies of practice tests fill Rafsan’s backpack. He estimates he has taken over 20 by now. Because Khan’s Tutorial is known for giving diagnostic tests that are more difficult than the actual SHSAT, Rafsan is hopeful. “If you can get a 95 or a 96 on these tests, you can definitely get into a specialized high school,” he said. Rafsan’s tutor at Khan’s Tutorial, Wasi Choudhury, will continue to write the top scorers’ names on the whiteboard for the class to see. There are only 2,500 seats in the top three specialized high schools and students know their competition is each other. “Everyone’s goal is to get on that list,” Choudhury said. “It pushes them to get up there.” Choudhury, a student at New York University and an alumnus of Bronx Science said Rafsan has a good shot of “going specialized,” though tutors can never know for sure. “Stress ruins it for a lot of students,” Choudhury said. “There were kids that we said were sure to get in and failed the test.” Rahat lives a few blocks away from Khan’s center in Parkchester and looks forward to the coming weeks when he doesn’t have to come sit for four hours on the weekends. This summer his family will be able to visit Bangladesh—a vacation forgone last summer due to his tutoring schedule. In November, Rahat plans to apply to private schools, in case the test day doesn’t go as planned. But life will be good, he said, if he scores high enough on the test. “I’m going to play six hours a day. Nothing will matter because you got into a specialized high school.”  

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Soundview’s booming juice bar market attracts customers, and some concerns

Carmen Arias, an employee at Blended Up juice bar, pours a pineapple smoothie customers coming in for the afternoon rush.

Carmen Arias, an employee at Blended Up juice bar in Soundview, preparing pineapple smoothies to-go. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk)

Bright orange carrots and yellow cubes of mango spun into liquid inside large plastic blenders one September afternoon at Blended Up, a new juice bar on Westchester and St. Lawrence Avenues in the Bronx. A steady stream of customers ordered smoothies named “big-fighter” or “detox power." Many said they were grateful for a healthier option to the more established fast-food fare at the nearby Checkers, McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts, according to owner Maribel Vilas, 44, a native of Puerto Rico. “There’s a misconception that black and brown people don’t want to eat healthy,” said Yasmin Tejeda, 28, drinking a mango smoothie on her lunch break from Primary Care Information Project where she is a clinical quality specialist. “But if it’s affordable and it’s available we want to eat it.” Fresh juices are quickly becoming a staple in the local diet and economy. Vila’s business is the newest of four juice bars that have opened in the Soundview area of the Bronx within the last five years, three of them just within the last year. The trend began in 2010 when Rapper David Styles—known by fans as Styles P—opened the popular Juices for Life on 1026 Castle Hill Ave. Its success inspired other Bronx entrepreneurs to follow suit. Three years later, Fresh Take, a juice shop on 2245 Westchester Ave., opened its doors and four months ago, GP Smoothies and Gift Shop opened on Castle Hill Avenue. Fresh Take owner Eric Glisson, 38, said the shop sells up to 400 juices a day, with many of the customers coming in after a work out at the Planet Fitness gym above the shop.
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Dr. Samuel Walters recommends juicing to his patients, many of whom are diabetic or pre-diabetic. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk)

“People were so excited and very receptive, saying, ‘Thank God something healthy is coming to the neighborhood,’” Glisson said. GP Smoothies and Gift Shop owner Geoconda Pin said she distinguishes her business from others by including a deli and groceries. Juices, however, are still her most popular product. “People like the concept of green juices,” Pin said. “We use vegetables and natural fruits and that’s why they buy a lot.” Affordability is key to business in Soundview. A small juice at Blended Up and Fresh Take sells for $3.50, compared to $5 at Juices for Life. Some customers compare the cost favorably to fries and a shake at McDonalds. “You can’t be a juice place coming in here selling a ten-dollar organic juice,” said Nancy Guevara, 28,a Bronx native who was visiting from Pennsylvania. Prices don’t seem to be a factor for many customers, especially when their doctors recommend the products. Dr. Samuel Walters, an Internal Medicine specialist in Unionport, estimates 20 percent of his patients to be diabetic and 70 percent hypertensive. Juicing, the doctor said, is a good way to get fresh fruit. “I am a naturalist in the way I treat patients,” the Jamaica born doctor said. “Patients ask if I recommend juice and I do.” But his recommendation comes with a caveat. Diabetes rates are high in Bronx neighborhoods. According to the New York City Community Health Survey of 2002 to 2004, the greater Pelham Bay area had a diabetes rate of 11 percent. In 2010, the Center for Disease Control reported that 8 percent of Americans have the disease. Restricting calories, Dr. Walters said, is the key to losing weight and keeping diabetes in check. An improved diet and increased exercise also helps. Orlando Castro of Soundview dropped 50 pounds over the last year by making these lifestyle changes. The 31-year-old lives near Blended Up and comes for breakfast frequently throughout the week. “My father died of diabetes and my mother has diabetes,” Castro said, sipping on a strawberry and pineapple smoothie. “I’m not going out that way.” Some health experts, however, are concerned about the dangers of the high sugar content found in fruit juices. An 8-ounce serving of juice with sugary fruits such as apple, pineapple or grape can have up to 44 grams of sugar. “Juicing has become a big hit with my patients,” said Priya Massand, a health educator at Montefiore Medical Group on 2300 Westchester Ave. “In an area that is so laden with diabetes it’s almost a dangerous trend because it’s not being done in an educational way.”
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Health educator Priya Massand warns patients about juice bars that add agave syrup, honey or enhanced protein powers that are high in sugar. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk) 

Massand said she recommends that her patients drink juice that includes only one fruit, not several mixed together, and that they make sure no sweeteners are added. The educator keeps photocopies of the juice bars’ menus and points out which beverages are best—vegetable-based drinks—for her diabetic patients. “It can help but I think it requires so much attention to detail that is being missed that it’s not helping yet,” Massand said. “I’m concerned that it’s a trend and not a lasting change.”

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Architects to Restore a Historic Bronx Train Station

Located at the intersection of Westchester and Whitlock Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx, the Westchester Avenue train station is about to be restored by two architects based in Manhattan, the New York Daily News reports. Built in 1908, the abandoned place is now covered with ivy and graffitis. The architects' plan is to transform the station in two parts, making it an entrance for the Concrete Plan Park. It could also help launching a waterfront community center in the area.

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Before, During and After: Bronxites React to Hurricane Sandy

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Sandy Batters Eastern Coast of the Bronx

Throgs Neck, Pelham Bay and City Island neighborhoods along the eastern coast of the Bronx suffered the most damage when Hurricane Sandy hit Monday night. But residents in other areas of the Bronx also felt the effects of the storm, including Clason Point and Soundview. Among the most widely reported problems: fallen trees, power outages and property damage due to flooding. An estimated 49,387 customers, or 11.6 percent of Bronx customers served by ConEdison, were without power as of 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, ConEdison reported on its storm center database. Citywide, 661,592 customers had no electricity, including nearly 40 percent of ConEd customers in Manhattan. New York City public schools will remain closed for the third straight day on Wednesday. Subway service is expected to remain down for an unknown number of days, while the Metropolitan Transportation Agency tries to run as close to a full weekday bus service as possible on a fare-free basis Wednesday. For the latest transportation information, visit www.mta.info. To report downed power lines, outages or check service restoration status, visit  www.ConEd.com or 1-800-752-6633. To report fallen trees, dial 311. View a list of emergency resources compiled by News 12 The Bronx here.  

Hurricane Sandy Hits the Bronx

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Hurricane Sandy caused serious damage in Soundview. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

 

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Espada’s lawyer seeks to quit fraud case

Disgraced former state Sen. Pedro Espada may be left without legal council if court approves his lawyer's request to quit his case in an upcoming federal trial, reports the New York Daily News. Espada is facing charges related to an earlier conviction in May, which found he had embezzled $400,000 from Soundview Healthcare Network, a chain of health clinics he founded, to pay for expensive dinners and other personal items.On Nov. 5, he is set to stand trial for related tax fraud  in Manhattan Federal Court. Daniel Hochheiser, Espada's lawyer, did not explain why he is seeking to drop his client's case.  

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