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One of Main Land Media's postcards

The Bronx is Branding

The Bronx has an image problem. Local artists and entrepreneurs still find themselves working against its most persistent stereotype made infamous during the 1977 World Series. That’s when sportscaster Howard Cosell looked up from his press box perch at fires raging beyond Yankee Stadium’s walls and declared, “There it is, ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning.”

One of Main Land Media's post-cards

 Mainland Media postcard

But since then, the borough of 2014 has spawned more new businesses in the last two decades than any other. People are moving to the Bronx in larger numbers than any other. Music, food and art events are attracting more tourists now than in recent memory. Visitors doubled last year, according to 2013 figures from NYC & Company. And yet, its reputation as a burned-out borough plagued by drugs, poverty and violence is still tough to shake.

According to at least three proud Bronx entrepreneurs, the time is now for a public relations makeover. “The Bronx is the next new thing,” said Anthony Ramirez, one of the co-founders of Main Land Media, the promotional company he launched in 2006 with another fellow Bronxite, John Martin.  Together with Ramirez’s younger brother Paul, the three have opened the popular Bronx Beer Hall on Arthur Avenue and launched a Bronx themed retail website as well as a consulting firm for artists and business people who share their mission to boost the Bronx.

As the borough gears up to celebrate its centennial as an official county this year, new efforts are in the works to encourage people to start taking notice that the Bronx is back. This month, the on-going Yes The Bronx Film Festival, featured Hollywood movies that were connected to the Bronx, in hopes that more filmmakers would be encouraged to return to the borough for inspiration. Coinciding with Manhattan’s Fashion Week, this fall, the Bronx held its own Fashion Week for the first time, featuring local designers and models. On September 7, close to 30,000 people came from all over the state for the annual Italian feast in Belmont.

To Anthony Ramirez, “The Bronx is as rich in culture and history as any place in the world.”

Ramirez and Martin were working together in 2001 in the South Bronx community based organization called SoBRO. The mission of the South Bronx overall economic development organization is to build partnerships between businesses and community needs such as education, health and jobs. The two wanted to decorate their office space with Bronx memorabilia, and were stunned to discover that Bronx souvenirs were next to impossible to find. So they decided to take the matter into their own hands.

Both pitched in $2,000 from their personal saving to start a pro-Bronx business called Mainland Media. They named it Mainland because the Bronx is the only borough that is connected to New York State. They began creating their own memorabilia by renting a helicopter and flying above their home borough to take aerial photographs and make posters and post-cards. The point was to show the Bronx from a different perspective. The core purpose of their company was, and has ever since been, to re-introduce Bronx residents to their community and outsiders to the “proudest borough” in New York City.

From selling post-cards and posters the company expanded into selling a wide range of Bronx-themed merchandise on its retail website, Their online business features clothes, posters, books, stickers, and many other miscellaneous items. One of their best sellers is a T-shirt advertising the borough’s music history as the birthplace of hip-hop. It is sold $60 and prices for this specific-to-the-Bronx merchandise range from 99 cents to $79.99.

Main Land Media debuted around the same time Facebook was taking off. The two friends managed to take advantage of all social media platforms and are now the most followed Bronx-based business, right after the Yankees. Close to 114,000 people follow them on Facebook as do 3,006 on Twitter under their “from the bronx” pseudonym. In 2013, Main Land Media’s merchandise was featured in the Museum Of Modern Art’s gift shop collection in New York City, Korea and Japan.

Anthony Ramirez and his younger brother, Paul, who joined the company in 2010, were born and raised in the Parkchester section of the Bronx. Both have fond memories of their upbringing surrounded by many of their Puerto Rican relatives, a large, sprawling, close-knit community unto itself. The brothers were raised around 18 first cousins and knew everyone in the neighborhood. “Our parents taught us to be proud of where we’re from and of who we are,” said Anthony Ramirez, the eldest of the three children. Their father is a musician who plays many instruments but focuses mainly on the piano and the trumpet. Their mother has worked as an administrative assistant ever since Anthony can remember. Both parents were also born in the Bronx, which makes Anthony and Paul the second generation of Bronx-Ramirezes.

The Ramirez brothers intend to defend their roots from Bronx detractors who tend to regard Bronx residents as either urban survivors or potential threats. When Anthony Ramirez was an undergraduate student at Columbia University in 2000, he recalls one classmate’s frightened reaction when his pager went off. His friend explained to him; “You know, you’re from the Bronx, you have a pager…people automatically think you’re doing drugs.”

The stereotype sticks in large part because the problems of crime and poverty are still pervasive. The borough still has the highest number of people living below the poverty line in the city and is considered the poorest district in the nation according to the U.S Census Bureau. Its 9.8 percent unemployment rate is also the highest of all five boroughs according to the NYC Department of Labor, even though it is below 10 percent for the first time in six years.  Health wise, data shows the Bronx ranks second citywide in the number of AIDS diagnosis, with a 23.9 percent rate in 2010.

Yet the extreme violence and gutted landscape has dissipated to some extent, according to Professor Lloyd Ultan, a historian who was born and raised in the Bronx. To him the borough “is now almost perfectly safe, but nothing is perfect”. The crime rate has in fact plummeted since its peak in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In the last 21 years, overall crime has plunged 71.3 percent in the Bronx according to city data. Moreover, thanks to pivotal figures such as Father Louis Gigante whose work improved housing, or urban planner Edward J. Logue who implemented single-family homes around the borough, the Bronx has emerged as a vibrant place to live.

The Bronx Beer Hall, inside Arthur Avenue's retail market (ALICE GUILHAMON/The Bronx Ink)

The Bronx Beer Hall, inside Arthur Avenue’s retail market (ALICE GUILHAMON/The Bronx Ink)

Main Land Media intends to make Bronx residents and others care about its transformation. In order to shed light on the borough’s underestimated cultural scene, the company opened several temporary “pop-up” stores around the borough where they showcase local designers, creators and artists. The last event was held in December 2011 in Arthur Avenue’s Retail Market where the brothers eventually opened a beer hall. They also hosted a beer tasting at the event, which may have inspired Paul Ramirez’s idea to open a beer hall.

“He might have been a little tipsy” to think of opening a beer hall in the middle of this covered Italian food market, said Anthony Ramirez about his brother. But the next day the two thought about it some more and came up with a business proposal. In need of new revenue, the retail market committee agreed to their plans.

The Bronx Beer Hall opened in 2013 and has been attracting more and more clients ever since. Michael Hoblin is one of the bartenders. He studies at Fordham University, which is at a 10 minutes walk from the beer hall. The opening of this new business has changed his perception of the area as he now dares to venture much farther within the borough than he used to.

From a four-person company, Main Land Media expanded to a business now employing 20 to 25 people depending on the projects. They are currently designing a new product line for their retail activity and looking to open an additional venue for the Bronx Beer Hall.

According to the brothers’ analysis, the main reason why both their businesses have been successful so far is because their focus is on promoting the Bronx as a whole, not just making profit.

For Anthony Ramirez, their customers need to believe their activity is community driven. This is also what they say to the various Bronx companies that come to them for marketing strategy advice. The rising non-profit photography gallery “Bronx Documentary Centre” is one of its clients along with the Bronx Borough President’s Office, the Police Athletic League and others. They wanted to be Bronxites helping Bronxites. The demand for their consulting services, which can cost up to $5,000 for 20 to 40 hours of counseling, is now so high they are turning clients down.

However successful they are, they are aware the Bronx still has challenges to overcome. Anthony Ramirez explained they employ people as much as possible from or living in the Bronx and always try to support local businesses. “We work so hard to help other Bronx businesses because we know we (the borough) still have a very long way to go,” said co-founder John Martin.

This is the challenge facing the Ramirez brothers, and all the other artists and businessmen who are trying to help the Bronx come out from under the shadow of its reputation as the epitome of urban decay and despair. It’s a reputation that has even followed the borough to Europe. In French, a popular expression to describe a chaotic situation is “C’est le Bronx ici”, which translates into “It’s the Bronx here,” aka, “a disaster.”

The latest album by a Queens-based hardcore band “Sick Of It All” features a song in which they apply a whole new meaning to the Bronx.

“It’s time to get Bronx,” now means the time has come to “stand up and fight.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Featured, Money0 Comments

Part of the collected guns at the Bronx gun buyback event on Saturday Sept. 20th

Bronx residents go to church to surrender weapons to police

Three local churches opened their sanctuaries Saturday, Sept. 20 to any resident who wanted to hand over their guns to the New York Police Department in exchange for cash.

By the end of the day, police said dozens of Bronx residents had surrendered 128 weapons in the church sanctuaries, no questions asked. The stash included 78 revolvers and 38 semi-automatic rifles that were exchanged for $20 and $200 apiece, respectively. Police said three assault weapons, one rifle, two shotguns and six other firearms including BB guns, zip guns and starters were also taken in.

Part of the collected guns at the Bronx gun buyback event on Saturday Sept. 20th

Some of the 128 weapons collected at Bronx gun buyback events on Saturday Sept. 20 (DCPI)

“One of the first things I noticed was there wasn’t a good relationship between the cops and the community,” said Rev. Jonathan Recabarren, pastor at Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church on the corner of Walton Avenue and East 188th Street, one of the gun buyback sites. He said he had been hoping to host an event like this ever since he was appointed to the church  two years ago. One of his missions was to foster a safer community by serving as liaison between residents and law enforcement.

Organizers of the gun buyback had hoped to end up with more surrendered firearms yesterday, especially since shooting rates are on the rise in the area. “One is better than zero,” said Deputy Inspector Philip Rivera of the 46th Precinct. Five years ago nearly 1,000 weapons were taken off the streets. But, Rivera said, “the more the merrier.”

The overall crime rate in the Bronx is down 3 percent from last year according to this week’s police statistics. However, there have also been 247 shooting incidents in the Bronx since January 2014, a 19.3 percent increase since the previous year.

“I think people have had enough of the violence on the streets,” said Lawrence Nikunen, a police commanding officer in the borough.  “Most people, like the police, will take any opportunity to get a gun off the streets.”


One of the guns Buyback centers in the Bronx on Sept. 20th

In the first four hours of Saturday’s gun buyback, 33 guns were exchanged for cash at Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church (ALICE GUILHAMON/BronxInk)

The event was sponsored by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD Commissioner in collaboration with local leaders. This year, the recent racial turmoil in Ferguson, MO in the wake of a police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and the death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island resident at the hands of arresting officers, have left community relations strained. Rev. Recabarren said he received phone calls from skeptical community members who were suspicious of the event and worried they might be arrested for illegally possessing guns.

“That’s my role as clergy,” Rev. Recabarren said, “building a relationship between the law and the community.” He reassured them that the purpose of the event was not to trick them, but to create a safer community by getting guns off the streets.

Some of the participants who showed up at Fordham Lutheran Church said they were worried about the legality and safety of the guns in their homes.

One middle-aged Bronx man said he had owned his guns since he was a child, and worried that they might not be legal since the laws had changed. He left the church Saturday with an empty silver gun case and $600 cash.

Another middle-aged Bronxite waiting alone in the church sanctuary said, “I have children at home, I didn’t want any accidents to happen.” He left the church with $200.  The buyback promised anonymity and neither man wanted to give his name.

“It’s effective if we get one gun,” said Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, “every gun is a threat.” Johnson announced this week he will be joining other prosecutors in October for a national summit on combating gun-violence. The goal is to learn measures that can be put in place in an effort to find the most effective approach. Johnson said at the Saturday event, that gun buybacks in the past have proved a successful tool in fostering a safer community.


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured0 Comments

A memorial to Zulisker Redvetoski went up in front of 2414 Beaumont Ave. (ALICE GUILHAMON/ The Bronx Ink)

Belmont neighborhood shaken by killing of 22-year-old man

A memorial was put up in front of 2414 Beaumont Ave. (ALICE GUILHAMON/ The Bronx Ink)

A memorial in front of 2414 Beaumont Ave. for the latest victim of gunfire. (ALICE GUILHAMON/ The Bronx Ink)

On Thursday, nearly a week after a local 22-year-old man was fatally shot in the Belmont section of the Bronx, friends and neighbors gathered at a makeshift memorial in front of 3414 Beaumont Ave., where he had been gunned down. They had piled up dozens of candles, flowers and teddy bears in remembrance of Zulisker Redvetoski, whom they knew as “Zully.” Some left notes bidding him to “rest in peace” and they discussed their longstanding concern about shootings in the neighborhood.

Redvetoski was killed on Friday September 5th around 9 p.m., according to police. He was found with a gunshot wound in his torso on Beaumont Avenue at East 187th Street, and pronounced dead at St Barnabas Hospital. There were no arrests and the investigation is ongoing.

At his wake on Wednesday, friends, relatives, and neighbors flowed continuously in and out of the D’Bari funeral home. There was not one empty seat and many mourners had to stand in the back as scores of people passed by to pay their respects and comfort Redvetoski’s mother.

Friends and acquaintances wear this badge in remembrance of Zully (ALICE GUILHAMON/The Bronx Ink

Friends and acquaintances wear this badge in remembrance of “Zully.” (ALICE GUILHAMON/The Bronx Ink

After the wake, childhood friends and other acquaintances regrouped around the small memorial on Beaumont Avenue. On Thursday, a couple of young men stopped by, wearing large badges around their necks with Redvetoski’s picture on them. “We wear it to show our respect,” one of them said. Zully’s mourners categorically refused to share their names. Some tensely explained that they wanted to avoid trouble.

Redvetoski lived near Freeman Avenue with his mother. Neighbors said he was the father of a baby girl staying with her own mother. They described Redvetoski as “outgoing” and “a nice guy.” According to police, he had been arrested at least nine times for possessing marijuana and once for assault.

One of the slain man’s friends, Chris, said there is “a lot of heat between the blocks” around the neighborhood. He added that another one of his friends, John, met the same fate as Redvetoski two years ago.

Gang feuds have been raging in Belmont for a long time. A 1992 New York Times article  reported on that an attack took place at the same street corner more than 20 years ago. In the past year, there have been 14 shooting incidents in the 48th precinct, which covers Belmont. The local community board has listed Belmont as part of an “impact zone” — a high-crime area where extra police are deployed.

Across from the memorial, a man sitting outside one of the buildings, wary about revealing his name, said the disputes usually involve drug trafficking, especially around neighboring Prospect Avenue. A similar case of an unresolved shooting took place at the corner of Prospect Avenue and 187th  Street in 2012.

Some residents said that people were moving out of the neighborhood to escape the violence. In the nearby Vincent Ciccarone playground, Italian grandmothers complained about the absence of their children who moved upstate to raise their families in what they consider a safer environment. A young man who passed by the crime scene said he comes to Belmont to visit his mother, but that with the shootings around the area, he preferred to live elsewhere.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured0 Comments

Woman charged with manslaughter in the death of a toddler at her day care center

The Bronx caregiver was arrested on Friday Aug. 22nd after the death of 20-month-old Cardell Williamson, The New York Times reports.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Sears closes emblematic Bronx store 

The 33 year-old store located on Fordham Road is closing, The Daily News reports.
The shop will officially shut its doors in November and its 91 employees will be able to apply for open positions at other stores.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

River Park drug gang charged for four years

The Feds busted a gang that allegedly held the residents of the River Park Towers captive of their drug traffic, The Daily News reports.
One of the 19 members is Tyrone Felder, who was also charged last week in the murder of a Bronx livery cab driver.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Teenagers can now serve on local community boards

New York State recently passed a measure that allows residents as young as 16 to serve on community boards, the Norwood News reports. The bill was drafted by Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres in an effort to involve more youth in community decisions.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments