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INTERACTIVE – Clam Diggers and Mussel Suckers

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City Island: A Coastal Community in the Bronx

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Moshe Piller: How a New York Landlord Works the System

Selam Berhe, Sonia Dasgupta, Dan Fastenberg, The Bronx Ink
Laura Kusisto, Clare O’Connor, Thorsten Schier, The Brooklyn Ink

After 18 months of rehabilitation for a broken hip, all that Eta Eckstein wanted was to go back home to her Brooklyn apartment. The 92-year-old Holocaust survivor had lived at 8750 Bay Parkway for 40 years, but when her son visited her apartment while she was still at the Shore View Rehabilitation Center, he found a red eviction notice on the door.

Her son, Zvi Eckstein, continued to pay her monthly rent, but the landlord, Moshe Piller, evicted the long-time resident, claiming she had vacated the apartment. The building superintendent had told the neighbors she was dead. But according to her son’s affidavit, his mother could instead not move back in because the apartment was in such disrepair.

With the help of her family, Eckstein fought the eviction all the way to Housing Court. Piller settled the case after Judge Candy Gonzales warned him: “You’re playing with fire.”

Along with the right to live in her apartment, Eta Eckstein won the right to reclaim belongings that had been stored in an unlocked basement or scattered on the building’s landing. But she also won the right to live with faulty wiring in the living room, a collapsed ceiling in the bathroom, and clogged plumbing, according to her son’s affidavit. Victory for Eta Eckstein meant being allowed back into a building that currently has 99 open violations with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, or HPD.

Why would anyone fight so hard to get back into 8750 Bay Parkway? Since Piller took over the building in 2005, tenants say that conditions have deteriorated. But five years of decline do not matter as much to a 92-year-old woman as a lifetime of familiarity. “It’s been her home for over 40 years,” said her grandson, Idan Eckstein.

Like Eta Eckstein, tenants all around the Bronx and Brooklyn live in buildings that have rodents, collapsing ceilings, no heat in the winter and windows that don’t open in the summer, and unlocked security doors that allow people in to urinate and do drugs in the stairs. The system makes it almost impossible to demand better.

They are afraid to make trouble because they lack the language skills to make sense of the complaint process or because their work schedule makes it impossible to go to housing court during the day. The city’s housing bureaucracy struggles with a system that makes aggressive enforcement difficult. And landlords learn how to fly under the radar, paying fines or making minor repairs rather than making expensive improvements.

Eckstein is hardly an isolated victim, and her landlord, Moshe Piller, is not unique. In fact, there are far worse landlords: Piller does not appear on the Village Voice’s list of “10 Worst Landlords,” nor do any of his holdings appear on the HPD’s list of the 200 worst buildings in New York City. Piller, who occupied a berth on the HPD’s 2003 “Major Problem Landlords List,” with 7,313 open violations at 29 buildings, now escapes the agency’s sanction, and his current violations are down to over 1,700.

In an effort to understand how landlords like Piller work the New York housing system, The Brooklyn Ink and The Bronx Ink spent several months following the same process that many tenants do. Like them, reporters from the two websites talked to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Buildings and the district attorney’s office. They all provided different versions of the same answer: He hasn’t broken the law; there’s not much we can do about the condition of housing for many tenants.

Also like many tenants, we went to Piller’s office to talk to the landlord himself. We made several trips and finally spoke with his property manager, Mike Ross. Ross said they constantly making improvements to the properties, including beginning renovations in three apartments at 119 East 19th Street in the last month since we began investigating the building for this story.

“We’re trying our best,” said Ross. “There’s always more, more and more work.”


When a faucet is leaking or the oven is broken, the first step for tenants is to phone the landlord or superintendent and ask him to come fix it. But if residents wait and remind him and nothing is done, the next step is to complain to the HPD.

Under New York law, a landlord is not fined—even if a violation isn’t fixed—unless a tenant or the HPD takes the landlord to housing court. But often tenants cannot take time off work to go to court, according to Legal Aid chief litigator Judith Goldiner, who represents tenants in housing cases. Legal aid can only represent about one in eight tenants who come to complain, due to a lack of resources. For those who go to court unrepresented, the success rate is low.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story of what it means to live in a Piller building, but they do tell a compelling part of it. The Piller apartment buildings we identified in Brooklyn have 829 open HPD violations . Of those, 219 are Class C violations, which include lead paint and a lack of child safety bars. The buildings in the Bronx have 995 violations, with 297 Class C violations, the most serious violations.

(To see the violations by building, click here)

Piller’s tenants have taken him to court more than 95 times in Brooklyn and the Bronx since 1989. Many of these cases settled, with the landlord agreeing to perform repairs.

Still, the extent of the landlord’s holdings, and therefore the number of violations in his buildings, is impossible to determine, even for city officials. New York City keeps records of all the buildings in the city, but not of the individuals who own them. One of the problems that organizations like HPD face in regulating a landlord like Piller is that he registers his holdings under a corporation, not individual, name. He registers most of his holdings under separate corporations. Eckstein’s building, 8750 Bay Parkway, for example, is registered as “8750 Bay Parkway L.L.C.,” which we confirmed by checking the sign in the lobby.

The Brooklyn Ink identified 14 buildings that Piller owns in Brooklyn and seven in the Bronx. The buildings that are listed under his name were purchased in the early 90s. Most of them are small two- or three-story brick homes in the Borough Park area. They have no violations, and tenants we spoke to generally said he’s a good landlord.

But after the early 2000s, Piller stopped registering buildings under his own name. We searched the names of Piller’s family and his employees, but nothing came up. The only way to know for sure is to visit the buildings themselves, where the registration on the wall says the name of his company, “MP Management,” and his name, Moshe Piller.

After hours of searching city records, old news clippings, and reports by city agencies we found as much as we could about the buildings he might own. Then we went to the boroughs to confirm which buildings are still his, and to find out what it’s like for the people who live there.

Life at 119 East 19th from Brooklyn Ink on Vimeo.

From the outside, nothing seems amiss at 119 East 19th Street, in Prospect Park South, Brooklyn. The railing protecting the flowerbeds outside is freshly painted and the building’s light brown facade has been redone recently, according to the building’s manager, Mike Ross.

Inside the lobby, on white paper with black marker is noted the name of the landlord for the building: “Moshe Piller.”

In the stairwell, the smell of urine is overpowering and at the bottom of the stairs, there’s a rat hole, just one variety of the vermin—such as bedbugs, cockroaches and mice—that crawl throughout 119 East 19th.

The elevator had been out of order for a month when we visited—not for the first time, according to residents. When we came back two weeks later it was still not working.

The building on 19th Street has 152 open violations as of this week, according to HPD. Of those, 52 are Class C, the most serious violations. This is more than twice the number of violations in any other building in the neighborhood, and three times the majority of buildings in general.

Piller purchased the building for $218,000 in 1995. He currently has over $9,000 in Department of Buildings’ fines, mostly for the broken elevator. He charges most tenants between $900 to $1,200 in rent. He pays some of his fines, enough to stay out of trouble with the department.

The first thing that’s noticeable when entering Desmond Fontenelle’s small one-bedroom apartment 6J is a chair placed awkwardly in the middle of the room, which conceals a gaping hole big enough for a person’s foot. “I don’t wanna break my neck walking to the bathroom at night,” said Fontenelle, a gregarious man in his early 40s, with pale brown eyes and a St. Lucian accent.

In the bathroom, a broken faucet has been dripping water into a bucket for years. The floor is soaked and a towel has been placed over the wet patch where the bath leaks. When Fontenelle showers, it floods the apartment of the neighbor below him, so he tries to bathe as little as possible.

The bedroom windows are barred with a locked metal gate and the smoke detector does not have a battery. The stove has also been out of order for years. “I eat mostly at mother’s place these days,” said Fontenelle.

But for other problems, such as the disarray in the apartment and rotting food in the refrigerator, Fontenelle also bears responsibility.

Fontenelle has been living at 119 East 19th for 20 years, before Moshe Piller purchased it 15 years ago. He said he has confronted the landlord numerous times about the repairs. In the last week, men have brought paint buckets up to his apartment and the building manager, Ross, has arranged for someone to come fix the broken oven door.

Fontenelle has tried withholding his $900 rent to pressure Piller to fix the apartment, but this has led to numerous court cases and eviction notices in the mail. Piller has taken him to court 16 times in 15 years for late rent payments – although Ross said they only do this once the rent is at least three months overdue. Fontenelle always agrees to pay, but also uses the opportunity to complain to the judge about the lack of repairs in his apartment, according to court documents we read.

Finally, at the beginning of this year he contacted HPD, which gave Piller a month to do some of the repairs. More than a month later, nothing had changed, so Fontenelle took the landlord to housing court.

“He’s gonna keep taking you to court until you move out,” said Fontenelle. “Then he’ll fix up the place a little bit for the next people and jack up the rent.

“I mean the man deserves his money, but he’s got to give me some services.”

In a phone interview, Ross said that keeping on top of all the repairs in a building with 50 units is a challenge, but that they are constantly working to make conditions better for their tenants. Since we began working on this story, management has renovated two of the units. They’ve arranged for workers to come and paint Fontenelle’s unit and fix the broken stove door.

But the need for repairs is ongoing. Since these problems were fixed, the number of HPD violations in the building went from 148 to 152 this week.

The building has 50 units. Three complaints per unit is standard for buildings around the city, said Ross. But of the buildings in the neighborhood of similar size, most we found had around one-third of the violations in Piller’s buildings.


Life at 2860 Grand Concourse from Bronx Ink on Vimeo.

At 2654 Valentine Ave. in the Bronx, men loiter in front of the grilled gate that closes off the front courtyard. The front door of the building gapes open, as if by a strong wind.

Many windows in its upper floor windows are broken and what glass remains is covered with blue-ink graffiti. Rodent feces are visible on the ground floor. On a recent Saturday, a woman sat on the steps leading up to the fourth floor with a syringe beside her, bobbing her head and mumbling, too lost to notice the disdainful look a tenant shot at her as he climbed down the stairs.

Inside the apartments, tenants complain of mold, caving ceilings, crumbling walls, mildew and sinking floors. The building has 164 open HPD violations, of which 44 are hazardous Class C violations. These include rodents, lead wall paint, cascading water from a seventh floor bathroom leak, and lack of heating, among others.

Piller owns 2654 Valentine Ave. and the adjacent 237 E 194th St., registered under Valentine Apartments L.L.C. He owns more buildings under different company names—2860 Grand Concourse and 2874 Grand Concourse, five blocks away, and 2501 Davidson Ave., on the other side of the Grand Concourse. But of all the buildings Piller owns in North Fordham, Valentine Apartments is the most visibly distressed.

William Plasenia and his wife have lived in apartment 4D for the past 13 years. A corner of the ceiling in one bedroom has burst open. The adjacent wall bulges with the weight of water pushing down. The kitchen floor slopes towards toward the center, like an upturned roof pitch. Plasenia says it is sinking. The bathroom ceiling sags and its peeled plaster flails mid air.

Plasenia, who hails from Cuba, speaks little English. He gestured to say that he fears the bathroom ceiling will collapse on his head soon. None of the violations in his apartment, however, show up in HPD files because he doesn’t know enough English to understand the system so said he does not file complaints.

At the buildings we visited, many tenants were non-English speakers who were unwilling to open their doors to strangers. In other cases, tenants were confused about the process for filing violations. Many said they simply call 311, which does not keep track of the number of complaints.


How can landlords get away with scores of violations? from Brooklyn Ink on Vimeo.

Even if tenants complain to HPD—Piller’s tenants have made thousands of complaints—there is nothing the HPD can do to bar a landlord from owning or renting property out to tenants.

Under HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program, introduced in 2007, the HPD can enforce repairs on buildings it deems “distressed” or “hazardous.” Failure to comply could result in a lien being placed against the building. Of the 200 buildings on the most recent list, published on Feb. 15 of this year, none were Piller’s.

HPD can also refer buildings on this list to the district attorney for prosecution. The Kings County DA’s office could find no record of Moshe Piller in their referral files. The HPD declined to comment on whether they had referred Piller to the prosecutor.

In the meantime, the city continues to send some tenants to buildings we identified as Piller’s as part of its housing program for the homeless.

“You know, it’s very bittersweet sometimes as we send people into these buildings,” said Juanita Fernandez, a housing specialist at The Concourse House Shelter, who sent tenants to 2860 Grand Concourse, a Piller building, as recently as four months ago.

“We have no choice but to move people out after six months,” she said. “But yes, some of the places we send them to. I wouldn’t want to live there.”


In the absence of a clear enforcement mechanism, some tenants have organized to put pressure on Piller to fix the buildings.

In 2006, tenants drove two school buses to Piller’s home in Brooklyn and picketed there for a day, according to Xiamara Mejias, 40, who lives in apartment 3B at 2654 Valentine with her husband and three daughters. She’s the tenant organizer for the building and has been fighting the landlord for the past 10 years, relaying tenants’ grievances to authorities and the mortgage holder.

When they went to Piller’s house, his neighbors poked out of their homes to ask what was going on. “We told them your neighbor is a slumlord,” Mejias said. “And they started throwing eggs on us. Eggs!”

Since tenants took their paperwork and pictures to the building’s mortgage holder, the New York Community Bank, Piller has gotten better at repairing violations, according to Mejias. The open violations listed at the HPD today are half what they were in 2006.

Mejias said her bathroom still leaks and the hair salon beneath her apartment has complained. “This has been broken for a year,” she said pointing to her front door, which looks like someone had broken in. What is worse, the front door still doesn’t lock.

But Mejias also sometimes makes it impossible for repairs to get done. The piping in her bathroom is so old and rotten that it needs to be replaced. But when the super agreed to repair it, she told him, “I got three daughters who need to bathe every day. You can come in this morning … you can dig whatever, but when I come back home. I have to find a bathroom in there.’”

The hair salon eventually installed a ceiling to remedy the problem, but full repairs were never done.

Other tenants also get in the way of keeping the building in good repair. A week ago, all the hallway walls were painted a fresh round layer of brown yellow but someone has already sprayed graffiti on the fourth floor walls.

“It is like [the tenants] see this disrepair and they add on it,” said Mejias.


Moshe Piller was once one of the city’s most notorious landlords and has now become one of dozens that the city’s agencies just don’t have the time or resources to deal with. But though he may have receded from the public gaze in the last few years, for his tenants the problems in his buildings are real and unlikely to go away any time soon.

More shocking is that these problems are common in far too many buildings in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Like Eta Eckstein, many of the city’s residents have decided that for reasons of financial necessity and fear they’d rather make due than make trouble. Thanks to the weaknesses in a system that was meant to protect them, a place doesn’t have to be comfortable, clean or even safe to call it home.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Housing, Multimedia1 Comment

Weeks before graduation, students lose a classmate

Additional reporting by Sam Fellman

Just 19 days away from graduation, the senior class at the St. Raymond High School for Boys in the Castle Hill section of The Bronx was mourning on Monday the loss of classmate Jonathan Torres, 18, who was fatally shot on Friday shortly before 6 p.m.

Students are dismissed from St. Raymond School for Boys in Castle Hill (Photo by: Sonia Dasgupta/The Bronx Ink)

Students are dismissed from St. Raymond School for Boys in Castle Hill (Photo by: Sonia Dasgupta/The Bronx Ink)

Torres, of Highbridge, was with a 20-year-old companion when they were gunned down in front of 3451 Delavall Ave., near Hollers Avenue, in Edenwald. The second victim is listed as being in critical but stable condition at Jacobi Hospital.

Students learned of the shooting quickly and many received word in the early morning hours of Saturday.
Fran Davies, a spokeswoman with the superintendent of school for the Archdiocese of New York, which oversees the school, said the school provided students with grief counselors Monday.

“Our thoughts are with the family and his friends,” Davies said. Although some students gathered over the weekend at the school, on Monday morning the school held a prayer service in honor of Torres.

Senior Jonathan Brown said students were in shock over the shooting. “It’s very hurtful,” Brown said, “and there are no words to express how you feel when you lose a classmate.”

Brown said he and others wrote prayers and thoughts in a book to be presented to Torres’ mother.

“He was a funny kid that could always make you laugh,” Brown added. “He had progressed over the years and showed a lot of dedication.”

Christian Jorge, another one of Torres’ classmates, said the whole situation was upsetting. “It’s going to be a hard last month,” Jorge said. “I knew him for the last four years.”

Jorge described Torres as a bit of a class clown but someone many turned to for encouragement. Torres didn’t play sports, but he was still involved at the school.

“Although we all have our faults, he wasn’t a troublemaker,” Jorge said when asked about the circumstances surrounding the shooting. “I think he was just there at the wrong time.”

The cause of the shooting was unknown on Monday. A police officer, who declined to give a name citing the ongoing investigation, said the two victims were in Edenwald to pick up a motorcycle for an auto shop. They were shot in front of a marble and granite business. A police spokesperson said no arrests have been made and declined to comment further on the investigation.

Officials who work at Torres’ school declined to comment and his family could not be reached.

Students said the school will allow seniors to attend the funeral at St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Melrose on Thursday. The Mass will begin at 8:30 am.

“This wasn’t the way we wanted to end our year,” Jorge said. “This morning they read an excerpt from a letter he wrote in which he talks about going to college and starting a family.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime4 Comments

Riverdale Deli Serves Up Seder

It’s a rainy Monday afternoon on the corner of 235th Street and Johnson Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. On any other Monday many storefronts would be open and ready for business in this predominantly Jewish neighborhood, but many businesses catering to this community closed at noon for Passover.

With an estimated population of 21,600 observant Jews, according to The Jewish Community Study of 2002, Rabbi Judith S. Lewis, of the Riverdale Temple still says the community is diverse.

People of various ethnic backgrounds and of different ages, scurry along the sidewalks attempting to stay dry. While others park along the street to grab last-minute items, like Manischewitz and packages of matzo in bulk.

The strip is a world market, loaded with ethnic restaurants from Chinese and Indian to Thai and Japanese, with Italian eateries too, none of which are crowded, because many have rushed home already to prepare the seder.

Although he expects business to be slow the week of Passover, Salim Ahmed, owner of Cumin, a local Indian eatery, keeps his restaurant open for other customers who may be in the mood for some spicy cuisine.

“It’s usually like this during Passover,” Ahmed says, looking around his empty restaurant. “This year Easter’s this week too, so I know it’ll be slow.”

He says he decreases the number of staff working and also prepares less food to adjust to a slow week. But he’ll probably see some regulars during the week like modern Jewish families or those who don’t practice.

Ruben Velazco displays the seder plate available at Liebman's Delicatessen in Riverdale, Bronx. (Photo: Sonia Dasgupta/ The Bronx Ink)

Ruben Velazco displays the seder plate available at Liebman's Delicatessen in Riverdale, Bronx. (Photo: Sonia Dasgupta/ The Bronx Ink)

Liebman’s Delicatessen, off 235th Street, is the only business that is busy, with customers rushing in and out the front door with their orders of potato kugel, coleslaw, sweet-smelling brisket and roasted chickens.

The deli, which has been in the neighborhood since 1953, serves traditional foods and isn’t Kosher for Passover, according to its owner, Yuval Dekel, who grew up in the neighborhood and worked at the family business his father bought in 1981.

“I was thrusted into this business after my pops passed in 2002,” says Dekel, who runs the deli alongside his wife and brother-in-law.

“Most of the Kosher establishments are closed, but they should remain open since Passover is the busiest day of the year,” he adds.

As customers pile into the restaurant to eat a quick lunch with family, the staff promptly fills orders. Dekel says the restaurant rents a refridgerated truck for the holiday to hold the extra orders of meat and poultry. The menu stays traditional to cater to the families and people who have been coming there for years.

“We also have people order ahead for the holidays,” he says. “This year there’s been a lot of chopped liver, but also brisket, roast chicken, stuffed cabbage and matzah ball soup.”

The only changes to the menu since Dekel took over are two chicken marinades — olive oil with rosemary and thyme with lemon.

“If I changed too much, people wouldn’t come,” he says.

Although other Jewish restaurants cleaned their entire store over the weekend for Passover, he says Liebman’s operates through the weekend until 5 p.m. on Monday when they close for the week.

As the afternoon wears on, the number of pedestrians on the street decrease as some head to local synagogues and others join families to celebrate the holiday.

Posted in Bronx Tales0 Comments

Students Fight Proposed Campus Relocation

The students of University Heights High School had a clear message for the Department of Education representative at Tuesday night’s public hearing about the proposed relocation of their school: “We are not moving.”

Department of Education and local representatives listen as students and community members urge them to leave University Heights High at its current location. (Photo: Sonia Dasgupta/The Bronx Ink)

Department of Education and local representatives listen as students and community members urge them to leave University Heights High at its current location. (Photo: Sonia Dasgupta/The Bronx Ink)

The refrain was echoed by several students who took to the microphone to try to convince the small panel before them that the high school should not be forced to move from the Bronx Community College campus, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) network.

The school, which has been on the campus since 1986, is scheduled to be relocated to the South Bronx High School campus, where it would share space with Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School. But students, administrators and parents at University Heights have organized to fight the move – about three and a half miles away and to another school district – citing concerns about the school’s culture, safety and students’ commutes.

The college says that it needs the high school’s classroom space to serve the college’s growing student body. Enrollment has increased 46 percent from fall 2001 to fall 2009. In December of 2008, CUNY asked the Department of Education to look for a new location for University Heights, in anticipation of the trend continuing. And the college’s enrollment continues to climb: the figure increased by 1,500 students from last spring to this semester.

Judy Wexler, assistant principal at University Heights, said she was happy for the college that its enrollment has grown. But she said she was frustrated that there had been no talk of a compromise – such as using the high school classrooms for late afternoon and night classes only. “It’s not feeling like it’s an open dialogue,” she said.

At the meeting Tuesday night, she implored the Board of Education to find a way to keep the school in its current location until the college’s construction of a new building is complete, two years from now.

University Heights, which serves 450 students and has received A’s on its last two report cards, was founded with the idea that a presence on a college campus would help make college seem like a realistic and attainable option for its students. Some students are even able to take college courses while still in high school.

Multiple students spoke Tuesday night about the positive message that being on a college campus had sent to them, contrasting that with the new location: less than half a mile up the road from a juvenile detention center. That sends a message “that the next step is jail,” Maria Ruiz, a senior, said after the meeting.

Other students worried more about the safety of the proposed location, some recounting stories of gunshots and gang violence in the South Bronx that they didn’t have to worry about on a college campus. “When we go up those steps, we don’t have to worry about our cell phones or iPods” getting stolen, said junior Aurelis Troncoso.

But Troncoso’s biggest concern about her school’s future is whether she’ll be able to continue to attend. Right now she lives close enough to the school that she can walk if need be. If the school moves to a new location, she’d need to take a bus and two trains to get there. And with the transit authority getting rid of student MetroCards, she doesn’t know if she’d be able to afford the trip; her mother is an unemployed single parent.

Wexler is hopeful though, that even if the school is forced to move, the vast majority of student will continue to attend.

Although the speakers Tuesday night were mostly students, representatives from elected officials and from the teachers’ union also made appeals for the relocation plans to end. The students have set up meeting with council members and written hundreds of letters. And many of them remained optimistic that their voices would be heard in the end.

“I’m always hopeful of everything. I don’t think it’s over until it’s over,” junior Tyriq Greene said. “I don’t have money. All we have are words and actions.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Northwest BronxComments Off on Students Fight Proposed Campus Relocation

Bronx man falls to his death

A 35-year-old man died after he plummeted four stories down a freight elevator shaft around 11 p.m. on Monday in an apartment complex in Mount Hope.

Joseph Ryan stepped backwards into what he thought was the elevator on the lobby level as he and his wife were moving a mattress up to their seventh floor apartment, but the elevator car wasn’t there, police said.

Ryan was pronounced dead after he was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital. The New York Daily News reported that Ryan was an elevator repairman who pried the door open himself earlier in the evening to help with the move.

The apartment building,  located at 1749 Grand Concourse, has had issues in the past with the elevators,  residents said.

Olga Ayala, a 27-year resident of the complex, said her 13-year-old son wouldn’t use the elevator because he doesn’t like it.

“It’s always getting stuck,” Ayala said, “and then you have to ring the emergency bell.”

She said the elevators in the building break down often and one wasn’t working for a month.

There is an open complaint from last month, according to records on the Department of Buildings Web site, regarding one of the building’s main elevators. Another complaint from January was closed out with no violation issued.

Maria Mojica, who has lived in the building for more than five years, said the freight elevator is only supposed to be used for moving in and out of the complex, although sometimes people use it as an emergency elevator if the others aren’t working.

“There are a lot of residents who have handicaps,” Mojica said. “They need the elevator.”

A building official said the freight elevator runs until about 5 p.m.

Twelve-year resident Daryl Poe said the freight elevator must be opened in order for it to be used.

“I don’t understand how no one noticed that there was no elevator,” Poe said. “It had to have been pitch black inside the doors.”

Poe said the apartment has had accidents in the past including an Easter fire in 2007.

“It must have been horrible for the wife,” Poe said. “Can you imagine watching your husband fall to his death?”

Many of the residents hadn’t been notified of the incident Tuesday morning. Ayala found out about Ryan’s death by watching the news.

“We weren’t notified at all,” she said. “I would have liked to know.”

The superintendent of the building declined to comment, but a spokesman for the owners of the building extended their condolences.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim of this tragic accident and with his family,” said Bud Perrone, a spokesman with Rubenstein Associates. “We are cooperating fully with all relevant government authorities and will continue to do so until their investigations are complete.”

The police are still investigating.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Housing, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Flower Shop Owners Avoid Recession’s Thorns

additional reporting by Jennifer Brookland

The day after Valentine’s Day is recovery for most florists — replenishing arrangements and cleaning up the shop.
For Harry Nicolaou, owner of Rainbow Florist on Westchester Avenue, Monday was spent reorganizing after the business from the weekend.


Flowers left over from Valentine's Day were peddled on East 167th Street in the Bronx on Monday afternoon. Photo by: Alec Johnson

“It was a little off,” Nicolaou said, “not as good as previous years, but it was good.”
Although the months after Valentine’s Day can be slower, he said, people always want to buy plants, roses and other flowers all year long.
“There are birthdays and anniversaries,” Nicolaou said, “and weddings and unfortunately funerals.”
He said Mother’s Day is the next big holiday for florists, because business from Easter has decreased over the years.
However, a number of Bronx flower shops were still busy Monday, delivering bouquets from Valentine’s Day that hadn’t reached their rightful recipients. Several owners told The Bronx Ink they couldn’t even talk because of the deliveries and the lack of staff due to Presidents Day.
Jennifer Santana, an employee at Erica’s Flower Shop on Castle Hill Avenue, said the delivery truck drivers have been out all day making post-Valentine’s Day deliveries.
“It does get slow usually after Valentine’s Day,” Santana said. “But everything picks up around May when Mother’s Day comes around.”
She said the shop posts fliers and hands out business cards to promote business during the lag time.
Flower shop owner Karl Makris just celebrated his 29th Valentine’s Day at Rainflorist, and he’s only 46 years old. He said that the recession was obvious this holiday, adding that it could have been worse.

“Valentine’s Day used to be a grand slam for us,” said Makris, whose described this year’s profit as “still not nearly where it’s supposed to be.”

Nicolaou agreed, saying the street vendors sell flowers for less because they don’t have to charge for overhead.

“It concerns me a bit,” he said. “They sell them in the street and on my block. I know everyone has a right to make money, but it’s still bad for business.”

Thing are looking up, though. Rainflorist saw better sales than it did last year, and Makris thinks flowers will continue to be big sellers. “I think we’re the lesser of the evils,” he said, comparing flowers to more expensive romantic gifts like jewelry and fancy dinners. “And the women still love it, so we’re OK.”

Even the day after Valentine’s Day proved a pleasant surprise. A few amorous slackers showed up at Rainflorist today to buy the bouquets they’d forgotten about on Sunday.

Nicolaou said tulips, lilies and irises are popular purchases during the spring so he hopes business keeps increasing through the season.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Money1 Comment