Tag Archive | "Williamsbridge"

Bronx residents demand more police protection following series of shootings, NY Daily News

With shootings up 8.5 percent since last year in the 47th Precinct, Williamsbridge and Wakefield residents say there is need for more police protection, according to the New York Daily News. Residents say police presence after shootings is too little, too late.

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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.”

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New Start For Ex-Con After He Pleads For Work, Daily News

A Bronx man released from a 26-year prison sentence for murder pleaded for work at a local clergy meeting in his neighbourhood of Williamsbridge, NY Daily News reports.

Philip White, 45, said that no employer would touch him since he had been released, despite the fact that he has top grades for certificates in computer technology.

White’s speech impressed Claremont Neighborhood Center director Abraham Jones, who hired him as a caseworker to assist young troubled boys.

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Top Stories of the Day

New York flexes security muscle to foil 9/11 plot

Anti-terrorist security has been beefed up across New York, in an emphatic response to a possible car bombing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A New York Daily News report, based on “specific and credible” info, claims that the plot involves three veteran terrorists – one possibly with an American passport – approved by Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. It also quotes investigators saying that names of all three were known, but they were too common to provide much direction.

After 9/11, Anthrax Day in the Bronx

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will declare September 14 as Anthrax Day in the Bronx, The Bronx Times reports, when the band performs with heavy metal’s Big Four at Yankees Stadium on Wednesday night. Anthrax features three native Bronxites – Charlie Benante and Frank Bello from Throgs Neck, and Rob Caggiano from Pelham Parkway. But a Yahoo Music Blog points out that just four days later, on September 18, it will be the 10th anniversary of the anthrax attacks that killed five people in the days following 9/11.

She stuffed him in suitcase, stole his checks

Monique Exum, the woman who ‘buried’ her 73-year-old boyfriend in a suitcase, is now believed to have done it for the money. The New York Daily News reports that Exum, 36, stole Johnny Davis’ Social Security checks and bank funds for three months, till his packed corpse was discovered in Williamsbridge on Sunday.

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Fresh as a Daisy

By Leslie Minora

Daisy and Montefiore Hospital cardiac rehabilitation staff members show off her carefully recorded exercise plan.

Daisy and Montefiore Hospital cardiac rehabilitation staff members show off her carefully recorded exercise plan. Photo by Leslie Minora

It is usually a cause for concern when a 99-year-old woman arrives at the hospital, but this was not the case on Nov. 23 in the cardiac rehabilitation center of Montefiore Hospital in the southeast Bronx.

The hospital’s doctors and staff threw a birthday celebration for Daisy McFadden in the rehabilitation exercise room, where she has worked out three times per week since her bypass surgery 11 years ago. Her actual birthday was the following day.

“We only do this for the best,” said April Vail, who has been the manager of rehabilitation for 12 years. “Everybody loves her.”

“I come to exercise; that’s number one,” said McFadden, who was a nurse for 34 years. But she had a few other secrets to pass on. “I eat five vegetables every day, three fruits, and I steam them,” she said. The Bronx elder, who wore a turquoise jacket with tangerine accents and a matching scarf, was very proud of her health regimen.

“You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of other people,” she said.

Her bypass surgeon and rehabilitation team stood around her as her friends and the hospital staff sang “Happy Birthday.” McFadden blew out all of the candles with a deep breath and a swift puff. “It was all that exercise,” she said.

“I’m just full of happiness,” she said beaming as she mingled with about 15 party guests. She was on her feet for most of the afternoon without a cane or walker and appeared energetic as she entertained the constant stream of people wishing her a happy birthday and asking her secrets to great skin, endless energy, and a long life.

The youthful senior goes to bed at 9 p.m. and wakes up at 5 a.m. “Yes, and I get fully dressed,” she said. McFadden orders her clothing from the Bloomingdales, Talbots, and Nordstrom catalogs. Bloomingdales petite sizes fit well, she said, because the arms of regular sizes are too long for McFadden, who is built small with tiny wrists. She enjoys getting dressed, and said aging hasn’t slowed down the process, except for those occasions when she must replace the tiny batteries of her two hearing aids.

McFadden is lucky to be alive and in good health, said Dr. Lari Attai, who performed her triple bypass surgery 11 years ago. “Without surgery, she would have gone on to have a heart attack,” he said. Attai, 77, who has been with the hospital for 52 years, stopped performing surgery last year, and now teaches at the hospital. “You look terrific,” he told McFadden, whom he calls a “young lady.”

When McFadden was an even younger lady, she used to attend local social events and dance with her husband, a New York Police Department officer, whom she married in 1934. “We had a good life together, wonderful life together…over 50 years,” she said. Her husband died in 1985.

Another painful loss struck McFadden three years ago, when her only son, a Massachusetts radiologist named Samuel after her husband, also died four months after doctors diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer. “I miss him so,” McFadden said. “He was great.” His photo sits prominently on a side table in her living room, across from the front door, next to the couch. “It upsets me to talk about him,” she said. McFadden has two grandsons and two great-grandsons, who all live out of town.

McFadden was not only a nurse by profession, but a nurse by vocation to her family and friends. “I guess I was chosen to be a caregiver,” she said. “I’d do it all over again.”

An award from New York University’s nursing school hangs on her living room wall, honoring her for her career in nursing during which she spent 34 years working for the Bureau of Public Health. She is the only living graduate of her class.

Now, McFadden has so many people who care for her.  A week and a half after her party, the cluster of mylar balloons in her living room have deflated slightly, but four bouquets of flowers are still bright and perky. The table next to the big beige couch with its dark sturdy wooden legs is too crowded with family photos to fit any cards, but McFadden neatly lined up about 20 birthday well-wishes on several other tables throughout the spacious room, decorated with an upholstered chair donned with a lace doily and a stone corner fireplace.

The number of cards and flowers is surprising for a woman who has outlived her family and friends, but not if you know McFadden.

She lives by this advice and repeats it over and over to young people: “You collect friends a generation behind you and a generation behind them.” That’s right, two generations of friends, she says, because when people become too old to drive, so are their peers.

McFadden doesn’t drive, but that certainly doesn’t limit her activities. Since her retirement in 1972, she has been on the move more than most people a third her age. She retired early, at 62, because she wanted to travel. She went on island cruises with her husband;  visited Hawaii with her church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and traveled extensively with the American Nurses Association, visiting India, Tokyo, Singapore, and Moscow. After retirement, she was very active in the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program, RSVP. Through this, she started the 60 Plus Food and Fun Club at her church. And to work off the food and fun, in the 1970s, she began the 60 Plus Swingers, an exercise and dance program. The dance group still exists though she said, “Many of the ones who started have passed on.” The Swingers perform at nursing homes, senior centers, and schools. Once, during a performance at Lehman College, one student yelled, “You go, grandma!” “That’s right. We are pretty hot,” she said, laughing.

The 60 Plus Swingers meetings are still part of McFadden’s routine, though she no longer can dance. Her knees have been hurting recently. “Of course, I’m the oldest one,” she said, adding that now she is the DJ. The Swingers dance to music from both records and CDs. “We’re up to date,” she said.

In addition to her church group, McFadden is a member of the 47th Precinct Council, the East 222nd Street Block Association, and a social club called “The Girlfriends” that began over 80 years ago. She is active in the alumni associations of both schools she attended, the Harlem Hospital Center School of Nursing, and New York University, where she earned her bachelors and masters degrees in nursing from 1951-1955 at a time when the school only cost $13 per credit. One birthday floral arrangement on her table is from the dean of the nursing program.

In the little spare time that McFadden has with all of her exercise and community involvement, she teaches a fitness class once a week at a local senior center as part of New York City’s Stay Well program. McFadden focuses on fitness as well as practical safety advice like turning on the light to go to the bathroom during the night to prevent falls.

“She’s been a positive role model to all of us,” said Jacqueline Sams, 74, whose mother went to nursing school with McFadden. Sams, who lives about five blocks from McFadden in Williamsbridge, calls her upbeat attitude “catchy.” Because of McFadden’s influence, Sams no longer eats red meat, and now says “74” proudly when asked her age.

McFadden is certainly not shy about her own age. She feels “blessed” to have lived such a long life, and her well-being has become her full-time job. Exercise at Montefiore, teaching at the senior center, grocery shopping, and cooking take up most of the day. But, she said, “there’s such a thing as necessary luxury.” For her, that means making time to get her hair and nails done twice a month at her favorite salon on West 57th Street in Manhattan.

Access-A-Ride drives McFadden to the salon, and she takes the express bus back to Williamsbridge, where she has lived in her tidy home since 1938. “Everyone knows me on the block,” she said. Her home, one of five houses in 1938 on the now-crowded block, is set back from East 222nd Street. Gray stone arches around the front door and white planters holding pink blossoms sit on either side of the front stoop. It looks like something from the set of a Hansel and Gretel performance. The brick facade, significantly less worn than the siding covering most of the block’s houses, is perfectly in place without any moss, dirt or visible signs of age.

Perhaps it’s something in the air.

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Dr. Juice and His Holy Fruits

by Leslie Minora

Junior Morgan, "Dred", shows off his new White Plains Road juice bar. Photo by Leslie Minora

Junior Morgan, "Dread", shows off his new White Plains Road juice bar. Photo by Leslie Minora

It took a love of juice bordering on obsession to open Holy Fruits, a new Bronx juice bar, this past July.

“Whenever I see a juice bar, my skin catch a fire,” said Junior Morgan, the 45-year-old juice visionary, with his Jamaican lilt and his welcoming smile.

Morgan, who wears his faith in the form of a weighty crucifix on a big beaded necklace, never goes by Junior. Most people call him “Dread,” in honor of his tightly wound hair. And some customers at his wildly colorful establishment on White Plains Road call him simply “Dr. Juice.”

For “Dr. Juice,” juice is not simply, well, juice. His special combos have advertised powers beyond the obvious.

“I can taste something without tasting it,” said Morgan. He whips up concoctions like Sexy Body A, which contains apple, ginger, aloe vera, and pineapple. These are all ingredients that are very good for the physique, he said, especially when combined with his “Get Svelte” herb packet from Chinatown.  Other herb combos he buys there are “Happy Garden Tea” for stress relief, and Chinese Angelica Root for diabetes.

His research and palate led to an extensive portfolio of purposeful juices including Radiant Skin, Weight Loss, Hemorrhoids, and the stamina enhancing best-seller, “Tear Up Sheets.”

“Tear Up Sheets is tearin’ up the Bronx,” said Terence Ford, 31, who began working at the store in August.  The drink is a blend of okra, sea moss for stamina, ancient tree roots which “strengthens your back and sperm count,” and horse tonic.

Yes, horse tonic, a dark liquid in an industrial size plastic container that reads “Liquid Multi-vitamin Supplement for Horses,” which Morgan buys from a horse supply store. “You see how fast the horses run, right?” he said. “It’s for energy.” Who knows what horse tonic really does for humans, but it’s a hot seller nonetheless.

Morgan is unfazed by the dire economy and the neighborhood’s penchant for fried chicken, pizza, and Chinese takeout. Apparently, his customers are unfazed as well.

His business sits defiantly in the Williamsbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, where food choices are about as healthy and diverse as a Kennedy Fried Chicken menu.

Customers flow into the shop for the juice as well as comforting hospitality: “I am a people’s person,” said Morgan, with his welcoming smile. “Food sells. People are still living through this economy,” Morgan said. “People have to eat, and people have to drink juice.”

While some of his male customers come to the store for a “Tear Up Sheets” bedroom boost, many others are vegetarians who want a satisfying, healthy meal, which is hard to come by in Williamsbridge. “I like the way the food is, and I’m a vegetarian so I like the way he deal with it,” said Trace Jackson, who comes to Holy Fruits every other day and usually orders a protein shake.

“It’s the healthy food. That’s what I need,” echoes Idrissa Dhiam, who comes daily for carrot juice. Dhiam no longer has to order; Morgan sees him walk in and starts making his usual.

Morgan’s hospitality is likely the key factor in his success. “He’s really cool. He brings a warm environment to the community,” said Ford, one of three employees. Morgan gives free juice to customers who come without enough money, and he makes up deals on the spot. If a customer comes to the store to buy both herbs and juice, the juice is usually free.

The store is adorned with a lemon yellow awning, a neon green cardboard palm tree, and walls that look like they were peeled from a ripe orange. “Nobody has this color,” Morgan proudly said of his paint selection, which he chose to set his store apart. But for Morgan, opening a juice store has not been as simple as choosing paint.

He did all the tile work himself, and installed equipment he bought at an auction. Running the store costs about $3,000 per week in addition to the $2,550 per month rent and utility bills, Morgan said. Sales have been strong enough for him to keep up with his rent and employees’ pay checks, but he says it will take more time before he sees a profit at his current sales of $500 per day.

For Morgan, juice has always been part of his life. He spent his childhood in Jamaica, where he learned about medicinal herbs and juices from his grandfather, an herb doctor. Throughout his life, his grandfather and his mother would make special juices on Sundays. He loved papaya juice when he was young, he said, and he also would look forward to his mother’s carrot juice with condensed milk and nutmeg.

Morgan has lived in the Bronx since he was 18-years-old, and opened his first juice bar, Holy Grail, in the Castle Hill neighborhood in 2003. Two years later, he rented a larger space across the street, where he planned on renaming the store Cup of Life. He renovated the space himself, but construction took months longer than expected. Unable to pay the $2,700 per month rent, he was forced to leave.

Next, he made plans to reopen the store a half-mile away. He rented the space, but then learned that the building had a previous violation, and that he could not build his shop unless he paid someone else’s fine. So he moved on, but did not give up. “It’s crazy,” he said.

Morgan rented a fourth location in 2008, but he said, “Boom, I ran out of money again, for real.” So he paused renovations and worked doing odd jobs in construction for two months. After that, his juice bar dream once again became a nightmare. During the two months he left the store to work and save money, someone stole all of his tools, scaffolds, and building materials, about $40,000 worth, which he had left in the partially constructed juice store.

Having been defeated so many times in a three-year period, Morgan set aside his juice bar plans, and sold his restaurant appliances, which lead him to another job: selling restaurant equipment that he would purchase and refurbish. He rented a space on 215th Street and White Plains Road to sell his goods, but the restaurant equipment store never came to fruition as his plans morphed into a hybrid restaurant supply/juice store, and then the juice store gradually overtook the restaurant supply store in his mental floor plan.

“When I saw this location, you know what comes to mind – juice bar,” Morgan said. So that’s exactly what he built, designing and constructing the shop himself down to the colorful logo of a tree bearing many types of fruit that looks like it was carefully drawn with colored pencil.

Morgan has been fruitful in more than just his juice store. Perhaps “Tear up Sheets” is the reason Morgan has 16 children with 5 different mothers. He becomes serious when he talks about his children, and said he is close to them and does his best to support them, but he would not say anything further.

Morgan’s dream for the future is to own a chain of juice stores with locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Some day, “Tear Up Sheets” might be tearing up every borough.

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