Showing posts with label Stacie Joy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stacie Joy. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Ben’s Deli moving on without Ben on Avenue B

Text and photos by Stacie Joy

There’s an upbeat atmosphere at Ben’s Deli on Avenue B this Thursday night. 

Local tall man Bobby is playing a DJ set from atop a stack of milk crates and plywood as curious passersby duck into the store and dance to his synth-driven set of house and disco.
Driving this festive mood: it’s being announced that Ben Gibran has sold his eponymous deli and is retiring after almost 50 years in the business.
At one point, Ben, his wife, and five sons: Mo, Ahmed, Haas, Gamal, and Ali owned six delis (plus a pizza shop) in the East Village. The last of the storefronts at 32 Avenue B between Second Street and Third Street is in contract to be sold, and Ben’s keeping it in the family, selling it to a cousin, Sammy Ksem, who is present tonight...
... along with Haas (below) behind the counter ...
... and Mo...
... and Glenn, a longtime employee...
Also on hand: the new in-store vendor Los Tacos Poca Madre, which serves housemade potato chips, a tasty fruit salad with hot sauce — not to mention traditional Mexican food.
Meanwhile, people come into the store to celebrate Ben’s long tenure as a local business owner.
As much as I am happy about Ben’s retirement, I can’t help but also be a bit sad. I’ve known Ben since I was a teenager and knowing I won’t see him and his kids and grandkids here gives me a pang of sadness. 

Ben’s Deli has been a meeting place, a shelter in the storm (literally – Ben fed the neighborhood during the dark aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012), a place to grab a frosty drink, some munchies, a travel-size bottle of mouthwash/toothbrush/toothpaste combo pack, and back in the day: loosies, lotto tix, rolling papers. 

It’s had a starring role in the Netflix series “Russian Doll” and my heart. It always smells faintly of smoke; some products don’t have any business in a bodega — or do they? — and a revolving cast of characters who can explore EBT fraud, middle-of-the-night Maalox purchases, and a mix-and-match 6-pack of beer.
However, best of all is catching Ben “in the office” — his maroon Chevy Astro van parked out front. He’ll most likely be reading an expired Jetro Restaurant Supply Store brochure, chain-smoking and talking on his ancient flip phone.
While Sammy reports he has no plans to change the name, Ben’s kids won’t be working there anymore — and neither will Ben. Another familiar face, Uncle, a longtime employee, recently had a serious medical setback and hasn’t been able to get back behind the register. 

When I ask why now, Ben tells me he’s tired and old and just ready to stop working. “I can’t do it anymore, Stacie; it’s time,” he says, offering a comforting pat on my shoulder. He smiles.
An official retirement party is in the works. Stay tuned for details.

Find previous coverage here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

A visit with Moxie, a nearly 8-year-old East Village photographer with an eye for nature

Text and photos by Stacie Joy 

I recently walked around the neighborhood with East Village artist and fellow photographer Moxie.

She carefully loads her pink Instax mini instant camera and cheerfully informs me she’s in second grade and is 7-and-a-half years old. She said that she likes to photograph nature. So our walk included a visit to La Plaza Cultural community garden on Ninth Street and Avenue C, where Moxie was inspired by some koi fish, birds and squirrels.

We then walked over to Tompkins Square Park for some candid dog photos and posed (people) portraits.
When we run out of time (and are getting low on film), Moxie shows me the images she’s shot.
We wrapped up by talking about her history with the craft and her photo plans for the future.
“Well, I’ve been doing photography for about 2 years. I really wanted to try photography because I’ve been doing art my whole life. I love painting, making jewelry and crafting, so I thought it would be great to try photography. I like taking pictures of people and animals around the East Village. 

Sometimes I take pictures of flowers too. Taking pictures of people is interesting because people are interesting. I like to capture a moment of me and my friends together. I keep every photo that I take in my albums, even if they’re weird or silly. And I plan to keep taking photos. I want to try changing the colors on the lens, and someday I want to try other kinds of cameras.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

A visit to Azaleas, celebrating 20 years in the East Village

Text and photos by Stacie Joy

As I walk over to meet Azaleas NYC Lingerie & Swimwear shop owner Cindy Kahng, I remember the last time I saw the woman-owned and -operated boutique lingerie shop during a tense period in NYC’s pandemic history. 

It was June 2020 when stores were just reopening during Phase 1 of the PAUSE restrictions. 

I’m eager to see how Cindy is doing, how the shop at 140 Second Ave. is holding up, and to hear about the 20th-anniversary plans.
Congrats on the 20th anniversary! What are your plans to celebrate this milestone? 

Lingerie boutiques may be a destination store, but we try to cultivate the idea of Azaleas being your neighborhood boutique. Reflecting on the past 20 years, I know that I couldn’t have done it without the support of the community and the neighborhood. I’ve seen customers come in with baby strollers; their babies have grown and are shopping with us! 

We wanted to celebrate by celebrating the neighborhood and the community. We will be having an event [on Nov. 17] for this momentous occasion with a party at our neighboring Ukrainian East Village Restaurant. We hope to do more events with other neighborhood businesses or organizations in the upcoming months. 

How has it been keeping the shop going in recent pandemic years?

COVID was a huge test for my small business. Unfortunately, I had to shut down my second location in the West Village after four years. It was a difficult decision to make, and whilst that store was dear to me, I knew that the East Village was our home and where we wanted to remain. 

It was so nice to see our regulars come in post-vaccine and want to support us. In general, our dressing room serves almost like a therapy session, and it did even more so during the last two-and-a-half years. People needed connection and had lots of changes in their lives during those first two years and would occasionally have their hand held. 

There was a shift in customers’ needs during the pandemic; physical changes (covid weight), different work environments (WFH), and a desire for more comfort (loungewear). But this fall, it feels like people are finally returning to their daily lives and need basics for work and school. 

What would you tell people who may be intimidated by visiting a boutique lingerie store? 

Lingerie boutiques don’t have to be intimidating at all! Sure, we carry your special date-night items, but we also have your everyday cotton bra and undies. We try to make it feel like you’re shopping with your friends because shopping for innerwear is an intimate experience. 

Looking good also means feeling good so trust us to help you! If price is ever an issue, just tell your salesperson what your price range is — there’s never any shame in that! The salespeople know the product and can best steer you in the right direction.
Any plans for the next 20 years? 

Not sure yet, but we are planning on sticking around the neighborhood.
You can keep up with the shop on Instagram. Azaleas is at 140 Second Ave. between St. Mark's Place and Ninth Street.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

A short walk with a tall man

Text and photos Stacie Joy 

Chances are that you've seen Bobby ambling around the neighborhood. And how could you not?
We recently had the chance to take a short stroll with him. It took longer than expected, as many passersby stopped us to ask if they could take a picture or a selfie with him.
Bobby was super friendly with everyone he met ... a gentle giant with the starpower of a Marvel character.
Getting to know more about Bobby was not easy. However easy-going, he was evasive about answering questions, admitting to being from "upstate" and "walking to downtown NYC" but said he didn't know his age, last name or any other pertinent information. 

He said he likes ladders, Twizzlers, carrots, trees, skyscrapers and bananas and doesn't care for rain. He also said he gets pain in his hips and knees from being so leggy at 6-2. He insists he's "just very tall."

He later attempted to prove his height by using his own homemade measuring tape. 
So we went with it and enjoyed his good-natured company, stopping in a few shops along Avenue A and Avenue B... including Ben's Deli, where he obligingly turned on the hard-to-reach ceiling fans, watered the plants and enjoyed a cold drink...
We popped by Mast Books, where Bobby seemed crestfallen when told the store didn't have any books about skyscrapers...
A highlight from the excursion was the trip to Key Food, where Bobby helped manager Richie with signage installation ahead of the "Re-Grand Opening" celebration (Keyapalooza) earlier this month...
You can follow Bobby on Instagram here.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

A visit to Aliens of Brooklyn on 9th Street

Photos and interview by Stacie Joy

It’s 7 p.m., and I’m meeting Joseph Angel Tijerina, the artist/owner behind the Aliens of Brooklyn clothing and accessories brand, which recently opened its first storefront at 305 E. Ninth St. between First Avenue and Second Avenue, as he closes up for the day. 

It’s his birthday, but he’s agreed to chat with me about the history of the pop culture brand, his Mexican heritage, his ’90s-era Taco Bell inspiration, and his love of collabs with other brands — all before heading out to celebrate.
What is the origin of Aliens of Brooklyn? How did you arrive at the name, and what was the inspiration behind the brand? 

As a child of the ’90s, I recall watching the original “Ghostbusters” movie, going to my mother and telling her that I would live in New York City one day. And she then would shoot me down with a simple “No.” I would ask why, and she would say, “It’s too far and too big.” Plus, she’d miss me too much. But in my mind, all I did was dream big. 

I would later graduate from Wade College art school in Texas, and my mom would pass away from a heart attack. That was the catalyst that led me to move to New York. I had never even been to the city, just watched movies and dreamt about it.

Aliens Of Brooklyn came alive the moment I moved to Crown Heights in 2012. The culture, the vibe, the space where an artist could complete their puzzle of whatever it was that they couldn’t convey anywhere else. All my puzzle pieces were finally connecting. I was finally healing. 

The people in Brooklyn were so vibrant, and everyone dressed however they wanted. I never knew I could come to a place where trends were ever-changing and there felt like no rules. I think this is what they meant when they said to find your tribe. And I have no idea who “they” are. 

This brand is absolutely inspired by the people I’ve met and the ones I people-watch. I did Google to see if actual aliens were living in Brooklyn, and some articles popped up about sightings. I sort of knew this name was special, and so it stuck. 

It’s something about constantly feeling like an outsider and creating a world where everyone is actually invited to the party. Being in Texas was great, but I realized being in NYC was better. I could be OK with where I came from, who I’ve become, and who I was becoming. 

And although there is so much more to me than my race and sexual orientation, I absolutely embrace that I’m a Mexican American and an LGBTQIA+ brand. It makes me brave, and it might make people struggle to be brave too. I think the thing I’m really proud of is that I’m a Mexican who owns a successful business. I’ve always wished my mom could see me at this stage of my life because of how far I’ve come. I’d like to think that she’s around working through me somehow. 

You recently opened a shop in the East Village. How has a brick-and-mortar location differed from your pop-up and Artists & Fleas vending background? 

Well, the locals are this tight-knit community who basically have welcomed my brand with open arms, which is something I’ve always needed. We don’t always have to be pushed away. We can treat each other with respect and kindness. It shows with the East Village, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think they might recognize that I’ve come with an interesting point of view. And to me, art is exactly that. In my eyes, the East Village is always a place where the artists migrate, and I find that sacred and want to honor the history already created here. 

Pop-up markets can be really hard but also fulfilling once you hit your sweet spot of being satisfied with your brand, and it’s not always about the money. I think those are big lessons that many artists struggle with because what you love may not pay the rent at first, although it can. You just have to go back to the drawing board and problem solve for a bit. 

Doing markets for almost 10 years gives you a lot of experience. I’m so happy that the customers helped the brand become so successful by buying hats and beanies at our pop-ups. But having a hit item in markets doesn’t always translate to having a hit brick-and-mortar store. I am still learning, but with a store, I get to have a fully realized concept and aesthetic. I’m enjoying every moment of it.
Your Instagram teased the inspiration for your shop décor was ’90s Taco Bell. Has that come to fruition? 

[Laughs] A picture of Taco Bell in the 1990s was actually on my vision board for the store. I was inspired by the pastel motif, so I painted those exact colors on our walls. My brand is known for neon colors and tie-dye, but it is always evolving and ever-changing. 

I love the 1980s, 1990s and Y2K era. So, Taco Bell walls one day, and then we might be inspired by Blockbuster the following week. Who knows? I just know I’m going to try to make the customers smile and laugh when they walk by. 

You have done some collabs with other brands. Do you foresee future collaborations? And what’s next for the brand?

Collaborations are so fun and a lot of work as well. But it is great working with other small businesses or artists and cross-promoting your audiences. You gain all these wonderful people who only discovered you because of that collaboration.

I for sure can see myself doing many more collabs in the future. I will always pay it forward — some of my first gigs were popping up in front of another small business boutique and selling hats outside their front window on the sidewalk. 

I want to grow the business in a way that customers can customize anything they see in the store. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” So, to me, that leaves space for all of us to make things happen. 

And there’s still so much art to be made and work to do. I can’t wait to see what happens next with the brand!
You can keep up with what’s happening with Joseph and the shop here.

Aliens of Brooklyn is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.