2009-06-19 / Columnists

Beachcomber

The closure of the Rockaway Diner and Bakery on Beach 116 Street by the Department of Health last week was a blow to the commercial street's viability. Even though the closing is probably only temporary, it shakes the credibility of the eatery at a time when locals really need another casual place to eat besides the Last Stop Café across the street, which is generally mobbed at mealtimes. The diner has been having problems getting customers as of late. Locals say that the food is not up to standards and the prices are way too high. One local told The Wave that he and two other people went there for a late breakfast a few weeks ago, eating the standard eggs and home fries and cereal, and the bill came to more than $30, far too much for a breakfast for three people. Unfortunately, the Last Stop Café is limited in its seating capacity due to the fact that it has no public restroom. The owners of that eatery should work to put in that restroom so that it can expand its capacity to better serve Rockaway residents. Decent food service brings customers to the street, customers who may well then go to other storefronts on the street. The restaurants are a vital component of any shopping area.

Barry "Butch" Brandes got a medal from the New York City Fire Department last week for an earlier, off-duty water rescue near his Belle Harbor home. The Brooklyn Battalion Chief deserves another medal for rescuing his young son from a deranged kidnapper who insisted that the boy was his in front of the Kings Plaza Shopping Center a few weeks ago. Brandes says that he frantically called 911, telling the dispatcher that the man was trying to steal his son, but the dispatcher allegedly put the call over the net as a dispute between two men - a much lower priority call. Then, when the sergeant was called to inform her that it was indeed an attempted kidnapping, it took her almost a half-hour to respond to the scene. By that time, Brandes had knocked the would-be kidnapper out and others had come to his aid. Sources say that it took police officers nearly 20 minutes to respond to the scene when the call was transmitted. The entire episode is frightening to parents, who wonder what would have happened had the child been walking with his mother rather than with his well-trained firefighter dad.

The news that owner Rita Stark has finally decided after 20 years that it is time to renovate the Far Rockaway Shopping Center is good news indeed. At one time, that large shopping center, at the intersection of Central and Mott Avenues, was the anchor for the entire shopping area. There were two decent restaurants, Martin Paint, several medical offices, a supermarket, bank, as well as other storefronts. Then, about two decades ago, it began to fall into disrepair and the Stark family did nothing to halt its demise, allegedly because of family bickering about whom actually controlled the site. Two years ago, politicians, including James Sanders and Greg Meeks, said that the property would be taken by eminent domain. It never happened. Now, however, it looks like something might be done to renovate the storefronts and bring in new tenants. That could well revitalize the entire Far Rockaway shopping area once again.

The Wave joins all other local residents in mourning the death of Specialist Roberto Hernandez II, U.S. Army, who died when an improvised explosive device (IED) blew up the Humvee in which he was riding. Arverne resident Hernandez was a third generation member of the Army and had volunteered for duty in Afghanistan. His aunt, also a military veteran, said it all when she told reporters, "The military brought us to this country, and [Roberto] paid the debt."

Community Board 14 District manager Jonathan Gaska dispelled some of the rumors bouncing around the west end community about what the city plans for the grassy area abutting the bay wall around Beach 126 Street. We have heard that the triangle of land would soon become a kayak launching site, a new park, a parking lot for fishermen and various other things. Gaska said that he Metro Waterfront Alliance had received an $8 million grant to fix up the seawall at a number of waterfront properties, including the Rockaway property. The grant will allow them to do something with the landside area as well as the bay wall, and they will work with the community board to come up with a plan for the site. Gaska said that there is no mandate to increase access to the bay, so a kayak launching site is not a done deal. The area along Beach Channel Drive is bound by Beach 125 Street and Beach 131 Street. By the way, the Department of Transportation owns some of the site and the city's Economic Development Commission owns other parts of the site. It may even be possible that the National Park Service owns some of the bay front land, which will complicate the process.

The Queens County American Legion recently elected Rockaway resident Michael Honan as county commander for the 2009-2010 year. Honan, an ex- Navy officer, has been active in veteran's affairs in Rockaway for many years.

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