I was born in Far Rockaway, in St. Joseph’s Hospital which is now St. John’s. I lived on Beach 21st Street until I was 18. I went to St. Mary Star of the Sea grammar school and Far Rockaway High School. When I went to college my family moved up to Beach 123rd Street, where I lived with them until I joined the Fire Department in 1981. I started to help run my parent’s liquor store, Station Liquors, in 1983. At that time we were in the train station where the jewelry store is now. We have moved the store three times since then but we always stayed on Beach 116th Street because it is the main street of uptown Rockaway.
I moved out of the house and lived at Beach 105th Street for 10 years or so until I bought a small bungalow on Beach 143rd Street.
I got married in 1984 to my wife Ingrid. We had two children in the next two years, Bettina and Karl. Karl was diagnosed with autism and accepted into a full-time school on the west side of Manhattan. It would have been impossible to have him take the bus from Rockaway so we moved into my in-laws house in Bayside.
When Karl graduated from that school in 2001 we moved into Nassau County to take advantage of the special programs that they have for disabled children. We had our third child, Nicole that year as well.
Were you involved with community or civic affairs before joining the Beach 116th Street Partnership? Are you involved in any other community groups currently?
I have never been very involved in community groups. Between working on the Fire Department full time, running the liquor store and dealing with a child with disabilities, I was pretty stretched. My wife and I have always tried to stay involved with the non-profits that help children with autism. Ingrid is currently a parent adviser to Life’s WORC, an organization for children with disabilities on Long Island.
What does the Beach 116th Street Partnership do? When was it formed? Why was it formed? What is your role/ responsibility as a board director for the group?
The Beach 116th St. Partnership was formed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The people from NYC Small Business Services went to all of the hardest hit commercial areas in the city. Of course, Beach 116th Street was one of them. They wanted to work with a merchant’s group, but unfortunately we didn’t have one. They helped us put together a core group to try to get something up and running. Somehow, I ended up as the Chairman. I am responsible to run the board meetings and make sure we are following the laws regarding nonprofits. The rest of the board members are very hard-working members of the merchant community who are making the street better every day. We also have a great executive director, Krzysztof Sadlej, who is connecting with city agencies to take advantage of any programs they have.
We have had some great successes. We obtained grants from Citibank and the Mayor’s Fund to put facelifts on a number of buildings. We also had a great tree-lighting ceremony before Christmas that was attended by hundreds of people. Mark Mina, who has an office on the block, was able to get professional sound and lighting people for the ceremony to really juice it up.
We are currently working on some small events like the tree giveaway at my place, Station Liquors, this Sunday, March 30th, and some large ones like Polish Children’s Day festival on Beach 116th Street on June 1st.
What are some of the best aspects of Rockaway?
I think Rockaway has a lot going for it. I loved living there when I was younger. I grew up there and I still consider myself a “beach person.” My favorite way to spend a day is to take my kids to the beach and ride the waves!
I think the fact that it is somewhat remote has some great benefits. We don’t have the population to get some of the chain stores that residents might like but it does give small business owners like myself the ability to compete. It actually makes for a more diverse and unique business mix.
How can Rockaway be improved?
If we can make ourselves more powerful politically, we can work with the city to keep our area the way most of us would like it; a great place to live and raise children.
What advice do you have for people who are interested in getting involved in Rockaway?
Any person can join a group like ours. We accept members who are not business owners. Anyone who is interested in bettering the Beach 116 Street Corridor can become a member.