Author Archive

Holidays in New York circa 1830, by Candlelight

December 13th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

In the middle of the Upper East Side’s bustle, under the long shadow of the Queensboro Bridge, sits one of the oldest houses in New York City.  The sturdy stone structure is similar to the Huguenot houses on the oldest street in America, but this isn’t quaint New Paltz, New York.  It’s almost Midtown Manhattan, where the mega watt lights flood the streets, day  and night.  On one corner of East 61st Street, steps from the East River, the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum still celebrates the holidays by candlelight and the date is 1830.

When it was built in 1799, there was no East 61st Street, in fact there wasn’t much at all in the farmlands above New York City, which only extended as far as 14th Street.  The building was a carriage house on the property of Abigail Adams Smith, the daughter of President John Adams, housing farm animals and stables until the main house burned down.  Several years later, in 1826, the building was still standing and was converted to a day hotel, not for overnight lodging.

Though the museum celebrates by candlelight this month in a building restored to its historic hotel status, the structure was owned until 1924 by electricity giant Con-Edison.

The little stone house that’s survived since the 19th century has been owned and maintained since then by the Colonial Dames of America, who hope to sustain it through tours and exhibitions that carry a generous admissions price.  Visitors who attended this weekend’s candlelight tour, where the rooms are in veritable darkness save for a few strategically placed candles, seemed to appreciate stepping back into a historic New York holiday, though  cameras don’t seem to have the same appreciation for the dark.

Holidays by Candlelight at Mt. Vernon Hotel Museum from Bianca Seidman on Vimeo.

A Book Signing for Young and Old, Chicken and Cow

December 6th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

Sandra Boynton, well-known children’s book author, illustrator and queen of her own merchandise kingdom of offbeat animals, launched her new book, “Amazing Cows,” at Books of Wonder on 18th Street this Saturday. It was a rare appearance for the prolific author who has over 20 million copies of her 47 books in print–quite an accomplishment for someone who describes herself as an, “exuberant, unfocused creative sort.”

Boynton doesn’t need a book tour at this point in her career. Her illustrations and even the font of her signature are widely recognized.  She says she finds book signing events, “fun, but a little overwhelming.”  As a self-described six-year-old since 1959, she had an uncharacteristically serious reason for promoting her new book this way.

“I’d never done an event at Books of Wonder before,” she said. “It’s a fabulous and important store. Bookstores are not thriving these days, and since I believe in books and bookstores, and since three of my children now live in New York City, it seemed like the perfect convergence of things.”

A mass of children smitten by her silliness and parents who were just as starstruck, filled the independent bookstore that shares its space with the Cupcake Cafe. The event effectively took over the popular Chelsea children’s spot with a massive display of Boynton’s books and illustrations, as well as entertainment and crafts. It wasn’t for the average bear, especially since it was mostly about cows–and some chickens.

View the slideshow below to see and hear moments from the event and hear thoughts from adults and kids who count themselves as Boyton fans. Attendees, like Jessica Kirk, offer thoughts about Sandra Boyton’s career and Allan Bennington, Manager of Books of Wonder, talks about his experience working with the author.

Storefront Galleries and Arts Programs Break Barriers in Jamaica, Queens

November 29th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

Jamaica, Queens is a diverse, mostly low-income community that doesn’t have much connection to the elite New York art world. So a grass-roots, non-profit organization called Reconstruct Art made it a priority to bring gallery art to them. Through their partnership with another non-profit called Chashama that solicits donated spaces from landlords, like empty storefronts, Reconstruct Art has been able to build educational programs, storefront gallery exhibitions and community art programs in what might seem like unlikely spaces.

The current exhibit in Jamaica, Queens by West African artist Eric Ajama is in a former dentist’s office that Reconstruct Art and Chashama have transformed into gallery and studio spaces. The storefront was donated by the landlord, the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, who successfully sold a similar space after Reconstruct Art and Chashama placed art installations there.

Curator and Reconstruct Art member, Siphur, explains the synergy between the community, artists, students and philanthropists.

Community Building with Reconstruct Art from Bianca Seidman on Vimeo.

The East Side’s Often Forgotten Have Places to Find Food

November 22nd, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

The East side of Manhattan may sound like a tony place filled with apartments in the sky, but there are thousands of New Yorkers along the entire stretch who need help getting enough food to survive. The help comes in the form of receiving food stamps, shopping the free supplies of food pantries or going to the traditional soup kitchens. There are an array of these free food providers down the length of Manhattan’s East side and over 1,200 of them throughout New York City.  According to New York City Coalition Against Hunger, these outlets feed over 1.4 million New Yorkers who can’t afford food city-wide.

This year, as usual, there will be thousands of people who can’t afford to buy their own Thanksgiving meals lined up at the dozens of soup kitchens on the East side and a small army of holiday volunteers who want to serve them.  There are so many Thanksgiving volunteers at New York soup kitchens, they can actually be turned away.  One of the largest East side providers of free Thanksgiving meals is the Bowery Mission, whose volunteer slots are full.  But, there are dozens more soup kitchens and several other organizations who deliver food to those in need like City Meals on Wheelsfor seniors or God’s Love We Deliver for HIV/AIDS patients.

For anyone interested in volunteering to help low-income, senior or ailing East siders get a hot meal any day of the year, here’s a map with the places to go from Murray Hill to East Harlem.  Many of these organizations also service other parts of New York City.

View East Side Food Charities in a larger map

Color, Light and Transit in Times Square

November 14th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

Vivid color, rapid movement, skyscrapers and a whole lot of subway stations are part of Times Square’s personality.  On a short two block stroll between 41st and 43rd, on 7th Avenue, people and cars change as fast as the lights can blink.  From an armada of taxis and the lure of theater lights to subway stations with more numbers than a lotto ticket, it’s excitement, confusion and plenty of visual stimulation for the mix of tourists and business people around Times Square.

Here’s a flash of the color and light, with music and without.

The Rise of Chain Store Chic in New York

November 8th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

East River Plaza, planted in the far reaches of East Harlem next to the busy lanes of the FDR Drive, has something common for most U.S. cities, but groundbreaking for Manhattan—big, national chain stores.

When the super-sized shopping mall officially opened this summer, it was a big change for the city with so many individually owned small storefronts, affectionately called “mom-and-pop shops.” New Yorkers have defended those smaller stores fiercely over the years as an integral part of the city’s character that could be ruined if large, national chain stores were allowed.

But Mayor Bloomberg was a proponent of the East River Plaza.  He said residents want to have the variety and discounted prices that large, national chains like Costco and Target can bring.  Of the few people who responded to a survey about chain stores in New York, 60% said that chain stores should be allowed and 40% said they were neutral:  neither opposed, nor in favor of them.  No respondents said chain stores should not be allowed.

chain stores new york

Do you think chain stores should be allowed in New York City?

While big-box stores might be new to Manhattan, national chains have been spreading through the boroughs for many years.  In fact, there is such a large variety and vast number of chain stores throughout New York City that there’s an annual report about the hundreds of chain stores led by the 429 Dunkin’ Donuts and a host of fast food, pharmacy and other retail shops.

The pervasiveness of these chains has sparked debate and reflection about the city’s loss of mom-and-pop shops that helped characterize the neighborhoods.

Almost everyone who took the survey said they shop chain stores, even big box stores, which would compete with the largest variety of mom-and-pop shops.

In which type of New York City chain stores would you be most likely to shop?

New Yorkers seem resigned to the chain stores, even if they are not always in favor of them.  It does depend on the store.  There is a feeling that if the chain stores must come, they should be socially and fiscally responsible.  Some city residents have been active in protesting Wal-mart with specific campaigns because of what they see as questionable business and labor practices.  But big-box retailers with higher ratings for social responsibility and service, like Target, seem to be more welcome by survey respondents.  Target was the #1 chain store they shopped.

Where does all this leave the ever-smaller number of mom-and-pop shops that provide that character to the city streets?  Most survey respondents agreed that they should have special protections to help them survive tough economic conditions and chain store competition, such as rent stabilization or tax breaks.  These are some of the allowances respondents would like New York City’s mom-and-pops to receive:

Business tax breaks 86%
Rent stabilization 86%
Payroll tax breaks 43%
Restrictions on chain store locations 21%
None of the above 7%

A few people added that the chain stores’ social and labor practices should be monitored closely and that they should be required to give back to the communities.

Reasons why respondents were for or against national chain stores in New York City ranged from, “I live for Target ’cause it’s cheap and has everything,” to the idea that chain stores, “…negatively impact New York City’s uniqueness.”  Some added that national retailers like Ikea and Target do charitable work and provide necessary goods that are affordable, which makes them good additions to New York City’s retail landscape.

One of the many respondents who supports Target argued in favor of large chains saying, “New York is one of the most expensive cities on earth; who would object to stores with flimsy, foreign-made goods at rock-bottom prices?”

Third Avenue Bars have them drinking early

October 18th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

Murray Hill, one of the lowest crime, highest income areas in New York, is quietly drinking its way to the top of the city’s binge-drinking ranks.  Part of the reason for that is the lineup of bars along Third Avenue in the 30s, which cater to a crowd that includes a lot of freshly-minted college grads, who bring their Fraternity and Sorority experience with them to Midtown East.

New York Magazine ran this parody video about Murray Hill residents, which shows their rowdy behavior after a long night of hitting the Third Avenue strip of bars. According to, the area’s binge drinking rate is the second highest in all of New York City and almost the same as the highest–23%.

Even on a Sunday afternoon, Third Avenue in Murray Hill is a jam-packed with bar patrons watching sports,  sipping suds and more.

At Patrick Kavanaugh’s, the arch-shaped windows are open and the bar is so tightly packed that people are sitting on the sills, while others stand on the sidewalk looking in.  They are crowded around the televisions watching the Jets and keeping the bartenders and waitresses busy.

Patrick Kavanaugh’s

A patron at another bar, Shawn Reagan, only visits Murray Hill on Sundays during football season.  He lives on the Upper East Side and says he isn’t a fan of the rowdy nightlife in Murray Hill because of the drinking and also the pickup scene, which, he says, is even apparent on a Sunday afternoon.


Residents of the neighborhood, like Hilary Pecheone, also come out to the bars on Third Avenue to watch sports.  Pecheone is dressed head to toe in football paraphernalia, from a numbered jersey to knee high tube socks and she is carrying a football.  She says she only goes to The Wharf  on Sundays because it’s an Ole Miss college football crowd.  At night, she says, Murray Hill is known for having a certain atmosphere.


Taylor Dupree is also at The Wharf, but he says he doesn’t go there often, only when his friends invite him.  He graduated college last Spring and says the crowd, especially at night, is mostly his age.  He says it’s upbeat and can be fun and that people go to Murray Hill to have a certain kind of experience.


Surviving People Traffic in New York’s Subways

October 3rd, 2010 by Bianca Seidman
Times Square Subway

Rushing crowds at Times Square station by Bianca Seidman-Shvarts

With all the changes and consolidation going on in New York’s transit system, subways are more crowded than ever. Gone are the days of arriving at the next stop in a New York minute. In fact, with the level of overcrowding, just navigating through the masses in a subway car or station takes skill, practice and bit of courage.

Every step in subway boarding has its own diplomacy:  waiting for people to disembark, waiting to be pushed onto the subway car with huge amounts of people and knowing when to sit down (when it’s a long ride), stand up (when it’s a rush) and be near the door (as much as possible and 10 seconds before the stop).

But those aren’t the end of the people traffic challenges. Navigating the crowds in the station can be equally trying. Here’s a few tips for subway and station survival:

  1. Try to avoid the big hub stations—these stations have the most people heading in the biggest variety of directions and they are in a hair-on-fire hurry. If possible, don’t get out at Times Square, Columbus Circle, Union Square, Grand Central, Herald Square or Canal Street. Consider the local stops, which might even be closer to the destination.
  2. Learn to spot openings—a few quick steps down the platform can save minutes entering the subway car when people are lined up in front. The last car might seem far, but it can save lots of loading and unloading time.
  3. Time it just right—know how long the trip takes and build in an extra 10 minutes for people-dodging, late trains and doors closing a second too soon.
  4. Pace the crowd-crossing—a walk-trot-dodge pattern is essential to getting through a fast-moving station crowd without getting run over. Spot slight dips in the people traffic flow and walk faster, but keep an eye out for the next wave, which is just seconds behind. Trying to run the whole length against traffic will be sure to result in a collision, it’s better to dodge and weave like Frogger.
  5. Balance etiquette with efficiency—if someone is busy texting, it’s fine to move past them, but don’t push Granny into the gap if she’s overwhelmed by the crowd.

For visitors and new New Yorkers,  there’s general Subway info and etiquette at

New York and Air-Conditioning: Summer Never Felt So…Arctic

September 27th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

As notorious as New York summers are for humidity and stifling, hot air outside, what may be even more shocking is the blasting air-conditioning found almost everywhere inside.  Though a little A/C may sound nice on a damp, 90-degree day, a lot of New York stores and offices run the units ferociously, blasting icy currents of arctic-like air.  It may be bathing suit season at the beach, but it’s chunky sweater weather in the city’s businesses.

The term air-conditioning as it’s used today refers to cooling systems that not only “refrigerate” the air they blow, but also reduce humidity. New York surely has plenty of both, so it makes sense that people want that A/C.  But the question is, how much air-conditioning is too much?

There’s no question that air conditioning has changed our society in many ways, both positive and negative.  Air conditioning is a massive force, which has transformed our habits since it began to spread in the 1950s (see Time Magazine’s history).  Here in New York where the climate can be extreme not only in winter, but also for a few months of scorching summer, air-conditioning is truly everywhere.

There is so much air-conditioning, both central air and window units, running at the same time in New York City that Con-Edison regularly warns people that the massive demand can and has caused power outages.   They recommend setting the thermostat to no lower than 78 degrees, but the average office worker or store shopper can attest to chilly temps that feel more Spring in Anchorage.

According to John Hockenberry of NPR’s, ”The Takeaway,” many stores use ice-cold air-conditioning as an incentive to shop there.  One of his guests on the show, Stan Cox, wrote the book, ”Losing Our Cool:  The High Price of Staying Cool,” where he argues the many social and environmental impacts of air-conditioning.   He says the massive amount of energy required to run it is one of the biggest issues.  The U.S. is about 85% air-conditioned, according to Cox in his New York Times interview.  Other places around the world are also guzzling energy for the convenience, like Mumbai, India, where 40% of energy is from air-conditioning use that is reserved for only the wealthier class. Have a listen to their discussion:

Though most people feel a great benefit from the comfortable temperatures air-conditioning can provide, there are a few health risks.  According to the CDC, Legionnaire’s disease and other bacteria-related illness can be spread through air-conditioning ducts and because the units have standing warm water in their system.  Stan Cox says there is also increasing thought that air-conditioning can make obesity worse because the constant cold feeling makes people crave more food and a bigger layer of fat to stay warm.

Yes, there is even some thought that air-conditioning has affected politics.’s Edward McClelland makes the argument that air-conditioning has also changed the distribution of our country.  He wrote the essay, “Does Air Conditioning Make People vote Republican?” McClelland says more work and more living could be done in the extremely hot South and West of the U.S. after Carrier popularized air-conditioning.  As a result, those states have grown and wield more political and financial power than they otherwise would have.  Carrier was from Syracuse, New York, but apparently his home state has lost 14 electoral votes since the 1950’s because of migration to warm climates.

But air-conditioning isn’t just about statistics and history or even health concerns.  It’s almost as American and as New York as (big) apple pie.  The question isn’t whether the city should do without air-conditioning because that won’t happen.  Maybe New York City just needs to go on a low-calorie air-conditioning diet?

Armed with Art: The New Platoon at Governor’s Island

September 20th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

Set against the backdrop of New York City’s historic, often secretive military fort, the 3rd annual Governor’s Island Art Fair took over the former barracks of the enlisted men.  The once restricted island is open to the public for outdoor activities, historic tours and public art like this weekend’s extensive exhibition.

Over 100 artists had their own rooms within the apartments to transform.  The installations they created ranged from neat rows of framed pictures to full transformations of the spaces, complete with multimedia imaging.  See the video for a quick trip to Governor’s Island and a glimpse into the art and artists of the 4 heads Art Fair.

Armed with Art: The New Platoon at Governor’s Island from Bianca Seidman on Vimeo.