Comics as a “Gateway Drug to Literacy”: An interview with Mike and Nick of Royal Collectibles in Astoria

By Lisa Huberman

Early in April, I sat down with Mike Giordano and Nick Mitch, who just opened up a comic book shop on Broadway in Astoria. Below are some excerpts from that conversation.

Lisa: What made you decide to open up a comic shop in Astoria?

Mike: Well, we come from Forest Hills—we’re established there about 25 years. And Nick, local to Astoria approached me and said he’s tired of spending three hours to come see us over at Forest Hills, and he said maybe we’ll give it a go over here. Found us a reasonable place—Nick, whatya gotta say?

Nick: That’s kinda how it went. I was tired of going out to Forest Hills—and more importantly was that there were so many days that I wanted to go to Forest Hills, go to the shop, and I just couldn’t get there. And then I’d look at my watch and it’d be six o’clock or whatever, and I knew they were closing—it is, it’s three hours. You know, a half hour there, a half hour back, and then at least an hour or two in the store. And it would take up a whole afternoon.

And there was nothing around here, or close to here that resembled anything like Royal Collectibles Forest Hills. The people—not just the products—the people. The products in the store you can get online, there’s a million places you can do this. But the interaction with the people—his entire staff there, it’s a family. You feel it. You feel that vibe. You ask a question, they help you. They’re honest. I’ve been around a long time—I’ve been in this game for years—go back to beanie babies and cabbage patch kids. It’s very rare you find honest, truly honest dealers. Honest people. Everyone’s out for a quick buck in the moment—and I’ve seen it in all kinds of collectibles. And I’ve never felt that at Royal Collectibles with Forest Hills. I always felt that I got a fair deal, if not a good deal. I felt that I always walked away with some information that I didn’t know going in.

I said to Mike, just in conversation—if you ever think about expanding Royal’s name, why don’t you come closer to us—come west! And go to like Astoria or Long Island City, or whatever. And he just kind of said, “yeah,” and then a few months later, he said to me—“would you be interested?” And I said, “Well, yeah—yeah, okay.” A friend—another friend of ours—another person, who’s not here, Joe, between Joe and I we have a massive collection of vintage comic books and toys that you see here—and he said “Yeah, you know—why not?” I’m 55 years old—why not try a new adventure? Something different in life?

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Mike Giordano (left) and Nick Mitch

So what made you decide that a comic book shop in 2019 was the right move for Astoria? Because I know I’ve been reading about comic book shops closing all over the city—why did you think this was a smart decision, especially for Astoria, for now?

Nick: I’m gonna start, and then you can finish it. On the start that we have enough gourmet delis, we have enough coffee shops, we have enough cafes, we have enough hookah bars—we needed something different. And you’re right: a lot of places are closing, and it’s scary as hell—and I can tell you how many sleepless nights I have had, and how many nightmares I’ve woken to. And the fear that’s existed—however, with the support of some very close friends, and with the support of Mike, and his staff, this was a good time to do it—while it may seem you know economy-wise, things are crazy—you know worried about jobs or whatever and collectibles and toys and comics—people still need their escapes. They still need their entertainment. They still need to live their fantasy life, which we all live—I do too. I have my particular things I like. So while it’s risky—and trust me, it is risky, and it is scary—on the other side of it, there’s still a need for it. People still want—we get people who walk by the store and you can hear them with the door open saying, “Wow! A comic book shop opened! We gotta go in!” I’ve had people come and say, “I just wanted to step in for a minute, I gotta run, but I’ll be back—we’re so glad that you opened.” And so when you get that kind of return—you did something right. I’ll leave it to you.

Mike: Yeah, it’s what Nick said—it’s escapism, it’s enjoyment. It’s a little break from the everyday. Everyone works hard—and they get some enjoyment out of these stories of these characters. Or whatever it is, whether they’re collecting—Funko Pops and action figures—it’s a little respite from all the rest. Whether the economy’s doing well or not, good times and bad, people still need the ability to just kind of check out and enjoy themselves I think. (more…)


A Transformative Experience at Simply Fit Astoria

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Walking into Lisa Eskenazi’s studio, Simply Fit Astoria, can feel like a transformative experience. Her Dance Cardio class hardly feels like a workout, aside from the profuse sweating. Old friends greet each other with hugs followed by fifty-five minutes of feeling like your best self while dancing to hip hop beats and current pop hits. Eskenazi keeps everyone pumped, squealing with whoooos. Her classes are so captivating that attendees have been known to come from other boroughs to experience some of the magic.

Eskenazi is a petite woman with a lot of energy. These days, she is carrying some extra weight. Her first baby, a girl, is due in August. And she is determined to keep teaching as long as she can.

She developed a following in the neighborhood, having been a local fitness instructor since 2006 with a start in Pilates and Dance Cardio classes. She recognized the increasing demand for an elevated level of experience and attention to detail.

“I wanted to offer a variety of classes on the schedule and really create a community-based atmosphere, which is how I came up with the concept for Simply Fit Astoria,” she said.

Since opening their doors in early 2011, Simply Fit Astoria has continued to flourish. After just one year, they outgrew their original space and moved down the road to Astoria Boulevard near the busy Steinway Street stretch. The studio expanded again in 2014 with Simply Cycle (and Chrono power spin bikes). Eskenazi oversees the 4000 square foot facility and twenty staff members. She also teaches many of the classes, such as PiYo, a fusion of Pilates and Yoga.

Also on offer are Rhythm Cycle (similar to Soul Cycle) and Sculpt Cycle, which incorporates light weight training for an upper body workout. Cycle classes include complimentary use of spin shoes and a towel. The locker room is co-ed. Studios are dimly lit. There is a strict no lateness policy. They offer private personal training and small group training.

– Briyah Paley

 

Simply Fit Astoria
www.simplyfitastoria.com
37-20 Astoria Boulevard South
347-639-0489
info@simplyfitastoria.com


Brunch at The Royal Underground

IMG_3784-sThis weekend, we ventured to The Royal Underground on 30th Ave (between 36th and 37th St) which opened in the former William Hallet location back in November. We initially contacted the restaurant via Facebook to get the brunch menu and inquire about making a reservation. We were pleasantly surprised to receive an immediate, helpful response, and looked forward to our visit all week.

Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by one of the owners, Jimmy, who gave us a choice of seating and happily told us about his involvement in opening this new restaurant. Making our way inside, we noticed ornamental lamps, an intricately detailed ceiling, royal blue accent walls, and a beautiful hand-painted mural in the back (there’s also one in the bathroom). We were getting a French bistro-esque vibe, which is also reflected in some of the items on the menu.

We were soon introduced to another owner, Gary. Both Jimmy and Gary are from Astoria and have previous ties to other Astoria restaurants. Jimmy explained that this time around, his goal was to open a restaurant serving “Manhattan dishes with Astoria prices.” Jimmy, a former fireman, says he feels at home in his local digs and treats his restaurant and customers like family, just as he did at his old fire station. Looking around the restaurant, you will find Jimmy introducing himself to every customer. He is just that friendly guy you want to pal around with.

We ordered brunch entrees ($17) which each included a choice of coffee/tea and juice/alcoholic beverage. We opted for a glass of pineapple juice, a traditional orange juice mimosa, and a pineapple juice mimosa. You could also choose a cranberry juice mimosa, a Bloody Mary, and a MAN-Mosa, which we learned is beer (instead of champagne) mixed in orange juice. We really enjoyed all of our food choices: Vegetable Frittata (mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, red bell peppers), Grits & Eggs (two fried eggs sunny side up, cheese grits, shitake mushrooms, asparagus), Old Fashioned French Toast (bread pudding, orange zest and bourbon whipped cream), and The Queen’s Burger (beef short rib, aged white cheddar, fried egg, pomme frites). The frittata and burger were accompanied with a side salad topped with very tasty dressing. The Queen’s Burger was a definite standout—really juicy and delicious. The sunny side up egg on top was a perfect addition, and we were grateful for Jimmy’s advice: break the egg before taking a bite, to avoid making a mess. The grits of the Grits & Eggs were fluffy and different from southern style grits you may already be family with. Combined with the vegetables and dripping yolk from the egg, it was definitely an overall win for a brunch dish. Lastly, The French Toast was light, airy, flavorful and definitely one of the best tasting French Toasts we’ve ever had.

As we made our way through our tasty brunch, the place was getting more crowded, but it was still never too noisy, which was nice. We left feeling satisfied and not too overstuffed which goes to show the food was delicious without being too heavy! Before leaving, Jimmy showed us the dinner menu, pics of some of the dinner items, and their cocktail menu with creative drinks named after songs (Grounds for Divorce, Some Like It Hot), so needless to say, we can’t wait to return for an evening visit sometime soon!

–Rachelle and Jamie



BOAST: Best of Astoria Winter Party 2019 Wrap-up

IMG_3459-s2The BOAST: Best of Astoria Winter Party 2019 is in the books, and we had a great time. The party was to celebrate the 2018 BOAST: Best of Astoria winners, so we congratulate all of them again. (Here is a PDF graphic of all the winners in half letter size.) Thank you to everyone who came to the party. Special thanks goes out to the people at Oliver’s Astoria, who were wonderful hosts. The space was great for this event, and we really liked the food! A thank you goes to Dan Rauchwerk Music and Courtney on the cello for providing the beautiful live music. And a thank you to the businesses who donated prizes for the raffle: Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, The Wolfhound, Astoria Park Alliance, Astoria Performing Arts Center, MoMA PS1, Break Bar & Billiards, Redken Saloon, and OK Cafe Astoria. We had a great time, and hope everyone who came did too!



BOAST: Best of Astoria Winter Party 2019 is Today!

Come to Oliver’s Astoria () TODAY Sunday, March 3rd from 4–7pm to celebrate the BOAST: Best of Astoria 2018 winners! (Oliver’s Astoria is a winner for Best Bar for Sports.) Some snacks will be provided, and there will be a cash bar. We’ll have a raffle with great prizes, and live music by Dan Rauchwerk Music and Courtney on cello! It’s $20 at the door.

Hope to see you there!

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An Evening with the Dalmatian Tenor

Vlado-secret-theatre-poster“An Evening with the Dalmatian Tenor” performances at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, will be on March 14, 15, 16 and 17, 2019. Vladimir Garic is one of the leading tenors in Croatia and the surrounding region. He has curated an intimate, unique musical experience, that introduces his musicianship as an operatic tenor, a traditional Dalmatian Klapa (a cappella) tenor and a rock guitar player.
Showtimes are 8:30 PM, doors open 7:30 PM. Tickets are $25 advance/$30 door.

vladimirgaric.com

Tickets

Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd St
Long Island City, NY 11101

 


Play Review: Queen

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Rachel Rhodes-Devey and Mahima Saigal in Queen. Photo by Michael Dekker.

Queen, the current production of the Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC), written by Madhuri Shekar, is a story particularly relevant to today’s political climate. Performed at the Boys and Girls Club black box theater, the intimacy of the setting allows the audience to completely immerse themselves in the story of two female graduate students (Ariel Speigel and Sanam Shah played by Rachel Rhodes-Devey and Mahima Saigal) grappling with the concepts of ethics, friendship, romance, and respect. Both characters push personal and professional boundaries throughout the play. When their adviser and mentor encourages unethical behavior in the interest of “the greater good,” both of these independent women hash through the greater implications that eventually leads them both to the same conclusion.

As someone with a great deal of experience in academia, I found the story both relatable and realistic in its approach to scientific research and the pitfalls of long-term data collection and analysis. Upon leaving the show, the general themes and the ending in particular sparked a spirited debate with my show guest. Any play that leaves you talking, thinking and discussing for days afterwards is, in my opinion, one worth pursuing.

Queen runs through February 16
You can buy tickets here
Black Box Theater at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens
21-12 30th Rd
Astoria, NY 11102


BOAST: Best of Astoria Winter Party 2019

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Come to Oliver’s Astoria (37-19 Broadway, Astoria) on Sunday, March 3rd from 4–7pm to celebrate the BOAST: Best of Astoria 2018 winners! (Oliver’s Astoria is a winner for Best Bar for Sports.) We’ll have some snacks for you, and there will be a cash bar. ALSO, we will have live music. ALSO ALSO we will have a raffle. If you sign up by Friday, February 22, you will be automatically entered into the raffle. It’s $15 (+ fee) in advance, and $20 day of the event at the door. If you have any questions, email hello@boast.nyc. You can go to boast.nyc/party to reserve your ticket, and you can RSVP on the Facebook event with this link.

We look forward to seeing you there!

The BOAST Team