It was a Saturday and we were looking for something family friendly to do with the kids.
For a long time, I studiously avoided anything deemed “family friendly” as it was either specifically for children like ‘Sesame Street’ or something that was toned down and devoid of any of the reality-driven spice of life. But my time as a parent has changed my view and definition.
For us, “family friendly” doesn’t mean for something sanitized or dumbed-down, it means we want to be able to find a place to change a diaper. We are not afraid of adult content corrupting our children except in extreme examples; we’re afraid of adult content boring the crap out of our children.
Case in point: we looked up local events on our local Macaroni Kid and found an Oktoberfest nearby. You wouldn’t normally think that an Oktoberfest celebration would be a place to take children, that it would be nothing but loud, beer-soaked hipsters being dramatically unaware. And maybe in Brooklyn that would be the case, but the Poppenhusen Institute of College Point, Queens proved that wrong. We live not too far from this institution, which is 150 years old now. A center for German culture, it’s evolved to become a lot more without losing sight of its original cultural mission.
College Point is somewhat of an out-of-the-way place by New York City standards. There’s almost a small community village feeling to it as its small businesses have thrived. Driving down 14th Street, where the Institute is, the businesses of College Point Avenue recede and the street is a bit narrower and more residential, until you get closer to the water, where more industrial businesses are. The Poppenhusen Institute is bordered by businesses but in an area which is still largely residential. It’s got a fenced-in property (another bonus for bringing small children) and is a magnificent building that dates to 1868.
Being the day of the fall equinox, the weather was perfect for the outdoor event, which was held in the shaded back yard of the Institute. Decorated with blue and white balloons, we paid $18 admission and that included a lot of free entertainment and an area of games for kids. There was free face painting for children and prizes as well.
On site was an award-winning artist, Brian Lipperd, painting portraits. He produced a great portrait of your youngest daughter and touched it up when she smeared it. This artist formerly worked as a portrait artist in Florence, Italy and has had other prestigious residences around the world and will be teaching art classes at the Poppenhusen Institute. You think they have awesome portrait artists at Chuck E Cheese? Think again.
The Institute was once a village community center for College Point, it even served as a local sheriff’s station and still has two small jail cells that housed town drunks or other minor miscreants. It was the site of the first free public kindergarten in the United States. It has a magnificent performance space as well as an exhibit of early Native American life of the area.
The food was affordable and we bought hot dogs for the kids and my wife and I enjoyed some bratwurst, as it was an Oktoberfest and that felt like the right thing to do. There was traditional German music and men in lederhosen and women in traditional German dresses performed dances. My wife came in second place in a beer stein holding contest, winning a nice beer stein filled with beer.
The Poppenhusen Institute holds painting classes for children and has numerous performances and things worth doing. It is well worth the trip to College Point to visit this cultural treasure.
When a local supermarket closes down, people scatter like ants seeking safety. Our area of Queens is seeing two stores close down over the next few weeks. It will be interesting to see where shoppers will go before these stores are reopened.
The scene in the Waldbaum’s on 20th Avenue in College Point, Queens was a sad one. More than half the shelves were empty. Where abundant displays of vegetables once stood were now vacant. Everything was on sale. Products in the aisles were consolidated onto a few shelves. As I was checking out, a woman asked if she could have my shopping basket when I was done; she couldn’t find another one anywhere.
Local supermarkets throughout Queens are being sold or closed after the A&P, which owned several supermarket chains, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. The local ones near where I live are supposed to be reopening. The Waldbaum’s will reportedly reopen as a Shoprite later this year. The Pathmark near our home is supposed to reopen as a Stop & Shop. Both are closing down in the meantime leaving people wondering where they are going to shop.
Food shopping, like much else in New York City, is a generally ethnically segregated affair. There was a Key Food in the shopping center right behind our home. It closed and is now Good Fortune, a grocery store that mainly caters to Chinese shoppers. All the announcements on the PA are in Chinese and many of the people who work there speak no English. Some of our neighbors refuse to go but it’s not a bad store. If you’re looking for fresh fish they have a lot of it, and they even kept a real deli, but if it’s too early in the day and the deli person isn’t there, none of the multitude of Chinese workers will help you other than to tell you in the best broken English they can that you are shit out of luck.
One thing I noticed when I first visited Good Fortune is that there is no cash register #4. The cash registers skip from register #3 to register #5. The Chinese believe that #4 is bad luck. The word for the number four is similar to the word for death in Chinese, so Chinese will go through great lengths not to have the number four in their addresses or phone numbers. Similarly in western cultures there is often no 13th floor of an office building because of bad luck associated with that number.
A few blocks down the street is the H-Mart, a Korean grocery store. It’s smaller and does not have a wide selection, though on Fridays you can go through there and practically eat an entire lunch’s worth of food in the form of free samples. This supermarket also has odd sections of electronics and other things you don’t normally find in a grocery store; maybe that’s a Korean thing. Their selection of non-Asian foods is pretty dismal and we rarely go there. A few years ago supermarket union workers protested outside of this store asking people to boycott it because it had no black or white employees. I haven’t seen these protesters in a while. I don’t normally go to this store but I’ve never seen a black or white employee there to this day.
So some people are not going to shop at the Asian supermarkets and they’ll soon get the chance to shop at their old stores, renovated and under new management. Some have taken to shopping at some of the smaller stores in Whitestone and some will shop at the nearby Target.
New York’s ethnic cauldron will continue to boil and churn. Luckily I don’t mind shopping among the Chinese and will stay well fed.