Julie Wager, ‘Mr. Steinway Street’, Led Astoria Business Community
n 1991, the Queens Gazette in its ninth year and Tony Barsamian, who had taken over as publisher and editor-inchief from John Toscano, was in the process of building a team to run the editorial and advertising sides. His choice for advertising director was a scrappy, tenacious, indefatigable, highly outspoken activist and booster of the Astoria business community, one Julian Wager. For the next 18 years, Wager, who befriended Barsamian when the then 17-year-old entrepreneur was making his first forays into advertising, would make the Gazette a part of his efforts to build the business, cultural and civic environment in Astoria and Long Island City.
Wager came to the Gazette after retiring from a 40-year career running his family’s lingerie businesses, Genius, 31-19 Steinway St. and Chic Corsets, 30-79 Steinway St. During that time and after his retirement from the two commercial enterprises, Wager was president of the Steinway Street Merchants Association, which would become the Steinway Street Business Improvement District, the first such entity in New York City, (under the new city charter), and later the Steinway Astoria Partnership, for nearly half a century. He founded the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition and served as its president for more than 30 years, He served on Community Board 1, also for more than 30 years, in the key post of chairman of the Board 1 Industrial-Commercial, Cable Television, Communications and Economic Development Committee. He also served on the board of directors of the Salah M. Hassanein Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens; was a board member of A Way Out, an addiction treatment organization; treasurer of the Walter Kaner Children’s Foundation, founded by the late Long Island Press and Gazette columnist, and a member of the Astoria/Long Island City Kiwanis.
For nearly 30 years the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition Independence Day celebrations and the summer Waterfront Concert Series came about by Wager’s efforts. He was an advisor to mayors, borough presidents, city councilmembers and speakers, state and U.S. Senators, Assemblymembers and Congressmembers. After a spinal cord injury confined him to a wheelchair in 2000, Wager accelerated his involvement in organizations for people with disabilities on his long list of interests. In 2002 he was honored by the Queens Borough President’s Task Force on Persons with Disabilities.
Born May 15, 1929, Wager, a native of Astoria, graduated from P.S. 6 on Steinway Street, the site of which is now a parking lot, W.C. Bryant H.S. in 1946 and from City College. He lived in the Cryder Point co-op complex in Beechhurst and for many years was its president. Also for many years, he was president of his synagogue, Astoria Center of Israel, 27-35 Crescent St. He died Jan. 6, 2010 at age 80, survived by a brother, Stanley, six daughters and nine grandchildren, having earned the title, “Mr. Steinway Street”.
In the Congressional Record of Jan. 15, 2010, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney summed up Wager’s life and career: “Over the course of six decades, Mr. Wager sought tirelessly to expand and improve professional, financial and networking opportunities for businesses and residents in the Borough of Queens. He provided both entrepreneurial and philanthropic services to the people of his beloved community of Astoria…Among his many notable contributions to the resilient Astoria neighborhood, Julie Wager helped ensure the commercial vibrancy of Steinway Street for future generations.”