2016-06-08 / Front Page

Queens Chamber Conference Held At Citi Field

By Thomas Cogan
The 2016 Queens Chamber of Commerce Business Expo at Citifield last week drew about 150 businesses big and small.  They set up booths on the fifth floor of the Mets’ home and attracted a crowd of interested and enthusiastic visitors, numbering in the thousands in sunny if somewhat hot weather.  As it does each year at the baseball park, the Business Expo lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  The opening of the exhibition coincided with a meeting in the fourth floor auditorium where new QCC President Mayra DiRico and Chief Executive Thomas Grech conducted an interview with three Queens officials and two restaurateurs who appear to be thriving amidst growing prosperity in the borough.

Before the panelists were interviewed, DiRico made reference to Queens’s appellation as “The World’s Borough” and identified herself as a native of Cuba.  Chris Donovan of the New York Daily News, which is a chief sponsor of the Expo, said that he, on the other hand, is a native of Queens and has lived in several parts of the borough since leaving his original home, Jackson Heights.   He referred to the Expo as the “corporate event of the week.”  Grech repeated what has become a theme for those promoting growth in Queens:  that formerly it was a place to travel through, from either Long Island  to Manhattan or the other way round, by bridge or tunnel; or from either Kennedy or La Guardia Airports, to places near or far, but seldom to a destination in Queens.  Now, he said, Queens has become a destination, not merely a byway.

The panelists were Haeda Mikaltses, head of external affairs for the New York Mets; Ana Oliviera of Investors Bank; Dennis Walcott, former commissioner of education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and now executive director of the Queens Public Library; and

Hugue Dufor and Sarah Obraitis, of M. Wells Steakhouse in Hunters Point and two other area restaurants, M. Wells Dinette in MoMA-PS 1 and the kitchen they maintain in the Dutch Kills Bar.  

Mikaltses said she had worked in the Bloomberg administration during that mayor’s third term.  When she decided the time was right to move on, she turned to persons she described as two old friends, the Wilpons:  Fred, the owner of the Mets, and son Jeff, the vice president.  Soon she was appointed to manage the ballclub’s external affairs.   Ana Oliviera said she got to know Queens beginning in 2010, when Investors Bank made its entrance to New York City through Queens as it opened a branch in Astoria.  At present, there are 40 branches throughout the city, though she emphasized that “the business grew up in Queens,” which has a growing population and a strong sense of ownership.  She even made a point some would find controversial:  that rising rents in Queens are a sign of investment and a good thing.

Dennis Walcott’s office is in the central branch of the QPL system at 89-11 Merrick Blvd. in Jamaica.  He said that when he became head of QPL this year he had his office moved closer to the staff offices, to be in the midst of the library’s administration.  This might have been to establish a mutual sense of trust, lack of which ended the tenure of a former QPL director.  Walcott said he has been blessed by being able to participate in social interchange.  A questioner from the audience asked how business could work with him to meet and overcome the constant problem of raising funds for the libraries.  He said he was going to City Hall later to confer about that.  Grech said that a giving him a page in QCC’s monthly magazine, This Is Queensborough, would give him and the libraries valuable publicity.

As his name might suggest, Hugue Dufor also comes to Queens from outside.  The co-owner of M. Wells Steakhouse at 43-15 Crescent St., just south of Queens Plaza, is from Montreal.  He told the audience, perhaps playfully, that he would never have left Montreal for Manhattan, but Queens was had a strong pull on him.  His partner, Sarah Obraitis, is a Queens native.  When asked if they plan to expand in Queens, Dufor said no.  They have already run and closed M. Wells Diner, but having succeeded it with the steakhouse is not an indication of opening further than M. Wells Dinette within the PS 1 museum at 22-25 Jackson Ave. or the cooking service provided for Dutch Kills Bar, 27-24 Jackson Ave.  Obraitis said she wants to provide a “mom and pop” image to the public.

She also made a reference to the library, having heard Dennis Walcott tell an anecdote about an 80-plus woman who had phoned the Flushing branch from her hairdresser’s shop to see if a book she’d reserved was available.  (And when she heard that Walcott was there on business, she wanted to rush over to meet him.)  Obraitis said that book reservations should be better known, adding that they’re a great thing at any age.  






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