Good morning. It’s Monday. We’ll visit a basement in Queens that’s already stuffed with gingerbread houses for the holidays. We’ll also find out what happened to one of the bright spots of the pandemic, the city’s Open Streets initiative.
There’s a line that describes Jon Lovitch’s basement, and Clement Clarke Moore didn’t write it. It’s from an old Crazy Eddie commercial that was mentioned here the other day: “It’s Christmas in August!”
In Lovitch’s basement it was also Christmas in July, and it will be Christmas in September and October: It is Christmas every day in the basement in Forest Hills, Queens, except when it’s Christmas everywhere else. From January to November, Lovitch makes gingerbread houses, gingerbread nutcrackers, gingerbread sleighs and gingerbread Santas.
He lines them up on bookshelves, tables, chairs and even an ottoman until it is time to assemble them in a giant gingerbread village at Essex Market on the Lower East Side. His GingerBread Lane display will open there on Nov. 26, little more than 100 days from today.
Lovitch, saying he has made 800 houses but needs 1,500, is shifting into high gear.
“The first time people find out you run a holiday-themed business, they operate on the assumption, ‘Oh, wow, it’s summertime, you’re having a lemonade, watching a ballgame, kicking back,” Lovitch said. “Nobody’s thinking about Christmas right now. But I have to get about 300 houses every month throughout the summer.”
That means 70- to 80-hour workweeks. There will be drummers, sleighs and reindeer — all edible, though Lovitch said that snacking on a Santa would be a bad idea.
“How would you chew through that?” he said, tapping a rock-hard roof with frosting made of powdered sugar, egg whites and cream of tartar. “I mean, unless you have teeth like ‘Jurassic Park’ or ‘Zombie Apocalypse.’”
Lost teeth are not the only potential peril in Lovitch’s sugary world. He said he once got a concussion when one of his gingerbread structures hit him on the head. He was pulling it loose from a wall it had become stuck to.
Hours later, he felt a headache coming on. He had been a hockey player. He knew what a concussion felt like and took himself to the emergency room. “I’m telling the attending physician what happened, and he says, ‘You got a concussion from a gingerbread house,’” Lovitch recalled. Lovitch assured him he was telling him the truth.
A former executive chef who turned a side project into a full-time occupation, Lovitch has a beard, but it is not white, and when he laughs, his belly does not shake like a bowl full of you-know-what. He is not one to say “ho, ho, ho,” and he does not listen to Christmas music as he works.
“I spend most of my year working down here in my flannel pajamas and my socks,” he said, “not worried about human resources, not worried about the union, things you had to worry about as a chef. Like, there’s a knife sitting on the floor right there that I use to scrape up jelly beans. That knife on the floor would get me in trouble” in a hotel kitchen, he said.
He runs four dehumidifiers to keep humidity from softening gingerbread walls that should be as hard as Sheetrock. He builds with supplies bought at post-holiday discounts, but not the 50 percent off on Dec. 26. “Usually within two weeks they’ve got it to 90 percent, to get rid of it, and that’s when I swoop in and buy it,” he said. “A dozen candy canes for a dime!”
Enjoy a partly sunny day near the low 80s. At night, it’s mostly cloudy, with temps dropping to the high 60s.
Suspended today (Feast of the Assumption).
The author Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed roughly 10 times on Friday, has been removed from a ventilator, his agent said. “The road to recovery has begun,” the agent, Andrew Wylie, said in a text message. “It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction.”
Rushdie was attacked onstage minutes before he was to give a talk at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. The attack brought terror to an idyllic retreat (above). Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, N.J., was arrested after onlookers wrestled him to the floor.
Rushdie had been the subject of an edict known as a fatwa, issued by Iran’s supreme leader after Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” was published more than 30 years ago, which directed Muslims to kill him.
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Arts & Culture
The struggle for pedestrian-friendly ‘Open Streets’
Sixty-three miles. It’s roughly that far from Times Square to Trenton, N.J., or Bridgeport, Conn. It’s also how many miles of pedestrian-friendly “open streets” in New York City have been lost.
The city’s Open Streets initiative prohibits or limits traffic on certain blocks at certain hours up to seven days a week. It was a bright spot in the pandemic year of 2020, when the city designated 83 miles of streets for the program. But maintaining the open streets has turned out to be harder than expected. Now there are slightly more than 20 miles.
City officials and community groups are trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t in what is still a new initiative. Officials said they were in the process of adding five miles of open streets around the city; the transportation commissioner, Ydanis Rodriguez, said the city was committed to investing in the program and expanding it.
But in Jackson Heights, Queens, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the open streets drew a backlash. Greenpoint drivers essentially took back two open streets on Driggs Avenue and Russell Street after metal barriers were vandalized, run over and dumped into Newtown Creek.
Street Lab, a nonprofit that is working with the city to develop new open streets, has organized community groups to help run 11 new Open Street sites. On East 141st Street in the Bronx, an open street next to a housing project brings people together every Saturday for basketball games, music and story hours with Boogie Down Books, a “bookstore without walls” that stages pop-up events.
Michael Brady, the executive director of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District in the South Bronx, knows just how hard it is to make open streets work. He scrambles to raise $600,000 a year in donations to pay for a pair of open streets on Alexander Avenue and Willis Avenue.
“We’re not closing the streets for the sake of closing streets,” he said, adding that yoga and CrossFit classes, as well as Salsa Saturdays with live bands — all listed on a monthly program schedule — have bolstered traffic at stores and restaurants.
I had searched for a week to buy a pocket comb to replace one I had lost. No one seemed to be selling them. I tried several Duane Reade and CVS stores. Maybe it was a supply chain issue.
Finally, I broke down and bought a 20-comb assortment pack in a chain drugstore on John Street. It had multicolored combs in all widths, shapes and sizes. Some had handles and spike ends. There were even a few pocket-size ones.
“This is great,” the cashier said as he rang me up. “You lose combs all the time.”
I told him I had wanted to buy just one comb but that no one was selling singles.
“I need a comb,” he said. “Can I buy one of these for a dollar?”
I happily opened the pack.
“You choose which one,” he said.