Liz Picca, owner of City View Cleaners, a mom-and-pop laundry started by her parents in 1984, interrupts our conversation continually to give directions, say thank-you to someone dropping off money he owes, and yell "Ma! Ma!" to get her mother's attention. When one of her customers, Palmina Delagati, perished on 9/11 -- and her sister mentioned she'd been a die-hard Rangers fan -- Picca called her friend Tony Verderame of Ess & Vee Acoustical Contractors, who called his friend Tony Mazzarella, owner of the Waterfront Crab House, who called Rod Gilbert, former captain of the New York Rangers -- who showed up at Delagati's memorial at St. Mary's Church. It remains to be seen whether that kind of small-town fellowship will weather the arrival of luxury high-rises, which have been cropping up along the waterfront in the past few years. When the Citylights co-op opened a dry cleaner, Picca lost 40 percent of her business overnight. "They're all yuppies, and they don't want to walk a block with their cleaning," she explains with a sigh. "Can you blame them?"
THE OLD COUNTRY: The neighborhood is a true melting pot of Greeks, Italians, Indians, and Eastern Europeans. Rows of apartment houses are interspersed with commercial streets and the occasional velvet-rope nightclub; you can still find a dressmaker to copy a designer frock for about $50. Handbag designer Neal Decker and his boyfriend, Danny Evans, who is Simon Doonan's assistant, pay a mere $769 a month for their two-bedroom apartment, but living cheaply has its trade-offs: At night, prostitutes tap on car windows in Queensboro Plaza, and, as one resident puts it, "Everyone smokes in Queens. You need an iron lung to go into the bagel shop."
ON THE WATERFRONT: Thanks to the Queens West Development Project, the waterfront has become hot property in recent years, with plans to develop luxury condos, a riverfront boardwalk, parks, and restaurants. The Avalon Riverview -- a newly built luxury rental -- offers postcard views of the Manhattan skyline.
THE NUMBERS: Rents for studio apartments start at $850 a month, one-bedrooms at $1,000, and two-bedrooms at about $1,300. In the Citylights building, studio co-ops start at $135,000, one-bedrooms at $160,000, and two-bedrooms at $275,000.
CULTURE CLUB: P.S. 1 has been drawing Manhattanites across the bridge for years, moma has temporarily moved its entire collection to the old Swingline staple factory, and the SoHo Dorsky Gallery now resides in a former diamond-sorting plant.
PIPE DREAMS: On the Boulevard, a Madison Avenue-style boutique that sold gourmet chocolates and bath products, closed after eighteen months on Vernon Boulevard. Working-class families weren't ready to plunk down $35 for candles imported from Paris.