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One dead in Lyndhurst shooting

The state Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team is investigating a fatal shooting of the driver of a stolen SUV at the Lyndhurst-Rutherford border early Tuesday, Sept. 16, according to a press release issued by the AG’s Office. The driver, identified […]


‘Sober House’ rattles residents

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent  KEARNY – The corner house at Grand Place and Stewart Ave. doesn’t really stand out in any particular way, but it’s drawn a lot of attention from neighbors – and not in a good way. Many packed the assembly chambers at […]


2nd hotel signals growth

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent  HARRISON –  The town of Harrison, with a current population of about 14,000 but growing thanks to several new residential projects rising in its waterfront redevelopment area, now has a second hotel. It is the Element Harrison, the brand’s second hotel in New […]


A harvest of plenty in special garden

By Karen Zautyk Observer Correspondent  HARRISON–  Somewhere in Harrison, there is a magical place. If we were telling this story as a fairy tale, it would begin: Once upon a time, there was a small plot of land on which a happy home had stood. […]


Vino, verily, arriving soon

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent  KEARNY – Starting next month, the Kearny Farmers Market will be offering a new, sweet treat as part of the fresh, Jersey-grown produce for its patrons. We’re talking vino, folks. The town governing body voted last Tuesday night to permit the Four […]


Still waiting for wall’s restoration


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


A property dispute between a longtime Harrison business and some neighbors that has been simmering for a few years now appears to be coming to a boil.

Smack in the middle of the controversy are Bergen St. homeowners Victor and Eleanor Villalta and Harrison Equipment Co., which rents and sells air compressors, welders, generators and pumps from its Essex St. facility, across from the backyards of several residents.

Villalta, a councilman who represents the Second Ward, said that the trouble began a few years ago when a concrete retaining wall put up many years ago by the company bordering five residents’ yards began to “tilt.”

That concerned the Villaltas – as it did their neighbors – because of the possibility that the wall could topple over and cause damage so the couple asked the municipal construction office to check out the wall’s condition.

That, in turn, led to Construction Official Rocco Russomanno issuing a “notice of unsafe structure” to the company on June 26, 2012, noting that the “retaining wall at Essex St. parking lot has developed vertical cracks and has begun to overturn due to lateral loading. [The] wall must be repaired or reconstructed.”

The notice directed the company to “demolish [the wall] … or correct the … unsafe conditions by no later than July 24, 2012.” Failure to do so, the notice said, can result in “assessment of penalties up to $2,000 per week per violation.”

Photos by Ron Leir Neighbor’s backyard partly occupied by items previously stored in shed she was told to take down to make room for wall.

Photos by Ron Leir
Neighbor’s backyard partly occupied by items previously stored in shed she was told to take down to make room for wall.


In a July 6, 2012, letter, Harrison Equipment President Robert Koones asked Russomanno “for an additional 90 days” beyond the July 24 deadline “to have the property surveyed, discuss the options to correct the issue with a qualified engineer, discuss all legal matters with our attorney, and finally to obtain permits and perform all necessary work to correct the problem.”

Koones then asked Russomanno’s office to “advise [neighbors] of the potential impact on their properties of the retaining wall correction ….”

In a Sept. 19 letter, Koones’ attorney told the Villaltas that his client was awaiting an engineering report on how to proceed with the corrective work and that because part of the company’s property “extends beyond the retaining wall and abuts your property … it will be necessary for the individuals doing the necessary work to access [that part of the property]. It is not expected that this should materially impact your property.”

Nothing happened, Villalta said, until “three days before Christmas in 2013,” when a work crew showed up and took down the wall. But nothing was put in its place, he said.

In the meantime, he said, signs of erosion in residents’ yards were evident: cracks developed in the couple’s backyard concrete patio and separation began to occur in their cinderblock wall bordering their neighbor’s property to the east.

Two yards down, a shed perched on the rear edge of the property line started slipping over.

Sometime in early spring, Villalta recalled, the company sent another work crew to install a “safety” orange plastic fence along the edge of the property which, Villalta said, offered little security, especially with “a lot of kids who use our yard.”

A bit later, as reinforcement, the company also put up a chain link fence which Villalta said was “stretched out,” without metal poles to anchor the fence end to end.

Recently, Villalta said, Harrison Equipment auctioned off much of its inventory and is seeking a buyer for its property so he’s wondering “who’s going to take responsibililty” for the wall. Last week, Koones said that Custom Bandag, a local tire and truck repair shop, “is buying the property and he’s taking over responsibility for the wall after he gets environmental approvals from the state” for a cleanup of the site.

As Bergen St. residents wait, Eleanor Villalta lamented the loss of several rose bushes and decorative brick latticework from the back of the yard that had to go when the wall was removed.

And, about a month ago, neighbor Susan Meneses of 515 Bergen said she was told by the company that she had to take down her backyard shed, because “they were going to be starting to work on [restoring] the wall,” forcing her to place storage items on her newly sodded lawn.

Beware the river crabs!


Despite repeated warnings from the Department of Environmental Protection, some anglers seem determined to harvest crabs from the Lower Passaic River.

One more time: DON’T! It is illegal. And hazardous to your health.

Note also, that there are consumption limits on fish caught in the river.

The blue claws that dwell in the Lower Passaic — which is the part that runs through North Arlington, Lyndhurst, Kearny, Nutley, Belleville, East Newark and Harrison — “are bottom-dwellers that absorb cancer-causing dioxins and other contaminants in high levels,” notes the DEP, which has issued yet another warning.

The crabs should not be consumed.

They should not even be caught.

To emphasize the hazards, the agency notes that anyone found illegally harvesting blue claw crabs may be fined $100 to $3,000. And that’s for a first offense.

DEP conservation officers are patrolling the waters, including Newark Bay and surrounding areas, to ensure compliance with the ban.

Despite ongoing efforts to clean the Passaic, it remains polluted, thanks to sediments containing “highly toxic dioxins resulting from the production of Agent Orange many decades ago,” the DEP notes.

Considering the pollutants, it is amazing that the Passaic River and Newark Bay crabs have not developed fins, and the fish, claws.

“Crabs in these waters are abundant and appear healthy, but they are not safe to eat,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

“We have to be vigilant about preventing people from eating crabs caught in these waters because they can be harmful to those who consume them, especially vulnerable populations such as infants and children, expectant mothers and women of child-bearing age,” Martin noted.

He added, “In concert with the federal government, we are now working to develop a massive cleanup project that will make these waterways safe for generations in the future, but the warnings remain in effect now.”

The agency reports that it and the N.J. Department of Health are working with local municipalities to distribute informative literature and signs about the crab consumption ban and fish consumption advisories.

Warning signs and informational literature are available in English, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean and Tagalog.

“By heeding the ban on blue claw crabs, anglers can protect the health of themselves and their families,” said Michelle Mc- Bean of Future City Inc., a partner in the outreach initiative.

“These blue claw crabs contain toxins that cannot be removed by cooking,” she cautioned. “It’s important that the public observe the ban.”

In addition to the Lower Passaic and Newark Bay, tidal waters affected by the crab ban and fish advisories include the Hackensack River, the Arthur Kill, Kill Van Kull, Elizabeth River and Rahway River.

For more about the ban on blue claw crabs, visit: www.state.nj.us/dep/dsr/craboutreach/alert-english.htm For a full list of fish consumption advisories in New Jersey, visit: www.FishSmartEatSmartNJ.org.

Call 1-866-DEP-KNOW to learn about where to harvest seafood in New Jersey’s waters.

To learn more about the Lower Passaic River Restoration Project, visit: www.ourpassaic.org.

– Karen Zautyk 

Getting to the bottom of sewage backups



Borough Hall is taking action on two fronts to try and figure out how to stop sewage backups into residents’ basements.

Last week, borough engineer Tom Lemanowicz began a camera inspection of sanitary sewers on Geraldine and Carrie Roads on the borough’s western edge bordering the meadows.

At the same time, the borough wants residents in that area to ‘fess up if they’ve put in basement sump pumps attached to the sanitary system without having secured local permits from the building department.

Running a camera through the sewers should help reveal how well the pipes are holding up and to what extent ground and rain water are infiltrating the sanitary system, Lemanowicz said.

The engineer suspects that water infiltration from leaky manhole covers, cracked pipes, sump pumps and roof drains from residents’ homes is the reason for sewage being forced into basements in heavy storms.

One option that may be explored to remedy the problem is creating a water collection system for storm water runoff with the help of state and federal funding, suggested borough spokesman Thom Ammirato.

Having reviewed local sewer maps, Lemanowicz said that the developer of the homes in the western neighborhood may have tied drainage systems installed around those homes to the sanitary sewer line.

It is the engineer’s judgment that sewage pumps at the bottom of the hill near Geraldine Road have enough capacity to handle the sanitary flow from the homes in the area; therefore, he believes that sump pumps and roof leaders tied to the sanitary system over the years have increased water flow beyond the ability of the sewage pumps to process it.

To determine how many residents have those sump pumps and roof drains linked to the sanitary system, Mayor Peter Massa has delegated Councilman Tom Zammatore and three resident volunteers to go door-to-door in the neighborhood to ask residents if they improperly hooked up drainage to the sewer pipe.

“We’re not looking to punish anyone who has a sump pump in their basement,” Massa said, “but we do want to inform residents that part of the problem with sewage backups is likely due to illegal sump pumps.”

Lemanowicz said that once the data is collected from the cameras, he’ll be able to come up with the best strategy to remedy the backups.

In another public works-related matter, the borough governing body voted July 17 to contract with Downes Tree Service of Hawthorne for tree trimming and removal.

Downes was low bidder on a menu of tree services for which the borough solicited perunit prices in hopes of better controlling tree service costs which, according to Council President and Finance Chairman Al Granell, climbed from $200,000 in 2012 to $300,000 last year.

“We need to manage those costs and this bid award will help give us some predictability on the cost of tree management,” Granell said.

Putting a lid on those expenses is becoming particularly critical now that the borough is reaching the point where many of its larger street trees – like sycamores – are nearing the end of their life expectancy, noted Ammirato.

. . . and don’t call me Shirley


A few weeks ago, I did a column on “essential” movie quotes, which was prompted by newfound awareness of a growing lack of cultural consciousness, especially among the younger generations.

My “oy vey” moment came when I realized a coworker had never heard of the film “Apocalypse Now,” much less the unforgettable line uttered by Robert Duvall:

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

I printed a little quiz, but did not provide the answers, assuming that anyone interested enough would find out for themselves. However, not everyone has ready access to the Internet, even these days, and in any case readers have been requesting answers. So here they are, citing both the movies from which they came and the actors who spoke them:

• “What do you mean, I’m funny? … Funny how? Funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?”: Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas”

• “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!”: Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”

• “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender”: Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”

• “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”: Peter Finch in “Network”

• “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night”: Bette Davis in “All About Eve”

• “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.”: Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard”

• “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”: Richard Castellano in “The Godfather”

• “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”: Gary Cooper in “The Pride of the Yankees”

• “Snap out of it!”: Cher in “Moonstruck”

• “You talkin’ to me? Well, I’m the only one here.”: Robert DeNiro in “Taxi Driver”

• “Round up the usual suspects.”: Claude Rains in “Casablanca”

• “The stuff that dreams are made of”: Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon”

• “Say ‘hello’ to my little friend!”: Al Pacino in “Scarface”

• “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”: Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry”

• “Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”: Robert Armstrong in “King Kong”

• “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”: Vivien Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

• “We rob banks.” : Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde”

• “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”: Keir Dullea in “2001: A Space Odyssey”

• “The calla lilies are in bloom again.”: Katharine Hepburn in “Stage Door”

• “Attica! Attica!”: Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon” I also cited “What a dump!”- – noting that no one recalls the movie, but you should know the actress. I have found that readers did recall both the movie, “Beyond the Forest,” and Bette Davis’ role.

My special thanks to Adele Koci of Nutley, who also knew that the co-stars were Joseph Cotten and David Brian. Thanks, too, to the anonymous gentleman caller who wanted to make sure I wasn’t confusing Davis with Elizabeth Taylor, who parodied “What a dump!” in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

The headline on the column, “Go ahead, make my day,” was from Eastwood’s “Sudden Impact.”

In addition, scattered throughout the column were paraphrased quotes. How many of these did you catch?

• “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”: Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke”

• “You can’t handle the truth!”: Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”

• “Life is like a box of chocolates”: Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump”

• “I’m walkin’ heah!”: Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy”

•”Houston, we have a problem.”: Hanks in “Apollo 13”)

• “Well, nobody’s perfect.”: Joe E. Brown in “Some Like It Hot” (It was the very last line in the film.)

• “ . . . liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”: Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs”

As for, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” if you can’t ID that, you’re hopeless.

–Karen Zautyk 

Makeover continues at Carnegie library



Belleville Public Library, one of 1,689 U.S. libraries built with grants from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, is continuing to undergo renovations.

Built with a Carnegie grant of $20,000 awarded in April 1909, the library has cost a lot more to make over: In 2011 the library Board of Trustees authorized spending nearly $400,000 to expose the original façade, install several skylights and improve accessibility.

And now, as part of what Library Director Joan Taub described as “phase 2” of a renovation project, the board is investing an additional $664,900 to “make over the whole second floor with casual seating and low tables that will, eventually, accommodate laptops.

Stairs leading to the second floor are being relocated to the space formerly occupied by the director’s corner office on the Academy St. side of the building and her new office and conference center will be shifted to the area where library patrons accessed computers.

Taub said the reconfiguration is designed “to make things more efficient.”

Three Sons Restoration LLC of Union was awarded the phase 2 contract on Jan. 8 but the contractor didn’t start the job until around April, according to Taub. The work was expected to take about three and a half months to complete, she added.

The job hasn’t impacted library activities or hours, although spaces dedicated to specialized services have been shifted to some extent. “Our reference and computer access are still available and our circulation and children’s rooms have been combined,” Taub said.

Taub has moved her office downstairs to merge with other administrative staff.

And the library’s main entrance has been moved from Washington Ave. to the Academy St. side of the building.

“We’re kind of used to it,” said Taub, referring to disruption of the normal routine. “I’ve been working in this building since 1989, when I was reference librarian, and as director since 1999, and we’ve gone through various construction jobs before but my wonderful staff makes it easy to adapt.”

When the laptops arrive, patrons will be able to carry them into other parts of the library to use, Taub said.

How many laptops the library will be ordering – and how much they’ll cost – isn’t yet known. “We haven’t gone before the board on that yet,” the director said.

– Ron Leir 

News from the KPD blotter

Kearny police are on the trail of a burglar who escaped with more than $11,000 worth of property from a Passaic Ave. business July 21. Chief John Dowie said the break-in was reported at 10 p.m. on the 100 block of Passaic, where an office had been ransacked and assorted items — primarily jewelry but also a camera and a Louis Vuitton bag — had been stolen.

After the initial investigation by Officer Derek Hemphill, the case was turned over to Detectives Scott Traynor and John Telle. “They have developed a suspect and we are hunting him,” Dowie said.

Other recent reports from the KPD blotter included the following:

July 19 

After Officer Daniel Esteves saw a Jeep run a stop sign at Chestnut St. and Garfield Ave. at 2:30 p.m., his mobile data computer indicated the vehicle’s registered owner had a warrant from Elizabeth. The owner, Petronio Salazar, 39, of Kearny, turned out to be a passenger in the Jeep and was arrested. The driver was issued a summons for the traffic violation. It is not known if Salazar and the driver are still friends.

 July 20 

Officer Pat Becker, on patrol shortly after midnight, came upon a large and disorderly group at Kearny and Garfield Aves. and reportedly saw one of the individuals, Carlos Rabines, 22, of Kearny, punch another. Rabines was arrested for simple assault. Meanwhile, as back-up Officer Derek Hemphill attempted to disperse the crowd, 22-yearold Gianfranco Niccodemi of Kearny threw a metal object at the cop and fled on foot down Afton St., police said. Hemphill gave chase and found him hiding behind a picnic table in a Maple St. backyard.

Niccodemi was charged with obstructing the administration of law and on an outstanding Kearny warrant.

July 22 

At midnight, Officer Tom Sumowski stopped a car with no headlights at Kearny and Linden Aves. The driver, who identified himself as Antoine Johnson, had difficulty answering routine questions, such as his date of birth, police said.

His passenger, Sherell Price, 22, of Newark, reportedly “attempted to corroborate the lies.” At headquarters, the driver was eventually identified as Jamar Johnson, 25, of Roselle, who had a suspended license, police said. He was issued summonses for that offense, for careless driving and for driving without lights. Price got a summons for allowing an unlicensed person to operate her car. And both were charged criminally with hindering apprehension.

After the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office notified the KPD that it had issued a warrant for a 17-year-old Newark female who was known to frequent Kearny, Det. Michael Farinola spotted her at 4:30 p.m. at Belgrove Drive and Afton St. She allegedly resisted arrest and tried to flee but was taken into custody by back-up Officer Sean Kelly. Charged on the warrant and with resisting, she was remanded to the Hudson County Juvenile Detention Facility.

At 8 p.m., Vice Unit officers, as part of an ongoing marijuana-distribution investigation, were conducting surveillance at Tappan St. and Davis Ave. when they reportedly witnessed a drug transaction between two Kearny men: Jovan Echevarria, 19, and Abdrubalameer Abdullah Alethan, 56. Police said Alethan, the alleged customer, was found to have four plastic bags of suspected pot and was charged with possession of the drug and drug paraphernalia. Echevarria, who was reportedly holding another bag of pot and $40 in cash, was charged with possession with intent to distribute, distribution within school and playground zones and possession of paraphernalia.

Officers Ben Wuelfing and Tom Pontrella encountered a large group gathered in a parking lot at Maple St. and Bergen Ave. at 10:20 p.m., saw among the John Rodrigues, 23, of Kearny, and arrested him on his outstanding Kearny warrant.

July 23 

At 1:50 a.m., Officer Chris Medina was at Chestnut St. and Garfield Ave. whn his automatic license plate reader (ALPR) indicated that a passing VW bore plates that were not on file. Police said the driver, Walid Helmy, 20, of Kearny, was unable to produce a driver’s license or any paperwork on the vehicle. He was charged with driving while suspended, operating an unregistered and uninsured vehicle and misuse of plates. The car was impounded.

At 7:20 a.m., Officer David Rakowski’s ALPR indicated that the car in front of his on Harrison Ave. had a suspended registration and that the registered owner had a Secaucus warrant. Terrell Golding, 28, of East Orange was arrested and also charged with driving with a suspended license.

At 2 p.m., Dets. Michael Gonzalez and John Plaugic saw a Nissan run a traffic signal at Passaic and Bergen Aves. and attempted to make a MV stop, but the car accelerated, passing other vehicles in a reckless manner, police said. The detectives halted it between North and South Midland Aves., but as Plaugic approached on foot, it reportedly took off again, continuing north on Passaic. However, other units had been alerted and were waiting just up the hill, at the foot of Laurel Ave., where they blocked its progress. Police said that when Plaugic ordered him out of the car, the driver began screaming incoherently and had to be brought to the ground.

Harrison resident Raphael Mendonca, 28, was charged with eluding, obstructing the administration of law, reckless driving, disregard of a traffic signal, possession of a CDS and possession of drug paraphernalia.

–Karen Zautyk 

New twist to ‘The Addams Family,’ performed by Teen Drama, at W.H.A.T.



By Kevin Canessa Jr. 

Observer Correspondent 


There’s no doubt you’ve likely seen “The Addams Family” at some point, whether it’s the classic TV show or more recent versions on the large screen. But this week — Wednesday to Saturday to be precise — you’ll find a completely new take of “The Addams Family” at West Hudson Arts & Theater Co. (W.H.A.T.), presented in conjunction with Teen Drama, a local theater company for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade,

This production, says show co-director Michele Sarnoski, is based more on “The Addams Family” comics. It focuses on Wednesday who is all grown up and in love with someone unlike any member of the Addams Family.

“So a lot of the show is how The Addams Family deals with someone who comes from a normal family,” said Sarnoski, a graduate of Lyndhurst High School.

The two most veteran performers in the show are Faith D’Isa (Wednesday) and James Berko (Lurch). Both D’Isa and Berko are longtime members of Teen Drama — but are back, one last time, as ascending college sophomores. And that delights Sarnoski.

“They are just amazing,” Sarnoski said. “And what’s perhaps the greatest part is that this year, there are 11 new kids in the production. And they’ve both grown to embrace the new kids — to show them what Teen Drama is all about — and it’s not an easy task.

“A lot of what James has to do is in his movements. It’s physical. So he doesn’t get to use his voice much to show the other kids things. Yet he does it so well. And Faith, if you’ve ever seen her, she’s always got a smile on her face, she’s always so bubbly. And she plays the ever-stoic Wednesday.

“But they’re both so awesome at showing the younger kids our traditions.”

The rest of the cast includes Dennis Oliveira (Gomez Addams), Maggie Spector- Williams (Morticia Addams), Rachel Spillane (Wednesday Addams in two shows), Abigail Stokes (Pugsley Addams), John McCullough (Fester Addams), Joana Marmelo (Grandma Addams), Michael Oliveira (Beikeke), Samantha Armenteros (Alice Beineke), Tyler Bremner (Mal Beineke), Briana Dickinson, Alyssa Fink, Jillian Fitzpatrick, Lauren Gold, Melanie Hill, Stefanie Pancaro, Spencer Roda, Valentine Rojas, Alyssa Schirm and Julia Truskolawski (Addams Family Ancestors).

5 years and counting 

For Sarnoski, this is year five of Teen Drama. She began the program after several local parents approached her and said they wanted more for their kids to do, dramawise, in the summer months. So Sarnoski and her show co-director, Joe Ferriero, got together to form Teen Drama.

Sarnoski and Ferriero had worked together for quite some time — dating back to 2003 — when they co-founded an immensely successful drama program at the former St. Stephen’s School … and later Mater Dei Academy.

“Joe is my best friend, and I love working with him,” Sarnoski said. “So about five, six years ago, we put the program together for kids who are in kindergarten to the 12th-grade. The first year, we had just 10 kids. Now we’re up to 25. It’s been an amazing experience.”

And the connections with W.H.A.T. have been very beneficial for both organizations, as well.

Many of the youngsters who have performed in Teen Drama shows have gone on to perform in W.H.A.T. shows. And, because W.H.A.T. offers several theater-related educational programs each year, the youngsters in Teen Drama have benefitted from W.H.A.T.’s outreach, as well.

“We’ve been great feeders for each other,” Sarnoski said.

Speaking of feeders, the young performers aren’t just from West Hudson. In fact, this year, there are kids from Nutley, Lyndhurst and North Arlington — from middle schools and high schools, both public and private. And that expansion is very exciting, Sarnoski says.

Sarnoski says she’s most satisfied when people leave Teen Drama shows with a smile.

“We want the kids to feel like they’re part of a family,” she said. “It’s only a six-week program, so there’s a lot to do in a short period of time. Then when people leave happy after shows, and they’re impressed, we know we’ve done things right.

Indeed, they have.

Find out more about Teen Drama by visiting www.teendrama.org, or by calling 973-498-8336 or by sending a message by email to info@ teendrama.org.

Showtimes for “The Addams Family” are Wednesday, July 30, to Saturday, Aug. 2, at 7:30 p.m., with a 1:30 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Aug. 2, at the W.H.A.T. Theater, 131 Midland Ave., Kearny (the former St. Stephen’s School). Tickets can be purchased at the door for $10 or online at www.teendrama.org. Special $7 tickets are available for the Saturday matinee for senior citizens.

High-quality, bilingual talent at Coccia


By Kevin Canessa Jr.

Observer Correspondent 


If you’ve driven along Kearny Ave., you’ve no doubt seen the Coccia Realty office. And no matter where you go in town, you’ve seen its neat-looking signs on lawns of homes for sale.

And it’s not just in Kearny. There’s a big reason why Coccia signs are seen so often — it’s because for more than 50 years, since 1961, when Joseph Coccia Jr. first opened the agency to this day under the ownership and leadership of John “Jan” Kwapniewski — Coccia has always represented the very best there is in real estate.

Kwapniewski first got his real-estate license in 1985 — and then, just four short years later, he bought Coccia Realty and became its president.

Since that time, he’s opened four more offices — in Lyndhurst, Rutherford, Madison and Montville — and has expanded what was once a single-office entity into a real-estate powerhouse that employs more than 100 agents. And, by April 2015, there will be two more offices: one in Secaucus and another in Clifton.

Many of the agents speak more than one language, too, and that’s critical in today’s world. Speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Polish will find an agent who can speak in their native tongue to make the home buying or selling process that much easier.

So just what is it that makes Coccia stand out from the rest? Well, for starters, Kwapniewski has never forgotten what it’s like to be new to the business, and as such, he imparts his experience and knowledge to his team as a mentor and coach. He does everything in his power to ensure all of his employees are the best-trained and most knowledgeable in the industry.

And because of Coccia’s connection to Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, that training is the best in the business, he says.

“The training Better Homes and Gardens offers is outstanding,” Kwapniewski said. “And it’s constant. They offer our agents live training, live webinars, pre-recorded seminars and weekly training on issues in the industry that are that are critical.”

Because of his style of leadership, and because of the topnotch training available to his agents, Kwapniewski says he’s always been able to attract the highest-quality talent to come to work for him.

“My goal always has been and always will be not to have the largest quantity of agents, but the strongest quality,” he said. “I don’t just hire anyone — and I am not afraid to let someone go if they’re not willing to work with our standards. But when there are people who can focus on our mission — people who are committed to learning, those are the people I want working with us.”

Kwapniewski says it’s also important to note that some of the best agents are those who have been well mentored. He says each new agent is managed and mentored by a superior.

“To be really good agent, you’ve got to mentored and nurtured,” he said. “And it takes about two years, in reality, for that mentorship to develop into something special.”

Why hook up with Better Homes?

While Kwapniewski has the statistics to prove he’s got the most sales and volume in our readership area, he says he wanted something more for the business. He really didn’t need to rebrand Coccia as most already know the Coccia brand and name. But he opted to rebrand to reinvent what he’s already succeeded at.

“They were after me for at least three years,” Kwapniewski said of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. “Their business model was fresh and put together by some of the brightest minds in the industry. And with the power and support of their branding, overall, it’s better for the consumer — and a win-win for the agents because of the aforementioned training.”

In-house marketing and advertising

One of the other major areas where Kwapniewski says Coccia is different from the rest is that agents are not asked to perform social media or advertising on their own. He’s got a full-time social media expert on staff who does all the Tweeting and Facebook work. And, the company pays for all advertising.

Many other agencies demand agents pay for their own advertising and require them to do their own social media branding.

“Not with us,” Kwapniewski said. “Our agents’ job is customer service and to negotiate deals. We’ve got our own back office that does the brokerage, marketing, advertising and promotion. We don’t ask our agents to spend their own money. Others do, and in many cases, the agents don’t have the money to be spending. If it’s between putting food on the table or marketing your house, you know the choices they have to make.

“That is never the case with us. We do it all for them. And it benefits our people and our consumers.”

To get in touch with Kwapniewski, call him at Coccia’s Kearny office at 201-997-7000 or stop in at 636 Kearny Ave., or visit www.cocciarealty.com.

Around Town


Belleville Public Library and Information Center, 221 Washington Ave., hosts The Mad Scientist’s Laboratory, involving crafts and activities, on Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m., open to all ages. The August schedule: “Rocket Power,” Aug. 5; “To the Stars,” Aug. 12; “What Planet,” Aug. 19; and “Alien Life,” Aug. 26.

The library will screen these children’s films on Fridays at 2 p.m.: “Ice Age,” Aug. 1; “Monsters vs. Aliens,” Aug. 8, “The Lego Movie” Aug. 15, “Happy Feet” Aug. 22 and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” on Aug. 29.


The Essex County SummerMusic Concert Series presents Jersey Sound and Almost Queen in a rock and roll show Friday, Aug. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Brookdale Park. Jersey Sound is one of the Tri-State area’s premier oldies band, and Almost Queen is a tribute band featuring the songs of the 1970s group Queen. Admission is free.

The Fab Four come to Bloomfield in a free concert Friday, Aug. 8, when the Essex County SummerMusic Concert Series hosts the Beatles tribute band, featuring former cast members of the Broadway show “Beatlemania,” at 7:30 p.m. in Brookdale Park. For more information, call the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs at 973‑239-2485.


Harrison will mark National Night Out on Tuesday, Aug. 5, with a program co-sponsored by the Harrison Police Department and Harrison/East Newark Elks. From 6 to 9 p.m. on Aug. 5, residents are asked to lock their doors, turn out outside lights and spend the evening outside with neighbors and police. During those hours, members of the Harrison Police Department and Elks will gather at Roosevelt Park, in front of the Harrison Public Library, along Harrison Ave., to meet residents and share strategies about stopping crime and educating folks about drugs. There will also be games and giveaways for children, along with music and food.


Kearny’s National Night Out celebration, sponsored by the Kearny Police Department, will be held Tuesday, Aug. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m., on Belgrove Drive at Veterans Field. The event will feature live music, a bounce house, spin art, balloon artists, a classic car show and demonstrations by the Hudson County Corrections K-9 unit, Kearny Fire Department and NorthStar Helicopter.

Summer vacation Bible School will be open from Sunday, Aug. 10 to Thursday, Aug. 14, 6 to 8 p.m. each night, at Calvary United Methodist Church, 342 Elm St. All ages are welcome.

“Princess” double features will be screened on the lower level of the Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., on Fridays throughout the summer. Refreshments will be served. Here’s the schedule: Aug. 1 – “Cinderella” (G) at 1 p.m. and “The Swan Princess” (G) at 2:30 p.m.; Aug. 8 – “Beauty and the Beast” (G) at 1 p.m. and “Brave” (PG) at 2:30 p.m.; Aug. 15 – “Shrek” (PG) at 1 p.m. and “The Princess Bride” (PG) at 2:30 p.m.; and Aug. 22 – “Aladdin” (G) at 1 p.m. and “Princess and the Frog” (G) at 2:30 p.m.

Mary’s Traveling Seniors sponsors a five-day, four-night trip to Wildwood, Sept. 14 to 18. Final payment is due by Aug. 1. Price includes transportation, accommodations, breakfasts and dinners, entertainment, dolphin watch cruise, a visit to Cape May and Atlantic City. Cost for double occupancy is $482 and single is $90 additional. A deposit of $150 per person is required. For reservations and more information, call Mary at 201-998-1030.


Join Special Angels Recreation, an organization for special needs children, as they take on the Lyndhurst Police Emergency Squad in a kickball game Aug. 16, at 9 a.m., at the Lyndhurst Little League field on Riverside Ave. After the game, there will be fun activities for all. For more information or to learn how to participate, call 201-804- 2469 or email recruitment@emergencysquad.com.

The Lyndhurst Health Department is collecting donations for students in need. Items welcomed include backpacks, marble composition books, notebooks, dividers, loose paper, crayons, and 3-ring binders. Donations can be dropped off at the Health Department, 601 Riverside Ave., Suite 1, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donations should be made prior to Aug. 31. People with children in need of school supplies are asked to contact the Health Department at 201-804-2500 to schedule a pick-up of the needed supplies. Be prepared to give child’s gender and grade level.

The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission and Bergen County Audubon Society announce that the First Sunday-of-the-Month Bird Walk is set for Sunday, Aug. 3, at 10 a.m. in DeKorte Park. The walk starts outside the Meadowlands Environment Center. Check meadowblog.net for last-minute weather updates. Participants are asked to sign a standard liability release that is good for NJMC/BCAS events throughout the year. To R.S.V.P., contact Don Torino of the BCAS or call 201-230-4983.

NJMC Pontoon Boat Cruises are set for 5:30 p.m. for Aug. 5, 7, 13 and 15, departing from River Barge Park, 260 Outwater Lane, Carlstadt. Experienced NJMC staff lead this two-hour cruise of the Hackensack River. Cost is $15 per person. Cruises are recommended for ages 10 and up. Pre-registration is required. For a complete schedule of trips, directions, and to register, visit www.njmeadowlands.gov and go to the Parks and Nature Programs tab at the top of the page, or call 201-460-4677.

Lyndhurst Public Library, 355 Valley Brook Ave., announces:

• Children of all ages are welcome for a screening of “Ratatouille!” on Monday, Aug. 4, from 2 to 4 p.m. Registration is required.

• Children in grades pre-k to 3 can make their very own watermelon craft on Wednesday, Aug. 13, from 2:30 to 3:15 p.m. Registration is required.

North Arlington

The North Arlington Woman’s Club holds a flapjack breakfast Saturday, Aug. 23, 8 to 10 a.m., at Applebee’s Restaurant in Kearny. The cost is $10. For tickets, call 201-889-2553.

Chief Louis M. Ghione of the North Arlington Police Department announces that National Night Out is scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 5. Residents are encouraged to meet their neighbors and leave a porch light on overnight as a show of unity against crime.

Borough residents are invited to a free outdoor concert featuring the Duprees Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. at Riverside County Park. This concert is co-sponsored by the Borough Recreation Department and Inserra ShopRite.

Food vendors will be available at the park. Residents are advised to bring their own lawn chairs.

The Duprees are known for their romantic interpretations of some of the most popular songs from the ’50s and ’60s.


Story time, crafts and more are planned for this August at Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Drive. For more information or to register for programs, call the library at 973-667-0405 or visit http://nutleypubliclibrary.org. Here’s the schedule:

• Two-Year-Old Story Time will be held Friday, Aug. 1, at 10 a.m. Registration is required and participants must be Nutley residents.

• Drop-in Craft session for children is set for Monday, Aug. 4, at 2 p.m. (while supplies last).

• Family Game Night is open to all ages at 7 p.m. on Aug. 4.

• Play Tuesday is open to children of all ages on Aug. 5 at 1 p.m. • Static Science, a workshop program, is offered Wednesday, Aug. 6, at 2:30 p.m., for ages 8 and up.

• End-of-Summer Reading Treat Party is set for Thursday, Aug. 7, at 1:30 p.m., and features a live reptile show. Children must be registered for summer reading to attend.

• “Happy Birthday, Annie Oakley,” a program on the famous sharpshooter and onetime township resident, is set for Saturday, Aug. 9, at 2 p.m. Local historian Nancy Greulich will appear as Oakley. The event, open to all ages, includes a craft and birthday treats.

• A screening of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is set for Aug. 1 at 2 p.m. as part of the library’s First Friday Films program. A new film is shown the first Friday of each month. Check the library’s event calendar for a film schedule.

Girls get ready for hoop season in Kearny league


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The start of the high school basketball season might still be four months away, but it appeared to be in full bloom recently during the Kearny High School Girls’ Basketball Summer League.

For example, Kearny played Harrison last Thursday night in one of the regularly scheduled games in the league that ran from late June and will conclude next week.

The way the game was going, you could swear the game was in the middle of January instead of July. The only reminder that it wasn’t the regular season was the heat coming from outside, the doors to the gym being wide open and fans were blowing to try to keep everyone cool.

Every loose ball was followed with a full-fledged dive on the floor. Bodies were bouncing off each other. Elbows and forearms were flying. It was intense.

Sure, it was Kearny against Harrison and the two schools could face off in Chinese checkers or a forensic debate and it would become heated. But this was particularly passionate for a summer league contest.

“It did get pretty physical,” said Harrison head girls’ basketball coach Al Ruiz said. “The girls all know each other and work out together, so they really want to win here.”

“We wanted to win so much, so it did get a little chippie,” said Harrison sophomore forward Cynthia Ferreira. “You could see the competition. It was good for us.”’

“There’s that competitive side in me that always wants to win,” said Kearny junior forward Nawal Farih. “But then again, you have to be reminded that it’s just a summer league, so you just try to do the best that you can.”

Kearny was missing several of its top players to other commitments, so the final score was lopsided in favor of the Blue Tide, who showed significant ball handling prowess en route to the win.

Ruiz was impressed with the way his team performed in the win.

“We do have a couple of ball handlers,” Ruiz said. “Shanaieda Falcon (a junior this upcoming season) is doing a good job, so that enables us to get Amber O’Donnell away from playing point guard. We have another senior, Kayla Montilla, who also can handle it well. Between Shanaieda and Amber, we have the possibility of having a nice season.”

Ruiz said that he has kept his girls busy during the summer. The Blue Tide also competes in the Paterson Kennedy summer league.

“We get them together three or four times a week,” Ruiz said. “It’s good that we can be together so much.”

“It’s a good opportunity for us to get to know each other better,” Ferreira said. “We talk more and it helps camaraderie. It gives me a chance to become a better player against good competition. It’s good practice and it gives me confidence that I am becoming a better player. And it’s a good feeling anytime you win at any time.”

Especially when it’s against the dreaded neighborly rival.

Photo by Jim Hague Harrison and Kearny locked horns last week in the summer league that has been a godsend for several local teams.

Photo by Jim Hague
Harrison and Kearny locked horns last week in the summer league that has been a godsend for several local teams.


The Kearny girls’ summer league featured 12 teams from throughout Hudson and Bergen counties. Some of the other local teams to play in the league included North Arlington and Lyndhurst.

Lyndhurst second-year head coach John Cousins wasn’t pleased with the way his team performed against Marist, but he was just glad that his team was together in full force, working hard and playing hard.

“This is awesome,” Cousins said. “I’m so happy to get in this league. It’s a great opportunity for us to get better and we have to get better. The girls didn’t play in a summer league last year, so win, lose or draw, this is outstanding. These games don’t count. We just want to try to compete and get better.”

Lyndhurst sophomore Kira Adams agreed.

“It’s a chance for us to get more practice to get ready for the season,” Adams said. “It’s a great opportunity to play in the summer. It creates better chemistry between us for the coming season. We have a bunch of new girls coming in, so we’re getting to know each other better.”

“We’re not doing anything strategic here,” Cousins said. “All we want to do here is compete and play hard. I do like the effort we have been getting. A couple of players have really impressed.”

Junior Cameron Halpern and sophomore Caitlyn Blake are two of the Golden Bears who have shown improvement in Cousins’ eyes.

“I’m just so happy to be here,” Cousins said.“We don’t have to worry about winning.”

Kearny head coach and league coordinator Jody Hill has been pleased with the way the league has turned out.

“We have a 12-team league this year,” Hill said. “We doubled in size. I’ve been able to work with (Kearny boys’ head coach) Bob McDonnell and he’s helped us tremendously. Every game has been competitive. We’re really getting what you want in a summer league.”

Hill said that Thursday’s short-handed game gave other girls a chance to show her what they could do.

“We had some incoming freshmen who may have been a little over their heads, but they tried hard and got some good experience,” Hill said.

One of those newcomers was guard Megan McClelland.

“She was thrown out there and handled herself pretty well,” Hill said of McClelland. “She’s going to be a rising star. She’s quick and she’s not afraid to mix it up. It was nice to see her and a few others go out there and just play.” “Since we have such a new team, it was good to get a chance to gel and be together,” Farih said. “It’s helped me a lot that I’ve learned to be more composed and relaxed as I play.”

Ruiz loves the way his team has come together during the summer months.

“We really have put a lot of time and effort all summer,” Ruiz said. “It’s been great for us. We’ve been playing in this league for a couple of years. Jody comes to help us out with the training of the girls. They know her and respect her. It’s all good.”

Hill loves being the host school.

“It’s very convenient for us,” Hill said. “We’re here every day and I get the chance to work with the younger girls. We don’t have to worry about transportation to get here and there. It’s excellent for us. The league is going well.”

Chances are that the Kearny summer league will continue to do well for the years to come as well. The competition is good and the teams are good, so all in all, the league is very good.