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Corner named for ‘Mr. Steinway’

Astorians not only celebrated a man who spent his life working to make the shopping strip Steinway Street beautiful last Thursday, but spoke about a new law that would work to make it — and all other commercial areas in the city — even more beautiful.

“The cityscape of New York is going to change dramatically over the next few years,” City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said.

Friends, business leaders and well-wishers crowded onto the southwest corner of Steinway Street and Broadway for the unveiling of Julie Wager Way.

Julian “Julie” Wager, who served on Community Board 1 for 30 years and founded the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition, died in January 2010 at the age of 80. Wager had been sick for the previous 10 years after being left paraplegic after a spinal cord injury in 2000´╗┐.

“He will always be remembered,” said George Stamatiades, president of Central Astoria. “His farsightedness, his wisdom will be forever.”

Those who spoke at the street renaming had fond memories of the man, who some called “Mr. Steinway,” speaking of his tireless efforts to improve the street. The event was also held on the same day of the Astoria fireworks display, which Wager was instrumental in organizing.

“The fact that you’re all here today is testament to how big his heart was,” said Laurie Wager, one of Julie Wager’s six daughters.

Julie Wager Way is not the only corner of Steinway Street and Broadway with a name. The northwest corner is named after Bob Stern, a longtime Steinway Street business owner and Central Astoria board member. Stern’s wife, Irene, said Julie Wager and Bob Stern ´╗┐were great friends, making the placement appropriate.

“He was more like a brother to Bob and he was more like a brother to me,” Irene Stern said.

Earlier that day, Vallone also announced with state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and business leaders a law that went into effect Friday to phase out roll-down solid gates in front of businesses and replace them with net-like ones that allow for 70 percent visibility into the store. The councilman said this would rid graffiti vandals of a canvas.

“This is yet another victory for the war on graffiti,” Gianaris said.

Vallone said that to ease the economic hardship on business owners, solid gates will instead be grandfathered until 2026 since the average lifespan of a gate is 10 to 15 years. All new businesses must install the net-like gate.

Antonio Meloni, a business owner on Steinway Street, said the businesses have wanted this law since 1995. He said the net-like gates are back-lit and will help businesses by allowing potential customers to see their wares even when the store is closed.

“We know that it will not only reduce vandalism, but will improve the aesthetics of the neighborhood,” said Arlin Owlsley, the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut general manager for Clear Wireless, an Internet company with an Astoria location at 30-29 Steinway St. that has a net-like gate.

Vallone said the gates will also help firefighters, police officers and other first responders to see into the store when an alarm goes off.

“It allows law enforcement to know what they’re getting into,” Gianaris said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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