Turn in a Car Seat, Ride a Ferris Wheel at New York’s Toys R Us

Out with the old, in with the new: In New York City as well as across the country, Toys R Us is spearheading an initiative so parents and caregivers can trade in potentially unsafe, old, and used baby products as part of “The Great Trade In” event. Items that can be traded in include used car seats, strollers, play yards, high chairs, toddler beds, and cribs. (Many of these items are old and still in circulation, but should not actually be used or passed on to someone else.)
In exchange for turning in these products, consumers will receive a 25 percent savings on certain new baby items.
The program began yesterday, and continues through Feb. 20.
During the first trade-in event, in Sept. 2009, tens of thousands of items were brought in; used car seats were the number one item brought to stores–as well as the number one item purchased.
In New York, the place to head, of course, is the Toys R Us in Times Square. (1514 Broadway at 44th Street; 1-800-TOYSRUS). In addition to ridding yourself of those baby products that have been sitting in the attic, kids can partake of the giant Ferris wheel; walk-in Barbie Dream house; and the “R Zone,” a 5500-square megalopolis of the newest in electronic games, DVDs, and other tech gizmos. Customers can play on giant plasma screens (and those over 30 are guaranteed to walk out with unsteady balance and buzzing in your ears, not to mention your brains, so be forewarned.)
Oh yes, watch out for the 5-ton, 20-foot-high, 34-foot long animatronic dinosaur inspired by “Jurassic Park.”
If you weren’t unsteady on your feet after the Ferris Wheel and the game room, you will be after an encounter with him.

In New York, Even Scaffolding Can Get a Makeover

New York Sidewalk ShedWalking under an ugly piece of scaffolding, or “sidewalk shed,” is as much a part of many New Yorkers’ days as the morning subway ride or the line at the bank. But now, in an effort to make those dark, creepy, ramshackle enclosures less, well, dark, creepy and ramshackle, a new design is set to be unveiled.
The sheds are designed, ostensibly, to protect walkers from being hit by runaway debris while a building is being renovated or repaired. They’re found on both residential and commercial properties.
An international design competition was held to determine a new design: The winner was Young-Hwan Choi, a first-year architecture student at the University of Pennsylvania.
The design, entitled “Urban Umbrella,” will have customizable, transparent roofs. A UV-stabilized film could be used for the application of either different colors or a variety of art work; in other words, the roofs would become the basis for public art projects.
Mayor Bloomberg issued a statement saying that although the city changes, the sheds themselves have not. (Wouldn’t faster, more efficient work also be a solution, to get rid of the sheds faster? But we digress.)
A prototype should be up this summer. Supposedly more than 6000 sheds exist in New York City–this works out to more than one million linear feet. (You’re welcome for doing the math.)
So keep your eyes open—but your head covered–when you approach a sidewalk shed in upcoming months.

A New York Novel for Children Takes the Newbery Award

A novel set in New York, and written by an author who was born in the city and resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, has won the Newbery Award, the most prestigious award given for children’s literature.
The announcement was made Monday that the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature was given to Rebecca Stead for “When You Reach Me.” The novel takes place in 1979, on the Upper West Side, and focuses on the story of Miranda, a sixth-grade girl whose best friend stops taking to her; she also starts receiving notes telling her that it’s up to her to figure out how to prevent a tragic event from happening in the future.
The novel deals with issues of time travel, class, and friendship; has a rich, complicated structure; and has spent eight weeks on “The New York Times” best-seller list for children’s chapter books. The classic children’s book “A Wrinkle in Time,” which itself won the Newbery Award in 1963, also plays a vital part in the novel.
The neighborhood in the book resembles the one in which Ms. Stead grew up, she has said, and the lives of the characters are modeled on her own experience growing up in the city. The apartment in the story was inspired by her mother’s apartment; the school was patterned after the one she attended on New York’s west side.
In fact, Manhattan becomes as much a character in the novel as any of the characters themselves.
So congratulations to Rebecca Stead–and to New York for being such a great role model.

Times Square Adds Criminals to its List of Billboards

An FBI BillboardIf you go to New York’s Times Square in part to gaze at the never-ending display of over sized billboards featuring lingerie ads, celebrities gleaming down at you, and skinny sullen teenagers hawking perfume, you’re in for something different.
Starting today, the FBI will display an enormous billboard in Times Square near the TKTS Booth on 47th Street. The digital board will display a rotating list of New York fugitives as well as the number of an FBI tips hotline. Images of missing children will also be displayed. In addition, the board will take advantage of the number of international tourists by featuring information about criminals from abroad.
The billboard is being provided free of charge by advertiser Clear Channel Outdoor.
The nationwide project was launched in December of 2007. It’s now active in 20 cities, and features more than 1,000 billboards across the country, including many on major highways.
Believe it or not, at least 14 criminals have been apprehended through the use of the billboards, including those whose crimes have included money laundering, armed robbery, and kidnapping.
It’s hoped that the sheer number of people who pass through the Time Square spot, one of the most crowded corners in the city, will lead to some good tips.
In Albuquerque, NM, a mother and son were driving by a billboard when the mother noticed that the image on the board looked like her son.
It was. She took him into the local police station.

Project Runway Struts its Stuff in New York Again

Project RunwayLike many transplants, “Project Runway” just couldn’t make it away from the Big Apple, so for its seventh season, it has returned to New York City. The show kicks off its new season tonight on Lifetime TV. Yesterday was declared “Project Runway Day” in New York, in celebration of the show’s return, and Fashion Avenue was renamed “Project Runway Avenue.” (Don’t streets in the city have real names any more?) The day highlighted the show’s contribution to fashion in New York–the retail industry provides jobs for more than 175,000 people.
The show foundered in LA, losing viewers as well as a real sense of drama and purpose.
Regulars Heidi Klum (supermodel et al), Tim Gunn (snarky-but-kind mentor), Nina Garcia (fashion director for “Marie Claire” Magazine) and Michael Kors (uber-successful designer) will be back this season, and Nicole Ritchie, celebrity-for-no-real-reason, will be showing up as the first celebrity guest judge–just, gasp, four months after giving birth.
Sixteen new designers will compete for their shot at a chance to show their collection during New York Fashion Week and the tents in Bryant Park. They will also receive the chance to sell their line on the web site Bluefly, as well as a cash prize and other goodies.
Viewers familiar with the show will recognize the Atlas Apartments, Parson’s School of Design, and other New York landmarks previously featured on the snow.
Let the snarking and backstabbing begin!

Absolutely Love Eloise? Head to the Plaza Hotel

Eloise at the Plaze shopIf you are in search of a rather precocious shopping experience in New York City, then you must hurry hurry hurry to the new Eloise Shop at the Plaza Hotel (Fifth Avenue at Central Park South and 58th Street; 212 759-3000). The 2,100-square-foot shop opened last month, and it’s a tribute to Kay Thompson’s famous little girl who made her home at the even more famous hotel with her Nanny, dog Weenie and turtle Skipperdee.
With its child’s-playhouse-feel, the shop evokes the illustrations magically brought to life by Hilary Knight. The original series of books was written in the 1950s and has become legendary.
The store features a sea of pink in various colors—the full Pepto-Bismol experience awaits in the form of furniture, drapes, carpet, bean bags, and more.
A portrait painted on the wall mimics the original in the lobby; this one was painted by a local artist.
Mums and their darlings will enjoy the Fashion Room, with its tiaras, tutus, sweatshirts, bathrobes, and more, many with the Eloise logo. Across the floor, the Tea Party Rom will soon start offering private tea parties and other special events. A reading room offers Eloise books to read and DVDs to watch; computers will soon be installed.
Also upcoming: A beauty salon as well as an Eloise-theme suite designed by Betsey Johnson.
A ”Live Like Eloise” package was offered by the hotel starting June 1.
And if your little darlings want get in touch with the famed six-year-old directly; a pink mailbox beckons for their notes.
Perhaps, if they’re lucky, a pink note will await them in return.

Stand Up and Be Counted: The 2010 Census Kicks Off

Times Square is having its moment: First New Year’s Eve, now the Census Bureau has kicked off its national tour there.
The Census Bureau revved up its “Census Portrait of America Road Tour” in New York City’s Times Square this week, starting the trip across the country to remind people to fill out their census forms–and mail them in. A 46-foot trailer and 12 vans will traverse the USA in the coming months. The trailer is nicknamed “Mail It Back” (catchy..yes? no?) and offers an interactive representation of the census form. The smaller vans offer technology that allows participants to track the tour online as it happens. Updates will be available on social media postings through outlets like Twitter and Facebook.
Well, it beats doing the laundry.
The population count takes place once a decade, and this tour will be part of the largest civic outreach program in US history. It will stop at more than 800 events during the next four months, including the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four, as well as smaller venues like local parades.
The 10-question forms (one of the shortest ever) will arrive in your mailboxes March 15-17; they’re supposed to be an account of everyone living in the United Sates. Results are used to reapportion congressional seats and decide how more than $400 billion a year in federal funding is distributed to local and state governments.
So stand up and be counted, New York!

New Yorkers, You’re in the Right Place: Tourism Reaches a New High

Times SquareNew York, you have excellent taste.
Whether you’re here for work, play, or something in between, a study released Monday confirms what the rest of us might have modestly predicated: New York is the most popular tourist destination in the country.
Although tourism was actually down slightly (45.2 million visitors last year as opposed to 47 million in 2008), the city has in fact overtaken Orlando, Florida (read: Disney World) as the most popular tourist spot in the USA. We always knew the mayhem could beat the Mouse.
The city was the top spot for visitors from overseas as well: 8.6 million international tourists stopped by, more than twice the number that visited Los Angeles. (Movie stars have nothing on Abercrombie and Fitch.)
New York took the top honors for the first time since 1990; unusual in a time of economic downturn. Mayor Bloomberg also stated that employment levels rose in the leisure and hospitality areas, even passing the pre-recession levels.
Interestingly, predictions for tourism in 2009 in New York were fairly grim, planning for a 10 percent decrease. A combination of strong promotions, perhaps coupled with the city still being a good value for foreign visitors, most probably led to the high turnout. In addition, Americans are taking the opposite approach from those foreign visitors–staying closer to home and not traveling overseas as much.
An increase in tourists is expected for next year, with a potential 46.7 million visitors alighting in our fair city.
New York is aiming to receive 50 million visitors a year by 2012.

Cleveland Rocks More Than New York? Say It Ain’t So

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame AnnexNew York, you didn’t rock–so the Hall of Fame is rolling on out.
Just a year after opening up in New York City, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex, located in SoHo, is gone. The doors closed on Sunday for the last time.
While the original Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is still going strong in Cleveland, the satellite just couldn’t make a go of it in the Big Apple. The stagnant economy and fewer tourists over the past year are most likely to blame. (Surely it couldn’t be New Yorkers’ inherent lack of rock-fabulousness? Let’s hope not.) More likely were the pricey tickets ($26.50, $4.50 more than the price of admission in Cleveland.) In a time when attractions are competing for tourist dollars, the not-that-well-known museum in a somewhat-out-of-the-way location (Mercer Street, not necessarily a mecca for tourists) clearly suffered.
The museum had a wide array of memorabilia, ranging from the king’s jumpsuit (that would be Elvis, folks) to a tribute to John Lennon’s years in New York and Bruce Springsteen’s Chevy. It opened to huge press in 2008, and was hailed by Mayor Bloomberg as another must-see stop for tourists.
The Cleveland museum employs more than 900 people and adds $100 million to Cleveland’s economy every year.
Those of you who missed the wooden phone box from the music club CBGB at the New York branch need not despair—opportunities to take the objects on tour are currently being reviewed.

Engine Companies Add Back Staff in the New Year

New Yorkers who read about the cuts in firefighting teams at engine companies last month can rest easier. Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano has restored the fifth member to teams that were reduced to four people.
The change to a four-person team at approximately 49 out of the 194 engine companies across all five boroughs was made after a record number of firefighters called in sick during the last months of the year, taxing the overtime budget. (The companies that were affected the most significantly were those in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, with 15, 14, and 12 companies respectively.)
The Fire Department insisted that the cuts wouldn’t affect response time to fires. The union, however, protested that reducing staff members increases the time it takes firefighters to start properly attacking the fire.
By last December 1, the annual medical-leave rate for firefighters in the city had risen above 7.5 percent. That’s the number at which the New York Fire Department begins to cut staff. The Fire Department made these cuts for the third time in seven years.
Since the cuts were made at about a quarter of the engine companies, however, absenteeism has been lowered significantly, by about sixteen percent, allowing staff to be added.
The city has about 8,800 firefighters. The average number of them out of work during the last three months of November due to various forms of sickness was 500-700 people.