Faces ’97 People in the News Overcoming Illness and Eviction, Tony Avena Is Back Where He Belongs

Overcoming Illness and Eviction, Tony Avena Is Back Where He Belongs

The Flushing shoeshine man, tucked under the LIRR tracks on Main St. has been a well-loved mainstay in the neighborhood for more than 50 years.
Tony Avena, 82, runs a 75-year-old family business that includes a flower shop, shoe shine and key copy stand that was usually open seven days a week through winter snow storms and sweltering summer heat, decade after decade.
Avena made headlines in Aug. 1995 when he waged a battle, backed by politicians, executives and journalists against the MTA, which had tried to evict him when he said he couldn’t afford the staggering 300 percent rent hike they imposed on his tiny plot of land.
Thousands of Queens residents who had come to regard the Avena shops as a neighborhood necessity came to his defense, and after his appearances on the David Letterman show, the WPLJ radio station and appeals from Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the MTA struck a deal with Avena and he and his shops remained.
But this summer, residents once again grew concerned about Avena’s fate when his shoeshine store was locked behind shuttered metal gates for weeks at a time.
The Queens Courier followed up on the missing living landmark and found he was sick, had been in the hospital and was at home striving to regain his strength.
Once again, local residents grew dismayed at the possibility of losing Tony.
Daily, dozens of supporters stopped by the adjoining flower shop run by Avena’s nephew, Mike, to reiterate how much Tony was loved and missed. Even Mayor Giuliani, visiting the offices of The Queens Courier, called Tony at home to offer well wishes and a speedy recovery.
And again, with the help of thousands of patrons who missed his business and longed to see his smiling face peeking from the doorway of his stand, Tony has triumphed.
The doors to the shoe stand are again regularly open, the leather chair beckons customers, and Tony Avena is back to business, where everyone wants him to be

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