By Sophia Chang
The Bayside Hills Civic Association invited area merchants to speak to residents Tuesday night about what they do and how they do it.”One day when I was driving around, it dawned on me how much I appreciate local merchants,” said Bayside Hills President Michael Feiner. “They're on their feet the entire day. They're friendly. It's what makes our community great.”Joe Mangini, owner of Bell Blvd. Pharmacy at 47-48 Bell Blvd., said he started in the industry as a teenager in Brooklyn, delivering prescriptions for a neighborhood drugstore. After attending pharmacy school, Mangini went into business for himself.”I decided to buy Bell Pharmacy 15 years ago,” he said, and he enjoys the store's intimate environment and the regular customers. “For me to go to work is not a chore.” But he cautioned that customers need to be aware of changes in health insurance while federal policies evolve.”Right now in health care it's very messed up,” Mangini said. “It's just absurd what's happening to the price of pharmaceuticals.” He recommended that consumers compare the price of prescription drugs among different pharmacies, and said people without insurance have a better chance of saving money at small stores rather than large chains. “Check things out for yourself,” he said.At L'Italiano Trattoria, owner Joe Lupo creates a homey environment while serving top-notch Italian food, Feiner said. “You go to Joe's restaurant, and you feel like you're in a living room,” he said of the restaurant at 216-01 Horace Harding Expressway.”Whatever I can do for the neighborhood, just let me know,” Lupo said. He opened the restaurant in 2003 with his wife, and his three children are also involved in the business.Ronald Keil, of the longstanding Keil Brothers Garden Center at 210-11 48th Ave., said his father started the nursery 75 years ago and he cherishes being able to carry on the family legacy.”I love what I do. I enjoy going to work everyday,” he said.During the icy winter season, Keil said a common problem he hears from nursery customers involves recalcitrant snowblowers. “Ninety-eight percent of the problems are that people leave gas in them over the summer, and the gas congeals,” he said. To avoid such hassles in the future, he recommended letting snowblowers run out of gas at the end of winter before placing them back into storage.For Keil, the nursery is more of a life's passion than just a family business, a sentiment he said many of his employees share.”You have to enjoy working with plants. It gets in your blood,” he said. “One of our employees is a dentist, but he works for us on Sundays because he loves it so much.”And beyond serving their customers, these area businesses watch out for each other as well.”My mom gave me a plant when I first opened the pharmacy. It was winter, and I put it outside to get some rain,” Mangini said. “I get a phone call from (Keil) and he said, 'Joe, take the plant in, it's tropical. You're going to kill it.'”Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.