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New Sunnyside Shines director pledges to put commercial district ‘on steroids’ during pandemic recovery

Sunnyside Shines
New Sunnyside Shines Executive Director Dirk McCall stands outside his office on 43rd Street. (Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Shines)

A transplanted southern gentleman who moved to Astoria nearly three decades ago has hit the ground running since taking over the Sunnyside Business Improvement District (BID) last month.

Sunnyside Shines Executive Director Dirk McCall has been getting to know the merchants and restaurant owners along the commercial corridor on Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue that stretches from 38th Street to 50th Street.

“I’ve lived in Astoria since 1993 and I usually make the 20-minute walk, which is really helpful because I meet people along the way,” McCall said. “I love this beautiful neighborhood. I just think Sunnyside is amazing and I’m looking forward to providing assistance to all of the business owners in the BID.”

McCall took over Sunnyside Shines after Jaime-Faye Bean stepped down in December to take an executive position with the James Beard Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit that promotes restaurants and food culture.

During her five-year tenure in Sunnyside, Bean helped raise funds for restaurant workers who lost their jobs in two separate fires that tore through the heart of the BID. She also was co-founder of Queens Together providing support for small businesses while providing meals to Queens families facing food insecurity.

“Jaime did a spectacular job and I aspire to be as good as she was,” McCall said. “Right now I’m getting to know everyone, working on our grant applications to renew our funding and reactivating all of our accounts because there was a month between EDs. There are a lot of moving parts that I have to stay on top of.”

McCall came to his new position after more than 26 years in community organizing, government relations, union and labor affairs. He served in the Bronx borough president’s office and most recently at the Queens district attorney’s office where he was director of civic awareness, planning public events such as Black History Month, Diwali and Lunar New Year. He also organized gun buyback events.

Sunnyside Shines
New Sunnyside Shines Executive Director Dirk McCall (Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Shines)

“I had a wonderful experience at the DA’s office doing important events. The gun buyback programs were successful but they need to do more to get guns off the streets,” McCall said. “Now I’m more on the street getting back to the work I love. I worked with Small Business Services with multiple jobs so I know how BIDs work, and I ran the Greenwich Village/Chelsea Chamber of Commerce so I’ve done plenty of business support work before. ”

He is currently planning his first major event, Sunnyside Restaurant Week from April 15 to 24 to be followed by the Sunnyside Spa and Salon Fest, and McCall is already looking forward to the Taste of Sunnyside, the annual signature event that celebrates the restaurant scene.

“I’m a big foodie,” McCall said. “We’re going to promote our businesses and bring people in from outside the community that will help our businesses thrive and put the commercial corridor on steroids.”

McCall recently lunched at Mangal Kebab on Queens Boulevard with Queens Tourism Council Director Rob MacKay, who has raised his family in the neighborhood since 1991, said McCall’s appointment checks many boxes for many businesses that were impacted during the pandemic.

“While it appears that some form of COVID will be with us from now on, it’s not as lethal anymore, and I think the city will open up completely soon. This should be great for small business owners, but it’s still an uphill climb,” MacKay said. “Some shoppers are in the habit of using the internet for everything. Others are still scared to go into stores. And then there are the problems of finding employees and dealing with city regulations and taxes. Lucky for Dirk, Sunnyside has some great restaurants and stores with hard-working, entrepreneurial owners. So the quality is there. Some good promotions and fun community events will help. Safety and cleanliness are important, too. In some ways, it’s a daunting task, but Dirk also has the opportunity to do some great things. He’s very experienced and talented, so I’m excited for him and Sunnyside.”

As he is out in the community, McCall has an edge in connecting with people in the diverse neighborhood.

“I am married and my husband is Colombian,” McCall said with a laugh. “I’m not fluent but I can [converse] well and that’s important with many of these merchants.”

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