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Image courtesy of Assemblyman Mike Miller's office
From left to right, top row: Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr., Michelle Cook Lopez, Captain Courtney Nilan, Assemblyman Mike Miller. Bottom row: Antonetta Binanti, Joan Bachert and Giedra Kregzdys.

A pair of successful small business owners in Ridgewood and Glendale were honored as Women of Distinction by local elected officials in honor of Women’s History Month on March 8.

Antonetta “Toni” Binanti, owner of Rudy’s Bakery & Cafe in Ridgewood, and Michelle Cook Lopez, owner of Cook’s Arts & Crafts Shoppe in Glendale were among the six women recognized by Assemblyman Mike Miller for their achievements in their respective communities. The annual awards ceremony put on by Miller was dedicated this year to the late Woodhaven civic leader, Maria Thomson.

“Even though Maria is no longer here, her legacy lives on,” Miller said. “The women we are celebrating have their own legacies that we are proud of and I am honored to pay tribute to them.”

The other women in Miller’s district recognized at the event on International Women’s Day were Richmond Hill Block Association Vice President and One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center Program Director Joan Bachert, Vice President of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association Giedra Kregzdys, 102nd Precinct Captain Courtney Nilan and President of K9 Korral Charlotte Butler.

Binanti’s family has owned Rudy’s on Seneca Avenue for nearly 40 years, though the Ridgewood staple has been at the same location since 1934. Binanti’s uncle, Ralph Difonzo, purchased Rudy’s in the early 1980s, and Binanti worked by his side until he passed away in 2003 and she assumed control of the business. Binanti has been honored in the past for the success of Rudy’s, but she said Miller’s award was special because of its focus on women.

“I grew up with a lot of strong women around me and I work with women so I was used to that,” Binanti told QNS. “My grandmother raised my mom to be a strong woman, and watching my mom, there was nothing she couldn’t have done. It was special being recognized as a woman owning a small business. It was emotional for me.”

Cook’s was founded in 1970 by Cook Lopez’s grandparents, who originally ran it as a television repair shop. As the need for television repairs faded, it evolved into a craft store from Cook Lopez’s grandmother, who used to sit in the shop and knit. Over time, the Myrtle Avenue shop has adapted to the needs of the community more and more, offering stamps, MetroCards and Postal Service drop-offs to customers, for example.

Being recognized as a Woman of Distinction was “an honor and a surprise,” Cook Lopez said, but she and Binanti agreed that they also have the community to thank for supporting them for so long.

“We’ve been here for so long, people know they can rely on us for certain things,” Cook Lopez told QNS. “When you become a staple in a community, the community rallies around you.”

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