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Claude Solnik

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Centereach Knife-sharpening Shop on Cutting Edge of Tradition

A cut above: Richard De Vito Jr. helps chefs stay sharp when it comes to cutlery.

Richard De Vito Jr. knows what it means to be at the cutting edge of commerce. 

Too many people settle for using a knife that is just not as sharp as it once was. He helps many keep their tools from getting dull as he plies an old-fashioned craft: sharpening knives that otherwise would likely be replaced. In May he opened We Make It Sharp, a charming old-fashioned knife-sharpening store in Centereach.

“I’ve been in this business for 30 years, since I was 17 years old,” he says. ““We cater to cooks and chefs from restaurants, bagel shops, pizzerias, homeowners, haircutters, barbers, delis. The list goes on and on, virtually everyone who uses a knife or scissors every day.”

A man on a mission, De Vito continues a family tradition that has helped keep chefs’ and others’ knives sharp for decades — the old-fashioned way, sharpening by hand.

De Vito is among a vanishing profession of sharpeners on Long Island and nationwide, but that may make his services all the more valuable. In an age of built-in obsolescence and disposable products, De Vito is engaged in a fight against time.

On the one hand, he battles time by keeping otherwise superannuated and ready-to-toss knives sharp. He’s also keeping a skill and a profession current while providing a service many Long Islanders don’t even know exists. His services can make cooking a little easier and save people some money (the charge is $1 an inch per knife).

“We have the best grinding, sharpening, and polishing and buffer machines and also Arkansas stones for deburring and hand honing,” De Vito says. “This is a rare trade.”

As with most crafts, De Vito’s has been passed from generation to generation, starting with his great-great-grandfather Angelo De Vito, who sharpened knives in Abruzzi, Italy. Italian Americans called “moletas” worked out of trucks or wheelbarrows or carried grinding stones, sharpening knives on city streets.

“I’m a fifth-generation knife sharpener,” he says. “My great-grandfather immigrated here from Italy and went door to door with a knife sharpener on his back.”

He works with knives, scissors, clippers, and even lawnmower blades along with the occasional sword, axe, cleaver, or hunting knife, as well as hair and upholstery shears.

 “There’s nobody left,” he says. “Some people buy new knives because there’s nobody around sharpening anymore.”

How Technology is Helping Adoptees Find Their Parents

Lori Marsden and Jimmie Ebell, her half brother.

Lori Marsden, of East Hampton, remembers a teacher in elementary school asking students where their family was from. She didn’t raise her hand.

“When you’re an adoptee, you don’t know,” she says. “When you go to a doctor as a young child, they ask for the family history. You say, ‘I don’t know. I’m adopted.’ It becomes this thing in your psyche.”

Marsden recently found out who her parents were through DNA testing and a little detective work via Ancestry.com. She also got some help from members of a Facebook group called DNA Detectives and from someone who became what she calls her “search angel — a genealogist who helps people figure out their genealogy.

“Adoptees typically don’t know their genetic history in a closed adoption,” she says. “You know nothing.”

Adoptees’ efforts to identify their parents are nothing new, but technology and legislation are changing the process. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed a New York State bill into law that gives adoptees the right at age 18 to see their birth certificate, solving the mystery of their parents’ identity. 

“Knowing who we are and where we came from is critical not only to understanding our heritage, but for knowing our health history and any risks it might pose,” New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said. 

But in the absence of a right to know in states where they were adopted, some adoptees are using technology to solve the mystery of their parents’ identity.

Anthony Tyson, Marsden’s husband, recently traveled with her to Wisconsin to a reunion to meet members of her father’s and her family, after she located them.

“I found the whole experience very enlightening and extraordinary,” Tyson says. “It brought a lot of respect from me for my wife for having pursued it. And fortunately, it came out pretty well.”

While geography can simplify a search, Marsden’s was complicated by time spent in different regions.

She grew up in Oconto Falls, Wis., near Green Bay, until around age 3, when her adoptive father got a job in Mobile, Ala. Marsden went to a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia, Barnard College, became an architect, married Anthony Tyson, and moved to Long Island, where they had a daughter named Julia.

“I tried to contact my birth mother,” she says. “You can write a letter to the state of Wisconsin, where the adoption took place. I wrote a letter in 1996 after Julia was born.”

Marsden got back a response from the state that her adoptive mother refused the contact, and didn’t pursue things — until she heard about Ancestry.com.

“You do a spit test and find out about your DNA,” she says. “Ancestry.com has a box. ‘Do you want to keep this private or public?’ I figured what the heck. I’ll keep it public.”

She found out about distant cousins and got an email indicating a hit. 

“It says, ‘You have a new match,’” she says. “It’s a first cousin. That’s real.”

Marsden contacted Eddie Ebel, her first cousin, told him when she was born, and had some others do DNA tests, identifying Wesley Ebel, an expert in fisheries and wildlife, as her father.

“By the process of elimination, it was confirmed that Wesley was my father,” she says. “He was in the area of Wisconsin where I was born in 1960.”

A search angel with DNA Detectives confirmed that and provided additional information and in late August, Marsden and Tyson went to Antigo, Wis., where her father, who died in 2008, had lived. She met a half-brother and other family members.

“My overall feeling was they were very warm,” Marsden says. “They’re very low-key people. That doesn’t surprise me. That’s kind of the way I am.”

Marsden sees the new New York State law as something that could provide access to adoptees even if it wouldn’t have impacted her.

“It’s a huge deal, “Marsden says. “In Wisconsin, you can’t get your birth certificate until your birth parents are dead.”

Even then, Wisconsin doesn’t notify a person when their birth parents die. Marsden thinks technology still can unlock the secret, helping people identify their parents, although that doesn’t mean a relationship will always grow out of that.

“With Ancestry, most adoptees will find the answers with a certain amount of effort,” Marsden says. “So many people are doing these. You’ll eventually hook up with a first cousin. If you get a first cousin match, you can find out who your parents are.”

Long Island’s Dream Car Restorations Stars in The Lost Corvettes Reality Series on The History Channel

Chris Mazzilli with one of the classic Corvettes being restored.

Dream Car Restorations NY in Hicksville has restored more than its share of Corvettes, but the company these days is in the middle of what is likely the biggest such restoration in history — 36 classic Corvettes, one each year starting with 1953, when the car was introduced, to 1989.

They’ll be raffled off to 36 winners to raise money for the National Guard Educational Foundation, providing scholarships to military families, in a kind of “Vettes for vets” arrangement. Tickets are $3 donations to that charity with deals for multiple tickets at corvetteheroes.com. The project is the focus of The Lost Corvettes, reality show on the History Channel. The six-episode series debuted Nov. 23 and airs at 10 p.m. on Saturdays.

“It was unbelievable,” says Chris Mazzilli, who owns Dream Car Restorations. “These cars sat for 25 plus years caked in dust. It’s really the greatest Corvette barn find in history.”

The cars are in a garage on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. VH1 in 1989 assem- bled this collection of 36 Corvettes and raffled them off. Two million tickets later, a carpenter from Long Island won.

Artist Peter Max bought the collection to use the cars as a canvas for his art. But the collection gathered dust, so Max sold them to Scott Heller and his sons Michael and Adam Heller and cousin Peter Heller, as well as real estate associates Gary, Adam and Fred Spindler.

The new group turned to Mazzilli, a known Corvette expert, for advice and restoration. Jim Cahill, who came up with the idea for the original sweepstakes for VH1 in 1989, suggested a sweepstakes for charity this time as well. Mazzilli, who also owns Gotham Comedy Club and produces TV comedy specials and series, came up with the idea for a reality show.

“Nothing like this has been done before,” Michael Heller says.

What’s life like for these Long Islanders-turned-reality-TV stars?

“I’m pretending the cameras aren’t there,” Mazzilli says. “It’s fun. I’m more about getting the word out about the hobby, the charity, and sweepstakes.”

Michael Heller sees the show as spinning wheels of fortune to benefit military families.

“It’s American history,” he says, noting that restoring the cars is also a major part of the mission. “We’re lovers of Corvettes.”

To sign up for the sweepstakes, you must be 18 or older; and visit corvetteheroes.com, facebook.com/corvetteheroes/ or @CorvetteHeroes on Instagram and Twitter by April 30, 2020. Drawings will be held in May.

LI-based Frequency Electronics Helps Keep NASA On Time

Satellites are among the many applications for Frequency Electronics' atomic clocks. (Getty Images)

Many people think that the time on their cell phone, clock, or watch is accurate, but Uniondale-based Frequency Electronics, Inc. makes atomic clocks capable of precision timing that makes a Rolex look cheap.

Founded 58 years ago by Martin Bloch, Frequency uses a metal called rubidium to make clocks that are accurate within nanoseconds or millionths of a second. The company, which employs about 150 on Long Island, takes that second hand, essentially, and slices time into smaller increments used for everything from aircraft to satellites. 

“They’re not inexpensive for space applications,” says Frequency Electronics CEO Dr. Stanton Sloane, whose clients include large aerospace and defense companies. “For space, you have to survive radiation. They can be a couple of million dollars.”

These small boxes sized anywhere from a “D” battery to a shoebox  let companies track the silent drumbeat of time at levels difficult to imagine. To understand Frequency, it helps to understand the way watches work. Some measure mechanical movement, while digital watches use what’s known as an oscillator. 

When NASA recently shot a satellite into deep space, it did it with a Frequency device called a stable oscillator to help with a mercury ion clock.

“When you have atomic clocks, you almost always have a crystal oscillator for short-term stability,” Sloane says. “The heart of a crystal oscillator is the quartz crystal itself. We produce those in-house, starting with raw bars of quartz … The same thing with rubidium.”

Rubidium, which has medical uses, is the main building block for many of Frequency’s products because of the element’s structure and stability.

“It has particular spectrum that are useful for measuring transitions and frequency,” Sloane says. “Rubidium clocks are accurate to better than 100 nanoseconds per day. Our rubidium atomic clocks are accurate to approximately 1 second in 10 million years.”

Some products are available in standard orders, but many clocks are customized with different frequency outputs, sizes, and power outputs. And the company is ever trying to be more precise. 

“We’re developing a pulsed optically pumped rubidium clock,” Sloane says. “A conventional rubidium clock uses a lamp that stimulates the rubidium. The pulsed optically pumped clock uses a laser to stimulate the rubidium. It has much better performance.

Rubie’s Costume Company Exec Pulls Back The Curtain on The Business of Halloween

L. to R.: Rubie Costume Company’s Executive Vice President Howard Beige, and some of his company's most popular costumes for 2019.

Halloween is big business, and there’s no bigger business in the space than Rubie’s Costume Company, the costume manufacturer based in Melville. Rubie’s Executive Vice President Howard Beige, one of the owners of this family-owned company, talked about the business of the holiday, costumes, licensing in general, and what’s hot this Halloween.

What are the most popular costumes this year? Some of the most popular costumes this year are Spider-Man, Stranger Things, Baby Shark, Avengers Endgame, Ghostbusters, Harry Potter, Joker, Captain Marvel, Jo Jo Siwa, T-rex from Jurassic World, and Pennywise, the clown from It.

What’s different for you and the company this year than in the past? This year Halloween is on a Thursday night. This means there will be Halloween parties and events the weekend before Halloween and the weekend after. This also means more adults participating and wearing costumes for this Halloween.

What trends are you seeing in costumes?  We are seeing family and group themed costumes more than ever. We are also seeing people including their pets in the festivities more.

What movies are leading to costumes? Rubie’s has the rights to produce costumes from many major motion pictures including, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Warner Brothers, Sony, Paramount, FOX, Nickelodeon, Disney, and many others. Movies play a huge role in influencing Halloween costumes. Everyone wants to dress up as their favorite character or hero. This year movies like Avengers Endgame, Spider-Man Into the Spider Verse, and It Chapter 2 have all lead to the popularity of many costumes we offer.

Are political costumes more or less popular than in the past? Just wait until next year! Political costumes tend to take off during the year of a [presidential] election. We have seen this pattern remain constant throughout all the 68 years of Rubie’s existence

Who buys costumes? Everyone buys costumes, Halloween is the one day of the year where you can pretend to me someone or something else. Children pick costumes of their favorite characters but it’s the parents who actually purchase them. Teens, adults, and grandparents don’t want to miss out on the fun. In recent years, many families tend to choose a theme such as Wizard of Oz, Minions, super heroes etc. so they can all dress in one common family theme. Halloween is everyone’s favorite holiday because it’s so much fun!

What do you plan to do this Halloween? Rubie’s, as you could imagine, has a big Halloween party in our various facilities for all our employees with great food, games, and raffles. When our Halloween party is over at work, I plan to be home to give out candy to trick-or-treaters until going to a party that evening.

Where do you make costumes? Twenty-three percent of our production is done here in the United States. We also produce costumes and other accessories in the Far East and Mexico.

Are you seeking to expand beyond Halloween? Rubie’s does not just offer Halloween costumes. We have a huge array of costume accessories which include hats, headpieces, wigs, makeup, masks, and home décor. We have products for Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, etc. We also have a dress up division called Imagine that is expanding every year. Our pet division, Rubie’s Pet shop, has pet costumes, pet accessories like bandanas and hats, and pet toys. Our better quality costumes and accessories are also sold to the large cosplayer audience.

What’s your busiest time of year? Rubie’s is truly busy 12 months a year since we are known as a costume company for all occasions, not just Halloween. Halloween is the biggest market for costume sales in the U.S. and Canada. However, in many other parts of the world, Carnival or Mardi Gras are the biggest costume-themed holidays and therefore the biggest part of Rubie’s business in those countries. In addition to that, we have smaller costume holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. Finally, we also have different fairs and conventions that take place throughout the year such as Renaissance festivals, Comic Cons, and other conventions where costumes are worn.

Who are your biggest customers and how big? Rubie’s manufacturers costumes for many major retailers such as Walmart, Target, Amazon, and Party City, to name a few.

Are you rolling out new products? We introduce products 12 months a year as the product is approved and becomes available. Most of our 2020 Halloween party line is already designed and developed. In the next few months we will start to work on Halloween 2021.

How global is your business? Rubie’s has staff, showrooms, and warehouse facilities in 14 countries around the world. Rubies entities are located in the U.S., Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Holland, Australia, Hong Kong, Mexico, China, and Japan. Each of these Rubie’s facilities caters to the local market and what costume holidays and specific costume characters are popular there.

Do other countries celebrate Halloween? Yes, many other countries celebrate Halloween or something similar to Halloween. Ireland, Greece, Germany, England, Australia, and France all celebrate Halloween

What costumes are popular in other countries? Movies have a huge influence in other countries just like they do here. Rubie’s operating in many countries throughout the world is blessed to be a global licensee with many of the larger studios.

Rubie’s Costume Company: Where Halloween Meets Hollywood

L. to R.: Rubie's Costume Company has the rights to Wednesday Addams, Baby Shark, and Batman costumes.

Rubie’s Costume Company’s tag line is “the world’s largest designer and manufacturer of costumes,” but it might as well be “Halloween starts here.”

The company’s costumes fill the shelves of stores ranging from Walmart to temporary  Halloween shops, in addition to Rubie’s megastores in Melville, Westbury, and Richmond Hill, Queens. It’s a costume king — a global giant that virtually owns the holiday the way the NFL owns Sundays.

“This year is a superhero year for Halloween,” the company’s blog says.

It all started with Rubie’s Candy Store, founded in 1951 by Rubin, aka Rubie, and Tillie Beige in Queens, selling comic books, candy, and novelties. A decade later, they renamed the shop Rubie’s Fun House and began selling hats, costumes, accessories, wigs, and masks.

In the 1970s, their son Marc Beige changed the name to Rubie’s Costume Company, became president, and grew it into a licensing and costume giant. His brothers Howard and Joel and sister Maxine help him run the family business, which is now headquartered in Melville.

A family owned and operated business for nearly 70 years, its costume catalogue — yes, it includes outfits for pets — is the size of the telephone book for a large city. The founding family’s third generation is now involved in the company that, if it doesn’t own Halloween, owns a lot of the licenses that fuel the holiday, from classic to current properties.

The company is now a superhero when it comes to costumes, with new 2019 licenses including Aquaman, Men in Black, and Captain Marvel characters. Those are the latest in a long list of licenses. Popular lines and licenses include Harry Potter, Stranger Things, Where’s Waldo?, and Star Wars characters as well as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and more.

Girls are going for Jojo Siwa costumes with a nod to Nickelodeon and DC Super Girls costumes including Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Batgirl.

For the family behind Rubie’s, the trick to their success is obtaining the rights to characters in demand and making the right costumes at the right price. After that, the business is a treat — for the company and its customers around the world.

Gabila’s Knishes Serve Up A Century of Tradition

When the Gabay family decided to go into business in 1921, they didn’t name their company after themselves.

“They looked in the phone book for a name similar to Gabay,” says Stacey Ziskin Gabay, general counsel for Gabila Food Products. “They wanted to be sure the company was successful and didn’t want to name it after them, if it wasn’t. Luckily, it was.”

Ninety-eight years later, Gabila’s is led by the Gabay family’s fourth generation and is a sort of king of the knish, supplying more than 1 billion of these items — about 15 million annually. 

CBS New York dubbed knishes made by the company, which moved from Brooklyn to Copiague in 2006, among the top 10 iconic New York foods. Gabila, led by Elliott Gabay, boasts being a Brooklyn tradition and a Long Island business.

“These items are a huge part of the holiday,” Ziskin Gabay adds of the Jewish high holidays this time of year. “The stores stock up on knishes, pancakes, blintzes, puddings, and souffles.”

Elia and Bella Gabay emigrated from a town called “Niš,” pronounced “Nish” in Yugoslavia in 1919 and launched Gabila’s in 1921, making “Brooklyn’s Original Coney Island Square Knish” in their kitchen on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Bella cooked and Elia sold knishes on a pushcart. They opened a factory in 1928 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“The main item is still the same, original recipe,” Ziskin Gabay says. “It’s like a piece of nostalgia.”

The company’s flagship product remains its lightly seasoned, fried Coney Island square potato knish, although it makes about 100 items, including baked round knishes, pancakes, souffles, blintzes, matzoh balls, and other products.

“We add products periodically. Knock on wood, the company’s doing well. It is adapting,” Ziskin Gabay concludes. “The older generations introduce the new ones to our product. Even though it’s more of a traditional item, it seems to find its way in the modern world.”

After a fire six years ago, the company stopped making its flagship knishes for roughly half a year.

“We continued to operate and sell other items,” Ziskin Gabay adds. “A lot of our clients came out and supported us. We learned how loyal our customers were.”

Macy’s Development Plan Spurs Debate in Manhasset

A rendering of the proposed Macy's Square mixed-use development Brookfield Properties wants to build in Manhasset. (Courtesy Brookfield properties)

Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks won over New Yorkers and viewers nationwide, but a plan by the retailer and a developer to transform a parking lot around its Manhasset store into mixed-use development is meeting very mixed reviews.

Macy’s, established in 1858, has grown to more than 740 stores including Macy’s Manhasset, a roughly 332,000-square-foot store at 1100 Northern Blvd. with brands including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Clinique. But a brand new plan by Macy’s and Brookfield Properties would turn the store parking lot into a $400 million mixed-use development known as Manhasset Square. Brookfield has more than 600 properties worldwide, 28 projects under construction and 175 retail destinations.

“Brookfield firmly believes that a new development cannot be successful unless it enhances a community’s way of life,” Brookfield Properties Vice President Aanen Olsen says. “Brookfield Properties and Macy’s are committed to working with community leaders to identify, understand and address the concerns surrounding the project.”

Manhasset Square would include 355 apartments, with the majority as one bedrooms and studios, along with a smaller, still-to-be-determined number of two-bedroom units. It also would include 73,400 square feet of retail, 72,000 square feet of class-A office space and a 200-room boutique hotel.

The project, which calls for 2,271 parking spaces above and below ground in addition to open-air spaces, requires variances, leading to a debate.

Information about the project was shared first with the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations at a special meeting on May 8 with a proposal to the North Hempstead town board “imminent” as of press time.

Olsen says apartments would attract young professionals who might later buy homes and older residents who would spend money at local businesses.

An online petition, launched June 20 and now with more than 1,200 signatures, seeks to stop the rezoning of the property from commercial to residential use.

Sandro Abballe in the petition said there is “too much residential development proposed” and “it will overrun the schools.”  

“Too much traffic already,” Darlene DiPietro says succinctly. “No rezoning!”

Plandome Road, Northern Boulevard and Port Washington Boulevard are already filled with traffic, according to residents, even if Brookfield can argue it will bring more revenue to Manhasset residents and businesses.

The petition indicates Manhasset’s population is 8,000, but 355 rental units could significant increase that number.

“People in town are sick of driving on roads with traffic moving at a snail’s pace even in non-rush hour,” Jacky Yung, a Manhasset resident, commented in the online petition. 

Daisy King, another local resident, in the petition says local schools, the library, pools and Northern Boulevard are too small to serve many more residents. 

“We do not want to sacrifice our children’s future and take any risk of downgrading the quality of the education,” King says.

The Brookfield spokesman said the firm’s “team heard the concerns raised about the project” and is seeking to address them. 

“Brookfield and our team have since met with civic leaders and are planning future meetings with community groups and concerned citizens to share the project vision and ensure that all issues are addressed during the public approval process,” Olsen says.

Joseph Braman, who grew up in Manhasset and came back to raise his family in 2004, isn’t convinced. 

“We are already overcrowded in our schools and Plandome Road is a nightmare every day to be on,” he said in the petition. “Please keep our town as lovely and carefree as I remember it.”

Emanuel Grillo wants not more people, but more amenities. “How about a park and some ballfields?” he asked. 

Brookfield is launching a website that will include ways for the community to ask questions and provide feedback. And community leaders interested in meeting with Brookfield can contact Bill Corbett Jr. at wjcorbett@corbettpr.com.

Jacky Yung, meanwhile, believes more infrastructure could handle more residents, but doesn’t believe that’s in the cards.

“If Manhasset has the budget to improve infrastructure (extra roads, more schools with good teachers and extra Long Island Rail Road trains), this project can be a possibility,” Yung said, adding without that, he worries about the impact.

New Rent Rules Sound Sweet for Tenants, While Landlords Sing Blues

New York State’s rules affecting rents have been rewritten, providing more protections for renters — and possibly throwing up more roadblocks for landlords and developers.

The rules primarily impact rent control in New York City and rent-stabilized communities across the state, including a dozen communities in Nassau County, but often impact rentals statewide. Renters are more enthusiastic about the changes than landlords.

 “If you’re on the tenant side, a lot of these rules may be, in your opinion, fairer,” says Mitch Pally, CEO of the Islandia-based Long Island Builders Institute. “If you’re on the landlord’s side, a lot of these rules may seem too advantageous for the tenant and not ensure the landlord will get paid.”

Rosemary Rivera, co-executive director of Citizen Action of New York, calls the rules a “giant first step toward protecting tenants and affirming that housing is a human right.”

Adriene Holder, attorney in charge of civil practice at The Legal Aid Society, says the deal will “advance historic housing reforms across the state.”

“Tenant advocacy groups and the leaders in the Democrat-controlled State Senate and Assembly see the new law as a victory,” Matthew Doty, a principal at Berdon, writes. “However, real estate trade organizations are already sounding the alarm that this could hurt the dwindling stock and quality of affordable housing units.”

Long Island has what many view as a rental shortage. More than a third of Nassau and Suffolk communities have under 10 percent rental homes, according to Long Island’s Rental Housing Crisis, a 2013 study done for the Long Island Community Foundation, the Regional Plan Association and Ford Foundation.

Rent control in New York City applies to certain types of apartments there, allowing landlords to raise the rent by a certain amount and giving tenants the right to remain there.

Rent stabilization laws for apartments built before 1974 also apply to portions of Westchester and Nassau, such as the villages of Mineola, Hempstead and Great Neck. These areas enacted laws allowing them to implement stabilization regulations as long as their community has less than a 5 percent vacancy rate.

“Many of the loopholes that were allowed have now been closed,” Pally says of basic rental regulations. “You used to be able to increase the rent based on capital improvements to apartments.”

The new law limits rent increases from 6 percent to 2 percent in New York City based on capital improvements and from 15 percent to 2 percent in other counties.

 “It may cause a developer or owner not to make the capital improvements necessary, because they can’t automatically recoup the expenses by raising the rent,” Pally says.

While the new rules don’t target affordable housing, Pally says they could negatively impact these projects on Long Island.

“With the new rules, affordable housing builders may have more difficulty getting financing for their projects,” Pally says. “The bank or whoever’s financing wants to make sure they recover their financing. The more rules and restrictions, the more difficult it is to get your money back — and get money in the first place.”

Landlords can only charge one month security deposit under the new rules, which might make them more reluctant to rent to tenants with bad credit.

“If you had someone with credit problems, you made them pay a higher security deposit in the past, to ensure the landlord would get paid for the rent,” Pally says. “Now you can’t do that anymore.”

The Real Estate Board of New York has indicated it plans to file suit against the state related to new regulations, and other suits may follow.

“They have a lot of projects already in the ground,” Pally says. “Those will move forward. The problem is whether they have difficulty getting financing for new projects. We won’t know that until they start to develop new projects.”

Hunting Unicorns: Eyeing Long Island’s Next Billion-Dollar Startup

Softheon launched in 2000 with a pretty good business model, helping process payments over the Web for giants such as Sony, Gillette, JC Penney, J.P. Morgan Chase, and AOL. But it soon saw a possible billion-dollar opportunity in health care.

Softheon and Perot Systems won a contract for “RomneyCare” in Massachusetts, helping design and operate the first health insurance exchange that became the model for the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). Stony Brook-based Softheon CEO Eugene Sayan says his company today is the largest ACA administration and payment processing source in the nation, serving nearly 40 percent of consumers who receive health insurance on federal and state-based exchanges. The company has processed more than $10 billion in payments since the ACA launched and currently serves more than 20 million people.

“It’s had incredible organic growth,” says Joseph Campolo, managing partner at Ronkonkoma-based law firm of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP, and Softheon’s counsel. “It’s not far-fetched to believe they will be a unicorn in the future.”

If you think unicorns are mythic creatures, you probably haven’t been following finance. A unicorn company is a private startup with a valuation of more than $1 billion.

“It refers to emerging companies with billion-dollar valuations,” says Alon Kapen, partner in Farrell Fritz’s corporate practice group and head of its emerging companies and venture capital practice group. “Lots of companies are valued at multiples of a billion dollars that have been around for many years.”

It’s not easy to identify companies with such a high valuation, because private companies rarely publicize financials.

Most officially become unicorns only after much smaller funding rounds at a ratio valuing them at $1 billion. 

“Once the deal closes, they typically provide data on their rounds,” Kapen says.

Lyft, Uber, WeWork Labs and Airbnb reached valuations of more than $1 billion long before they became a glimmer in Wall Street’s eye. Softheon hasn’t rushed to raise money lately, as it grows organically.

“There’s no inventory, no cost of goods,” Campolo says of firms like Softheon with the potential to break the billion-dollar barrier. “I think the way health care is going, it’s probably the number one field to produce new unicorns.”

Softheon’s rapid growth came as the company reinvented itself, tapping into health insurance marketplaces serving government employers, and payment processing.

Venture capital funds, Kapen says, have “raised enormous amounts of money to invest in late-stage companies and late-stage rounds of funding.”

Companies in the past often went public earlier, due to Securities and Exchange Commission rules requiring that they report to the SEC after they have 500 or more shareholders.

That increased to 2,000, allowing them to grow on the vine before being plucked by public markets.

“Most are in Silicon Valley. A bunch are in Manhattan and Boston,” Kapen says of unicorns. “Crowdfunding has attempted to address the geographical disparity between Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston, and everywhere else.”

Listings of unicorns these days show hundreds, with many in the United States, as well as a large herd in China.

“I have never seen so much money out there and such high valuations on companies,” Campolo says. “My expectation is we’re going to see more unicorns in the future, making them less rare.”

Meanwhile, Softheon recently signed a three-year agreement with AARP to design and manage an Internet-based health and wellness platform to serve 38 million AARP members.

As Campolo sees it, the value threshold for this mythic monetary beast may rise. Investors already can hunt “decacorns” valued at $10 billion and “hectocorns” valued at $100 billion.

“Five years from now, a billion-dollar evaluation won’t be a unicorn anymore,” Campolo says. “I think it’ll be five billion at that point. That’s how fast things are going right now.”