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THE PUBLISHER

SUMMER

11

PG

By Danny Gold

Photography by Adam Krause

I

Starred Review George Falia prowls the streets in his Ford Taurus, looking for his assistant editor.~ It's 11:00 p.m. on a cool April night. We're in Red Hook and have just left one of the Thursday night jam sessions Falia hosts at the Union Street Star Theatre near Columbia Street. A hodgepodge of grizzled music vets and younger guitar techs had just started to rage at full volume-rock and blues riffs drowning out conversation amongst those gathered around bags of chips, bottles of whiskey, and free beers. The theater also serves as the office for the Red Hook Star-Revue, a thriving community newspaper Falia started two years ago as well as the headquarters of Select Mail, a direct mailing business he's run for two decades. As we drive , Falia smoke s what could be hi s ninth cigarette of the night He reflects on the benefits of running a small grassroots newspaper, admonishing larger publications for their lack of imagination when covering his turf. "Every­ one always does the same thing about Red Hook ," he says. "Everyone does the Red Hook fo od carts. Fuck the Red Hook food cart s l Th ere' s more to th is neighborhood than that l " Take Falia who in many ways embodies the spirit of thi s gritty slice of South Brookl}~1. While our borough feeds on the hopes of those who wi sh to build a band, a magazine , a business, or a performance space, most faiL But not Fiala . At 58, he ha s managed to do all four in the span of a few years. While other middl e-aged men might buy a sport s car or devote themselves to vanity projects, Fiala has charted a di ffer­ ent course, "I'm back to being a 25 yea r old, " he says . "Most people in my generation started off being hippies. And by like the 1980'S, ever}'­ one was worried about getting cars and liv­ ing in the suburb s, hav­ ing their kid s go to fancy schools. I' m like, where did they get this stuff? " Fiala's baby is his newspaper. Just shy of its sec­ ond bilthday, the Star-Reuue ha s quickly gener­ ated a dedicated following, drummed up a CtUsh of local advertising, and recently became a bi-monthly. "What's impressed me most is the passion George feels for ilie community, and how he works to make sure peopl e are engaged," says Corrununity Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman. There' s nothing particularly innovative about the StOl'- Reuue'scontent. It covers thefts, shootings,

"Everyone does the Red Hook food carts. Fuckthe

Red Hook food carts!

There's more to this neighborhood than that!"

I

and assaults. It reports on local politics and reviews al1 and restaurants in Red Hook. There are nostal­ gia and history col umns. But in an era where every month brings about another publication's demise, Fiala has managed to create a hyper-local rag that serves an area often overlooked and poorly under­ stood. Except, of course, for its food ca rts. [ first met up with Fiala a week earlier at hi s Un ion Stree t Star Theater, which used to serve as a puppet theater for dockworkers. Falia look s and acts the part of an old- school newsman. Wear­ ing slightly rumpled jeans and a collared s hirr , he bears a striking resemblance to a more hand­ some, thi nner version of the actor lvUchael Lerner. Hi s staff says he works tirele ssly and he' s quick to offer-and drink-a beer. Matt Graber, one of Fiala's news writers , told me about when he first showed up for ajob interview. "There's this 60 -year-old gray haired guy swatting flies while he 's interv iewing me. It put me completely at ease," he says. "He has a cel1ain un-pretention. He 'sjust , like, a cat from Queens. " Sitting in his office on the second floor of the StarTheater , Fi ala offers me a beer. Th en he plays me YouTube clips of some of the more impres­ sive moments from h is regular open micjam ses­ sions, proudly showing the skills of paltici pants. "Sometimes you sit here and it' s hotTible ," Fiala says. "Sometimes yo u sit here and it all comes together. It transcends the place." Music has always been Fiala 's his first love. A Queens native, he went to college in Pennsylvania where he hosted a radio show and frequented live concerts. He never had the chops to become a per­ fonner , but has picked up the drums and fonned a band with some oftl1e regulars from thejam session. The Star Theater space itself came together on a lark. Fiala started his direct mailing company in 1986. Before , he had worked in radio and on the business side of local city newspapers like The Vil­ lageI' and The phoenix. He decided to qu it the news­ paper indu str}' shortly after hi s daughter wa s born

so he could spend more time with her. His first office for Select Mail was in Boerum HilL It moved to Flatbush Avenue. Then to Court Sn'eet on the same block where Buttermilk Chan­ nel would eventually open, driving up rents and forcing him to look for a new place in 2010. After an afternoon drive , he found the ramshackle Star The­ ater and loved it. He moved in. He buiJ t the stage and started hosting neighborhood musicians. The jam sessions were loud, causing a neighbor on the sparsely residential block to complain. At that point, Fiala decided to try to rent out this neighbor' s place. Lacking the scratch, he nied to strike up a bargain with his landlord, Frank Galliano, in which they would jointly run a local newspaper. The Red Hook Star'-Reuue was born. "I didn't know Red Hook at all," says Fiala. "[ realized , this is a great area." For Fiala, a good local paper is a watchdog for those without a voice. He's also a firm believer in grass­ roots journalism. That means covering things that ~rtofan bigger papers ignore: com­ munity board meetings, issues in the neighbor­ hood 's public housing proj­ ects, labor disputes with local businesses. These kinds of stories matter to people like Graber, who covers them for the Star­ Reuue. "[ grew up on a block in Park Slope that was amaz­ ing, " he says . "The block was a community, and that' s gone. That is lost. I think a lot of people, whether iliey grew up here and miss it on a persona [level, or are new­ comers here and are conscious of th at fact that it used to exist, would like to see more of iliat kind of thing. Especially in Red Hook, where , because ofilie lack of transportation, it's this sort of isolated little village. You have a lot of people here tl1at are existing in iliat dynamic com­ munity, where people do know ea ch oilier, and are inforn1ed and empowered to palticipate in any way that they want to ." Fiala himself seems like the kind ofguy who fits tight in "vith the community life he champions. He's keen on a good time, and quick to invite strangers out to his theater. He, of course, provides free beer. "I'm in a ba nd , [ got a newspaper, and ilie mail­ ing business ," he says. "I'm doing everytl1ing I ever wanted to do, really. Almost everytl1ing."

Falialooks and acts the

old-school newsman.

Wearing slightly rumpledjeans and a collared shirt, he bears a striking resemblance toa more handsome, thinner version of the actor Michael Lerner,


Starred Review