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Veronica Arze, café owner at Duzer’s Local, with her son Nicholas Silvestro. Photo: Tom Stoelker.
Veronica Arze, café owner at Duzer’s Local, with her son Nicholas Silvestro. Photo: Tom Stoelker.

Born in Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital and raised in Flatbush and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Veronica Arze found herself on Staten Island’s South Shore 21 years ago “chasing schools” for her three children. Indeed, she initially settled on the borough’s South Shore with her ex-husband because of the schools. But the North Shore, where she now owns a café, always reminded her of home just across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The first-generation Bolivian started the business with her childhood best friend, Annette Bruno.

With Staten Island being the city’s only majority Republican borough, the South Shore stands apart as liberal and decidedly more diverse, though not Brooklyn-liberal. If a café has a point of view, this one is left of center with a dash of politically incorrect. One hears a CUNY student disparaging a professor’s film taste using the descriptor “retarded.” Shades of queer, nerdy, button-down, and retired were all represented on a recent Saturday. The café also serves as a venue for poetry readings and the spoken word. “I wanted it to be a space for everyone—that everyone would feel comfortable. It’s just a neutral space,” said Arze. “People here run the gamut from Trump supporters to non-Trump, and we can sit, we can have coffee. We can agree to disagree. Everyone is entitled to their views.”

Arze sees the borough through a parent’s lens, as a good place to raise kids. (She’s photographed here with her son Nicholas Silvestro.) She remembers her dad driving her from Flatbush to a Bensonhurst Catholic School every day until fifth grade. “I appreciate it now as an adult; I see what they did for me,” she said. “The schools in this area are lacking, and I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I wouldn’t be able to afford to send my children to a private school.”

Parents not unlike her own are stepping up locally. “There are groups of parents forming who want to improve the schools,” she said. “Kids need a foundation, they need structure, they need good food, and they need to know they’re safe. Nobody can learn in bad conditions.”

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> Tomkinsville, Staten Island: Veronica Arze, Café Owner at Duzer’s Local  ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

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