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New York Works
Audio Portraits of Vanishing Big Apple Occupations

Frank Sabatino, fisherman

Frank Sabatino, fisherman.
Photo: Sue Johnson/
Picture Projects

At 94 years old, Selma Koch runs one of New York's last old-style bra fitting shops. Walter Backerman still delivers seltzer along the same route worked by his father and grandfather. Frank Sabatino is one of two commercial fisherman left in Jamaica Bay.

They're all profiled in New York Works, a radio tribute to jobs that are slowly disappearing, and to people who keep alive a bygone way of life.

New York Works is a co-production of WNYC and Radio Diaries. The series will air every Wednesday on NPR's All Things Considered.

Stories in this series:

Listen March 6, 2002 -- Frank Sabatino, fisherman
Sabatino went on his first overnight fishing trip when he was 8 years old. Since then, Frank has spent nearly 40 years on lobster boats, clam boats and larger fishing vessels. Today, he operates his own 30-year-old wooden trawler, the Tammy Gale, with his son Mike. Frank Sabatino is one of the last fishermen left in Brooklyn.

Listen Feb. 27, 2002: Pasquale Spensieri, knife sharpener
Spensieri carries on his father's business, sharpening knives and scissors door to door. At the age of 70, he's one of the few grinders still taking his services to customers' homes.

Listen Feb. 20, 2002: Cali Rivera, cowbell maker
Rivera makes cowbells, timbales and other percussion instruments in his small shop in the Bronx. He is the last in New York to make the bells by hand in a modern age when most others are made by machine, and musicians come from around the world to buy his instruments.

Selma Koch, bra fitter

Selma Koch, bra fitter
Photo: Sue Johnson/Picture Projects

Listen Feb. 13, 2002: Charlie Zimmerman, water tower builder
Look up from nearly any street in Manhattan and you'll see the rooftop wooden water tanks that Charlie Zimmerman has been installing for 23 years. Zimmerman works for Rosenwach Tanks, a century-old firm that is one of the last in New York to build the tanks.

Listen Feb. 6, 2002: Frank Schubert, lighthouse keeper
Frank Schubert became a lighthouse keeper in 1937. Today, at 85, Schubert works at the Coney Island lighthouse. He is the last civilian lighthouse keeper in the United States, in an era where nearly all other lighthouses are automated or remotely operated.

Listen Jan. 30, 2002: Selma Koch, bra fitter
Selma Koch, 94, runs the Town Shop, one of New York's last old-style bra fitting shop. The Town Shop is a fourth-generation family business that emphasizes personal service and custom fitting. Koch still works every day alongside her son and grandson. Their motto: "We know your size."

Seltzer man

Walter Backerman, seltzer man
Photo: Sue Johnson/Picture Projects

Listen Jan. 23, 2002: Walter Backerman, seltzer man
Back in 1919, Walter Backerman's grandfather delivered seltzer by horse and wagon on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Today, Backerman continues to deliver seltzer. Some customers, like Mildred Blitz, have been on the family route for more than 50 years. When Backerman's grandfather drove his cart, there were thousands of seltzer men in the city -- but today, Walter is one of the last.

New York Works is a co-production of Radio Diaries and WNYC's The Next Big Thing. The series is produced by Joe Richman and Emily Botein with help from Ben Shapiro and Deborah George.

Other Resources:

New York Works is produced by Radio Diaries and WNYC.

Picture Projects created an award-winning Web site called 360degrees in conjunction with the series Prison Diaries.