Southern Brooklyn

Cymbrowitz Says Brighton Merchants Want BID Executive Director Investigated, But She Claims It’s Politically-Motivated

Vendors in Brighton Beach have brought complaints from area merchants.

A press release issued this morning by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz claims Brighton Beach business owners are demanding an investigation of the executive director of the neighborhood’s business improvement district (BID), but the director said the attacks are because she remains friends with the assemblyman’s opponent in tomorrow’s primary.

According to the release, three area business owners and a real estate broker met with the commissioner of New York City’s Small Business Services, which oversees BIDs across the city, and told him that Brighton BID Executive Director Yelena Makhnin has allowed the organization to become stagnant, and demanded an investigation of her activities. The meeting was organized by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz.

Cymbrowitz’s office said that the businesses say Makhnin repeatedly rejected proposals to improve the district, including rejoining the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, increasing garbage pickups and the number of receptacles, removing illegal vendors from storefronts and producing brochures and other materials about Brighton Beach.

“Store owners on Brighton Beach Avenue look at similar shopping areas in other neighborhoods, see joint efforts being undertaken to attract shoppers and diners, and ask, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we do these things?’” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said in the release. “The merchants complain the avenue has stagnated with no new district-wide marketing initiatives in more than five years.”

Business leaders at the meeting included Natalia Orlova, owner of St. Petersburg Book Store, Tatiana Varzar, owner of Tatiana Restaurant, real estate broker Felix Filler, and Alex Fraiman, owner of Glavs Travel Agency.

The release also noted, “Merchants believe Makhnin may be working on political campaigns on city time and want [Small Business Services Commissioner  Robert] Walsh and the inspector general to investigate.”

However, Makhnin said she’s been doing her job well, and that attacks are politically motivated due to her longtime friendship with Cymbrowitz’s opponent in tomorrow’s Democratic primary, Ben Akselrod.

“It’s only political,” Makhnin told Sheepshead Bites. “He’s using the commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services as the ax against Yelena Makhnin.”

Makhnin said she has not helped the Akselrod campaign, though Sheepshead Bites noted she was present at his campaign announcement. She also said that when Akselrod revealed his intentions, she met with Cymbrowitz and assured him that, although she and Akselrod are friends, she would not participate in either’s campaign.

Of the three merchants and one real estate broker at the meeting with SBS Commissioner Walsh, only two are actually members of the BID, Makhnin told Sheepshead Bites. She added that there are more than 300 business on Brighton Beach Avenue, and in the more than a decade she has served as executive director, she hasn’t received any complaints of this nature.

None of the business owners at the meeting were available to speak with Sheepshead Bites by telephone. Other businesses in the BID were contacted for this story, but they, too, were not available.

Councilman Michael Nelson’s chief of staff noted that their office has never received any complaints about the BID from constituents and business owners in Brighton Beach.

“On the contrary, they praise her,” said Nelson’s chief of staff Deborah Miller-Weiss. “I attend every BID meeting and we’re in touch with many of the merchants on a regular basis and there have never been any complaints about the BID.”

It should be noted that Nelson endorsed Akselrod against Cymbrowitz.

Cymbrowitz told Sheepshead Bites that there is no political implications of this morning’s press release, and that it was the merchants requesting the investigation and not him. However, he said he did feel the BID could be doing more.

“I think the Brighton Beach Avenue area is a very difficult one. There have been many stores that have gone out of business and I think eveyrone is concerned about that,” he told Sheepshead Bites. “The fact that stores are closing is certainly not the BID’s fault, but I think that the BID can do more than just holiday lights and cleaning of the street.”

The assemblyman added that he hopes the BID and these business owners can work together to resolve these issues.

Makhnin, however, she said she’s been doing her part all along. She said that the claims are spurious and the BID is already involved on those fronts.

On garbage, she noted that there is a can on every corner, and Brighton Beach Avenue remains one of the few commercial corridors with daily pickups.

“If you call the Sanitation garage’s superintendent, he’ll tell you that he’s sick and tired of my Russian accent,” she said.

She added that the BID has a private company that employs street sweepers and garbage collectors to keep the avenue tidy seven hours a day, every day.

She also said she works closely with the police department to keep illegal vendors out of the neighborhood, and, in the past, her insistence spurred on a Sheepshead Bites article about the effort (which noted that city regulations on vendors are poorly enforced in the area).

Makhnin added that she hopes to work closely with the new head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, after her attempts to work with the previous director fell through when they showed a lack of interest in the neighborhood’s businesses and the organization’s proposals.

Finally, she noted that the group does publish promotional materials for its members’ businesses, including a handheld directory of all BID members published every 18 months. The next one is due out before May 2013.

“You can check every newspaper, every TV show, every radio program. You’d never find my name and you’d never find my vote,” she said. “I’m a United States citizen and I have the right to vote for who I want. But this assemblymember is now trying to take my bread and butter.”

Sheepshead Bites contacted Commissioner Walsh for comment and is awaiting a reply.

UPDATE (2:49 p.m.): Small Business Services Press Secretay Merideth Weber just returned our call and gave the following statement:

[The commissioner] went out to Brighton Beach to hear concerns of some of the local business owners and what could be done to address whatever concerns there were. It wasn’t an investigation and we’re actually surprised the meeting would be branded in that way.

There’s always room for everyone to improve and do better. The commissioner has already followed up with Yelena and discussed some ideas on how to make the BID better … The commissioner is also asking for local businesses owners to make additional suggestions for improvements.

Comment policy


  1. I know Yelena for many years. She is always there to help Brighton Beach business owners. This is clearly politically motivated announcement by Cymbrowitz as can be seen from its timing.

  2. St. Petersburg book store sells anti-semetic books. Very intersting how cymbrowitz is now best friends with Natalia Orlova, the owner of St Petersburg book store that has a wide selection of hate and anti-semetic books and more.

  3. I have been a business owner on Brighton Beach Avenue going on 13 years, and a BID board member for 5. I have unfortunately never been contacted by anybody from the Sheepshead Bite staff or I would have stated that Yelena Makhnin, the Brighton BID Executive Director, has always handled any of my complaints appropriately be it amazing results or by keeping me informed. This includes working with police to contain illegal street vendors, actively voicing the concerns of Brighton Beach business owners on local medias like the newspaper or the radio,

  4. and working with sanitation to make Brighton cleaner. Yelena Makhnin can ‘easily’ be reached by any business owner by contacting her office or her mobile phone directly (which can be often as she’s usually ON Brighton Beach!) and obviously via email. I’m not sure what her hours are but I have never had any trouble reaching her any time of the day or any day of the week. I’d like to see a “single” point against her or for anybody else before this business owner can say otherwise.

  5. Another off topic question:  What happened to Randazzos next to the train station?  the store has been shut for some time now and the sign has been ripped?  Is it finished?

  6. Way off topic… but… No, it’s not closed for good. There was an electrical problem and there have been delays in the repairs. I think the storm tore the sign, but it’s unrelated. They will reopen soon, and I’ve already advised them to put up a sign that the closure is temporary.

  7. Another reason to vote AGAINST Cymbrowitz. 

    Clearly politically motivated. Elections are tomorrow? When is Cybrowitz debating Akselrod? This is more proof that Cybrowitz is a Professional Politician. 
    He must have been searching hard to find 3 (1%) business owners out of 300 to be part of this story. What about the other 297 (99%) business that are happy? 

  8. I went to this meeting organized by the BID with the mayor and his commissioners at National. Yelena was the moderator, picking who would ask the mayor and his commissioners a question. Everyone was clearly pre-selected, since the questions were so mundane and ridiculous. She clearly ignored those who were not on her pre-approved list. What a Potemkin village from this rude, obnoxious, pushy woman. Even by the standards of South Brooklyn, where people are agressive and nasty- she really stands out. Amazingly, how Russians adopted so well with many Americans here, since every normal person had left South Brookllyn a long time ago, moving to Long Island. For the record, I live in Park Slope, but work in Brighton. The leftovers ( the locals) and the newly arrived immigrants ( Russians, Pakistanis) are miserable human beings, always cursing, spitting. Uncivilized and lacking manners. I guess she represents them well.

  9. Never said that I am for Akselrod. 

    Want to hear them debate, so I can make a better decision. 
    But, from what I see, Cybrowitz is bad news for another 4 years. Can you we discuss your connection to the Cybrowitz campaign. Do you not see a politically motivated move?Anderson? 

  10. My name is Yelena Makhnin and even though I have been interviewed by SB, I would like to add some other thoughts of mine. I came to Brighton Beach BID office on July 2002, ten years ago, Until last March I have never heard from an Assemblyman office. I was never asked what is going on on Brighton and if we need any help. I do agree with anyone who say that there is always a room for improvement and I am trying to do the best I can.
    I am an immigrant from Ukraine. I came to America 20 years ago. I have been working and studying and working again. And if I have to start everything all over again, I will do the same, I will take this not easy journey of an immigrant. I choose to be an American, and I choose to have rights to vote who I want for. I appreciate everyone who commented on the story. And everyone understands that such press release is nothing but politicali motivated act. The meeting, an Assemblyman is reffering to, took place three weeks ago and nothing was said that time. Honestly, if such story is being used to get more votes, I believe I am getting too much credits from the current Assemblyman.
    Before I say “good night” to the readers, I would like to mention that the only one from people at this meeting belongs to Brighton Beach BID. And the whole press release is nothing but false accusation. I wish everyone Happy and Healthy Holidays (if observing) and hope that Brighton Beach will remain an attraction to many visitors.

  11. Nothing unusual. Politicians love everyone during election. Even ati-Semites. Also she is a businesses owner, i just checked, she gave a good donation. What a team: Assemblyman who has done nothing, business owner that sells hate books, restaurant owner that does not even belong to BID and realtor who is a full-time porter in a Funeral Home.

  12. I have no connection ot either campaign. I cannot even vote today if I wanted to since I am not a registered Democrat. I will say that a few years ago, I had some concerns about the Brighton Beach area since I too live in south Brooklyn and walk along the avenue many times on my way home from the Subway. I had specific concernes about graffiti and litter. I contacted Yelena. She imediately called me back and arranged a meeting. At that time it was necessary to obtain signatures from property owners before the NYC EDC would come down and remove graffiti. Yelena personally took it upon herself to go to all of the merchants from Corbin Plance to Ocean Parkway collecting signatures. We then submitted them and within a few weeks the entire strip was cleaned of all of the graffiti. She even came out @ 5:00 AM to observe the process. After that she personally has continued to maintain the area as graffiti-free as possible. Brighton Beach Avenue looks much better thanks to her efforts and the efforts of others. She is a hardworking person that truly cares about the community and is always there when called upon. I am not of Russian herritage, I am a third generation Brooklynite.

  13. I don’t believe the article suggested that you cannot vote for who you want as an American citizen. As I understand it, being the president of the BID would not preclude you from working on a political campaign on your own personal time.

  14. Yelena makhnin is a thief and accepts bribes from store owners as well as political candidates. She is an evil person and I am surprised that it has taken this long for people in the neighborhood to find out. Most likely this is due to fear, because she is the sort if woman that will go out of her way to destroy you. She is the devil in disguise. There is nothing wholesome or charitable aboutbher. She utilizes her position at the BID as a vehicle for extortion.

  15. If you could start all over would you take bribes from all the small business owners? Would you be evil when trying to close people down because they refuse to be part of your scheming ways?

    Did you come to the USA with the intentions of screwing this government along with all the residents within your control?

    You take bribes my dear and very big ones… Yelena makhnin has taken upwards of $5,000.00 for various “favors”…you are not as simple as you claim!!!

    Also, I do not appreciate the removal of certain posts regarding makhnin because the same scutiny does not apply to all the other public figures onyour blog! Please be fair!!! This is the USA afterall…

  16. You must feel power talking nonsense. Yelena is a blessing to the community. You comment proves that you don’t know her. Or, you are working for Cybrowitz or the three musketeers in the article. 

  17. Why didn’t the article mention that the real estate broker Felix Filler is a porter at a funeral home?

    What real estate does he work for?

  18. I feel free because the truth sets you free!!!the truth us that Yelena Makhnin needs a broom becuase she is a witch!!!

  19. As I mentioned before, Yelena Makhnin useds the BID as a vehicle for extortion. By the way, Ben Axelrod is an imbecile!

  20. You guys discuss the the marriage cymbrowitz is in…discuss the extra marital relations makhnin is in…all of Brighton Beach Avenue has been in between her sheets. Thats probably when she is the most ethical and honest…

  21. I am quite shocked by the article. where there is a negative light towards Elena Makhin, an executive director of Brighton Beach BID. I am a small business owner on Brighton Beach Avenue and know Elena for the last 10 years. I am also a board member of the BID. Elena has been fighting for business owners and has been doing a lot of positive changes toward the businesses and the neighborhood. She is always available if there any problems concerns even on her days off. Regarding a group of “frustrated business owners” claims that Elena is not doing enough is completely not accurate. They just want Elena to resign and take her place. These business owners in the photo shoot are doing it for publicity, they don’t have any real experience working with city agencies, unlike Elena, and can’t even speak English properly. Shame on them!!!  

  22. Total political bs from Simbrowitz.
    Tatiana’s restaurant located not in Brighton Beach and has nothing to do with Brighton Beach BID.
    Plain simple Tatiana provides some services for Simbrovitz and everybody know this. And with his help try to replace Makhnin with her daughter.
    Felix Filler work in Nesvky funeral – what his problem with Brighton BID.
    I only want to remind all of them about boomerang.

  23. Talking about screwing government?
    Why don’t you ask Felix Filler what his live-in girlfriend does? She is a full-time employee of a funeral home and works as a home attendant but in reality she doesn’t work, just shares her paycheck with the patient? Do you want to continue?

  24. If the authorities investigate, they will see that she is working at two places at the same time. Felix Filler may be visiting jail soon with his girlfriend. 

  25. wrong. This comment proves that this low class idiot knows me and  works for the “evil team”. If you are the Hones one, why don’t you put your real name. Just remember, what goes around, comes around. and it will happened very soon.

  26. Hope that G-D or the “higher source” forgives you for being dumb. The more you get to know Yelena, the more you will appreciate her. Hope that we have more people like Yelena. 

  27. Are you getting paid to spread these stupid comments? Guess, Cybrowitz and the three musketeers of evil are working hard to post nonsense comments here

  28. why would you wait for the assembly person to come to YOU? as trhe Head of the BID shouldn’t you have gone to the assemblyman with ideas, plans and proposals?

  29. as another 3rd generation south bklyn babe I also wonder why brighton is NOT a florishing business district.   so much opportunity seems to be wasted that one has to wonder what the BID is actually doing.  Yelena wrote a comment here saying the ‘assemblyman never came to me”  but shouldn’t SHE have gone to the assembly person with ideas, plans and proposals?    Yelena may be a very nice person doing the best she can BUT maybe someone else, with more saavy working with gov to improve business, is what is needed in brighton.

  30. how is Tatiana not in brighton?   it is on the boardwalk IN Brighton…for heaven sakes.  Tatiana is one of THE most known new eateries IN Brighton and it attracts people to brighton from other areas of NYC.  

  31. Ned, are you sure about this?  I looked inside the store today and it looks abandoned.  All the furniture and equipment has been taken out and whatever is left looks like a mass. Why would then need to take out chairs and tables to fix an electric problem?  Even the link from their banners on this site goes nowhere.  I think they are done, but who knows.

  32. One more time, nobody says that Tatiana is not on Brighton. What was said that her business do not belong to Brighton Beach BID.

  33. As a long time Brighton Beach board member  and I can not agree with the claims made against Yelena and the bid by two bussiness  and assemblymen cymbrowitz who never attended a bid meeting . Meetings are always opened to the 300 + merchants and  all ideas and suggestions are  welcome and  voted on by the Board Of Directors  not Yelena. Yelena  also works close with the sanitation dept trying to get extra pick ups  .The board has a  monthly contract for grafitti removel,  and  supplemental saitation, there are Brighton Beach shopping guides always being  updated  and published and distributed  and they can be picked up in most stores or in front of the bid office .Yelena   helps  merchants deal withl problems with doing business in the city. 
    As far as business going out of business this happens all over and stores never stay empty long .Brighton Beach has one of the lowest vacantcies rates and highest dollar per square foot  rentals it ever had

  34. The BID of Brightong Beach are bussinesses on Brighton Beach ave. They pay a little extra tax that pays for the holiday lights and private trash pick up and more. Tatyana resturant does not pay the extra fee to the BID. Tatyana wants her daughter to have Yelena’s job. Tatyana is the one that set fire to her own bussiness in-order not to pay for renovation. Tatyana is the one that stores garbage under the Brighton Beach board walk on Brighton 6th street to smell and attract rats. Tatyana is kissing Cybrowitz ass for political favors.


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