Infamous Graham Avenue Antique Store Owner's Private Life Revealed in Film
WILLIAMSBURG — When they first found the barrel-chested, ebullient Graham Avenue mainstay Joseph Loiacono shirtless in suspenders and flashy jewelry in his antique shop, two young Williamsburg women knew they'd found a story.
But the filmmakers had no clue they'd end up harmonizing to "My Girl" with him, drinking on his roof, and becoming his closest friends — or that they'd be visiting him in jail.
Loiacono, 58, is currently on Rikers Island awaiting transfer to an upstate prison after being convicted in March of criminal contempt for violating a restraining order against his neighbors.
He is also the star of the documentary "U R Not Alone," which chronicles the outrageous character constantly belting out opera tunes, "making chicken salad and giving advice" to the filmmakers, and losing 40 pounds in jail.
"We realized he doesn't allow for formality, so we had to adapt to him, to follow him," said filmmaker Arielle Tayar, 24, of their start shooting in October 2011, when she was struck by his "knickknacks" and signs advertising lessons on "how to learn about sports so you can keep a husband."
Loiacono was charged with contempt last year of threatening his neighbors with a power saw, baseball bat and sexist slurs, after they had taken out a restraining order against him. He was also arrested for alleged sexual assault this fall but the charges were dropped, records show.
He has been in jail since his arrest in October 2012 and was sentenced to one to three years in prison after his conviction.
But while he was still on Graham Avenue, Tayar said Loiacono dreamt big of his future with the filmmakers.
"He'd say 'I'm going to buy you both dresses and take you to the opera, I'm going to leave my property to you and walk you down the aisle when you get married,'" said Tayar of Loiacono's treatment of the two filmmakers. "It was a relationship verging on the paternal, but then he’d hit on us — it was very all over the place."
And Loiacono's effervescent spirit, erratic behavior and unexpected arrest soon sent producers Tayar and Ashley Benzie into their own "crisis."
"We started wondering if there was something wrong with us that we saw this genuine goodness in him," Tayar said. "In October he was arrested for sexual assault...but the charges were dropped...But we've had some hate mail because people thought we were sympathizing with him."
Loiacono, who inspired the blog 373 Scam Avenue chronicling his arrests and neighbors' complaints, would sing out on the street, run customers out of his shop, and jam out shirtless with a bandana, as the women filmed him. And he would also freely speak his mind.
"If you want a woman to be your woman you take care of the woman. It's as simple as that, because guess what? That’s what Alpha male does," he told them. "You have to make the woman your b****."
And Loiacono, who even belted out an operatic aria and then attempted to do a card trick when a DNAinfo.com reporter asked him about his harassment charges last year, insisted that law enforcement and the government were just as "crazy" as he.
"Who’s crazy? The guys that make the rules and then change the rules three years later, or me?" he challenged the filmmakers.
Even though the production duo was filming Loiacono's quirks — from the way he'd ask every female in his shop "Have you ever been serenaded to in Italian?" to his tendency of "blasting music" and calling himself the "Alpha male" — Tayar said the women quickly became closer to him than his own relatives.
"He was always begging us to get in touch with his family, but they want nothing to do with him... Nobody would bail him out of jail and nobody came to his court case except me and Ashley," said Tayar. "Now we're in a sticky situation...we're nervous he's going to knock on our door when he gets out and ask to be our roommate."
As unpredictable as the women's relationship with Loiacono may be, Tayar praised his sharp mind and bold personality.
"He's very clever and remembers dates and facts like crazy...He has insights about life and people that are incredible," said Tayar. "If there was something going on [in his shop] he'd get protective and take us to get ice cream at Uncle Luigi's."
And Tayar and Benzie, who are currently in post-production of "U R Not Alone," are still visiting Loiacono in jail, even though they can't shoot inside Rikers, she said.
"We've sent him socks and books...We've gone and visited him three or four times," said Tayar. "He's lost 40 pounds, he's completely dried up from all the life he had."