DITMARS — A local photographer is looking to document her changing neighborhood with a new project that aims to spotlight the area's oldest buildings and storefronts.
Anthoula Lelekidis, 26, recently launched Ancient Astoria, a photo project which features images of longtime shops, homes and other landmarks in order to preserve them out of fear that they "soon won't be around, or are getting demolished or bought out," she said.
"I've seen from when I was little growing up through now, so much change," said the native Astorian, whose family emigrated from Greece before she was born.
That change has brought both the good and the bad, she said — while the area's rising popularity has meant rising property values for many residents, it also inevitably means that some people and business will be priced out.
"It's kind of bittersweet," she said.
Lelekidis was inspired to start the project about a year and a half ago after a longtime deli and market on Ditmars Boulevard and 36th Street, which she'd been going to for most of her life, closed unexpectedly (it's been replaced by coffee shop 60 Beans).
"A place I thought would never leave," she said of the deli.
That closure — as well as the shuttering of other longtime neighborhood staples, like Frankie's Pizza (now an Artichoke Pizza) — inspired her to start snapping shots of the neighborhood sites that have been around for years.
"Photography is a form where I can just document it before it's gone," she said, noting that while she studied photography, her subjects were usually away from home.
"I'd never put my viewfinder on my own neighborhood."
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Her Ancient Astoria Instagram account has more than a thousand followers, and includes photos of longtime businesses like Rizzo's Pizza on Steinway Street, Rose and Joe's Bakery or a tiny shoe repair shop on 31st Street.
She turns her attention to old-fashioned architectural details, vintage store signs and some of Astoria's oldest houses, including the big, looming homes in Old Astoria Village, the area south of Astoria Park near Hallets Peninsula.
The account also features historical photos of Astoria, many showing the neighborhood in the early to mid-20th century, sourced from different archives.
Lelekidis also asks that other residents contribute their own family photos that show the neighborhood in years past, which they can upload to a Facebook page she made.
"Just to show the history," she said. "Showing this isn't exactly how Astoria used to be."