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Astoria man spends retirement showing off beloved city

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Astoria’s Al Riggi gives visitors to the United States a sense of what it means to be a New Yorker as well as a good workout in the process.

Riggi, 82, moved to Astoria from Manhattan with his parents at age 14 and currently occupies a home next door to his granddaughter on 35th Street.

His retirement as an electronics salesman at Manhattan’s Bloomingdale’s in 1991 did not prevent him from staying active. For the past 17 years, he has taught English to new immigrants and since 2006 has volunteered for Big Apple Greeter, taking visitors to the city to landmark sites in Manhattan throughout the course of a six-hour walk.

“It’s a visit, not a tour,” he said of his work with the non-profit Big Apple, which shows tourists around the city. “I really like meeting the people. They are so appreciative because they love seeing New York with a New Yorker.”

Riggi takes visitors to Grand Central Terminal, Chinatown, Little Italy, Ground Zero at the former World Trade Center site, Times Square and Central Park as well as a variety of other locales. He said he has provided a glimpse of the city to people from 24 countries, including Denmark, South Africa, Switzerland, Belgium, Egypt, Germany and Singapore.

He got his start with the company upon a recommendation by a nephew from Maryland, who toured the city with Big Apple during a visit four years ago and suggested his grandfather contact the company for volunteer work.

“I went down to interview with them and they accepted me right away,” he said.

One of his unique experiences with Big Apple was helping a young British man hatch a plan to propose to his wife on the Brooklyn Bridge. She accepted.

Riggi, who has been a widower for nine years, has also enlisted his granddaughter, who lives next door to him and is a student at Manhattan’s The New School, to volunteer at Big Apple.

He had worked in the electronics department at Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan for 46 years and retired in 1991. One year later, he began teaching English to immigrants, most of whom hailed from Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

“I’ve met wonderful friends over the years,” he said of his work as a teacher.

Riggi spends 1 1/2 hours per week with each student, whom he often tutors for as long as two years. The volunteer work has helped him to make numerous friends during the past 17 years as well as paved the way for four trips to Taiwan and Japan apiece and one to Italy.

But the longtime Astoria resident said he believes there is just as much to see in his own neighborhood as there is in the city. The community has rapidly changed from a quiet residential neighborhood to a bustling spot for small business owners and restaurants, but Riggi is not complaining.

“People are so friendly,” he said. “All of my neighbors are my friends. When I retired, people asked me if I would move to Florida. I said, ‘Are you crazy? I live in Astoria.’”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:49 pm, October 10, 2011
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Reader feedback

anita persaud from Queens says:
Dear al i was so happy to see you & all ur doing
Feb. 9, 2014, 10:59 am

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