For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with LES resident Coss Marte, who started the ConBody fitness program after serving five years in prison for drug dealing.
How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?
I’ve lived here for 30 years and grew up mainly on Rivington Street, but also on Broome, Spring and Eldridge Street. I pretty much haven’t left a five-block radius.
Why did you move here or (if you were born here) why did you stay?
I was born here and stayed because I love the community. I love the fact that it’s so convenient and I don’t have to travel far to get to my favorite spots in the city.
What do you do?
I’m the CEO and founder of the fitness studio ConBody, which I came up with after serving a prison sentence. In my 9-foot-by-6-foot prison cell I developed a unique and effective exercise program without the need for any equipment. The program utilizes military boot camp techniques, along with some additional secrets that I developed inside. Committing myself to this program, I was able to lose 70 pounds in just six months. Now I give others second chances by hiring formerly incarcerated individuals to teach our prison-style boot camp classes.
We’re actually moving to a new storefront location in the LES and raising money through Kickstarter [Conbody successfully reached their goal on Oct. 4th] to build a community space that will not only educate/train people in health, but help formerly incarcerated individuals adapt back into society by teaching them the technical skills they need to become employed.
Tell us about your apartment – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Well my apartment, a.k.a. my shoe box, is the perfect oasis to rest in. The only thing I dislike about it is the price. Rent has gotten ridiculous around the neighborhood if you don’t have rent control.
What’s your favorite spot on the L.E.S?
I would have to say my favorite spot is Cup & Saucer. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and that delicious Greek diner has the same taste I remember as a kid.
Favorite cheap eats?
Don Juan’s bodega at 110 Forsyth St. (at Broome Street). The steak sandwiches are five bucks and always do the job.
Favorite place for a special night?
I’m not really much of a splurger anymore but I like Forgtmenot on Division Street (between Orchard and Ludlow). The service is always hospitable and the Greek dishes are amazing. I also love it when there’s a soccer game on, it gets pretty crazy!
How have you seen the neighborhood change?
The changes are good in a way. Back in the ’80s and ’90s it was a bit dangerous, but there was way more of a community. I remember being five years old and going grocery shopping for my family on my own. Now it’s way safer, but less of a community. All you see is five-year-old cute puppies running around and beautiful galleries.
What do you miss from the old L.E.S?
I miss so many things about the old L.E.S! Playing basketball in the 7-foot rim before the soccer field took over the Sara D. Roosevelt Park, hearing people screaming and hustling me down Orchard Street to buy leather jackets. Most of all I miss opening up the fire hydrants on Forsyth Street to drench ourselves with water and make money off cleaning cars as kids. I prefer the old LES, when things were a bit more reckless and a lot more fun.
Is there a new arrival you love?
There are a lot of new places that are awesome, but the place that I currently love is Mikey Likes It Ice Cream (on Ave. A, between 12th/13th St.) They have throwback ice cream themes like “Foxy Brown” (chocolate ice cream), Nutty Professor or Vanilla Ice—my favorite: vanilla ice cream!
What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?
I can’t complain since I want to live here for the rest of my life.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the L.E.S?
I would have to say the strangest thing I’ve ever seen was when my friends and I rented a horse and carriage from Central Park to ride to McDonald’s on Delancey Street about ten years ago. It was not that strange, but people looked at us like we were.
Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met and why?
I would say it has to be Adam Purple, who died a couple weeks ago at the head of the Williamsburg Bridge. I remember watching him riding his bike with his long white Santa Claus beard. He would wave at us as kids and paint the streets with green footsteps that we would follow till we got tired.