Bergen Beach senior Eugene Fellner is a big kid at heart.
The retired city worker, 64, has become a local celebrity for decking the cherry tree in front of his E. 70th Street home between Avenues N and T with more than 600 stuffed animals — plush yet hardy souls Fellner said survived Hurricane Sandy.
But his pastime has nothing to do with the season of goodwill, he claims.
“It’s not a Christmas thing,” said Fellner, who began his hobby humbly enough by festooning the towering timber with its first toy “fruit” — an abandoned stuffed tiger — back in 2007.
“It took me three years to get over 75 animals, now I’ve got 626!” said the proud collector, who calls his home the “E. 70th Street Zoo” and says fuzzy greatness was thrust upon him by neighbors and passers-by who donated most of the toys, and well wishers who stopped to admire the Tickle Me Elmo, Taz the Tasmanian Devil, Simba of Lion King fame, and the assortment of other toy mutts, tabbies, bears, and birds.
“People give me bags of them,” he added. “Sometimes I know where they come from, and sometimes I find a bag full of them on my front door.”
Fellner also has allies to keep the stuffed animals in the pink: local seamstresses have donated their time and trouble to mend the weather-worn playthings.
“Some of them need sewing, but there are some handy people on the block that can stitch them up,” he said.
His biggest problem is finding ways to reach the upper reaches of his 30-foot tree because the lower rungs are already too weighed down with toys.
“It’s getting harder now to find places to put them on without some kind of cherry picker,” said Fellner.
Fortunately, neighbors are always willing to pitch in, including a lumberjack who scampers up the tree to add a new novelty or two.
“He’s more used to climbing a tree with a chainsaw than a stuffed doll!” chuckled the grateful hobbyist.
The handsome hardwood has become so popular that it stops folks in their tracks.
“People stop, they get out of their cars, and everybody has these smartphones, taking pictures,” said Fellner, adding that he gives them his traditional pitch — hey, brother, can you spare a stuffed toy?
The enthusiast also guards his prized collection like a mother hen: he rushed out of his home recently to make sure some tree workers he saw weren’t making a beeline for his awesome arbor, only to find they were immortalizing it.
“They were all taking pictures of it!” he said.Reach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cn
©2012 Community News Group
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