By Warren Strugatch
The gorilla suit is gone, but three small tents and a whole bunch of unique carnival games remain, including a giant polar bear hula hoop toss. It’s all up for sale.
Martin G. Greenstein, better known as Uncle Marty, explains:
“The gorilla suit we sold 11 years ago. We had maybe 800 costumes in all. The gorilla was my favorite. We hired helpers to wear the costumes and entertain, do a little magic, things like that. There were lots of interactive games that are still in our basement.”
Here’s the back story. In the 80s, Uncle Marty helmed a go-go business, Event Pros Group, that served clients all over New York and New Jersey. In peak season, Uncle Marty juggled several corporate events at a time plus any number of weddings and bar mitzvahs. He employed dozens of people. His personal style was a mix of easy optimism and unguarded fun; P.T. Barnum meets Walter Mitty.
Tastes change. Entertainers in gorilla suits and polar bear hula hoops fell out of style. Uncle Marty and his beloved wife Dianna, who handles business operations, eventually sold off the costume collection. As they approached their 40th anniversary in the business, the couple began planning their own retirement. They wrote a succession plan but a family dispute got in the way. With no one in line to inherit the business, the Greensteins packed up their inventory and brought everything home to Lake Ronkonkoma.
With big gatherings down because of Covid, Uncle Marty has free time on his hands. He has time now to hone plenty of magic tricks, a long-time hobby. He also wrote a book called “How to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge…, and Other Stuff,” self-published in 2015.
Mr. Greenstein never anticipated a career in events, having dropped out of high school to work. After a stint helping his father at his catering business in his 20s, he saved up and bought a taxi medallion. With his hardcore Brooklyn accent and extroverted manner, he became the quintessential Nu Yawk cab driver. A casting director in the passenger seat took note, leading to a series of small roles in TV commercials.
Remember the Aleve Santa Claus spot? One year, Santa was Marty.
After a few years driving a cab, Marty sold the medallion and used the money to open a coffee shop inside Baron’s Department Store in Smithtown. When Baron’s unexpectedly closed, the Greensteins took their pots and pans and started a catering business. With the embedded instincts of a Catskills tummler, Uncle Marty became a professional smile generator, hosting thousands of social and corporate gatherings across greater New York. He hired young helpers to do interactive games, some of which are now stored in his basement awaiting new owners.
Uncle Marty is 85 now. These days he pours his creative energy into wood sculpting, creating artworks he sells at outdoor shows. Many of his pieces are inspired by traditional Jewish themes. He’s still out there entertaining and doing events every chance he gets.
“Making people feel good, that’s what inspires me,” he says.
With a deck of playing cards in his pocket, and a resilient bounce in his step, Uncle Marty continues to meet his daily smile quota. As for the tents and the other stuff in the basement: “I’m gonna sell ’em. I’m still busy and I’ll stay busy. Just not with tents.”
Retirement? Not yet. Who has time for that?