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Sweet Shops and Bakeries To Boost Your Mood

Written by: Sarah Beling.

Try an instant pick-me-up or special-occasion treat from the city’s most beloved and long-standing bakeries and candy shops like Lee Lee's Baked Goods, Veniero's Pasticceria, Myzel’s Chocolate and Sullivan Street Bakery.

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Lee Lee's Rugelach 1 Bakeries Harlem Morningside Heights

Lee Lee's Rugelach

After I had been sitting for a while by the window in the front room drowned in red floral prints and warm smells, Amanda, the young lady serving customers behind the counter, led me through the red door into the kitchen. Lee, his son, and another employee stood together, working to finish another tray of Rugelach. There was an unglazed chocolate cake beckoning like a temptress from a table nearby, the scent of apricot and dough about to be baked filled the air, while the whirring of the freezers echoed in the background. "This is where the magic happens," Amanda declared. Well, after tasting several of Lee Lee's famous Rugelach – a Jewish flaky pastry dough rolled and filled with a variety of fillings including nuts, chocolate and jams - I can confidently state that there is magic involved. Alvin Lee Smalls came to New York from South Carolina when he was twenty years old in 1962 and found himself working in the kitchen, of New York Presbyterian Hospital, peeling onions. He remained there for many years, learning the ins and outs of the kitchen and cultivating a love for cooking that would carry him through much of his life. While speaking with Lee, I learned that it was on Christmas day in 1987 that he decided to bake Rugelach for the people at the hospital from a recipe he had found in the newspaper. Lee's take on Rugelach was met with wild approval from his co-workers, and his destiny has been tied to the pastry ever since. In 2016, Lee proudly told me that he makes about 700 Rugelach a day and even more for the Jewish holidays, when he works around the clock to supply his customers with his delicious desserts, all made by hand, all made with love. In addition to the Rugelach, the bakery offers incredible cakes, danish, and cookies.I sat with Lee for quite some time listening to his stories, while also observing the steady flow of customers that continued to march in and out of the screen door. Some were regulars who Lee greeted warmly, while another astounded me by saying that despite living in the neighborhood for years, she had never bothered to drop in. After sampling some of Lee's Rugelach, however, she announced, emphatically, that she would definitely be back. "People are just so surprised that this black man makes Jewish pastries!" Amanda told me. "I love sweet," Lee said and added a piece of advice to live by, "but if you're going to eat something sweet, eat the good stuff."

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Veniero's Pasticceria 1 Bakeries Cafes East Village

Veniero's Pasticceria

Founded by Antonio Veniero, who emigrated to New York as a teenager from a small town outside Sorrento on Italy’s Amalfi coast, Veniero’s has been an East Village mainstay since the turn of the twentieth century. Initially a confectionery shop, it later evolved into a cafe and then a full-fledged pastry shop, with culinary creations by some of Italy’s finest bakers. Along with his wife, Pasqulina, and their seven children, Antonio followed the Italian custom of keeping business in the family. Veniero’s passed through four generations until reaching its current owner, Antonio's great-nephew Robert Zerilli, who had worked at the cafe alongside his father, Frank, for decades before taking over. Beyond the business legacy he left behind, Antonio also birthed an extensive family tree. “The Venieros are every-where,” Robert quipped, adding that the legendary Bruce Springsteen is his second cousin. The business savvy of the extended Veniero family has helped keep the shop alive. Tales of Antonio’s relentless determination to succeed are still retold with pride by his relatives. He is also credited with bringing electricity to the neighborhood, home to mostly poor immigrants at the time, by rallying local support and collecting signatures to sway the reluctant energy company.In another bit of local lore, Antonio is said to have ushered in the entry of Italian espresso to the city, as he started roasting his own beans right in the shop’s backyard. Fittingly, Robert has Veniero’s to thank for meeting his wife, whose love for their iced cappuccinos made her a regular customer until he found the courage to ask her out on a date.

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Myzel's Chocolate 1 Chocolate Candy Sweets Midtown West

Myzel's Chocolate

The Manhattan Sideways team is always excited when they discover a shop that specializes in chocolate. On this particular day, we were also delighted to spend some time chatting with owner, Kamila Myzel. We learned that this heavenly little store has resided on 55th for over two decades, and has an old-fashioned candy shop charm to it. Kamila makes every effort to be sure that anyone who steps inside her door feels welcome, and she went on to say that she uses her grandma's recipes for the many different sweets she sells. She bakes all the cookies herself, right on the premises, with her signature being the "Ultimate Cookie," a chocolate chip cookie that is then dipped in chocolate.Like many of the store's confectionary delights, Kamila is from Europe; she moved from Poland in 1981, and worked in a few other shops with sweet treats before opening this one. Licorice is a specialty at Myzel's, and Kamila explained to us that she carries over 130 different types of licorice made from licorice root that their loyal customers adore. On one of my visits, Myzel's was decked out for Halloween, with candied skulls, pumpkins, and a number of other appropriate decorations squeezed into every nook and cranny. Apparently, Kamila decorates extensively for each major holiday, but she said her personal favorite is Thanksgiving, as it has the "most sincere meaning."Myzel's even makes chocolate turkeys for the occasion!Until recently, Kamila had a partner with whom she decorated, baked, and ran the store: her mother, Lucy.  The mother/daughter team worked together in the sweet shop until the summer of 2015, when Lucy sadly passed away. We had the pleasure of meeting Lucy and seeing the love and devotion that the two women had both for the store and each other. What we derived from our conversations with Kamila was the joy the store brought to her and her mom over the years. Together they have put so much thought and love into Myzel’s Chocolate, and it is clear that her mother lives on in the warmth, color, and happiness that the store evokes. “It’s what’s inside that matters,” Kamila insisted as she spoke about how much she loves connecting with people through sharing candies and sweet treats with them.

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Sullivan Street Bakery 1 Bakeries Midtown West Hells Kitchen

Sullivan Street Bakery

Named after the street where it was first located in SoHo, Sullivan Street Bakery was established in 1994 by former sculptor and bread aficionado, Jim Lahey. Meeting him one afternoon, while grabbing a bite of some of the freshly baked flat breads and sandwiches, was a double treat for members of the Manhattan Sideways team. It is always nice to learn the history and hear the passion of a shop directly from its owner.After spending eight months living in Italy and studying the art of bread making in the early 90's, Jim came back to the States with a talent for baking some of the best loaves around. Though he could only bake in his Williamsburg garage between shifts at other jobs, he continued to experiment with his own recipes and eventually started selling his product at street markets. Auspiciously, the first time he sold his bread was at a market on the corner of Houston and Sullivan Street, close to the site of his future brick-and-mortar.Jim moved Sullivan Street Bakery to the current location in Hell's Kitchen in 2000 and remains as involved in his business as ever – in fact, he lives right above the shop. He is famous for his revolutionary bread baking technique, often referred to as no-knead baking. In short, instead of pounding bread into a table, Jim lets the dough sit for fourteen to twenty hours, allowing it to ferment, and then puts it in a 450 degree oven for about an hour. The simple technique has encouraged many, including my own husband, to bake bread at home and rave about the results.In addition to Jim's bakery on 47th, he also opened Co. (short for Company) in 2009, where guests are invited to sit at communal tables to indulge in his variety of pizzas and other scrumptious items on the menu. Having written two books – My Bread (2009) and My Pizza (2012) – Jim has become a figurehead in the movement that is raising the standard for bakers everywhere, especially in Manhattan. It is his ultimate hope that the art of bread making will become as much of a cultural practice here as it is in Italy.


Sometimes all you need to turn the day around is a single pastry — and should you be lucky enough to try a treat from one of these Manhattan landmarks, we guarantee you’ll walk away happier. Start your baked goods marathon by stepping into the Old World-charm of Veniero's Pasticceria, where the family-owned traditional Italian bakery offers the best cannoli and rainbow cake in town, hand-down. Over at Sullivan Street Bakery, you’ll find more Italian-inspired treats (we recommend the bomboloni!) and a founder Jim Lahey’s signature fresh-baked, no-knead bread. Venture a few blocks north to Myzel’s Chocolate, a classic candy shop where owner Kamila Myzel creates confections from her grandmother’s treasured recipes, or head further uptown to Lee Lee’s Baked Goods, run by Alvin "Lee Lee Smalls" for over 50 years — they're known for their legendary rugelach as well as their danishes, cakes and cookies.

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La Maison du Chocolat 1 Chocolate Candy Sweets Midtown West Rockefeller Center

La Maison du Chocolat

La Maison du Chocolat is a sophisticated example of a delectable chocolate shop. Everything sold inside its doors is made in Paris, with the exception of the ice cream that includes ingredients from France but is prepared on site. The day that Manhattan Sideways stopped by, we met Brigitte who has been working here since 2010. A knowledgeable chocolate connoisseur, Brigitte shared La Maison's history. We learned that Robert Linxe, the founder was originally from the French Basque Country, but acquired much of his craft while attending school in Switzerland. He went on to run a successful catering service in Paris for twenty years before deciding to pursue his true passion. At the time, chocolate was considered something to be saved strictly for special occasions; as Brigitte told us, people thought Linxe's enthusiasm for a shop devoted to chocolate was "crazy." Nevertheless, Linxe was able to find an auspicious space in Paris with a wine cellar, which he used to make the delicacies and protect them from the damaging effects of the weather. In 1977, Linxe opened the doors and welcomed Paris to his specialty boutique. Within three weeks, all of the chocolate had been sold and Linxe was dubbed the master of ganache. And in 1996, over twenty years later, Nicolas Cloiseau, the highly acclaimed chocolatier and pastry chef joined the business continuing La Maison's coveted reputation.Brigitte stressed that the discussion of chocolate is akin to that of wine; expertise comes from reading on the subject, perhaps taking a course, and most importantly, much experience. Moreover, chocolate and wine may be enjoyed together when paired consciously. Chocolate always goes well with "a nice red wine," Brigitte said. Quickly turning to the particulars, she added that milk chocolate is best paired with white wine and dark chocolate with port. Brigitte continued to enlighten us, saying with detectable fervor, "Good dark chocolate should not be bitter." It takes approximately ten days to dry cocoa beans. Rushing this process, a common crime of many chocolate companies, results in this bitter taste.Brigitte made a point of showing us how to taste chocolate: smell it first and then let it melt in your mouth. After this incredible offering of chocolate wisdom, Brigitte presented us with a plate of small pieces of chocolate arranged deliberately in a circle. Beginning at forty percent, each successive piece around the circle had an increased concentration of pure chocolate. We continued to climb past eighty and concluded with a piece of one hundred percent pure chocolate. At this point, a natural thickness set in and the pieces lost all association with candy. Suddenly, each of us agreed, it felt as though we were appreciating chocolate, not as a beloved dessert or comforting treat, but as a wonder of the earth.

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Daily Provisions Cafe 1 Bars Bakeries Coffee Shops Gramercy

Daily Provisions Cafe

"Daily Provisions followed a long trajectory," Max Rockoff announced as we sat down to chat about the neighborhood hot spot, an offshoot of the newly opened Union Square Cafe. I met Max, the warm and enthusiastic general manager, in late August of 2017, a few months after the Union Square Hospitality Group debuted their latest restaurant venture."As Union Square Cafe's space grew, ours continued to get smaller and smaller," Max told me. "We weren't quite sure where we were headed, but the space dictated the concept," he continued. When Danny Meyer and his team found this location, a few blocks north of the original Union Square Cafe, they knew that they wished to utilize every inch of it in the most sensible way, but they were always thinking of the community surrounding them. "We had to make an unbelievable place in a tiny footprint," Max explained. They kept asking themselves, "What can we do with this jewel box on Park Avenue and 19th Street?" They were eager to give a "gift" to those who lived nearby.When the group sat down to discuss their ideas, foremost in their minds was, "What are the daily things people want?" They hoped to provide the best versions of what their customers know and love. Max said it had to start with fantastic coffee first thing in the morning, together with some smashing breakfast treats. This would then be followed by salads and interesting sandwiches on freshly baked bread. At the end of the day, the space could provide an outstanding roast chicken that could be picked up on the way home.The final innovation by the team was “cross-utilization.” Within the downstairs kitchen - accessible from both restaurants - there is a shared bakeshop facility. It is here that they make the incredible "house loaf" - a brown sour dough bread that is served in the restaurant and used to make many of the specialty sandwiches all day long at Daily Provisions."There is no redundancy here," Max asserted, "We can feed families all day long. Our breakfast is nothing crazy, it is just the best." In fact, the bacon, eggs and cheese sandwich is one of the most requested items at almost any hour. Therefore, they offer it until 4:00 p.m. every afternoon. "The people demand it, so we provide it. We listen to them." The roast beef sandwich is a classic lunchtime treat, "but it is our version." I also learned about a special sandwich that is not on the menu, but which is proving to be the real "go-to" - herbed ricotta and arugula served on their house-made English muffin. Then there is the Patty Melt - the meat is blended with grilled onions and served on housemade rye bread with melted cheese. Max shared that the team tried all kinds of cheese for their melt, and when they did a blind tasting, it was the classic American that won.The Daily Provisions team also wanted the small cafe to be a place where people could stop by and unwind, sip on some wine, work on their computer, or simply meet up with friends for relaxing conversation. Somehow, although not surprisingly, this talented and well-loved restaurant group has managed to accomplish it all. I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who came by for a glass of wine around 5:00 p.m. She worked upstairs in the building and told me that she makes a habit of coming to Daily Provisions at the end of her day. It was so nice to watch her settle in comfortably, acknowledging members of the staff, as well as other patrons sitting around the white marble counters. When I commented to Max on how extraordinary this was, he said, "She is a microcosm of what we've become."Max was genuinely pleased to tell me that many guests who initially visited when Daily Provisions first opened continue to gravitate back on a regular basis. "They're comfortable here." Gushing, Max said that the best time of day is when everyone gathers on weekend mornings. He loves how the neighborhood utilizes the shop, be it for a cup of good coffee or a full breakfast. It is a place for all ages that has become a routine stop for many. "Everyone uses it in their own way." He has found it fascinating to see how the area denizens have embraced them. "They have made us their own." It was also quite apparent to me how Max and his staff have effortlessly enveloped the community.

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Dough 1 Bakeries Doughnuts Flatiron

Dough

2010 was a big year for Fany Gerson. A native of Mexico City and a former pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park, she spent the spring and summer launching her business, La Newyorkina, which sells traditional Mexican ice pops and sweets. But as winter approached, business began to slow down, and a good friend of hers suggested that they open a doughnut shop together.Fany was skeptical at first—“Bed-Stuy didn’t seem like the obvious place for gourmet doughnuts”—but in spite of her reservations, she accepted the job. After long discussions with her business partner about textures and flavors, Fany set out to create the perfect old-fashioned doughnut, thick and hearty, but also light. “We wanted a doughnut that would taste good naked,” she told me “and we knew it was all about the dough, hence the name.” Finally, after endless tweaking and experimenting, Fany hit on the perfect recipe, and three weeks later, Dough opened its doors in Brooklyn.It was the beginning of a wonderful partnership. Throughout the fall and winter, Fany devoted most of her attention to Dough; as the weather grew warmer and doughnut sales declined, she had time to develop new flavors and recipes for La Newyorkina. But it has not always been easy to balance the two businesses, especially since Dough’s second location opened in the fall of 2014. “That first summer,” Fany recalled, “the hot weather unexpectedly affected the doughnuts, and I had to adjust my recipe last-minute and work on La Newyorkina at the same time.” She smiled, and added, “I don’t get a lot of sleep.”But in spite of the difficulties, it is obvious that Fany loves what she does. She gave me a fascinating tour of Dough’s kitchen, enthusiastically pointing out where the dough rises and how the doughnuts are fried, about one minute on each side. “Most places make their doughnuts in the morning,” Fany explained, “but we take it a step further. Our doughnuts are fresh and warm whenever you come in.” Once the doughnuts are fried, they are ready for the final touch—the glaze.I was eager to ask Fany about this stage of the process, since Dough is known for its exotic flavors—some of its best sellers include hibiscus, mocha almond, and dulce de leche. “Inspiration is everywhere,” Fany told me, “but a lot of my flavors come from my memories of Mexico.” She invented the hibiscus flavor, for example, on a hot day when she was craving the refreshing hibiscus water that she used to drink back at home. “We needed a colorful doughnut,” she told me, “but I didn’t want to use coloring. And it occurred to me that hibiscus has a beautiful natural color.”Some of Fany’s flavors have become so popular that customers complain if she takes them off the menu. “We have a few flavors that rotate, but not many,” she told me. “We have to give the people what they want, but we also try to keep it interesting.” Some of Dough’s best-selling staples include salted chocolate caramel, café au lait, and nutella, although Fany’s personal favorite is the cinnamon sugar. “I also like the tart flavors, like passion fruit and tropical chile,” she told me. “The glaze is a nice contrast to the richness of the doughnut.”I was surprised to learn that, in addition to producing hundreds or even thousands of doughnuts each day, Dough runs a wholesale operation at night, selling doughnuts to nearby coffee shops and supermarkets. To keep the business running smoothly both during the day and at night, Fany estimates that Dough employs thirty or forty employees total.Dough has been hugely successful, and Fany told me that they will soon be opening another location in Manhattan. “It’s hard,” she told me, “I’d like to see the business grow, but I’m hesitant to do franchises in other cities.” Instead, she prefers to keep Dough personal, developing new products and flavors and expanding on a smaller scale. “We’re trying new things every day,” she told me, “and we’re growing organically.”After the tour, Fany led me out to Dough’s front counter. “Would you like to try one?” she asked, and after a moment of deliberation, I chose the dulce de leche doughnut. The smooth caramel flavor of the glaze paired perfectly with the crunchy slivered almonds on top, but the best part, as I expected, was biting into the soft, airy dough, still warm from the oven.

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Schmackary's 1 Bakeries Chocolate Candy Sweets Coffee Shops Dessert Cookies Times Square Hells Kitchen

Schmackary's

Just off of Ninth Avenue is a small cookie shop called Schmackary's, and wow, what a crowd it continues to attract at almost any hour or day of the week. Stepping inside feels like being transported into a Norman Rockwell painting – familiarly and authentically American. The shop is neatly decorated with baby blue pinstripes and a wall of colored glass that separates the kitchen from the eating area. The vibe is calm, warm, and welcoming, just as owner Zachary Schmall intended it to be when he opened his first brick-and-mortar in 2012.Zach came to the city as an aspiring Broadway actor but began his career in marketing. In order to de-stress, Zach would come home to his apartment and bake cookies, often experimenting with different flavor combinations. His friends would try his creations and after a while, they began encouraging him to sell them. Zach took a risk, and eventually, what he had seen as a modest pipe dream became his livelihood.Hailing from the Midwest, when it came time to start his own business, Zach made sure that customers were his top priority. While I was chatting with him, he told me that his approach was first and foremost based on providing the customer with warm and personable service. On a daily basis, he makes certain that his staff is not "anonymous and apathetic, but rather people who others strolling in might want to have as friends." Since his success stems from word of mouth and social media, Zach has shown that prioritizing the customer pays off.Zach credits part of Schmackary's reputation as a "hidden gem in the heart of Broadway" to the store's location a couple of steps away from the main drag. He loves his 45th Street address, especially because of his strong connection to the theater community, and wants to keep that same side street feeling as he makes plans to expand. He further explained, "Being slightly removed from the avenue bustle gives Schmackary's a more intimate vibe, whereas a main street location would feel more exposed and less familial."Schmackary's, called "the unofficial cookie of Broadway," offers a rotating menu of 45 different flavors of cookies. On one visit, I bit into the moist, but crunchy around the edges, Caramel Apple Crisp and was hooked. A coffee-crazy friend of mine, who had tagged along with me that day, said their coffee was top-notch – yet another reason to come back to visit Schmackary's. On a subsequent visit with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, they sampled several other amazing cookies, including The Monster filled with peanut butter, M&Ms, and raisins.And on yet another day when we were stopping by to take photos, it happened to be when Broadway Bakes was taking place - the annual fundraiser that Schmackary's holds for Broadway Cares, the nation's top AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. During this week, some of the theater district's biggest stars volunteer their time to stand behind the counter and serve customers. When we showed up, the line was down the block. Little did we know that everyone was waiting to have their picture taken with Audra McDonald in exchange for a donation. A serendipitous moment as Zach brought us to the front of the line to meet her. Needless to say, everyone was quite pleased that I had taken them to this sweet oasis.

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Miss Madeleine 1 Bakeries French Yorkville Upper East Side

Miss Madeleine

The story, or shall I say, the saga, for Gerald and his wife, Peggy, might be the most moving one that I have heard from business owners on the side streets of Manhattan. Enduring multiple setbacks and disappointments - both in New York and Paris - the loving couple nevertheless pursued their ultimate dream of opening a pastry shop. Through determination, separation, and very hard work, in 2017, the two have finally opened their doors to the Upper East Side bakery, Miss Madeleine.Gerald and Peggy Hudeau left Guadeloupe in 2012 with the goal of coming to the United States to begin a new life by opening their own company. With five children in tow, they were forced to stop in Paris to obtain their visas. It took over one year to receive this visa, however, it was only granted to Gerald. He chose to come to New York, on his own, in the hopes of filing the necessary paperwork and getting a license to open a food business. Knowing absolutely no one in New York, and having little money, Gerald found some odd jobs and continued with his efforts to secure a space for the bakery and to do whatever was necessary to bring his family here.After three denials from the US Embassy in Paris, while continuing to pay rent on a potential property in East Harlem, Gerald decided to "fight" on his own, without the help of a lawyer. He filed all of the necessary paperwork again and went for another appointment at the Embassy in Paris. "My God, this time I got the visa, but for only six months." He, once again, had to leave his wife and kids in Paris because the immigration agent told him that he had to prove that he could provide for everyone before they would be allowed to enter the United States.Arriving back in New York, he found an apartment, took classes to get a food protection certificate, and prepared the necessary licenses for the bakery. Returning to Paris he received the visa as an investor for five years. He made the return trip alone, yet again, to New York.As Gerald related to me, "When I got here, I was obliged to close the store that I had rented in East Harlem, and terminate the contract of very good employees. I was crying in my apartment with only a sofa to sleep, without TV and something to eat. I tried to stay strong by working for another business to get some funds and to get my wife and one daughter in New York first."Here comes the good news, Gerald said to me, "I was able to have the visa for my wife and my daughter. With my wonderful wife, we tried to open again La Mulatresse Corp - the company that we had begun back in 2012 in Guadeloupe. Both from white and black parents, we created La Mulatresse Corporation, but we closed the property after an explosion of the building's boiler in my basement."Gerald immediately looked for work. He found this in a large American company, where first he was a laborer, then a shift leader, then an assistant manager and, ultimately, the General Manager. "One of the best days was when all of my kids arrived in New York - in 2015 - and Madisson, my daughter, was again with her brothers and sister." Gerald went on to say, "We spent a long time with dark days, wondering if it was a good idea, thinking about the kids and their future while fighting with the bills and debt."Peggy was able to find a job at Canele by Celine, the former bakery here on East 82nd Street. Gerald shared, "When Celine saw the magic in the kitchen, she decided to make a business with us by buying some of our products and asked me to be her General Manager."This is the point in the story when I had the extreme pleasure of meeting this outstanding man and his wife. We organized several events together, and I was most impressed by how professional Gerald was in representing Canele by Celine, and how kindly he treated his staff and each of the guests. What was overwhelmingly acknowledged by everyone was the exquisite French pastries being served.After one year of working very hard in the small kitchen turning out wondrous creations, Celine decided that it was time for her to turn over the operations to Gerald and Peggy to fulfill their own personal dream. It was a long and difficult road to travel, but the beautiful couple has finally found their destiny. Miss Madeleine has opened its doors to their loyal neighbors, who have returned to support them and to eat their variety of delectable sweet and savory food.  "We hope to continue to show people the best of French pastries in an authentic French setting."

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