Second Avenue gas explosion, local politicians and a small group of community members toured the still-smarting small businesses around the blast site.A little over two months after the
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose East Harlem district was struck by a similar disaster last year, said she wanted to lead one of her “Follow Me Friday” walks in the East Village as a show of support. “The least we can do is visit these businesses and bring attention here locally,” she said Friday evening. “They were closed for a week, two weeks at a time, which for a small businesses in a volatile market is a very difficult situation.”
New York State Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick noted that the city had faced several traumatic events in the past decade — “but in each and every one of those circumstances it’s the people who rise up and help the city heal,” she said. “Soon we’ll be seeing tourists, who we have a love/hate relationship with; we love their money, but we hate the noise,” she half-joked. “We just hope that they’re quiet and spend a lot of money.”
There were two minutes of silence for Moises Lucon and Nicholas Figueroa, who died in the disaster. “They were two young men just doing what average New Yorkers do. One was working, and one was on a lunch date,” said councilperson Rosie Mendez, who co-hosted the event. Following the silence, the group of about 25 people headed to Moishe’s Bake Shop for free cookies, then to New Yorkers Foodmarket, on the corner of 7th Street and Second Avenue.
Michael Schumacher, who has owned the supermarket with his brother for 30 years, said the block remains deeply affected by the explosion. “Something shattered when those buildings went down,” he said, adding that he lost a lot of regular customers when they were displaced from their apartments.
Schumacher said he’s hoping to see the Small Business Jobs Survival Act move forward. “Rosie is a big advocate for that,” he said. “It’s important for businesses to know they can negotiate with landlords. We’re a supermarket, not a bar or a restaurant.” He said he hopes he can stay in his current location when his lease runs up in eight years, which sounds like a long time “but it goes by fast,” he said. “My intention is to stay here,” he said, but he’s aware the neighborhood is a highly coveted area.
The group stopped at Bar Virage for quick cocktails, where host Martin Hernandez, who lives in Brooklyn and owns the LES barber shop Haircules, ushered in the politicians, who found a cozy corner for chatting at the end of the bar. “It’s beautiful for them to stop by,” he said. He was at Bar Virage when the explosion occurred. “People went to help, but everything happened so fast we weren’t able to help much,” he said. The bar is one of a handful of businesses on Second Avenue between St. Marks and 7th Street that remained open throughout the ordeal, he said.
From there the crawl proceeded to convenience store Gem Spa, where Mendez and Mark-Viverito fed Zoltar the mechanical fortuneteller a few dollars for some words of wisdom. The owner of the store for 29 years, who preferred not to be named, said he’s seeing business slowly returning to what it once was, though, like Schumacher, he said he’s feeling the loss of revenue from residents of the destroyed buildings as well as the customers and employees of the lost businesses. “Those apartments and people from those restaurants used to come in here,” he said. “Rent is going up and business is going down.”
At Enz’s, owner Mariann Marlowe was focusing on rebuilding at 125 Second Avenue after sustaining severe smoke and water damage. “It’s still a struggle,” she said. Her successful Kickstarter campaign raised $10,000, but it cost $30,000 to rebuild. She was closed for two months, other than two popup locations she ran for a few days at a time, but now she’s settling in and finally getting her inventory back to what it was. “Lately there’s been a lot of bottom feeders,” she said. “A lot people trying to take advantage, like people calling and saying they’re from Con Ed when they’re not really from Con Ed.”
Two local favorites have yet to reopen: things at B&H look hopeful, but The Stage, which faces gas syphoning accusations, has remained quiet.
The last stops were bars Burp Castle and Jimmy’s No. 43, where everyone convened for a beer and a few final words from the events organizers. “Small businesses are the backbone of our community and we need to support them,” said Mendez, “particularly with this tragedy; they’re just getting back on their feet, and we want to keep them here for as long as they want to be here.”