By NAEISHA ROSE
September 28, 2016
On a sunny and slightly crisp fall afternoon, just hours before a full week had passed since the Sept. 17 bombing, foot traffic was back to normal along W. 23rd St. — but visible signs of the explosion lingered between Sixth and Seventh Aves., from boarded windows above to shards of glass on the sidewalk below. Inside the stores, damage manifested itself in the form of lost revenue.
To support small businesses and send the message that it was safe to be back in the area, Councilmember Corey Johnson organized a Chelsea Small Business Crawl for the afternoon of Sat., Sept. 24. While Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, NY State Senator Brad Hoylman, and other city officials were in attendance, Johnson himself was sick, according to David Moss, his Director of Communications, who helped guide the tour as it stopped at various locations along the crosstown thoroughfare.
On the block of the bombing, over 80 businesses were affected by the closure to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, which lasted from 8:30 p.m. on the night of the explosion through the early evening of Mon., Sept. 19.
Maria Diaz, Executive Director at the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce (GVCCC), recalled that when her organization reached out to over two dozen businesses the Monday after the bombing, it found that many were still closed.
“As soon as the opportunity came to do something like this crawl,” Diaz said, “we jumped on it. We know that whenever a business is closed that hurts its bottom line, and whatever we can do to increase the number of patrons that comes to a business, that is what we try to do.”
Brewer further emphasized the importance of the business crawl.
“When the press goes out that says, ‘There was an explosion on 23rd Street,’ you and I know that the stores will reopen, because you and I live here — but the world does not,” Brewer said. “The issue is to tell everybody that these stores are open.”
Hoylman held the same sentiments during a stop at Papaya Dog (W. 23rd St., corner of Seventh Ave.).
“Businesses lost a week’s worth of customers,” Hoylman noted. “That is a lot for a small business to handle in such a short amount of time. So we are here to show them support and we are going to let the entire city know that 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenue is open for business.”
While the confectionary shop La Maison du Macaron didn’t suffer much physical damage, the two baristas working the night shift were shaken by the experience.
“I was very scared,” said Zina Kirko, 27. “I didn’t know what was happening, so I called my boss Pascal [Goupil]. He said, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’ He did calm me down, and I’m grateful for him.”
“We thought it was a big crash,” said Natalie Heras, 22. “We saw a car in the street and glass everywhere, but then we realized it was more than that because a crash wouldn’t make that drastic [a] sound,” she recalled. “It wouldn’t have caused our place to shake and the lights to flicker,” added Heras, who lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
“It was just a very loud, huge explosion; and I could even see the dust in the air,” Kirko said. “It’s something that you can’t really describe, it was just terrifying,” Heras added.
After the explosion, the family of three that was in the car ran into the shop.
“The people that were in the car came inside. It was a husband and wife and their kid. They were both crying, and the husband was outside recording what had happened, so I tried to calm them down, the wife and the kid, and I gave them both water, and told them to sit down, and try to relax,” Heras recalled. “I tried my best to relax them, but I was also scared.”
“We were scared so we went to the back door [which leads to 24th St.], we hid for a couple of minutes and once we realized nothing was going on we opened the door and saw broken glass everywhere, we didn’t know what to do,” Kirko said. “Then the police came and evacuated us in 10 minutes,” added Kirko, who lives in Coney Island.
After trekking to three different stops to find a train that was working, Heras and Kirko made it home around midnight. Heras went back to work Wednesday, and Kirko came in the following day.
“I was shocked, and luckily nobody died, but I came back on Thursday… by that time I felt okay,” said Kirko. “I thought I was fine, but once I got out of the train station — and it was 6:40, I open at 6:45 a.m. — it was still very dark… I got shaky in my hand, I felt this weird feeling,” Heras recalled.
“A customer said, ‘The tension needs to come out,’ and when I wasn’t looking, she threw cold water in my face,” Heras said. “I was like, ‘Huh?’ It came out, and she said to take cold showers, and weirdly enough, I’ve started to do that and I feel better.”
“We are very grateful that [customers] keep coming after what happened,” Kirko added.
Another person in the immediate area during the Sept. 17 explosion was street vendor Joseph Gamal.
“I heard a boom,” Gamal said, “and I thought it was a tire.”
When the police showed up 10 minutes later, he headed back to New Jersey.
“You leave your house to go and make a living and now you don’t know if you are going home to your wife or not,” said Gamal, who just started selling Egyptian food outside the Home Depot on 40 W. 23rd (btw. Fifth & Sixth Aves.) two weeks ago.
While he is not afraid of another possible terror attack, thanks to the police presence, he is upset about the affect this will have on Muslim Americans like himself.
“Islam doesn’t say’ I kill people,’ ” Gamal said. “Islam is peace; but we as a human, we make mistakes. There is no difference from someone that goes on the road drunk and kills people… so different Islam and people, it’s two different stories. A person can do good things or choose to do bad things,” said the father of three.
A second street vendor, who was on the corner of W. 23rd and Sixth Ave. during the Small Business Crawl, was reminded of 9/11.
“It’s a bad memory,” said Tony Fisher, 57, looking at the skyline where the Twin Towers used to be.
“I think that they are trying to blow up New York… and pretty soon there might be a suicide bomber,” said Fisher while selling bubble-makers.
While he refuses to move from his spot of 33 years, he is disgusted by how it impacted his disabled customers.
“It was right in front of the [Selis Manor] blind residence, oh man,” Fisher said. “I wondered how frightened they must feel, because they can’t even come out of the building,” he added.
Although his wife of 20 years, Lisa, wants him to stick to selling toys near their home in Coney Island, he prefers to stay near his favorite food joint.
“I have spots out there, but I like Manhattan and I like eating at Flavors [on the corner of W. 23rd & Sixth Ave.],” said Fisher with a smile. “I love them.”
One business crawler who decided it was time to spend time near the scene of the bombing was Nancy Spannbauer, 76, who lives a few blocks away, and didn’t make much of the sirens or the helicopter whizzing by that night. The following day, when she heard what happened, she wasn’t rushing to leave her home anytime soon.
“Terrorism was not the first thing I thought of,” Spannbauer said. “Maybe if I lived some place else, but we have so many fires and accidents,” she added.
Before she finally left her home to join the business crawl, Spannbauer, who runs a social service program for senior citizens, gave her self a pep talk.
“The first couple days I was a little bit leery about coming down the street, but I eventually said, ‘Don’t be silly. Life has to go on.’ I have to keep living my life. I live in Chelsea, I work in Chelsea, and I spend all my time here,” she added.
Amadou Cisse, 26, a server at Papaya Dog, was touched by the turnout of politicians and city officials coming out on Saturday to show their support.
“When she [Brewer] came, I felt very special,” said Cisse, who is from Burkina Faso in western Africa.
“I never met a politician before in this country — and it shows that they really care about us, it really meant a lot,” Cisse said. “I hope we can go back to our regular life and that it never happens again,” he added.