BY BETH DEDMAN
As the West 13th Street Alliance was reconsidering how to reach its community, members held a digital forum where small business owners and neighbors could share about their hopes and hardships amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wanted something that really will help people on an emotional level,” said Birgitte Philippides-Delaney, president of the West 13th Street Alliance. “This is just when we were supposed to have the worst week of the whole crisis. They had about 16 people and they wanted us to do it again.”
Anna Chiang participated in the Community Sharing zoom call. She has been the owner of The Inkpad, a decorative rubber stamp and paper arts shop, for 22 years. She moved The Inkpad’s location from 12th Street and 8th Avenue to 233 West 19th Street in February.
She was only able to keep the new location open for 16 days before she thought it was necessary to close to keep her employees and customers safe in the COVID-19 crisis.
“I am my store and my store is me,” Chiang said. “So it is so weird not to be there. I am most alive when I am at work and when I am talking to my customers. I love my employees and my customers and our product. I feel stopped from doing much.”
Because the buses have stopped running between New Jersey and New York City, she has not been able to return to her store and cannot sustain running online sales without consistent access to her merchandise.
Chiang tried to secure a Paycheck Protection Program grant for the sake of paying her employees, some of which have worked for her for 12 years, but because she changed the company name when she moved locations, she did not qualify.
While Chiang had been aware of the gatherings and events of the West 13th Street Alliance, she had never been able to participate because the meetings were during her hours of operation. She was eager to join what would be her first-ever Zoom conference.
Chiang got emotional when she shared what she and her business were going through.
“I saw these people that I know and some I don’t know but had seen them around,” Chiang said. “I was so affected by how we were all getting together. It filled my heart to see people get together and share. I hadn’t really shared with anyone about my store but my employees.”
Chiang has training in life-coaching and could tell that the other people of all ages, backgrounds and occupations in the call were grateful to have a place to share.
“There is something about seeing other people’s faces and seeing them nod and acknowledge what you’re saying,” Chiang said. “Not everyone’s struggle is the same, but there is a commonality in sharing.”
Chiang will participate in future community sharing events. In the meantime, she will focus on how The Inkpad will come back.
Philippides-Delaney and the West 13th Street Alliance are continuing to provide resources and events like this one in the future.
“I think during this time, there are a lot of local small nonprofits that are used to face to face action with the community and we are surprised how much we can help the community virtually and they are committed to doing that,” Philippides-Delaney said. “What’s interesting is how active we are in the community. We helped connect all of the electeds in an email along with a grocery store with special deliveries.”
While many members of the alliance have left New York City for safety, Philippides-Delaney was proud to maintain the connection between neighbors as they were scattered across the country.
“So many people have left that area and we don’t want to leave them,” Philippides-Delaney said. “We want to be there for the people who have stayed. We want to be of service and help them.”
Philippides-Delaney, her husband and her mother, Kirsten, have moved to their home in Maine for the duration of the pandemic. While it has been difficult to coordinate and organize from a distance, they are grateful that they have been able to continue to connect to their community virtually.
“We are very fortunate,” Kirsten Philippides said.