The East Village digs in to dig out as the lighter wave of major snowstorm hits area

A passerby helps two women walk beneath under a fallen awning 14th street between 1st and 2nd avenue.

Like other New York City neighborhoods, the East Village is beginning to dig out from the major snowstorm that hit Monday, dumped more than a foot and a half of snow and continues to linger with occasional flurries.

Restaurants, bars, and other businesses are facing another hurdle after a year of COVID-19 regulation obstacles—now their outdoor investments have been pummeled with ice and sleet. Wooden structures and outdoor gazebos were in shambles, while some awnings collapsed under the weight of the snow. 

Day two of the blizzard proved to be an uphill battle for some and for others a moment to help their neighbors get through the day.

Digging their boot heels into the slush and ice, residents, workers, and business owners began digging out Tuesday just as a second squall launched its assault.

East Villagers sling shovels to their backs and get to work digging out. Photo by Dean Moses

COVID-19 already altered the landscape of the East Village thanks to rapid store closures and fleeing renters. The area has now been transformed once more thanks to the year’s first major blizzard. Those who remain are attempting to work together to keep each other safe from the dangers that come with such heavy snowfall.

Angel Varreto, 55, is a long-time resident of East 10th Street between Avenues A and B, who is trying to keep the camaraderie between neighbors alive. Varreto was passing by Denise Brown whose vehicle was buried in an abundance of snow, so he grabbed an ice chopper to help excavate her car.

Angel Varreto helps dig out a neighbor’s car from amidst the snow. Photo by Dean Moses

“We are neighbors, that’s what neighbors do. But it is suffocating with the mask on, it’s like breathing underwater,” Varreto said as he breathlessly cut away at the snow piles.

Varreto says the East Village has lost its sense of neighborhood fellowship since its older residents were forced to move due to rising rent prices. Still, he tries to instill the virtue in the area’s newer, younger occupants.

“More people need to get together, there is too much hate around. Ten years ago we used to help each other, there used to be unity. If you didn’t see someone for a day, you would go knock on his door and check on him. You don’t see that anymore, people just care about phones and the internet,” Varreto said.

Business owners were also on the streets, clearing out the sidewalks in front of their storefronts in order to make way for their customers. Pranai Rai is the manager at La La Laundry Corp., located at 180 Avenue B, he spent Tuesday morning and afternoon tirelessly shoveling snow outside the laundromat. On Monday, Rai was determined to stay open until 5pm, but his plan was derailed when the MTA announced that it would be shutting down outdoor train service by 2pm.

Pranai Rai clears the front of La La Laundry Corp. Photo by Dean Moses

“I can’t drive right now because there is no parking with all the snow. I live in Queens so as soon as the Governor said that the trains were shutting down, I had to run to the subway right away. I made it in time,” Rai said.

Although he didn’t get much business yesterday, he was determined to stay open after such a hard 2020 due to the COVID-19 virus. He shared that he can’t afford another wasted day.

“The storm really affected us; a lot of people want to stay indoors. It is hard work digging here, but we are trying to make it easier for the community and for customers.  Besides the storm, COVID really affected us because a lot of people moved out of New York. It is really dead here, probably we are 50% down than regular years,” Rai said.

Laundry still needed to be washed despite the storm. Photo by Dean Moses

These one-two-punches of the novel coronavirus and the greatest storm to hit the city since 2016, is causing businesses great difficulty in terms of regaining financial stability. It is with this in mind that many throughout Manhattan are swiftly and vigorously taking shovel to snow with hopes of digging themselves a steady path to a more economically secure future.

For workers like Sose Concepcion who are employed by companies to secure the streets from dangerous conditions, it is hard work, but it is all about providing for their families. 

“I have been doing this since yesterday, I got home at nine o’clock at night. Since the outside train is not working, I had to take the bus — I waited an hour,” Concepcion said.

Sose Concepcion works clearing snow for the second day in a row. Photo by Dean Moses

Concepcion travels to Downtown Manhattan for work from the Bronx. After returning this morning, he found all of yesterday’s hard work undone thanks to the continuing deluge.

“I am by myself one person, but I gotta feed my family,” Concepcion said as he kept on digging.

Sose Concepcion explains the difficulties traveling during the storm. Photo by Dean Moses

With financial security and the virus on many people’s minds, it’s easy to forget that these weather conditions are dangerous for those trying to salvage their cars from the snow. Longtime East Village resident Juan Hota, an elderly gentleman, spent one hour desperately trying to remove ice from his windshield and snow from around his car.

“It’s just too much,” Hota said, his hands shaking while attempting to determine how much longer he can withstand the strenuous task.

Juan Hota slowly brushes snow from atop his car. Photo by Dean Moses

The second day of snow wasn’t so hard for everyone as many families chose to spend the early afternoon sledding, making snowmen, and hosting snow fights.

Areas in Central Park are usually the main place to go to enjoy a bout of sledding, but in the East Village, Stuyvesant Town is the “It spot” to go for a ride down the hills on a snowboard, sled, or even a strip of cardboard.

Eti Muller’s two daughters, Elletta and Gigi, both attend Catholic private school, so they were able to bask in two school-free snow days. Donning full bright pink and blue snowsuits with helmets, the children grabbed their fluorescent sleds to tackle a large hill on Avenue C.

“It feels good to go out and play today because yesterday we were really snowed in,” Elletta said.

Elletta sleds down an embankment in Stuyvesant town. Photo by Dean Moses

Her little sister, Gigi chimed in that they have been playing for the past two hours, so much so that they are cold but sweating. “Today is really exciting because it feels like we get to go down a really big mountain, and it’s been fun,” Gigi said, climbing a hill, for another round of sledding, “It’s so cool, it’s still snowing so we are getting snowflakes on our eyelashes,”

“We’ve been so cooped up inside, I told them they can play outside until they are ready to go back inside and snuggle on the couch, drink hot chocolate, and maybe make some slime,” Eti Muller said.

Eti Muller and her two daughters, Elletta and Gigi, enjoyed the day for as long as they could withstand the cold. Photo by Dean Moses