In February, we closed our stores as the wave of COVID-19 hit. We stuffed ourselves in our apartments and waited and panicked and waited for the virus to end. After a few weeks of the exhausting news cycle, many people, including myself, settled in for the long haul. The simmering anxiety, listening to, and sometimes participating in the clattering of pans and bells at 7 PM, walking the tightrope of life and death in the narrow aisle ways of Key Foods, not knowing what was to come.
It’s now October and the panic has turned to a form of malaise. Working from home has become a meme, everyone in Brooklyn has a car, and midtown feels like the Walking Dead.
Since then, we’ve had the BLM movement and the city’s remarkable unity, and the subsequent looting of businesses, big and small. It was a surreal day when I could feel the electricity in the air, and that I knew that violence/looting or something was going to happen. Somehow, whether it was the news, or the subconscious unified field or whatever - everyone in Nolita got the memo, and the neighborhood turned from ghost town to construction zone. Every empty store had a contractor or expeditious store owner haphazardly cutting and drilling in plywood for the coming days - the evening before the coming storm. These boards stayed put until September, and in an interesting twist - the contractors are now back but this time at the restaurants preparing for winter.
This has been a bright spot, I feel, the Paris-ificiation of NY, outdoor dining giving life to streets, and a reprieve to otherwise desolate blocks. New Yorkers feel like they are outside more than ever because to be inside after all that quarantining is too much to bear. The parks are teeming with people.
This in sharp contrast to the mobile morgues and suspicious glances exchanged on the sidewalk. There has been community building, too.
There was a nightly block party on St James Place, where hundreds of people would dance to a sidewalk DJ at 7 PM. This felt like a community and provided an excellent reason to get out of your apartment and see some people.
The months have passed and it’s felt like years - so much has happened, so many people have died. My grandmother died of COVID, my best friend lost both of his grandparents, I had to permanently close the Williamsburg store. I guess I shouldn’t mourn the loss of my grandmother and the loss of my store in the same sentence, but building out a store- scrubbing the floor with your hands and bringing it to life - it’s a bit like creating an entity of some sort, a thing that exists and breathes and has a life of its own, so to snuff it out was difficult.
Going to my grandmother’s funeral was dreamlike - and I guess most funerals feel that way. It was August and it was so hot in suburban Baltimore at Sol Levinson’s funeral home where everyone I know/knew/still know has their services. We sat outside the building, socially distanced, while the rabbi remarked on my grandmother’s life. My sister couldn’t make it - she’s at risk and did not want to risk it. After I read my remarks I delivered hers. They were the best, painting the picture of my grandmother who lived her life as she damn well pleased: cigarettes, affairs, and burnt chocolate chip cookies. I wept as she was lowered into the ground and we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish. There was no shiva- no bagels or whitefish salad: that’s a separate tragedy worth noting.
Like everywhere, people are sick of it. New York, as it was, was already stressful, verging on manic. Have you ever witnessed Midtown Manhattan at 5-6 PM? Office workers are piling into the streets. So many people that the sidewalks are not big enough, the workers are moving as fast they can, speedwalking to Penn Station to get back to where they came from. Desperate to get out of the city. It feels a little like that everywhere now; the sidewalk isn’t big enough.
I’m a clothing designer and I guess I could remark on that, but it’s been a blur. Designing the SS21 Collection, producing AW20, and now we’re into AW21 - I’m surviving. I’m running as fast as I can, patching together what I can, and making things work as best I can as we limp into 2021.
For some 2020 was a great time to be a digital nomad. Flying to Tulum. Opening your laptop and you’re at work - this is not me. There are knowledge workers, and there are material workers, and if materials were your thing in 2020, you had to stay put. We had samples to fit and colors to adjust and plaids that needed new CADS. My work is touch and sight, and unless I have a full collection and dress forms, yarn books, and all of my other materials, I can’t do much. I guess that’s why I never left Brooklyn. I had to make it work. So this is my little NY pandemic missive. I’m confident that everyone has had a very different experience during this time. I’ve heard from more than a few people that quarantine suited them - they could work at home, get on their Peloton, walk around the block and rinse, repeat. This isn’t for me. I miss the city’s vibrancy. I don’t like the constant and omnipresent COVID-19 predicament, and I don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon. But this is my home, and I love it. New York has allowed me to chase my dreams and become my most me, so I’m not leaving.