Despite cries that New York is “dead forever,” these Big Apple business owners have decided to stick it out.
All of them have struggled in one way or another as coronavirus forced them to temporarily shut down or go fully online. Many have had to lay off staff, take steep pay cuts and quickly shift operations onto Zoom.
The future is still uncertain, but these women have managed to keep their businesses alive. And they all say they’re here to stay.
Agatha Kulaga, Ovenly
Ovenly, a wholesale bakery with four shops around the city, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in September. It won’t be the kind of party that co-founders Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin had envisioned, but Kulaga said there is still much to be grateful for given the circumstances.
“Not everyone has the luxury to leave New York City, and we’re not just going to pick up and move because there’s a pandemic. I’m more dedicated to staying than ever before. I’ve been here since 2001, and in some ways, I actually think this is a time to be hopeful. I think the dedicated New Yorkers who have been here and feel invigorated by the city, those are the people who are going to help rebuild it. I do think the city will come out on the other side, a little more edgy. New York is our home. We have a very dedicated and loyal customer base who relies on us, and we are still providing people with small moments of joy on a daily basis. And now, that’s more important than ever.”
Myriam Simpierre, Buy Better Foods
Simpierre opened her business, Buy Better Foods, in the middle of the pandemic in April — so she’s definitely not packing up anytime soon. She said the support for a female- and Black-owned business in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn has been overwhelmingly positive and “empowering.”
“I just figured the only way the business will be successful is to be open. I just completed my build-out, so I have operating expenses that need to be met. And, most importantly, I am considered an essential business. So I figured, let me be part of the other businesses that can provide food. There is so much New York can offer. I’m a true believer that when a situation arises, it’s an opportunity to be part of the solution.”
Maria Avgitidis, Agape Match
Avgitidis, founder of New York City-based matchmaking service Agape Match, transformed her business a few months ago to go virtual. Now, she’s happy to report that she is back to setting up hopeful singles IRL. She added that, contrary to what the cynics might think, there’s still nothing that can beat the romantic setting of Central Park.
“I can understand leaving if you have kids, but if you’re single, where are you meeting other people? The magic of New York is the cultural pop-ups that exist — if you go to Central Park on a weekend, you can see people dancing to music. You can run across the Brooklyn Bridge and have an ice cream in Dumbo, or eat outdoors on Stone Street and have a pint of beer on the cobblestones. Even a protest is its own thing — if you’re someone who believes in equal rights, a great way to meet someone like-minded is at a protest.”
Kambri Crews, Q.E.D.
For part of August, Crews was able to host live, outdoor shows in the backyard space of her comedy venue, Q.E.D., in Astoria, Queens. But crackdowns from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Liquor Authority on arts and entertainment events, both inside and out, have once again squeezed Crews’ business and she’s had to shut down for now. In true New York fashion, she is making the best of a tough situation — she is currently running Q.E.D.’s bookshop and renting out a podcast studio for events and parties.
“Everything is cyclical. I was here before 9/11 and walked home [that day], and people were afraid that that was going to be the end. Honestly, that’s what rooted me more. It’s better to stay on one’s feet than live on one’s knees. Broadway will come back, all of it will come back. It will be different. During those four weeks, we certainly weren’t making a profit, but we staunched the bleeding. When the weather is nice, allowing us to do outdoor, ticketed shows — that’s the thing that’s going to get us through.”
Julie Wald, Namaste NY
Wald’s wellness establishment launched after 9/11, when people were searching for ways to deal with the trauma. Since then, her business Namaste NY has expanded to corporate wellness services to support employee mental health and well-being. While Wald lives in Connecticut with her three kids, she said she’s just starting to ramp up business again in the Big Apple.
“Once you’ve built a business in New York, you become just about as resilient as New York. People who do business here, they know how to hustle. I think we’ve taken a lot of hits, and, obviously this is a big one, but people who run businesses in New York, including Namaste — don’t let the wellness fool you. Wellness is all about resilience. The industry leaders in the city, they’re not running away, they’re coming back to rebuild their city. And as their provider, we’re there too.”