On 23rd street, community responds

| 27 Sep 2016 | 04:51

A few days after the Sept. 17 terrorist blast that rocked the Chelsea neighborhood, the storefront window of Orange Theory Fitness on West 23rd Street still had hundreds of stress breaks. But after a two-day closure, the gym reopened with its usual 6:15 a.m. workout class.

“Members came in cheering,” the gym’s manager Debra Wilhelm said of the aftermath of the explosion, which made international news. “They rallied around us, and wanted the best out of something bad. I think I hugged more members this week than when we first opened a year and a half ago.”

Wilhelm indicated that the gym’s owner is a strong believer in heightened security, including cameras “everywhere.” The business even supplied CNN with the film footage of the event which aired in the initial news reports.

The gym carries terrorism insurance coverage. As does the French café and bakery, nearby La Maison du Macaron, which was lucky enough not to have sustained property damage. The bakery did, however, lose business because of the closure of the street by police.

“Losses are not just due to foot traffic alone,” said Maria Diaz, executive director of Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce. She explained how some businesses have different time requirements and “some need a whole day in advance to receive deliveries.” Most of the businesses do not carry terrorism insurance. “No one thinks this is going to happen to them,” Diaz said, acknowledging it’s an issue not widely discussed until this event.

“We’re bringing it up now, and planning on holding a workshop soon with the insurance brokers to teach our membership about these options,” she said.

Many state and city agencies have come together to in recent days to focus on the damages and how to assist the Chelsea community.

Last weekend, city officials and elected leaders held a small-business crawl. Customers stopped in neighborhood businesses with network news crews documenting the event. Politicians including State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer did their share of buying goods, including cookies at Macaron and coffee at Malibu Diner.

Rachel Van Tosh, Deputy Commissioner of NYC Small Business Services, said, “We are doing this to encourage the community to patronize the local businesses. But even more than usual to help them recoup their losses, and generally show support.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials and leaders came down last week. They viewed damage and studied how they could help the many businesses and residents impacted. Attention was paid to those who live at Selis Manor, a city residence for the blind.

According to an employee for the Selis Manor, a couple of the residents were hit by flying debris. They had been standing outside the building at the time of the blast. They were sent to area hospitals, but have since returned and were said to be fine, the source said.

The Chelsea-related initiatives continued beyond the weekend and into this week. On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other government officials announced an agreement to help small businesses, homeowners and renters access state funds for uninsured losses and physical damage incurred as a result of the Chelsea explosion. Any person or business impacted can call Office of Victim Services (800) 427-8035.

When the 24-hour fast-food business Chelsea Papaya employees were evacuated from their premises, hot dogs were still on the grill and lights on, said the manager, Arif Bhviuan. The workers were only allowed back in at 4 a.m. to close up. Then Chelsea Papaya closed for two days. By last Thursday, though, Bhviuan said, “Business was almost back to normal.”

Daniel Peretz, the owner of King David Gallery, an art framing business, was out of the country when the explosion took place. He cut his trip short to return to the city as quickly as possible. He said he came back to “shattered glass and debris all over the floor.” Even a Vespa he owned, he says, “flew out of the store window.”

Not insured for losses due to terrorist activities, Peretz, suffered thousands of dollars in property damage. He looked forward to the news coverage as a way of reinvigorating and broadening awareness of his 20-year-old neighborhood business, hoping the attention might help recoup losses.

Calvin Morrison, manager of a UPS store on 23rd Street close to Sixth Avenue, said it’s hard for merchants who target tourists, who in turn may want to avoid the area because of the attack.

“New customers and tourists take those things in mind, that something happened around here and they will avoid the area and go to another UPS location or another businesses,” he said.

His location was closed for a day. “But our regular customers,” he said, “are all coming in making sure we’re all okay.”