BY Gloria Pazmiño (@GloriaPazmino)
It only to took a few minutes for a spark to ignite the fire that ravaged a commercial hub on the corner of West 207th Street and Broadway in Inwood this week.
In a flash, but in what I’m sure was the longest night for some, the dreams, livelihoods, and places of work for our neighbors went up in smoke on a cold Wednesday night while hundreds of local firefighters rushed to the scene to put out the fire that burned through the building.
It only took a few hours. And then it was over.
The affected businesses included the Bread & Yoga Studio, Dicther’s Pharmacy, Furry Friends, Burhan Hardware, Bank of America, Citi Bank, Splash Laundromat, a local lawyer’s office, a dentist office and China Buffet.
It was only a matter of time, soon a call for unity, work and solidarity came in loud and clear and Inwood responded, in fact El Alto and all of Northern Manhattan responded.
In the following 48 hours, a Facebook group page had been set up, a community meeting organized, and an outpouring of volunteer neighbors offering everything from space, to labor, money, and guidance had manifested itself through electronic media, Facebook postings, and Twitter.
These business owners were not alone.
Last night over 300 people packed the house at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church Parish House on Cummings Street.
Business owners were present, neighbors, local residents, employees of the businesses, and representatives from elected officials all coming together to exchange information, and perhaps most importantly offer each other a shoulder to lean on.
“The fire was ugly; this is beautiful,” said Chris Travis from Everyday Church, present at the meeting.
Those words summed it all up for me, and for anyone who has ever wondered if there is any sense of community left in New York City, last night’s showing was proof that there is plenty. I’ll go as far as saying that perhaps all that’s left of it is up in Northern Manhattan, at the top of this great City.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the auditorium of that church as each business owner came up to update their neighbors, and express their gratitude.
The encouraging applause of the crowd comforted them, brought tears to their eyes and hope filled them with strength.
Some, veterans of the neighborhood like Manny, the pharmacist and owner of Dichter Pharmacy, a son of Inwood knows his customer by name.
“I’m overwhelmed,” he told me. “This has been amazing, incredible, I can’t cry now.”
Others, only in business for the past couple of months, like the owner of Burhan Hardware, said he never imagined such support from the community and couldn’t wait to rebuild and come back to the same place.
“We will come back to serve you, to serve and work for this community,” he said.
The short-term goal on everyone’s mind right now is rebuilding, and it became clear last night that that effort is well underway. The building has been deemed unsafe and will have to be demolished but the landlord has expressed his desire to rebuild.
The long-term goal was also clearly defined last night: To make sure the block remains what it has been for nearly a century, a commercial enclave of mom-and-pop-owned shops that focus on serving the community.
If we can put our ideas together, stay involved, and continue defending what we believe and Inwood and Northern Manhattan represent, I believe we can make that happen.
In the meantime, businesses are scrambling and uniting forces to find appropriate and usable space to continue to offer the services this community has relied on for so long.
Marcela, owner of Bread & Yoga announced that in the coming weeks Muscota School will open its doors so she can continue to host the afterschool program which services children in Inwood.
By the same token, neighboring business owners, artists, performers, contractors, finance gurus, real estate brokers, and even children organizing bake sales have offered their efforts.
The ideas are endless. Flea markets are in the works, performers willing to donate the proceeds of ticket sales are willing and able, and business owners have stepped up to offer their dining rooms, bars, and stages as platforms for all these efforts. Last night, Inwood shined bright.
We collected approximately $4,000 in donations. The efforts to set up a non-for-profit fund are already well underway and the appropriate committees will soon be formed to make sure the process remains transparent.
The night ended at Le Chéile, the new Irish restaurant on West 181st Street near Cabrini Blvd., where the folks of Bread & Yoga held a fundraiser following the meeting last night. An employee of the studio told me they had collected enough money to buy mats and other yoga equipment that they will use once a temporary space is set up to have classes.
It started with a spark, a devastating fire, a block and the hearts of many left in shambles.
Action followed. A meeting, a group, a call to action, and an outpouring of love.
Let it continue into the coming months when our neighborhood will need it most. When we will need to stand together to defend what we believe in, and what we want our community to represent.
Someone in the audience last night said, “207th Street will come back bigger and stronger.” I have no doubt. Northern Manhattan, El Alto, Washington Heights and Inwood, let’s Stand Up.
Click here for our pics of this horrible incident.