Local shops that were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy received a boost in funding and morale
By Helaina Hovitz
If a hurricane didn’t kill this community’s spirit, a little rain wasn’t going to, either.
Determined to go on with the show — a show that ran past the event’s scheduled 9 p.m. end time — the first annual Spirit Festival commenced as planned on Thursday, April 18, on Front Street between Beekman and Fulton Streets, raising funds and moral support for South Street Seaport area businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy.
During the superstorm, the East River rushed through the storefronts of bars, shops and restaurants around the Seaport, tearing rooms apart and sending refrigerators floating down Front Street. Things went from bad to worse when 13 businesses around Front Street and Peck Slip operating under a lease with The Durst Organization were told that they couldn’t open for at least another six to eight months because Durst wanted to replace the geothermal unit (a boiler system), instead of just fixing it. While some business owners immediately picked up and left, others immediately reopened, and many are still waiting to do so.
Shortly after the storm, the ones who’ve made the decision to stay formed the Seaport Neighborhood Merchants’ Association, sponsored by the Downtown Alliance and initiated with the help of the NYC Department of Small Business Services. Their goal: to promote their businesses and let everyone know “they’re still here.”
On Thursday, the wet winds caused a slow-moving start to the festival, but people still showed; before long, the streets dried up and drew larger crowds. An estimated 500 people attended the event between the hours of 5 – 9:30 p.m.
“It was friendly and festive, but served as a reminder of how stark it is down there. Nothing is open,” said Ashley Duncan, President of the Spruce Street School PTA, who organized the event. “Everyone seemed ready for a night like this. The community came together in such a ginormous way.”
Of course, a steady stream of adorable dancing children continuously gathered in front of the bandstand, shaking it up with food smeared all over their faces.
All the right people showed up, too, including Manhattan Borough President candidate Julie Menin, current Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Council Member Margaret Chin, District Leader and City Council candidate Jennifer Rajkumar, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who presented the Spruce Street PTA with a state proclamation acknowledging the school for their support of the community.
Four food trucks, who each donated $250 for their place, flagged a stage that hosted musical performances by Jeff Touhy, The Hollows, and The Crusty Gentlemen. Parents and businesses donated everything from soundstage equipment to drinks, and sales from beer and wine tickets, as well as t-shirts, went to the Association.
“You bet I was there eating,” said Marco Pasanella, owner of Pasanella & Son Vintners at 115 South Street. “But not drinking too much, because it was our wine.”
Pasanella, who is also the acting director of the Association, said that seeing tons of kids on the block for the first time in “god knows how many months” made it feel like the neighborhood was alive again.
“We’re all here, it’s warm out, we’re back, and we’re happy,” he said. “I hope this is just the beginning.”
The Spirit Project’s donation lines will be kept open until May 1st (visit sprucestreetnyc.org and click on Spirit Project on the side panel), and the PTA plans to organize a new event each year to support a different cause.
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