Hurricane Sandy spared most of the Upper West Side, but it did not spare Donna Schofield. On Monday, Oct. 29, the Stationery Toy World owner was away from her West 72nd Street store and at home with her two children and father on Staten Island’s east shore. Floodwater was in her house, climbing toward her second floor.
Police rowboats came to rescue Donna and her family. Some of her neighbors, whose houses did not have as many power lines above them as Donna’s, were rescued by helicopter.
“Not in a million years would we ever think that we would have to leave,” Donna told West Side Spirit. Though well aware that she lived in one of the city’s most dangerous flood zones, she had built her house several feet above previous high-water marks.
Other Midland Beach residents flocked to her home as their own houses began to submerge. Ninety percent of her neighbors remained in the coastal neighborhood, Donna said, despite a mandatory evacuation order from the city.
“We’ve stayed for every flood,” she added. “We were used to it. It wasn’t a big thing to us.”
As her house filled with water, Donna watched in dismay as three nearby warehouses also were inundated. They contained the entirety of her business’s inventory outside of what was in the store itself. Everything was destroyed.
Donna returned to work two days later at 125 W. 72nd St. completely overwhelmed. Her father was with her cousin, her 17-year-old son was with a family friend, and she had taken her 8-year-old daughter to move in at another friend’s home. The family salvaged what they could from their home, but not much was left. As the shock diminished, she realized what she needed most: clothes, toiletries, a bath mat.
Then word of Donna’s plight spread. Suddenly, Stationery Toy World—a store Donna opened with her father 26 years ago to escape wholesale and to pursue her dream of owning her own retail
business—was as busy as it had ever been. Families from across the Upper West Side began stopping by, offering their support to Donna in any way they could and sending their children on mini shopping sprees.
Last Friday, Donna joked with customers between laughs and tears as they asked her what she needed. Some came in to drop off clothes. Many reached across the counter to giver her a hug.
“It’s just unbelievable—the amount of support, and how much people love us up here,” Donna said, then choked up for about the tenth time that morning.
Customers spoke passionately in support of the store. Multiple locals likened it to the type of small business that characterized the Upper West Side years ago.
“The store represents a tradition in the Upper West Side that’s being destroyed by the real estate business. The new buildings going up, the new stores—they’re all the same,” said Hannah, an Upper West Side resident for over 40 years. This one, she says, is “well supplied, it’s up to date. They’re cheerful in spite of everything. It’s a wonderful store.”
“It’s one of the few mom and pop stores we have left,” agreed Morgan Humphries, a close friend of Donna’s who owns a Malaysian restaurant next door. “She’s still giving the feel of a store that cares. She puts her heart and soul into it.”
More than that, though, Humphries said, the store matters because Donna brings the neighborhood love. “She’s so genuine,” he said. “She brings a real positive energy, and a sense of reinforcement. She’s just so selfless.”
Karen Starr, a toy seller who quickly befriended Donna when they began working together, called Donna “one of the kindest, warmest, willing-to-do-anything-for-anybody people.”
“You can’t know Donna without it crossing over into personal,” she added. “Everyone has a unique relationship with her.”
Donna said that she plans to rent an apartment through the holiday season, and to see how her insurance and FEMA aid pans out before relocating in the city. She loved her house on Staten Island, she said, but thought it might be time to seek “higher ground.”
As far as Stationery Toy World is concerned, however, Donna has no plans of going anywhere. “If there’s any place to have a business,” she said in tears and with a big smile, “the Upper West Side is where you want to be.”
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