Posted on February 7, 2021 at 2:04 pm by Carol Tannenhauser
By Susanne Beck
Elena Torres has been saving Higher West Aspect soles since 1998, the yr she grew to become a newly minted 30-year-old enterprise proprietor. To evaluate from the numerous playing cards that embellish Toscana, her small shoe restore store on Broadway and 84th Road, she has captured various souls throughout that point too.
“Thanks for staying with us on the UWS!” writes one neighbor in tidy print. Nobel Prize winner James E. Rothman presents his thanks from a photograph on the aspect wall, together with appreciative footage from well-known neighbors and Higher West Aspect residents Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. Extra vacation playing cards with customized seasons greeting adorn a small shelf close to the register.
The gestures of appreciation are essentially the most seen fruits of years of Elena’s arduous work, nice service, limitless pleasant smiles, and willpower. However, just lately, they’ve appeared to be no match for the harmful nature of COVID-19. The virus pressured a 3 and a half month shutdown final March – the peak of the shoe restore season based on Elena. At the moment, it continues to threaten Elena’s livelihood and probably, her goals for her 17-year-old son to go to a top-notch faculty.
This previous January was useless, Elena explains, even quieter than the 9 months earlier than. In the future, she had just one buyer. Different days weren’t a lot better. The truth is, final month was the worst Elena has skilled since she purchased the store from the earlier house owners, 23 years in the past.
“Drago was the title then,” she recollects. “I renamed it Toscana because it seemed like that fairly place in Italy.”
Elena realized about shoe restore after emigrating to this nation with a good friend from Ecuador in 1990 when she was simply 22. Her good friend’s mother and father had a store close to Union Sq. the place she constructed on the fundamentals she had realized again residence. Machine stitching was new to her; in Ecuador, all of the work was carried out by hand. “I might sew easy issues,” she says in her light Spanish accent. “Luggage, footwear, issues like that.”
Hoping that sooner or later she might need an outlet of her personal, Elena moved to a extra full-time place at a retailer on Broadway and 97th – what turned out to be one other Drago location. In the future, an individual stopped by the shop and talked about that the Drago store down the road was being offered. “It was like a miracle!” Elena gushes all these years later. Her dream appeared to be coming true.
“I used to be very nervous,” she admits, remembering her resolution to change into a stand-alone operator. She didn’t have some huge cash – “I pay the house owners somewhat every week from the enterprise” – and he or she was afraid her youth, her relative inexperience, and language expertise would possibly maintain her again. However Elena’s fortitude and abundance of heat and goodwill, her dedication to her prospects and a spotlight to element, made for a fast hit. The enterprise hummed.
Her loyal following enabled her to face the numerous challenges that got here her manner, from the monetary crash of 2008 to the growing recognition of informal footwear that had been thought-about much less repairable and extra replaceable by customers. Her buyer base grew to incorporate the a whole lot of names that make up her mailing listing of at the moment. Many grew to become cherished mates; some felt like household.
It’s clear from the pace with which Elena’s radiant smile fades when the subject turns to COVID that the virus has devastated her, not solely financially however emotionally. With tears in her eyes, she shakes her head and whispers “I simply don’t know.”
She has tried each avenue she will consider to remain afloat. She utilized for and obtained PPP funds to cowl salaries however her test didn’t quantity to a lot. Her payroll prices – for herself and Nicholas, her repairman who works quietly at the back of the shop – had been minimal to start with so as to hold prices down. She related with town’s Small Enterprise Restoration Program to benefit from the assorted assist providers they provided. And, in a characteristically private contact, Elena additionally spent hours writing, copying, and hand addressing a whole lot of notes to former prospects, accentuating phrases like “beneficial buyer”, “neighborhood”, and in capital letters “WITH THANKS,” all to remind folks that Toscana remains to be open. “Please be happy to name me and I shall be more than pleased to select up and ship any work it’s a must to supply,” her word states, alongside together with her mobile phone. Elena says she is going to even negotiate charges from these which might be posted on a big chalkboard on the entrance of the shop.
Luckily, lease has not been a problem. “My landlord has been so, so good to me,” Elena says, clasping her palms to her coronary heart in her acquainted gesture of gratitude. He informed her to pay what she will, ensuring she had sufficient to stay on herself. “However final month, I pay nothing,” she says, tears as soon as once more filling her eyes.
Elena additionally obtained an sudden increase from a current GoFundMe marketing campaign launched spontaneously by devoted buyer Cathryn Steck, which raised over $7,000 in simply weeks. It was simply one other signal of how a lot neighbors and prospects treasure Elena’s spirit and repair. When requested concerning the marketing campaign, Elena is speechless as she shortly turns into overwhelmed with feelings. “I’m blessed,” is all she says.
Going into virtually a yr with out something near earnings as ordinary, Elena is clearly apprehensive, although. Road site visitors remains to be down and with so many individuals persevering with to earn a living from home, there’s no need for formal footwear or associated repairs. Elena remains to be hopeful nevertheless, sustained by a by no means ending religion that one thing good can, and can, come from unhealthy. “I’m right here due to the women who love to decorate up,” she says with a smile. Hopefully her neighbors will really feel so inclined, particularly because the climate warms – and the boys of the Higher West Aspect will take part too.
West Aspect Rag has been profiling small companies, that are disappearing from the neighborhood at an alarming fee. To learn extra on this sequence, click here.