What They Were Thinking:
Small-Business Owners Near Ground Zero, Six Months Later
The New York Times Magazine, March 10, 2002.
Photographs by Barbel Schmidt (to come)
Interviews by Robert Mackey
A portfolio of images of small-business owners taken near the World Trade Center on Feb. 22, 2002
Frank Djerdjaj, Little Italy Pizza, 11 Park Place:
''I'm Albanian, from Kosovo. I've been in New York 15 years. Most of the Albanians who come to this country first go to Italy, and they learn the style of Italian life there, cooking and this and that, and so when they come here they start working as pizza guys -- and they work hard and they take over. As the owner, I've been here nine years. It was a really good location -- last year we just signed a new lease, a 15-year lease, upgraded the store, with all brand-new marble, spent a fortune, and then Sept. 11 came. When they opened the viewing platform there, the line was actually ending up in this block, so we were fortunate for like a week or so, but then when they got in with tickets, then there was no line anymore. But there's a god out there. We'll get back.''
Mukesh Patel, Park Place and Church Street:
''I took over this business about two years ago. I don't own the stand, but it's like I'm subletting. They're not taking any rent from me right now, because, you know, the guy is good, a nice person, and he understands everything. Slowly, slowly people are coming back, but business is very slow. The main problem is a family problem. My two sons and my father and mother are still in India, and my wife is here. My sons are coming here for the first time in April or May to see if they like it, to stay here. My father and mother have been here two times, but both have had bypass surgery, and you know here the cold is too much sometimes, so in summertime it's all right, but they don't like wintertime here.''
Tony Romano, Hair Today, 150 Fulton Street:
''I've been working in this area for 40 years, since I came from Italy. My first job was on Cortlandt Street, exactly where they put the trade center later. I've been able to survive because I'm on the second floor - some of the hair salons on the ground floors, which have a very high rent, can't make it now. My landlord, the Collegiate Church, is not giving us a break on rent. The only break is that for six months, from October until March, they deferred one-third of the rent - only deferred. Then I've got to start to pay it back on top of the regular rent.
But this is what I like to do. I talk to people. In this business you've got to talk to people. If you don't want to talk to them, they talk to you anyway.''
Mitchell Kikoen, Mitchell's Place Jewelers, 18 Park Place:
''I've been in this exact location since 1975. You know, I'm not only a jeweler, I'm woven into the community. Everybody knows me. I'd enjoy when people would stop by and we'd chitchat, and it's a big piece of your heart that's missing when it's not like that anymore. We had a respectable Christmas, we had a respectable Valentine's Day -- but we have a lot more awful days than we ever used to. There is tourist traffic in the neighborhood, but we're on a side street, and they're looking for pins and caps -- they're not the ones walking in to buy diamonds and fine neckpieces; that's really reserved for the corporate people that know me, know my reputation for so long. Only people that know us come to see us. It's like a clubhouse atmosphere -- we're a very personable store. The silver lining in the dark cloud is that like most Americans, most New Yorkers, people have bonded in a more adhesive way than ever before.''
Susan Bergen and Ronnie Ferber, Atlas Security Hardware Corp., 130 Church Street.
Bergen: ''There's a lot of businesses suffering down here. You don't hear it on the news anymore - it's like we're old news. The creditors, the bill collectors still call, and we tell them we were affected severely, because we're still in the restricted zone. And they say, 'That was six months ago.' They think it's just gone away.''
Ferber: ''It's called the Immediate Zone now - from Chambers down and from Broadway over. They're promising grants to the businesses down here for rent, but nothing's come through yet. We're just waiting. The answer is to stay and be here, so as it picks up, we're here for it, hopefully in a few months, or maybe in a year or two. We're not going anywhere.''