Posted on February 7, 2021 at 2:04 pm by Carol Tannenhauser
By Susanne Beck
Elena Torres has been saving Higher West Facet soles since 1998, the 12 months she turned a newly minted 30-year-old enterprise proprietor. To evaluate from the various 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 provides his thanks from a photograph on the facet wall, together with appreciative photos from well-known neighbors and Higher West Facet residents Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. Extra vacation playing cards with personalised seasons greeting adorn a small shelf close to the register.
The gestures of appreciation are probably the most seen fruits of years of Elena’s laborious work, nice service, countless pleasant smiles, and dedication. However, not too long ago, they’ve gave the impression to be no match for the damaging nature of COVID-19. The virus pressured a 3 and a half month shutdown final March – the peak of the shoe restore season in response to Elena. In the present day, it continues to threaten Elena’s livelihood and probably, her desires for her 17-year-old son to go to a top-notch faculty.
This previous January was lifeless, Elena explains, even quieter than the 9 months earlier than. At some point, she had just one buyer. Different days weren’t significantly better. Actually, final month was the worst Elena has skilled since she purchased the store from the earlier homeowners, 23 years in the past.
“Drago was the identify then,” she recollects. “I renamed it Toscana because it seemed like that fairly place in Italy.”
Elena discovered 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 discovered again dwelling. Machine stitching was new to her; in Ecuador, all of the work was performed by hand. “I may sew easy issues,” she says in her light Spanish accent. “Baggage, sneakers, issues like that.”
Hoping that at some point she may 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. At some point, an individual stopped by the shop and talked about that the Drago store down the road was being bought. “It was like a miracle!” Elena gushes all these years later. Her dream gave the impression to be coming true.
“I used to be very nervous,” she admits, remembering her choice to change into a stand-alone operator. She didn’t have some huge cash – “I pay the homeowners somewhat every week from the enterprise” – and she or he 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 clients and a focus to element, made for a fast hit. The enterprise hummed.
Her loyal following enabled her to face the various challenges that got here her approach, from the monetary crash of 2008 to the rising reputation of informal sneakers that have been thought of 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 record of immediately. Many turned 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 acquired PPP funds to cowl salaries however her verify didn’t quantity to a lot. Her payroll prices – for herself and Nicholas, her repairman who works quietly at the back of the shop – have been minimal to start with with a view to hold prices down. She linked with town’s Small Enterprise Restoration Program to make the most of the varied 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 clients, accentuating phrases like “useful buyer”, “neighborhood”, and in capital letters “WITH THANKS,” all to remind those who Toscana continues to be open. “Please be happy to name me and I will probably be more than pleased to choose up and ship any work you need to provide,” her be aware states, alongside along with her cellular phone. Elena says she is going to even negotiate charges from these which can be posted on a big chalkboard on the entrance of the shop.
Luckily, hire has not been a problem. “My landlord has been so, so good to me,” Elena says, clasping her arms to her coronary heart in her acquainted gesture of gratitude. He instructed her to pay what she will, ensuring she had sufficient to dwell on herself. “However final month, I pay nothing,” she says, tears as soon as once more filling her eyes.
Elena additionally acquired an sudden enhance 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 clients treasure Elena’s spirit and repair. When requested in regards to the marketing campaign, Elena is speechless as she rapidly turns into overwhelmed with feelings. “I’m blessed,” is all she says.
Going into nearly a 12 months with out something near revenue as traditional, Elena is clearly fearful, although. Road visitors continues to be down and with so many individuals persevering with to do business from home, there’s no need for formal sneakers or associated repairs. Elena continues 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 because of 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 Facet will take part too.
West Facet Rag has been profiling small companies, that are disappearing from the neighborhood at an alarming fee. To learn extra on this sequence, click here.