Mom & Pops Suffer Loss of St. Vincent’s: Paper Works Part 2

BLOCK OF 7TH AVENUE, home to Jessie’s & Paper Works, as seen today. Photo by Peter Gonzalez.

By Kathryn Adisman

Paper Works proprietor Adam Abi-Saab waited all summer for something to fill the void. He had an option to renew his lease for five years. Will a settlement be reached with the landlord?

The Week after Labor Day 2010 the landlord was willing to go down 20 percent, but the store lost more than 60 percent of its business after St. Vincent’s closed. Paper Works will be forced to close at the end of September after 25 years. Adam speaks of “the disappointment for the community.” More than 500 signed a petition to the landlord. Adam says, “It’s not the landlord’s fault. It’s a consequence of the hospital closing.” He calls it “playing a dirty trick” on the community. Adam predicts: “Lots of merchants will shut down and the neighborhood will look like a ghost town.”

To make this decision was hard. He met his wife, Wafa, at the store in 1990 while she was a student nurse. They discovered they were related by marriage. She calls it “Destiny.”

What will he do now? “I’ll fix my head for a little while…”

Len, a high school librarian, expresses “tremendous sadness.” —The store was “a touchstone, especially for single people, middle-aged or older, who live alone….”

Dicky, former doorman at The Vermeer, a self-described “loner,” fits Len’s description. Once a week, Dicky brings a rose for the store. After his surgery, Adam fetched him from NYU’s hospital. “Adam calls me at home if I don’t show up.”

The Last Week Indignant Tea & Sympathy owner Nicky Perry storms in, vowing to write landlord.

Tom, the Birthday Boy, comes in with carrot cupcakes to share. “Did I miss Smokey?” The famous cat once scratched a customer who stepped on his paw and returned from St. Vincent’s with a $435 ER bill, recalls Susan, who split the annual vet fee with Adam. When the hospital staff found out it was Smokey, the bill got canceled!

“We’re back!” a gaggle of nurses flock in: “We’re here to say goodbye to you!” Nurse Practitioner Patti, who was a student at St. Vincent’s and worked there 33 years, describes it as “the loss of a loved one. We were a community beyond just the four walls.” The store was a gift shop for the hospital.

Joanne, 35 years at St. Vincent’s, says, “I got all my film developed here, bought cards for the last 25 years. These are our friends.” Patricia, 19 years in the Reiss Pavilion, observes, “There are no more big card stores.” The “variety” store—where K.B. fixed computers and blew up balloons—is extinct.

The Last Day Robert, grade school science teacher, Paper Works customer since the ’90s, reacts like a man on Death Row who just got a stay of execution, relieved to hear the store will be open three more days!

“Even if I don’t buy anything—I think all of us just want to be able to see them again.… This is like our home base. Such a tragedy when we lost St. Vincent’s. Trickle effect.”

“It’s the time we live in,” says Adam. “In the giant stores, the relation between people is not the same.” Mike returns from Duane Reade: $7.99 for a roll of packing tape vs. $2.99—Paper Work’s prices were cheaper!

The left-over merchandise—thousands $$ in overstock—Adam is donating to the LGBTQ Center and Salvation Army. “Time to give something back! Give and take, give and take”—the compact a community store makes with its patrons.

There’s a rally in two weeks Adam plans to attend. After he’s closed?

“Of course!”

POSTSCRIPT After Paper Works closed, Sunday, Oct. 3, Smokey wandered over every day for a week and stood outside the shop, waiting for it to open. Finally, he gave up. Last seen at Jessie’s, curled up on a shelf in back of the store. He looks depressed. Can’t say I blame him.

Today Walgreen’s box store Duane Reade, which absorbed four independents, itself is closed, leaving a block of empty storefronts. It looks like a ghost town. What Adam predicted came to pass.

Kathryn Adisman writes about neighborhood places and people. She has lived in the West Village since 1984.

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