The Day the Village Stood Still: “Gimme Shelter”

By Roger Paradiso

“It becomes a choice of risking your life or your business. In most cases people are risking their lives to keep their businesses from failing.”

 —Vittorio, La Lanterna di Vittorio
on MacDougal Street 

“Ooh, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away”

—Gimme Shelter
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

The COVID-19 election came to the Village and there was a reckoning. Villagers and the rest of Manhattan voted in record numbers, as did the rest of the country despite the pandemic. America voted President Trump out of office after his first term. President-elect Biden won by six million votes and captured 306 electoral votes. Trump beat the indictments and the impeachment, but he couldn’t conquer COVID-19. In fact, he contracted the virus and was hospitalized. 

The virus is burning through the Midwest. More than 263,525 people have died (as of November 25th). This is without a doubt one of the biggest disasters the United States has faced. As the virus runs wild in the Midwest and West, Villagers are bracing for a second wave. 

THOUSANDS OF WEST VILLAGERS FILLED WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK in celebration on the announcement of the calling of the election win for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris November 7th. The initial announcement came in the late morning, and tens of thousands celebrated in the Village, and throughout the city late into the evening. Photo by Bob Cooley.

Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are carefully navigating measured shut-downs and isolating spiking territories to prevent the full-blown assault which terrorized area hospitals last spring.

Is this the straw that will break the back of the Village? What will be left of the bohemian Village if the mom-and-pops leave? 

Jamal of Village Music World returned my call with an ominous statement—he said he was taking a sick friend to a hospital and would call later.

As I walked past so many businesses shuttered, I thought about how many mom-and-pop stores we have already lost. It is hard to imagine that all theaters were closed in Manhattan. That can’t be good for everyone’s mood. We need some relief. My favorite movie theater in the Village is Cinema Village on East 12th Street. It has not shown a film since March 15th. Owner Nick the Greek said, “I can’t go against Cuomo because he is going after the virus. We can’t do anything until we get rid of this virus.” Nick has the most iconic theater in the Village, dating back to the glory days of 1964. 

Speaker McConnell rejects the Democrats’ large Cares Act COVID-19 relief package; he wants a smaller and “highly targeted” bill.

I emailed Tory at the Half Pint on Thompson Street. She wrote, “Our PPP ran out months ago, and the sidewalk structures are upwards of $20G each! They can’t be enclosed. The list is never ending. Increase the unemployment. Give us PPP so we can pay our landlords and budget accordingly. This limbo bullshit is horrendous.” 

Pelosi called on Republicans to “stop this circus and get to work on what really matters to the American people—their health and their economic security.”

After the COVID-19 elections there were celebrations of removing President Trump (the Pandemic Don) who, like Nero, fiddled about while the country was burning.

“Ooh, see the fire is sweepin’
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way”

—Jagger, Richards

“The passage of the Federal Cares Act with the inclusion of some business interruption insurance plan by which the federal government buttresses the insurance companies as they pay the claims is of the utmost importance. And for those small businesses who weren’t able to afford this type of coverage prior to the pandemic…we would have to supply grants.” —Vittorio

Like many small business owners, Tory feels trapped and is angry. “We need a new mayor that actually gives a damn about the food and beverage industry. We have done everything by the book 100 percent and are still blamed for the spike in numbers. No mention of schools, supermarkets, Home Depot.”

Vittorio told me that his father started their business on Bleecker Street in 1969; they moved it to MacDougal Street in 1977. The business was doing well enough to support the family. But now Vittorio is scrambling to keep it going. “I’m working twice as hard to earn half as much.”

The virus is our enemy—not blue or red states. As Nick says, “I think it’s best that we wait out the surge and see where we are in two months. During this surge we should all stick together and have faith in our leaders.”

I called Jamal back to see what was up with him. He said, “The election celebrations brought some business on Saturday. There was some life to the Village. But that soon disappeared. You know most of us small businesses—we make 65-70 percent of our money in November and December, with the holidays.” I asked about the friend he drove to the hospital. He said his friend was ok. Maybe that’s a good omen.

In the darkness of this winter, we should keep in mind that there are at least two vaccines which show progress that will save us all from this virus. This news is all that keeps most of us sane. Though the vaccines won’t be ready for most of us until spring, seniors could be getting them in January.  I was told by my orthopedist that he will be able to get a shot in December because he is an essential worker.

In the meantime, Biden has put together a formidable pandemic team and we are praying they have the answer. Much of the battle can be won if we shelter in our homes, wear masks when inside or outside with non-family members, wash our hands often, and stay out of crowds. 

“Either way, it’s going to be a long, hard winter. I am hopeful that a widespread vaccine before the spring can bring business back to normal as we approach summer,” said Vittorio.

There is always a price to pay for survival. When writing this article I listened to the Rolling Stones song “Gimme Shelter.” It’s what we all need, and then some.

“Without federal aid most of us are doomed.” —Vittorio

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