By Kathryn Adisman
In the aftermath of the hospital closing, I made the rounds of local mom & pops to inquire about the impact on their business. First stop: the “saints of St. Vincent’s.”
June 2010 Eddie Najda, oldest of three brothers who own Jessie’s Express Café on 7th Avenue, hands me the paper. “Did you see the New York Times today?”
It’s June 19, the hospital’s been closed six weeks, and a smile is frozen on Eddie’s face, shell-shocked by the news: St. Vincent’s is gone and with it thousands who were Jessie’s daily customers.
“They closed in no time. All the nurses we knew for 20-25 years, they come here crying. Some left with no benefits. So many people got hurt,” he says.
Soon, the family establishment opened in 1978 by the brothers’ (Eddie, Sammy and Casey) father (Jessie), who moved here from Michigan, could be gone—like the hospital—overnight.
Eddie proudly shows me his three framed letters expressing gratitude to Jessie’s for generously donating food after both WTC bombings, one dated Feb. 26, 1993, the other after 9/11, a third from the cafeteria services. Jessie’s was “the ER for the ER.”
“We sent everything on the spot so everybody can have sandwiches—it’s a trauma hospital,” Eddie says, incredulous the city could abandon him. “Tell the politicians we need a hospital, Jessie’s survival depends on it.”
Eileen, a nurse at the HIV facility, adds, “We want to keep these guys in business.”
Jessie’s is part of a community of small businesses struggling to compensate for a staggering loss that could change the texture of the West Village forever—what the Times refers to as “nonmedical ramifications.”
Eddie describes his store as a neighborhood place dependent on foot traffic. In 2006, business was so good the brothers decided to combine their two locations into one and renovate. Four years later, St. Vincent’s closed, and within a month, “the hospital deli” was in trouble.
Sammy, youngest of the three brothers, can’t understand how this was allowed to happen. Why, when they rescued the banks, did they let a 161-year Catholic hospital fold?
“They hurt us, they killed us, they killed my business.” He compares what’s happening in the neighborhood to a circle. “You can’t take one part away. Everything is going down.”
Sammy used to love coming to work and looked forward to seeing the people who depended on Jessie’s. “You lose those things, you lose your life. It’s about relationship.”
Mark, a 10-year resident and Jessie’s regular, notes, “The neighborhood is on life support.”
February 2011. The sign in the window of Jessie’s on 7th Avenue says:
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE. WE ARE FORCED TO LEAVE AFTER 30 YEARS AT THIS LOCATION. GOODBYE & GOOD LUCK.
Shaking hands with Eddie on the last day, Mark tells him, “You’re a class act. I hope you come back. Thank you for everything!”
Postscript Good news! They came back in two locations: Jessie’s Express Café, 411 8th Avenue, and Blackstone Coffee Roasters, 502 Hudson Street. Eddie thanks the Army Reserves for his Chelsea shop surviving Covid. Looking back, he admits, “I wish I had the old shop!”
Next stop in series: Jessie’s old neighbor, Paper Works.
Kathryn Adisman is a freelance writer and 38-year West Village resident.