Dec. 14, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Just hours after the devastating five-alarm fire that destroyed six businesses yesterday, locals have already started banding together to raise funds and organize help for the victims.
Sunnyside Shines, the Business Improvement District organization that all of the affected businesses were part of, is spearheading a massive multi-part campaign that includes (so far) a GoFundMe, a resource fair and a fundraiser for the owners and employees that worked in the block of businesses.
The GoFundMe page, created at around 7 p.m. last night, has already raised more than $24,000 as of press time by 405 people and organizations, and has been shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook.
Heartfelt messages left on the fundraising page by residents and those with connections to the neighborhood highlight fond memories of the six affected establishments, which many say formed Sunnyside’s pillars.
“These businesses, owners and employees are the heart and soul of Sunnyside,” reads part of a message left by Ruth Fernandez. “I feel shocked and devastated as I have grown to love the employees and owners – many of whom I consider friends.”
Sunnyside Shines, along with its nearly 40 partnering organizations and individuals, say the collected funds in its $100,000 goal will be used in their entirety to provide cash assistance to the employees—estimated to be at least 100— and owners of the impacted businesses: Sidetracks, Zen Yai, UPS, New York Style Eats, Romantic Depot and Better Line Hardware.
Jaime-Faye Bean, executive director of Sunnyside Shines, said the organization and just about every neighborhood group began planning the first wave of relief efforts immediately after waking up to the news of the early morning fire.
The BID’s board internally organized and approved requests to set up the GoFundMe and resource fair in the first half of the day, with a conference call then held between several area groups late afternoon to further plan and delegate tasks for the fundraiser event.
“It’s been an amazing, coordinated effort and everyone has responded to this in the swiftest way imaginable,” she said.
Apart from the fundraiser that appears likely to hit its goal within a few days, Sunnyside Shines has organized an emergency resource fair for the employees now left jobless.
The fair will take place on Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Services, where affected employees can explore new employment opportunities, register for benefits programs and connect to other resources to help.
Sunnyside Community Services will also help employees sign up for an array of benefits like SNAP, financial and housing assistance and more if they qualify.
The BID is also inviting employers who are interested in being part of the fair to reach out to the organization for more information.
The fundraiser event will take place on the same day and location from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and includes food, live entertainment, and a holiday pop-up market with goods from local artisans for the price of $20 admission at the door.
Participating organizations and businesses so far include The Skillman Project, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, Arriba Arriba, Woodside-Sunnyside Runners and more.
Details on the food offerings, entertainment and vendors is still coming together and will be made available once finalized.
While relief efforts and more are underway, Bean stresses that these, so far, are short term fixes for what is certainly a long road ahead for the businesses owners and employees.
Sunnyside Shines at the moment does not know which businesses had insurance, but says it’s not unusual for small businesses to either not have the protection or let it lapse. At least one business owner, according to Bean, has already started to talk to their insurer.
For recovery, business owners have to prove the extent of damages to the insurer in an exhaustive procedure done over several months.
“We’re not talking about something that’s happening quickly,” Bean said, who noted that beyond financial recovery, business owners are dealing with a “loss that is a psychologically incredible blow.”
The BID is also committed to transparency in these relief efforts, and wants all those who donate and beyond to know where the raised funds are going. A feature will be set up in the organization’s website soon that tracks ongoing donations in all forms.
The organization is also working to determine a full count of affected employees including their employment status prior to the fire.
Apart from the two events, Sunnyside Shines is also working with the city’s department of Small Business Services and its emergency response unit, which is currently meeting one-on-one with business owners to talk about next steps and assistance.
There are also talks about affected businesses moving into other vacant spaces in the area. At least one property owner, according to Bean, is exploring this idea.
Within the next week to 10 days, Bean adds, an inter-agency recovery meeting will be held for businesses, where they can get detailed information on all the available routes of aid including low cost loans and legal assistance.
Elected officials have also pledged to assist in recovery efforts, including Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan and State Senator Michael Gianaris. Congressmember-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also noted that her office is keeping a close eye to amplify and assist in recovery efforts.
The Queens Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, has reached out to Governor Cuomo’s offices to see if relief funds can be freed for the Sunnyside businesses, Bean said.
The fire, which began at around 2 a.m. on Dec. 13 at 45-02 Queens Blvd., ripped through the block of businesses between 45th and 46th Street and could not be quelled until hours later at around 8 a.m.
The FDNY said 12 people, including seven firefighters, were injured and taken to area hospitals.
The injuries occurred after a building collapse at the scene, which came about after a large “smoke explosion” that exacerbated the fire.
The buildings next to the burning lot, including the three premises making up businesses from KMIA Salon and wrapping around to Ave Coffee, were not affected. The flames also did not reach the residential buildings behind the hardware shop on 45th Street.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.