Dec. 18, 2018 By Christian Murray
Take a bow, Sunnyside.
Approximately a thousand residents showed up Monday night to the Sunnyside Fire Relief Fundraiser to raise money for the employees and business owners whose lives were turned upside down after a massive fire destroyed a string of Queens Boulevard businesses last week.
The event, held at Sunnyside Community Services, raised nearly $40,000—on top of the $85,000 donated via the GoFundMe page that was launched Thursday night—in a show of force by the tight-knit neighborhood.
The tickets for the event—about 600 in all–were sold out online within 24 hours. Those who turned up without tickets, meanwhile, stood in the line outside of the 43-31 39th St. center, at times wrapping all the way down 39th Street to the Dollar Store on Queens Boulevard.
The business owners whose stores were incinerated were overwhelmed last night by the community’s support.
“Oh my god, I don’t know what to say,” said Tony Tang, the owner of the UPS store, one of the businesses on the block impacted by the fire. “We love the Sunnyside people, we love it here and it’s amazing. So many people here I know wanting to support us.”
Residents at the fundraiser rushed to hug Tang and his wife Lena, who together have owned a business on the affected Queens Boulevard block for over three decades.
Tang, who was in good spirits, said he is in Sunnyside to stay. He plans on opening a pop-up store soon, and is in talks with two landlords about finding a permanent space.
Bryan Chunton, the owner of Zen Yai, another affected businesses, said he was overwhelmed by the show of support. “When they say Sunnyside Strong, they really mean it,” he said.
Chunton is now looking for a new space in Sunnyside to reopen. He also has a smaller restaurant in the East Village, and has been moving some of his Zen Yai staff to work at the location while getting in touch with other restaurant owners for employment opportunities for the rest of his team.
Sidetracks’ Bernard Reilly, the longtime owner of the neighborhood staple also destroyed in the fire, said he was “very appreciative of the community” during the fundraiser.
Other businesses affected by last week’s five-alarm fire include Romantic Depot, which opened in October, New York Style Eats, in business for about two decades and Better Line Hardware.
Jaime-Faye Bean, the executive director of Sunnyside Shines and lead organizer of the fundraising effort, said her office has been flooded with calls by residents asking how they can help. “A lot of people have been calling my landline and cellphone– and we have been inundated with e-mails. Many have reached out through social media, too.”
Assemblymember Cathy Nolan also said her office has heard from many residents who were looking for ways to help.
Nearly 30 restaurants donated food and beverages for Monday night’s event, and attendees were offered a variety of food choices such as Turkish, Italian Irish, Mexican and Himalayan cuisine. There was live entertainment, holiday shops, arts & crafts for sale and even Santa.
Around 100 items were donated by businesses for a raffle, with some items, including several gift certificates to area restaurants, to be auctioned off this week on Sunnyside Shines’ website.
“This makes you feel good about Sunnyside—that so many people care about the workers and business owners,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “To raise over $100,000 in a matter of days and the fact that there is a long line outside on a cold, winter day says a lot. I hope the workers and business owners feel the love.”
Melissa Orlando, president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, said the event came together so quickly because so many people wanted to pitch in and help. “I was at the scene on Thursday and people were already messaging each other asking what they should do. We really live a great place.”
Up on stage, Roque Rodriguez, of Suryaside Yoga on Skillman Avenue, said a few words. “In less than five days more than a thousand people have contributed [to the GoFundMe page]. Everyone in this room deserves a special thanks—from the people here, to the business owners and non-profit leaders. It is a testimony to all of us and how united we are.”