WWW.QNS.COM RIDGEWOOD TIMES MARCH 25, 2021 27
Community organizations team up to raise funds
for Jackson Heights businesses devastated by fi re
BY ANGÉLICA ACEVEDO
Following a large fi re that ripped through a row
of storefronts in Jackson Heights earlier in the
month, community organizations have set up
a fundraiser to help the aff ected immigrant-owned
businesses and workers — most of whom were already
hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 15, Chhaya Community Development
Corporation and Desis Rising Up and Moving
(DRUM) created a GoFundMe with a goal of raising
$50,000 to provide direct relief grants for
the uninsured business owners, undocumented
workers and street vendors.
According to authorities, on the night of March
4, a fire broke out in the basement of Prince Kebab
& Chinese Restaurant, located at 37-56 74th St., and
quickly spread to the six occupancies structurally
connected to it. It took the FDNY nearly six
hours and 168 firefighters to get the fire under
control. Some of the impacted businesses included
a cellphone store, nail and hair salons as well as
“This tragedy is compounded by already mounting
debt, lack of job security, fear of eviction and
personal health worries,” their fundraiser’s message
read. “There are businesses here who were
ineligible for federal relief, workers ineligible for
unemployment. Some of the smallest businesses
operated and made their livelihoods here, including
street vendors who stored their inventory in
this building. We are even hearing of nearby
residents affected by smoke inhalation. This will
have a profound impact on the neighborhood but
we are committed to protecting and preserving
the commercial corridor and the people who run
Jose Miranda, director of programs at Chhaya,
told QNS there were about 15 businesses affected
by the fire, but that they continue to find out about
new businesses every day as some shops were
subdivided and had subleases. There are about
five businesses that are uninsured.
Part of the funds they collect will also help
replace wages for the businesses affected workers,
mainly undocumented workers who aren’t
eligible for unemployment or other government
aid. Miranda said all the different businesses had
about 30 workers in total, but was unsure of how
many are undocumented, as DRUM is working
directly with the small business owners.
There still isn’t a clear timeline of when repairs
will be done due to a vacate order still in place as
of Thursday, March 18.
“The entire roof collapsed on the building …
we’re assuming it’ll take a long time to repair,”
Miranda said. “A lot of businesses have decided
it would take too long, so they’re looking for a new
Miranda said their organizations and the Department
of Small Business Services (SBS) are
helping the businesses relocate. And while the
business owners prefer to stay in the neighborhood,
Miranda said they’re seeing rent go up
“astronomically” in Queens.
“Prices seem to be a little lower in Manhattan,”
Miranda said. “But they’re shooting up astronomically
for commercial tenants in Queens, even
folks who have to renew leases can’t afford it.”
Miranda noted that many of the impacted
Multiple small businesses on Jackson Heights’ 74th Street were damaged due to a large fi re on
March 4. Photo courtesy of Chhaya
commercial tenants were already getting sued
for back rent by their landlords.
“Queens is still bustling, there’s still a lot of
economic activity, so it’s been hard,” Miranda
said. “The landlords still see opportunity. People
are still opening businesses because they see the
Commercial rent increases was already an issue
for small businesses prior to the pandemic, but
the health crisis and the restrictions that came
with it have compounded the problems. Chhaya
and DRUM have been advocating for state leadership
to provide small businesses and nonprofits
with rent relief.
So far, the business owners have received limited
assistance, according to Miranda. While SBS
helped them connect with low-interest loans from
local lenders, many businesses can’t afford to take
on any loans.
Miranda added that while they’re relying on
community fundraising, the businesses owners
will need more government assistance to get them
back on their feet.
“We want to work with local legislators to see if
they can help us fund a relief fund,” Miranda said.
“A lot of money will be coming to the state, and
we’re hoping it will help small businesses, especially
the vulnerable immigrant business owners
of an ethnic enclave like Jackson Heights.”
Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas and
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
visited 74th Street with the Jackson Heights Merchants
Association last weekend to hear from the
affected business owners.
Gonzalez-Rojas told QNS that they saw how
there was a lot of water damage on top of the fire
damage. She’s worried about the immigrant businesses
owners, some of whom hail from Nepal and
Burma, who she said “felt uncared for.”
“My biggest concern is getting businesses back
and running,” González-Rojas said. “It’s heartbreaking
to hear from them.”
Congresswoman Ocasio Cortez’s spokesperson
Ivet Contreras said the fire was an additional hit
to the business owners’ livelihood.
“During her tour, the Congresswoman saw that
the damage of the fire wasn’t just confined to the
businesses, their owners and employees, but that
it actually affected a whole community,” Contreras
said. “These businesses are community hubs
where South Asian immigrants new to NYC could
plug into the community and where people could
find a support system.”
Local elected officials are working together to
try to find ways to directly assist the businesses.
For now, they’re helping spread the word of
Chhaya and DRUM’s fundraiser.
The funds raised will go toward business owners
and workers. Business owners will receive
help with applications for grants, filing insurance
claims for those who are insured, and connecting
with resources from the city. Meanwhile, workers
will receive help understanding unemployment
benefits if eligible, access to financial and tenant
counseling services and labor lawyers.
The next step will be to assess the true need once
business owners can re-enter the storefronts.
Miranda said they’re happy about the support
they’ve already received from the community.
They’ve raised more than $11,000 as of Monday,
“I hope we don’t lose momentum. This is going
to be a long-term need,” Miranda said. “They’re
not the only ones who need the support — a lot
of businesses are suffering. I hope, as a community,
we can support them before we wind up
with nothing but chain stores and banks in our