On March 20, in an effort to control the growing number of coronavirus cases in New York — New York City in particular — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order requiring all nonessential businesses to keep their workers at home. Restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and hardware stores are all deemed essential, and all are allowed to remain open.
Damon Winter walked one block in Manhattan — on 72nd Street between Broadway and Columbus Avenue — to conduct an informal photographic census of the businesses still open and the people who were working in the hours before Governor Cuomo’s order went into effect.
Under normal circumstances, delivering pizza, filling prescriptions or making bubble tea might not seem heroic. But when workers across the country are being told to stay at home, service workers and pharmacists are putting themselves at risk just by doing their jobs. Simple actions like commuting to work or opening a door could expose them to the coronavirus.
In the past few weeks, New York City, a massive city by any measure, has shrunk. The block is one’s village. These are the people who make it tick.
Emdadul Chowdhury has worked at Gray’s Papaya, a city institution selling hot dogs and tropical drinks, since 2008, preparing food or tending the register. Only four people are working there now (compared with seven before the executive order), and it has gone from being a 24-hour operation to being open just six hours a day.
“Compared to last week, less and less people are coming into the store,” Mr. Chowdhury said. His main fear is of contracting the coronavirus on his commute from the Bronx, on a mostly empty D train. He wears gloves and a mask and washes his hands.
Chow Mok owns Zen Medica, a nutritional supplement store. “Every time people come in, we’re trying to tell them to stay calm, to relax. Stress is going to compromise the immune system,” she said.
“Protecting ourselves is helping to manage and support our own body’s defense, which is the immune system,” Ms. Mok added. “I get nervous too, but having more freak-out attacks is not going to help anybody.”
She has a shipment of organic hand sanitizers, medicinal mushrooms and immune-support nutrients coming in. With fewer people walking through the door, most of her business has transitioned to shipments.
Donna Schofield owns Stationery and Toy, which sells office and school supplies, party supplies, board games and, lately, a lot of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes.
“It’s kind of hard to stay afloat,” Ms. Schofield said. “I might be able to manage it. I’m just going day by day right now.”
“We leave the front door open so that nobody has to touch the handle,” she added. “We’re just going with the flow. I survived Sandy. I can probably survive this, too.”
Andrew Greaves has delivered packages for FedEx for five years. His route extends on 72nd Street from Riverside Drive to Central Park West. “It’s like Christmas all over again,” he said. “The more people are staying home, the more they order.”
Although the volume of packages has gone up during the pandemic, some aspects of his job are easier. “The more deserted the streets are, the easier it is to deliver a package in Manhattan,” Mr. Greaves said. Another good thing is that almost everyone is at home to accept a package.
“The only thing that is weird and different is the part where someone would have to sign for a package,” he said. People are hesitant to touch the scanner. Instead, FedEx is allowing him to write “C-19” in place of a customer’s signature.
“I’m thankful to still be working, that’s for sure,” Mr. Greaves said.
Sherif Eltahawy is a pharmacist and the owner of two pharmacies on 72nd Street: Joseph Pharmacy and Wellness Pharmacy. In addition to shortening his stores’ hours, he has asked all his workers to use masks and gloves, and allows no more than five customers into each store at once.
“A lot of people are more panicked than is necessary,” he said. “It is understandable, but a lot of people are afraid that there’s going to be a shortage of their medications.”
Acetaminophen, hand sanitizer and cough medications are in short supply. “We’re trying to order from different vendors, different suppliers, to do the best we can to stock,” he said, “but it’s very limited.”
Althea Gordon has worked for nine years as a teller at Citibank. “I’m holding on to what’s going on,” she said. “It’s hard. It’s stressful. I’m taking precautions.” At work, she says, she is using a lot of hand sanitizer. “We wash our hands often and we use Lysol inside and outside.”
Citibank has shortened her branch’s hours, but it is still open six days a week. “People are nice when they come in,” Ms. Gordon said. “They tell us that they appreciate us.”
“I love to help people and I love to work with people,” she added. “That’s why I get up every day.”
Not surprisingly, Babacar Fall, the manager of Gartner’s Hardware, has seen an uptick in sales of face masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers and thermometer batteries.
“The business never goes down, honestly. I have very good customers,” he said. “We’re doing better, compared to neighbors and everybody.” He came to New York from Senegal in 1984.
As the resident manager of an apartment building on the block, Blerim Havolli maintains and cleans the building. He has been doing this job for eight years. With the coronavirus, “I have to clean more than any other time,” he said.
He worries about people who enter the building to deliver food or packages. “You don’t know if one of them is infected or not,” he said.
“I’m trying to be very careful because I’m the guy who has responsibility of the building at this time,” Mr. Havolli said. “If I get sick, the building isn’t going to fall down, but nobody can clean up.”
Mr. Havolli has lived in New York City since 1999. Now a U.S. citizen, he immigrated from Kosovo as a refugee.
Juan Gutierrez has worked for three years as a chef at Friedmans. Normally he works 40 hours a week, but that has been reduced to 15 or 20.
“The business has gone down, I imagine, by 85 percent,” he said. “It’s difficult because the store used to have a lot of employees, and many of them are without work and they have families and kids.”
Before the executive order, there would be four or five others with him in the kitchen, but for now, he cooks alone, mostly for delivery. One of his colleagues started a GoFundMe page for his co-workers who are without work.
Rachel Pellerin moved from Florida a month and a half ago to start a church for deaf people with her husband. She works at Coco Fresh Tea & Juice to help finance that dream.
“We stayed open and so far we have been getting a lot of delivery orders,” she said. “I’m grateful to still be able to get paid, but at the same time it can be a little nerve-racking because I know the danger of being outside.”
She and her co-workers disinfect the shop at least once an hour.
Tahmid Khan worked at Dunkin’ Donuts for two years before quitting on Monday. He is a student in computer science at City College.
“I think that it’s irresponsible to keep the store open given the circumstance right now,” he said. “It’s not safe for me or for the customers. It was a $15-an-hour job. I don’t care if I lose it.” He moved to New York three years ago from Bangladesh.
“I think the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise should be more responsible about their operations,” he said. “I just don’t think that they don’t care about the workers or the customers at all. They just care about the money.”
Jayang Tenzin works at Pho Shop, a Vietnamese restaurant. “I’m just a server doing my work from my heart,” he said. “Times like this you have to be there for each other.” Mr. Tenzin moved to New York from Tibet eight years ago. “Got to chase the American dream,” he said.
He commutes an hour on the No. 2 train from Brooklyn. “It’s very quiet. It’s like a ghost town,” he said. “I come out of work, I don’t see anybody.”
Issouf Mande has delivered for Domino’s on an e-bike for two years. “I am scared of the virus because I’m going everywhere, opening every kind of door, going to any kind of house, meeting any kind of people,” he said.
“Most deliveries I deal with the doorman or just call the person and leave it in front of the door.”
Mr. Mande moved to New Jersey three years ago from Burkina Faso. He doesn’t understand why Domino’s is still open. “I think it’s not safe,” he said. “We meet so many people in deliveries. I don’t see enough protection.”
Benjamin Loucks has been homeless for two years. “There is no money to be made,” he said. “No traffic.”