Finding Community in Chelsea

Small-town spirit is amplified during the coronavirus crisis

| 23 Mar 2020 | 03:59

My partner and I have called Chelsea our home for more than a quarter-century. I co-produce a podcast, “Making Gay History,” on the street where I live and I help run my hyper-local neighborhood association, which covers the 300 block of West 20th Street.

Like many streets in the city of my birth, we’re more a small town here than what people outside New York think of as a big city. And during this crisis, that small-town spirit has been amplified as we check in on each other and seek news about those who have left for less dense places or were caught out-of-town when the travel restrictions were suddenly put in place.

In the past, my neighbors and I have organized to fund the pruning of our street trees, the makeover of forlorn tree pits and have helped fund the restoration of the historic St. Peter’s Church. Now, during this crisis, my neighbors have demonstrated the caring attitude that has always characterized our community. We’ve organized a volunteer corps to help those in need (lots of volunteers, but no requests for help — yet), and I’m producing a daily newsletter to share information on resources that are available on surrounding blocks.

So here’s just a sample of what I’ve been sharing with neighbors — both literal and figurative snapshots of life in Chelsea over the past week — including some resources that I hope are helpful to our neighbors and the businesses that are trying to keep their heads above water.

Keeping Our Trees Healthy

As part of the 300 West 20th Street Block Association's ongoing efforts to do makeovers of all our tree pits — to keep the trees healthy and beautify the block — one of our neighbors made a donation to pay for the five tree pits in front of St. Peter’s Church and the adjacent church rectory and the Atlantic Theater to be fitted out with spring plantings. So on Tuesday morning, March 17, Mark Davies, who owns Higher Ground Horticulture, and his colleague Tim Ousey got to work on what they anticipate is their last landscaping job until the pandemic winds down. May the colorful pansies and daffodils brighten everyone’s spirits!

Fish for Sale

On March 17, F. Rozzo and Sons seafood purveyors returned to their old building in Chelsea at 159 Ninth Avenue (after having moved last year to the huge wholesale market in the Bronx) to open a retail store, selling fish at wholesale prices. On their first day, they sold out by 2:00 p.m. They’ll be open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (or until the fish sells out). They would normally make 360+ deliveries to restaurants and other clients each day and are now down to about a dozen. So they have plenty of fish to sell.

I stopped in one morning to buy sardines and branzino, and there was a line out the door. If you go, please remember to stay six feet apart from the next person in line. And don’t be shy about asking the person in front or behind to keep their distance — it’s the neighborly thing to do!

Union Square Farmers Market is Open!

Yesterday my partner and I visited the Union Square Farmers Market, which is open for business Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The vendors have all set parameters to keep shoppers safe (they handle the produce, not the customers). It’s spring, so you’ll find fresh carrots, scallions, early garlic, etc., plus all the usual foods and baked goods.

More Good Food News

I was very happy to discover that the Fabrique Swedish bakery at 348 West 14th Street is open for business and has plenty of fresh baked goods. And so is the “Chelsea Local” part of Chelsea Market (enter mid-block on 15th or 16th Streets between Ninth and Tenth Avenues).

Dvorah, my neighbor at the corner, reports that La Bergamote, Qanoon and Pastia are all open for takeout and delivery. All are struggling to get enough business to stay open. But place your orders early in the day because they are required to close by 8:00 p.m. Here are some other nearby options:

• La Bergamote (NW corner of Ninth Avenue and 20th Street),, 212-627-9010

• Qanoon (SE corner of Ninth Avenue and 21st Street),, 646-843-9711

• Pastai (Ninth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Street),, 646-688-3463

Other Ninth Avenue restaurants and bakeries (between 20th and 23rd Streets) that are offering takeout and and delivery:

• Dil E Punjab,, 212-647-9428

• La Fonda (they’ll deliver pitchers of margaritas!),, 917-525-5252

• The Meatball Shoppe (15% discount with code: Meatball15),, 212-257-4363

• Chelsea Square Diner:, 212-691-5400

• Billy’s Bakery:, 212-647-9406

• Harbs (the banana cream pie is my favorite!),, 646-336-6888

Hyper-Local Listening

My neighbor Sara Burningham and I produce the “Making Gay History” podcast ( right here on West 20th Street (in my temporary studio underneath a massage table covered with comforters). We’ve launched a special series of inspiring (I hope!) episodes posting weekly for the duration. Have a listen to “Revisiting the Archive: Episode 1: Frank Kameny":!6772b

Social Distancing at Clement Moore Park

Clement Moore Park at 22nd Street and Tenth Avenue, which is still open, is a great place to meet friends. Not many people and plenty of room to keep your distance.