When Hurricane Sandy pushed ashore with 125 mph winds, she knocked out power, flooded homes, and demolished towns. Neighbors began banding together to help get each other through the ordeal. But what readers of this blog might not know is that members of the New York Etsy Team normally stay in touch with each other on a Google group message board, and after Sandy hit, that board lit up with details of just how a hurricane can effect small business owners. For nearly two days after the storm made landfall, the message boards were eerily quiet. That is until Loella (LoellaMedina), who lives in Newark with her husband and infant son and had no heat or electricity, wrote: “We might not all be in a position to help directly but I think we can all be here for each other even if it is just to vent and look for some advice.” While the group is unusually supportive of its members during good times, the storm offered an opportunity for this online community to help take care of its members the way brick and mortar communities were doing offline.
The Atlantic City Times published this photo, which reflected the tenor of the NY Etsy Team members: "It's about each other!!"
Members left messages of personal hardship, offers of assistance, efforts to locate a missing member, and wishes for a safe and positive recovery.
"If anyone is in the area and reads this you are welcome to stop by for a hot shower, charge your phone, and get a hot meal…” Loella wrote. “I feel terrible for people who have lost loved ones or their homes. Yesterday we drove around to get some gas and get some stuff for our baby and there was just so many houses and cars around my in-laws that were damaged from trees that just toppled, like a giant had just pushed them over.” Team members suffered losses both personal and professional. This is an important time for makers of handmade things. Many are in production for the holidays, which can account for up to 50% of a business’s annual sales.
Jonathan Adler wasted no time in turning the storm into a business opportunity.
One knitter of accessories and clothes living in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, was particularly hard hit when a water surge knocked out her home’s furnace and destroyed hundreds of dollars worth of supplies in her basement. Filling four giant garbage bags with ruined books, knitting magazines, yarn and fabric, she wrote: “I will be able to salvage…some precious yarns that are worth skeining, washing and winding into balls. So much work!” In response, there were offers of understanding that only another crafter could make: “On the positive side, you now have a good reason to go out and buy more yarn, and you should, because you're very talented!” posted Jean of
Those affected by the storm wait to recharge electronics.
Condolences poured in immediately, as did more stories: One member, whose Etsy shop features hand sewn items and who lives a half block from a canal on the South Bay of Long Island, was without electric, gas, and heat. Her studio flooded. As friends and neighbors pitched in to help, she said she was “looking forward to the Holiday season and many orders that will give me a sense of normality."
Jenny Topolski a jeweler, who works with the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals posted that the Animal Care Center needed people to foster the pets of hurricane victims. “At this moment, I am specifically looking for a foster for two adult cats,” she wrote. “The owner wants the cats back, but her home is completely destroyed, so we have no idea how realistically this will happen.” She reminded members of the group “how much this helps affected people. It is a HUGE comfort to know that your beloved pet will be safe and cared for." (Update: The cats were taken in by a NY Etsy team member, but there are many more animals that need foster homes.)
Most poignant was the search for one of the team’s directors who appeared MIA. Because she lived in the blackout zone and was not responding to text messages, members got worried. When there was no response, someone asked if anyone lived close enough to stop by her apartment. It was Nordea, a soap maker, who reported she drove down to the director’s apartment building, where there was no power. So she climbed 10 flights of stairs and rescued the fellow crafter, taking her uptown to shower, charge her phone and get a hot meal. "Heloooo!,” the director, and fair organizer, posted. “Thank you soo much for all your concern. Nordea came and saved me!” Etsy team to the rescue: Crisis averted.
Workers in their apartment, at the "work from home" offices of fab.com, a popular online store for handmade goods.
There were mailing fears and worries: crafter’s lives depend on shippers like USPS, UPS and FedEx to keep their shops running smoothly. Members like Rosi, who runs Hanky Blanky wrote that U.S. postal workers were on the job immediately. Some, who live on the profits from their shops, were concerned about a loss of income from markets that were cancelled.
Alison owner of a paper goods shop, offered “a great general resource for artists on disaster planning and recovery (http://www.studioprotector.org) and a site with salvage procedures for media" (http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/conservation/emergency.html).”
There were many wishes of support for those who encountered hardship. And those affected wrote many thanks for the sentiments of their team members. Offerings of what-to-do-next were posted: “Stopping further global warming as much as possible and protecting NY's waterfront are what's needed,” wrote one member who lost supplies and the washer/dryer that could clean the damaged goods.
A rally in Times Square just before Sandy hit.
Posts continue in the aftermath of the disaster, and as we rely on each other to get through, it’s good to know that help can be only an email away. Now, on a lighter note, let's talk about real damage. To all you artists out there, can anyone figure out a way to do something constructive about this:
Wool? Hemp? Polyester yarn? Can anyone ID this material?
Susan Spedalle/ Wink and Flip
Readers who wish to support handmade artists can do so by attending the New York Etsy Teams’ Holiday Cavalcade on December 1st and 2nd.