Dear Neighbor,

When was the last time you purchased food from a street cart vendor? For many of us working from home, it’s been a while. This week, Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Piñeda-Salgado chatted with longtime vendor Hani Waly about the challenges he’s faced throughout the pandemic.

Photo of Hani Waly by Andrea Piñeda-Salgado for Epicenter-NYC

When Hani Waly came to the United States nearly two decades ago from Cairo, Egypt, he thought that purchasing a food cart would be the ticket to starting life in a new country. His uncle, who immigrated to the United States years earlier, was in the business, and helped Waly start his. At 19 years old, Waly was overjoyed at the prospect of being his own boss, answering to only himself and his customers.

A food cart in the city that never sleeps — or stops eating — proved to be a quick way for Waly to make money, and he relished the freedom it afforded him; he set his own hours and only answered to himself. His first cart was located in Central Park, where he sold hot dogs and fragrant shish kebabs to hungry tourists.  He earned enough to pay his rent and bills, and even send money to his family back in Egypt where two of his four children live.

Hani Waly preparing meals in his food cart. Photo by Andrea Piñeda-Salgado for Epicenter-NYC.

“I love it because since I [came] to this country, I have this job, I never change it,” he said. “It’s like it is easy money for me. And I relax myself too; I go any time I want in the morning, I leave anytime I want in the night.

But when the pandemic began last month, Waly’s customers, mainly office workers and tourists, dried up.

“After like two days I stopped — I closed the cart,” he said. “I stayed home for a whole year.”

During that time Waly stayed afloat by drawing from his savings and borrowing money from friends.

Waly, like many many food cart workers, was drawn to a job that allowed him to be his own boss, but the pandemic made him realize how much he actually depended on other people to survive. Matthew Shapiro, the legal director of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, works directly with vendors like Waly, and has seen firsthand how the pandemic has decimated their hard-earned livelihoods

Hani Waly preparing food for his customers. Photo by Andrea Piñeda-Salgado for Epicenter-NYC.

“Vendors, by and large, suffered from a lack of business like any other small business in New York City. The lack of foot traffic, the lack of tourists and office workers really resulted in significant decreases in sales,” he said. “Vendors have not gone back to work or if they have, they’re not anywhere near the same amount of business they’ve been there pre-pandemic.”

These couple of months have been especially challenging for workers like Waly. They’ve had to endure extreme heat and rising costs to keep their business afloat amid the uncertainty of not knowing when — and if — their customer base will return.

“We shouldn’t take [street vendors] for granted,” Shapiro said. “Most people just walk by them or maybe they’ll get a cup of coffee or a lunch from the food cart. But, you know, these are people who have families to support most of the time. And they have a tough life because it’s very, very difficult to be a street vendor in New York City.”

Read the complete story here.

We hope this article inspires you to patronize a street cart vendor — if so, make sure you ask them how they are doing!  If you want to learn more about the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center or donate money to help street vendors, you can visit its website.

And, now for some good news during a weird time

Piper and her Lovey, “Buddy,” after they were reunited. Photo courtesy of Ashley Buterman.

Ashley Buterman was headed home to the Upper East Side from JFK airport when her 6-year-old daughter, Piper, asked for her Lovey stuffed animal, “Buddy.”

After searching all her bags, Buterman knew that “Buddy” was in fact, left in an airport bathroom.

“We double checked all of our bags and Buddy wasn’t there,” Buterman said. “Immediately I started looking up every lost and found at the airport and in the terminal. I left messages, I filed three different lost and found claims and my husband and I tweeted to JetBlue.”

They were desperate.

Not knowing what else to do, Buterman posted on the Upper East Side Mamas Facebook group, hoping for advice. In the meantime Piper was hysterical and unable to sleep that night; she’s had Buddy as a bedtime companion since she was 6 months old.

In what can only be described as a twist of fate, one of the mothers in the Facebook group happened to fly into the same airport and the same terminal Buterman and her family had been in. She messaged Buterman and was able to find Buddy in the bathroom.

“My daughter had cried for four hours straight, so when I got this message I screamed out loud and I think I started crying because I was so relieved and so glad that we got it back,” Buterman said.

Buterman and her daughter were beyond thrilled. The woman who found Buddy, she said, was very casual about the situation; she thought she had done a simple favor, but to Piper it meant the world.

“There are people that do, in their minds, small acts of kindness that have huge impacts on other people’s lives,” Buterman added. “In a world with Covid and everything else going on, it’s just nice to have a truly positive happy-good story.”

Did you know we launched a membership program? Our site has no paywall, but you can support the work we do by becoming one of the following: 

  • NeighborThis membership level includes weekly virtual yoga for $4.99/month.
  • FriendThis membership level includes weekly virtual yoga, plus the donation of an insulated tote bag to a local food pantry for $9.99/month.
  • AuntieThis membership level includes the above, plus your choice of one of our curated tours of New York City for $299/year.

Join our community here.


Every week, neighbor and author Radha Vatsal will be providing her recommendations for what to read and watch throughout the summer. 


Here’s a classic graphic novel that’s great for adults and teens: Persepolis: The Story of A Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.  Persepolis is the memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran — and what happens to her life when the Shah is overthrown and the Islamic regime takes his place. Suddenly young Marjane, a girl who sometimes imagines herself as Che Guevara and sometimes thinks she wants to be a prophet, has to go to an all-girls school, wear a hijab and be introduced to a new reality.  Two fundamentalist men tell Marji’s mother that “Women like [her] should be pushed up against a wall and fucked, and then thrown in the garbage.”

Simply and evocatively illustrated in black and white, Persepolis tells the story of immense political change through the eyes of a child. In a 2016 interview conducted by actress Emma Watson in Vogue, Satrapi explains: “I didn’t have any other way to write about my story. I could not suddenly say, ‘Oh, this is an analysis of what happened in the ’70s and the ’80s and the ’90s in Iran,’ because I am not a historian and I’m not a politician. I’m a person who was born in a certain place, in a certain time, and I can be unsure about everything, but I am not unsure of what I have lived. I know it.”

A sequel to Satrapi’s memoir, Persepolis 2: The Story of A Return was published in 2004, and Persepolis was adapted into an animated film by the same name in 2007.

Persepolis can be rented on Amazon for $3.99.


Make sure you have a listen to our latest episode, which features a conversation with Matthew Shapiro, the legal director of The Street Vendor Project. Tune in tomorrow to hear from the women behind 21 in ’21, a movement dedicated to achieving full representation for womxn in local government.


Stoop concerts

It really is the summer of free, live music, and we are here for it. This week, check out Brooklyn Conservatory of Music’s  “Midsummer Night” concert series. Stop by the conservatory (58 7th  Ave. in Brooklyn) on Thursday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. to enjoy a performance by the Kirk Driscoll Trio.

Techno at the Cloisters

Yes, really. This virtual event features a series of performances by emerging electronic music artists recorded throughout The Met Cloisters. The idea is that the artists, away from traditional performance venues, can interact with the Cloister’s unique environment to create new music and explore new compositional approaches. This Thursday, Aug. 5, tune in to hear from American-Iranian DJ Dubfire as he performs from the Pontaut Chapter House at 9 p.m. The series will conclude on Sept. 23 with a performance from Afro-Caribbean group, Conclave. The performances are free and can be viewed on FacebookTwitch, and YouTubeLearn more.

Stranger Sings! 

Wouldn’t it be nice to return to simpler times? How about 1980s Hawkins, Indiana? Allow yourself to be transported with Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical, an homage to the hit Netflix show. Join your favorite characters for a night of “adventure, thrills, indulgent pop culture references, pubescent angst, heavy synth, poor parenting, convoluted love triangles, cheap effects, singing monsters, and maybe, just maybe, justice for everyone’s favorite frumpy ginger, Barb Holland.” The show runs through Sept. 5 at Players Theater Greenwich Village

Reserve tickets ($39-$79) here. A limited number of $11 rush tickets will be available at the theater 90 minutes prior to each performance. Proof of vaccination is required for entrance.


A new exhibit, Showstoppers: Spectacular Costumes From Stage and Screen, is opening this Thursday, Aug. 5, in Times Square (yes, we’re giving you another reason to go to Times Square). Visitors will have the chance to admire more than 100 of the industry’s most complex and iconic garments and the details and craftsmanship that go into creating them. Confirmed displays include costumes from Moulin Rouge!The Lion KingWickedChicago, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Frozen, among dozens of others. Proceeds will go toward the Costume Industry Coalition Recovery Fund, which continues to support one of the hardest-hit sectors of the entertainment industry. Learn more and purchase tickets ($24-$29) here.


A fridge-a-versary celebration

Join the Jackson Heights Community Fridge team as they celebrate its one-year anniversary this Sunday, Aug. 8 at 3 p.m. at Traverse Park 78th Open Street. Expect plenty of entertainment: there will be music, dancing and kids will have the chance to help paint the fridge shelter. There will, naturally, also be a food drive for both pantry goods and perishables. Organizers are looking for more performers and volunteers, if you’re interested, send them a DM.

Vendors wanted

Food justice and education nonprofit org, the Connected Chef, is seeking vendors of food items, clothing, jewelry and art for its Saturday morning farmstand in Queens.

Local BIPOC creators will be prioritized. Interested? Contact them through Instagram.


Greenwood Gardens

Just roughly 45 minutes from the city (and accessible by train) sits Greenwood Gardens, a 28-acre public garden surrounded by South Mountain Reservation. The gardens were previously a private estate until 2003, when the owners turned them into a public garden. On Friday, Aug. 13, join Greenwood’s Head of Horticulture, Sonia Uyterhoeven, for a tour of newly renovated gardens and a discussion on Greenwood’s revised planting palette and the decision-making process that was used to inform its design. You can also take a self-guided tour: the gardens are open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advance ticket purchase required (adults $15, seniors and students $10, children $5). Learn more.

Before you head home, grab a bite at the Boxcar Bar, a restaurant located in a functioning 1907 train station.


We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us.  If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.

I Have Something You Don’t!, 11″ x 14″, Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist Michael Gutkin.

This week we welcome artist Michael Gutkin. From early on in life, Gutkin liked to draw and sculpt from plasticine as a hobby, view art and visit museums. Originally from Russia, he currently lives and works in Brooklyn.

Victoria Crowned Pigeon and Rose, Oil on panel, 16″ x 12″. Photo courtesy of the artist Michael Gutkin.

During the last decade, Gutkin’s passion for painting took a more serious turn. He taught himself how to paint in a variety of approaches. Regardless of the subject, his focus is on the light, color harmony, movement and texture.

Lilac Reminiscence, Oil on canvas, 24″ x 18″. Photo courtesy of the artist Michael Gutkin.

He spends as much time as possible studying classical and contemporary master’s works in New York museums and galleries. He draws sketches from life, gathers material for composing paintings in his studio and usually combines several ideas into one composition.

Magic Cat, Oil on linen, 14″ x 11″. Photo courtesy of the artist Michael Gutkin.

Through his paintings he likes to bring out the positive and sometimes humorous side of life. He enjoys capturing the essence of a person’s character, animal’s features, and making fantasies into paintings.

View more of his work on his website.

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