July 7, 2020

What’s a New Yorker to do? 

Stay? Go? That’s not really what defines us. 

This city thrives on comings and goings, a continuous state of uncertainty. It takes constant adaptability to survive. Consider this newsletter a companion on the long road ahead.

For the last few months, a bunch of us have been swapping frantic emails and texts. A bike mechanic and Covid victim’s body needs to be claimed from the city. A momo maker can’t figure out PPP forms. Wanna send meals and masks to Elmhurst Hospital? A friend wants yeast, tomato plants and a Covid test, in that order of priority. A volunteer seeks donations of bigger diapers, size 4 or 5. Oh, and more paper towels. Any bike trails safe for an 8-year-old? 

Everything feels harder as we reimagine life. So we launch this as a way to surface and meet needs, expand networks and create more connectivity among the neighbors of New York City. Welcome. 

Count on us to hit your inbox every Tuesday morning, for now. You can support our efforts and the vendors and freelancers who run it by contributing to this tip jar

Finally, we’d love to hear from you, both your questions and your answers. Write to us at epicenternyc@gmail.com.


Cynthia Sangster, a church volunteer, called in a panic. The food pantry at St. Mark’s Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, usually hands out 100 grocery bags to the needy on the second Saturday of every month. Last month it topped 200. To meet the rush for this upcoming weekend, she asked donations be shipped to or dropped off at St. Marks; 33-50 82nd St., Jackson Heights, NY 11372. Specifically the following items: 

dry black beans (preferred to canned)
tea bags
baby food
paper towels


Eating indoors has been postponed, but outdoor dining is thriving. On some blocks, New York looks more like New Orleans. How to #SupportLocal but keep the restaurant staff safe? We asked Ellie Davis, 24, who serves and bartends in Midtown. She suggests: 

  • Ask for everything you need at once. Minimize communication with your server by thinking AHEAD about what you might request throughout the meal. 
  • Clean up your personal area to limit contamination. When you’re finished, put your silverware/trash on your plate and don’t leave a scattered mess. 
  • The new tipping standard has moved from 18-20% to 22-24%. If you can’t afford this then reconsider eating out and potentially exposing your server. 
  • Limit your visit. Don’t linger and take up a table. If you have dietary restrictions, call ahead to ask about the menu so you can plan your order and minimize tableside conversation. 
  • Don’t expect your server to be jumping for joy to see you. Efficiency and minimizing contact are key. 
  • Don’t expect everything to be the way it was. Be patient. And respectful. Please. 


Making space: When coronavirus hit, Greg Baxtrom, chef/owner of Brooklyn restaurants Olmsted and Maison Yaki, turned the former into a food pantry for service-industry workers who lost their jobs. Then he opened a trading post, supplying New Yorkers with duck liver pate, bottled craft cocktails and fresh bread — doses of decadence in distressing times. Baxtrom’s latest endeavor offers space in Maison Yaki to Black entrepreneurs, chefs, bartenders and sommeliers to help generate revenue and build brand awareness. The initiative kicks off Wednesday, July 8 with Chef Lani Halliday of Brutus Bakeshop, known for gluten-free goods like miso chocolate chip cookies. Items must be ordered in advance through Resy

Books beside “White Fragility”: When Barnes & Noble, the Bronx’s only bookstore, closed in 2016, Noëlle Santos wanted to fill the void. Last year she opened The Lit. Bar, the borough’s first independent book store. 

The Lit. Bar offers curated reading lists. One called Dear White People includes “How to Kill a City” by P.E. Moskowitz, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin and 32 others. Click here to browse more books and order online. 

Blackout Day can be every day: This list of black-owned restaurants throughout the city focuses on those currently open for takeout and delivery. Peppa’s Jerk Chicken and Lloyd’s Carrot Cake especially caught our eye. Check it out here

The outsize cookies at Levain warrant their outsize fame. The bakery opened its first outpost in Brooklyn on July 1. If you’re not a Williamsburg chipster, they deliver. Locations are listed here


My big fat car: Drive-in theaters are having a moment. The Bel Aire Diner in Astoria transformed its parking lot into a 40-car theater featuring classics like “Dirty Dancing,” “The Sandlot” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” On Sunday, July 12, the diner is hosting trivia. Follow its social media for other more special events and ticket sales times; they sell out in minutes. (One of the FAQs: “Can I get on the waiting list? Do you know who I am?” The answer is no and they don’t care.) Visit Bel Aire’s website for movie and event schedules.

Other drive-ins: 

Bronx: Tribeca Enterprises, the company behind the Tribeca Film Festival (co-founded by Robert De Niro), is opening a drive-in theater at Orchard Beach. Tickets are pretty much sold out except for “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” Details here

Brooklyn: The Greenpoint Skyline Drive-In on the East River comes with killer views and on-site food trucks. And coming soon: walk-in seating for those without cars. See which movies are playing here

Outside looking in: Museums are closed, you say? Head to 34-56 107th St. in Corona, Queens, anyway. That’s the home of Louis Armstrong, now turned into one of the city’s best museums. It’s closed but things you can still do: Soak up the vibrancy of the block. Grab a bite at The King of Empanadas nearby. Honor those who died of complications from coronavirus — the neighborhood was among the hardest hit. Remember what Armstrong said in 1964 of his chosen hood:  “We’re right out here with the rest of the colored folk and the Puerto Ricans and Italians and the Hebrew cats.  We don’t need to move out in the suburbs to some big mansion with lots of servants and yardmen and things.” Want more? Check out the museum’s virtual exhibits.


Swimming in the city: New York City beaches are officially open for swimming. Lifeguards will be stationed from 10 a.m – 6 p.m.; swimming is prohibited outside those hours. Under the city’s budget deal, the following public pools plan to open by Aug. 1:

Brooklyn: Kosciuszko, Sunset and Betsy Head Park

Bronx: Haffen Park, Mullaly Park and Crotona Park

Staten Island: Lyons and Tottenville 

Queens: Astoria Park, Liberty and Fisher

Manhattan: Jackie Robinson Park, Wagner, Marcus Garvey Park and Hamilton Fish Park 

Need a beach read? The New York Public Library will be opening select branches for grab-and-go service on Monday, July 13. Visit the website for locations. 

An act of warmth: Community fridges are popping up as a way for people in need to access fresh fruits and veggies, eggs and other perishables 24 hours a day. Take what you need and leave what you can.

Fridge locations:


5977 Broadway


343 Tompkins Ave.
4414 4th Ave.
1114 Bedford Ave.
190 Knickerbocker Ave.
133 Van Buren Ave.
1144 Bergen St.
234 Glenmore Ave.
1110 Nostrand Ave.


352 W. 116th St.


Astoria Boulevard and 8th Street

Give blood: With mobile blood drives on hold due to coronavirus, supply is running low. So the FDA has loosened restrictions to donate, including gay and bisexual men and anyone who recently got a tattoo or piercing. To donate, make an appointment with the New York Blood Center or call (800) 933-2566. 

Antibody tests: It’s unclear whether antibodies can prevent you from being reinfected. Want to know if you have them anyway? Estimates suggest that up to nearly 50% of people infected with coronavirus are asymptomatic. Testing is free at select NYC Health and Hospitals locations around the city; no nose swabbing required. Locations listed here.  

Recovered from COVID-19? Donate plasma

There’s no cure yet, but plasma from people who have recovered from the virus is a potential treatment. Sign up to donate through the Red Cross or New York Blood Center.

Tenant Safe Harbor Act

Times are tough, leaving many renters behind on payment. This new law prohibits courts from evicting tenants who haven’t paid their rent if they experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19. Learn more here.


Sumathi Reddy, of Forest Hills, suggests Anthony’s Nose in Cortland, NY

When it comes to Hudson County hikes, pick Anthony’s Nose (get it?). There are a few different ways to hike up to the top but my favorite is the Camp Smith trail. Follow the blue blazes and the views of the Hudson River start as you ascend.  This ain’t no walk in the park but my hardy kids started doing it age 6. Proper hiking shoes are advised to avoid tripping over the many rocks. A little over a mile (about an hour to 90 minutes at a leisurely pace) and you hit the money spot. There’s an American flag and breathtaking views of the Bear Mountain bridge, Hudson River and surrounding mountains. The small parking lot and trailhead was closed due to Covid-19 concerns but my sources say it’s open again (many people park on the side of the road when the lot is full). Go on a weekday or morning to avoid the crowds. For a blow-by-blow trail description, check out my favorite Hudson Valley hiking blog.

VIRTUAL THINGSHead to Harlem: What’s summer without live music? One way to improvise: Every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., soul-jazz singer Allan Harris, once dubbed the “heir apparent to Nat Cole,” invites you into his Harlem apartment for a virtual show. Turn up the volume, open your window, close your eyes and listen. Concerts stream on Harris’ Facebook page

Dish: The League of Kitchens offers culturally immersive cooking with immigrant women. Classes are taught to create community and connection as much as to show you how to cook a new dish. This week’s instructors are Mab, Mirta, Angie and Damira, who hail from Iran, Argentina, Mexico and Uzbekistan, respectively. Classes will be held on July 11 and 12. Sign up here for $60. 


 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 at epicenternyc@gmail.com.

Special thanks to Holadem K. Koffigoh, whose photograph tops this newsletter (check out more of his work on Instagram), and to KC Trommer, a poet and essayist, and founder of the online audio project QUEENSBOUND, who winds us down. She recently published her first full-length collection, “We Call Them Beautiful.” You can also listen to this poem, written in April, here.  


For Jackson Heights
Silence has come to our city and now,
at seven, we throw open the windows—
to clap, and cheer, and scream, and beat the drums.
It feels so good to scream; crying takes too much.
Where there were cars and planes, now sirens wail
along the way to Elmhurst, the swinging
doors of the ER opening to receive
so many neighbors, both known and unknown.
When I teach, a student points to the break,
a caesura in the heart of a poem
opening like a street, to allow safe
passage. Why did the poet choose this? she asks.
Why break it there? And every answer
I summon sends me back to the window.