New York-area companies and shops rebound after September 11.
By Rob Brink
TransWorld Skateboarding Business January 2002
New York is probably one of the most resilient cities in the world. So it comes as no surprise that the skateboard industry and community within the city is equally resilient. The September 11 terrorist attacks affected everyone, especially New Yorkers and the companies that do business there. Local skate-shop owners and skateboard manufacturers were no exception to this, and after speaking with some of them, it seems more than obvious than ever that the skateboard industry's current ability to remain minimally affected by economic strain is quite remarkable.
After the attacks, sections of downtown Manhattan were completely closed off for almost a month. This is what affected everyone the most. 5Boro, Zoo York, Rookie, and Base Brooklyn all suffered loss in the form of a few shop accounts being closed down for a few weeks. Three stores from the Blades Board and Skate chain were in that area, as well as New York landmark Supreme. “We were shut down completely for almost a week,” said Supreme's Alex Corporan. “No one was even allowed in the area, but when we were able to reopen, it was just business as usual.”
As the owner of a smaller company, Steve Rodriguez of 5Boro Skateboards had a second dilemma. His location on Downing Street is far from the downtown area of the city that was closed off, but he had trouble shipping his product out of the city. “One thing that did suck was UPS being totally shut down,” he says. “We had boards and stuff in transit that we had to go pick up from UPS and bring to the post office to ship. And skate stuff is so heavy.”
Just ten blocks north of the World Trade Center, Rookie Skateboards was by far hit the hardest, though its offices suffered no major physical damage. “We were out of the office for a week and the phones were down for six weeks,” says Rookie's Catharine Lyons. “All of Church Street, where we are located, has basically been a military outpost. Seeing all of that and all the damage in our area, it was really hard to come to the office and think about selling skateboards and T-shirts. We are sitting on a lot of inventory from shops canceling orders. With the post office and manufacturers closed, we were set back at least a month.”
JP Lotz of KCDC skate shop in Brooklyn encountered a unique obstacle: “We were supposed to open on September 15, but our opening was delayed until now [late November]. We couldn't get things delivered here, and larger items couldn't get shipped through checkpoints. Construction of the shop was also delayed.”
Kristen Yaccarino's Autumn Skateboard Shop, located on Second Street, a mile and a half from Ground Zero, was far enough away that it wasn't shut down, but the lack of visitors from other places is a factor for her business. “We have lost out on tourists. It wasn't a huge part of our business, because we have only been open for six months, but when the tourists came, they spent a lot of money. But we haven't been hurt as the restaurants have, for example.”
Most manufacturers and vendors are optimistic about the so-called “recession” that intensified after the attacks. “A great deal of our business isn't in New York City, but in New York State and the tri-state area,” said Rodney Smith of Zoo York. “Fortunately, business hasn't slowed down in our New York City shops, because in light of everything happening, the U.S.A. is pushing for people to buy because we are in a recession, and people are making a bigger effort to buy in New York or from New York. I have two friends that own a mountain- and BMX-bicycle manufacturing company, and their sales just started jumping a week after the attacks. I think there is a lot of support from people outside of New York just because the incident happened here, so we have pretty much stayed steady.”
“Not a lot slowed down,” Autumn's Yaccarino says. “Most of our customers are loyal and have even been more supportive of local businesses.”
Rodriguez from 5boro says it didn't take long for the energy to return to the city: “For three weeks it seemed like no one was ordering stuff. New York goes back to normal really fast, but some shop—even in New Jersey—aren't moving anything, while others are doing great. It seems pocketed. Also, the recession hasn't hit the younger market yet. Maybe adults aren't making bigger purchases or investments, but kids have gotta be kids.”
Now that the immediate aftermath is behind them, what are shops and companies doing to rebound from their losses? Have they considered doing anything to “give back” to the city and the skateboard community it houses?
Zoo York is making an “Unbreakable” tribute board depicting the original New York skyline—Twin Towers and all—and all proceeds other than the cost of manufacturing will go to numerous support groups of the victims. “It's a symbolic graphic,” says Zoo's Smith. “And gives everyone a taste of our view of things.”
The people at Blades share that view, and are pushing the deck at their locations. “We did a huge window [display] with Zoo York, a six-foot foam display with their new ‘Unbreakable' graphic,” says Blades' Shawn Zappo. “It looks real good. People are stoked on New York and stuff like Zoo York is selling great. We did some mailers for special sales to let people know we are here. Skateboard-wise, we are doing really well, sales are still up.”
Lyons says that she and her partners at Rookie considered applying for a small business loan, but reconsidered, realizing that there were other businesses and companies more deserving and more in need than Rookie, adding that some overseas distributors ordered more from them just to help out. Base Brooklyn has offered incentive and discounts on orders since the attacks, and KCDC cut their orders down a bit and are going to trying to push through the winter with what they have. ABC Skate Shop Manager Alfred Bobe said that they ran magazine ads that could be brought into the store (located in the area of downtown that was closed off) for a ten-percent discount on merchandise. Supreme partnered with Sole Technology to help organize a World Trade Center/New York City Firefighters benefit party at Millenium Skatepark in Brooklyn, and with the help of a ton of shops, magazines, organizations, and manufacturers from all over the country, they raised over 40,000 dollars for those affected by the tragedy.
Bryan Chin, whose website, Metrospective.com, showcases the New York City skate scene, had a different kind of contribution to make while most of New York's phone and cellular service was down: “During the attacks I posted news as I saw it, from my perspective, as I watched the horror unfold out of my office window. Immediately following the attacks I made it my business to call everyone I knew to find out if they were safe, and who they knew were safe. All of this information was posted for everyone to read on the site, and visitors added their own findings, insights, and questions. I thought that was really important because it helped everyone to communicate with one another in a common forum where they could keep track of and account for all their friends during very uncertain times.”
And what about the skating? A ton of popular skate spots have been obliterated, one of the most notable being the closed-off street and benches in front of the World Trade Center, as well as the ledges and stairs in the WTC courtyard area. Other spots were covered in dust and debris, or are being used for parking, as the Brooklyn Banks are.
The city is on high alert, so police and security are extra strict in some areas, while there is a more lenient vibe in others. ABC took advantage of the closed streets and set up obstacles for anyone who cared to show up. 5boro's Rodriguez, in addition to his company-owner insight, offers the perspective of a dedicated skater: “Right off the bat, there was nobody skating in the city—most of the people who skate here aren't from here. The bridges and tunnels were closed, and no one was coming in. I used to skate downtown a lot, and the whole area was closed off. There were cops at every corner, which seemed intimidating, but they we looking for other, more important things than skaters. Water Street was empty, and there are a lot of good spots there, so that's where I skated. We actually appreciated the extra time we had to skate while business was slow.”
So it seems that it is—for the most part—business as usual for those in the New York City skate community. The ability to adapt to various circumstances and surroundings prevails as a characteristic of skateboarding and skateboarders. With most shops and companies reporting that they are doing well, if not better than usual, the majority of those affected by September 11 will emerge from the catastrophe relatively unscathed—affected, but unbroken.