Eighteen years ago, I opened a gift shop on Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights [Brooklyn]. After a few years, I turned it into a full-fledged jewelry store. Business was good. Ten years ago, the economy took a turn for the worse, and, to help with the rent, I took on a partner. He sold sirtuks (frock coats worn by certain Chassidic groups on Shabbat and yom tov); we ran two different businesses in the same location. Things were working well until the pandemic, when the government closed my shop—jewelry stores were not considered essential businesses. Time passed, and I kept thinking I’d be allowed to reopen soon. But I wasn’t; the rent went unpaid for seven months. Eventually, the landlord decided he couldn’t wait anymore, and I was forced to close my store.
I suffered tremendous financial losses. Not only was I out of business but I had to vacate the premises in four days. I hired a moving company to get rid of the showcases, which were worth thousands of dollars. I also had to pay to remove the safe—which weighs one and a half tons—as well as the cameras and alarms.
I then opened a small showroom in my apartment, but people were looking for the store on Kingston Avenue. Even once they realized the business had relocated to my apartment, they didn’t want to come; they were worried about the virus and didn’t want to touch the elevator buttons. I decided to open a mobile business. I now sell and repair jewelry in a van parked near my previous shop. I selectively drive around picking up and delivering merchandise to customers in the neighborhood, but for the most part, my van is parked on the corner of President Street and Kingston Avenue. If people ask for a particular piece, I bring it to my van; if they want variety, I tell them to make an appointment and come to my apartment. Baruch Hashem, I have a good reputation and people trust me. Business is slowly beginning to pick up. Old and new customers are coming through my exposure on social media. But establishing a new direction for a business takes time. A storefront is really the best, especially with jewelry, since you need windows to display what you’re selling. This pandemic hurt me financially in a significant way. I still have debts I’m trying to pay up.
The mobile business is a new Covid reality. With all the financial problems Covid brought about, people have to be creative to figure out how to put food on the table. But a great rabbi once told me: God closes one door and opens another. I hope the second door opens quickly.
Yossi Bard-Wigdor, who emigrated from Argentina, owns Bardy’s Watch and Jewelry Repair. He lives in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
Sara Spielman is a freelance writer living in New York.