By Carol Tannenhauser
West Side Kids, an independent toy store on Amsterdam Avenue and West 84th Street, has closed for the first time in its 38-year history. Owner Jennifer Bergman explained why in an email to friends and neighbors on Tuesday.
“I am deeply concerned for my business as well as my beloved city, this polarized nation and complicated world,” she wrote. “But, selfishly, I’m especially worried about my mom. Alice Bergman started West Side Kids in 1981 and is 84 years old. She lives on the UWS. She’s incredibly active but is also a member of the population most vulnerable to the coronavirus. So, when the health officials said the only way we can slow the curve on this thing is to stay home, go nowhere, that’s exactly what my family did. Full stop. And it’s what I’ve asked my staff to do as well.”
This is what WSR wrote about Alice Bergman in a 2017 profile of the store: “An early feminist and civil rights activist, Alice had started a handmade toy company in 1971 – when [Jennifer] was in nursery school at West Side Montessori – called “Toys for All Children,” eschewing the then-standard blond, blue-eyed, male-dominated version of reality for a more ethnically diverse, non-sexist one. ‘She made an African-American, woman-doctor puppet – in 1971!’” [Jennifer] exulted. “‘She was way ahead of her time.’”
Here is Jennifer’s letter in full. It exemplifies the spirit, resilience, creativity and commitment to community of Upper West Side small business owners.
March 17, 2020
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Wow! So this is epic. We have never, in 38 years ever been closed. Not for 9-11, not for a snowstorm, blackout, hurricane, illness or death in the family. Never. It’s unprecedented. And most of my small business friends can say the same. But, yesterday, West Side Kids closed. Not forever, but indefinitely.
I’ve been asked if we can do deliveries; if we can sell online; if we would open for a few hours by appointment. Yes, I said, I want to do all of this… but then I paused.
I am deeply concerned for my business as well as my beloved city, this polarized nation and complicated world. But, selfishly, I’m especially worried about my mom. Alice Bergman, who started West Side Kids in 1981 is 84 years old. She lives on the UWS. She’s incredibly active but is also a member of the most vulnerable population for the coronavirus. So, when the health officials said the only way we can slow the curve on this thing is to stay home, go nowhere, that’s exactly what my family did. Full stop. And it’s what I’ve asked my staff to do as well.
And when I can, we will open again. Whether it’s online or by appointment or some other way. When we do, you’ll be the first to know.
I’m sitting here coming up with ideas for how to stay in business once they say it’s safe to move around again. I have plans. But right now, I’m staying put. And I’m asking you to also. Don’t do anything but shelter in place. Don’t wait for the government to tell us we must. This is scary and consuming but let’s not let it win.
I believe in the common good, and right now, at this very moment, we are in the thick of understanding, in the most literal sense, what that really means. Yes, people need to earn money and we don’t want to shut down the economy, but we can help it limp along by keeping money in people’s pockets in other ways. Be creative, you’ll think of something to do. We can keep this country going for at least a short while with our kindness and generosity. And when we can go back to work, we will recover. Together.
We are the greatest city in the world. Let’s show them how it’s done.
Sending love and strength,