Black Lives Matter to Local Store Owner for Deeply Personal Reasons

Proprietor Linda Wolff added a second sign after Trump was elected.

By Carol Tannenhauser

This is why Linda Wolff, owner of CPW, a woman’s clothing boutique on Amsterdam and 84th Street, has had a #Black Lives Matter sign in her window since 2012.

I was raised in Scarsdale with an alcoholic father and a mother who was a gambler and I was abused physically and mentally. My savior was Earlene, my housekeeper for 13 years. My parents were never around and she raised me, took me to church. I received communion and ate fish on Fridays as a Jewish girl. Earlene knew enough not to leave me at home when she had vacation, so she took me with her to the projects in DC and I lived with her family for her vacation. Always. I was the only white person in the projects but they and I saw no color difference. They were the best and only great childhood memories I have.

When Earlene grew old, she moved back to DC to be with her family and eventually died, but she left a deep and lasting imprint on Linda, who has been a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement since it began after the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. She immediately put up the sign.

I was broken. Being raised by a black woman for 13 years of my formative life, she was my mother. The Black Lives Matter movement started after Trayvon died and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted black and brown people to know they have a safe place to land in my store. ALWAYS. The amount of gratitude I receive from people of color for the sign is amazing. Truck drivers pull over, come to the store, hug and thank me. Women and men ring the bell and thank me for seeing them. I have been an activist for color since I was four. This isn’t new for me. I have no fear. I know what it feels like to be uncared for, unloved, disregarded, taken for granted and treated like I was invisible. My service to my community is that no one feels that way in my space. EVER.”

Linda in 2012, the year she placed the sign in the window.

The Black Lives Matter sign has also brought Linda criticism and may have hurt sales, but she will not take it down.

Woman say they won’t shop in a store with that sign. Trump supporters threatened my life. Men come in and want to know do I care about them and do their lives matter? I say I’m not having this conversation. We are in the midst of a long-time-coming revolution. And I’m happy to be a part of it.

On Monday, Linda and other NYC retailers will enter Phase 1 of the state’s plan for reopening. She is unsure how or if curbside and in-store pickup, which is what retailers will be allowed, will work for a clothing store. “I just know I’ll be there,” she said, as she has been for 30 years. Follow her on instagram @cpwboutique or call (646) 637-5912.

NEWS | 22 comments | permalink
    1. Bob Lamm says:

      Wonderful, Ms. Wolff. Sorry about the terrible times you went through with your parents, but wonderful that you had Earlene who loved you and cared for you. And wonderful that you have taken this public stand. (About two years ago I saw your signs–there were many at that time–and came into the store to praise you and thank you.)

    2. Dana Keeler says:

      So proud of you Linda. Stay strong and true to your beliefs. I am glad to be a friend. Black lives do matter.❤️

    3. Ben David says:

      Linda sounds like a fine, principled person with deep human values. Best of luck as she reopens her store.
      Unfortunately, many small businesses owned by minorities (especially in the Bronx), were looted and destroyed by minority protestors.
      Not only did they steal merchandise, they felt it necessary to smash everything inside and start fires in these small stores. I am not talking about the more professional looters who hit luxury good stores in SoHo. Google looting in the Bronx to hear black business owners angry about their “neighbors” destroying their life’s work.

      • Iris says:

        Ben David you are ever so right. Unlike Minneapolis which has already mobilized a ‘ repair Minnesota’ campaign to rebuild the black neighborhoods I haven’t heard of any such grass roots mobilization here. Here is our opportunity to help clean up, raise funds. know our neighbors and do something. This is the first immediate step we can show we care. Are you interested in this.

    4. Jen says:

      I was touched by the article till it smoothly went into advertising the store.

      • lynn says:

        Very odd response, because generally if that info was NOT included everyone here would be whining, ‘we want to support her but you didn’t give us the contact info.’ So sad and petty. 🙁

    5. Parker says:

      Impactful profile. Best wishes to Ms. Wolff.

    6. CityGirl57 says:

      I have noticed that sign up for a long time…now I really want to support your business! Thank you !

    7. Gail M says:

      Proud to be a one of your clients and a friend!

    8. Jodie says:

      This is such a moving post. I will go CPW and buy something in support of our neighborhood’s small businesses and this wonderful storeowner. 💗

    9. JS says:

      Nice article Carol. Always enjoy reading about people like Linda.

    10. L. Braverman says:

      That was a moving and heartfelt story about Linda Wolff; thank you for publishing it.

      Though I’m not a Bernie supporter, I agreed with him a 4 years ago when he said: no, it should be ALL lives matter, Black AND White… but times change, and if you’re lucky, your eyes can open a little more as you watch the world turn & continue to think about what you see.

      What happened to Trayvon Martin was terrible, but for me, I somehow became really quite depressed over the senseless cop shooting of Philando Castile after being pulled over in his car and who, also like George Floyd, lived in Minnesota… (Minnesota nice??? where does that even come from??).

      What did it for me, I think, is the recording at the time made by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds in an attempt to save her own life and that of her 4 year old daughter, also in that car at the time, and rally Philando so he wouldn’t die. She was only partly successful in that endeavor.

      The officer had asked for license & registration, Mr. Castile mentioned the firearm that he was licensed to carry, he was pulling out that license and registration and was shot at 7 times. Five bullets entered his body, two pierced his heart, killing this man who’d been stopped 49 times in 13 years, as he was driving as a Black man in Minnesota, USA.

      This was a man, it later came out, who was a beloved figure in the school system where he was employed.

      I don’t know why this incident, more than the thousands of others that had happened and continue to happen, affected me as it did, but yeah: Black Lives Matter; and The United States acts as if they don’t and that MUST be changed, it simply must, whatever the cost.

      Oh and PS- the cop got off. He got fired but he got off, so he’s walking around today in the sunshine as far as I know, breathing the fresh air, laughing at jokes, smiling at his loved ones.

      And just… was it only 2 days ago that the President of the United States said that George Floyd was smiling down upon trump (of all people) because of a good jobs number?

      And when reporter Yamiche Alcindor reminded him that the figures showed that Black & Latinx employment was actually DOWN for the month, in his rude ignorance he had nothing to say, but responded with: “You’re really something.”

      So yes; whatever the cost, we need to change what we are in this country as soon as we can because it’s a sad and depressing thing to be White in this country and I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be Black. There’s just way too much pain for all of us right now.

    11. shewrites says:

      I love this store. She used to take clothing donations for women in need, and I dropped by a few times to take lightly-worn clothing. She exudes kindness. Thanks for this article.

    12. Nadine Marder says:

      Great story love the UWS and this store❣️

    13. TravelgalNYC says:

      Thank you Linda, for standing up for what you believe. Don’t ever change!

    14. Steve Friedman says:

      You’re a person of high character. It always goes to character and character is the choice you yourself make. And so did Earline.
      You just reminded of the “nanny” that took care of my friend Gary and his younger brother when we were in grade school in Brooklyn. His parents were particularly lovely people and had the shop downstairs from their apartment. Florie, his mother, contracted one cancer after another but was still lovely, never turned bitter, but as I realize now, more responsibility fell on “Nanny”(just can’t remember her name). Yet they were all part of a family and she would go home in the evening to her own too. Color was never of issue ever, and as kids have really good radar, as far as we all were concerned, she may as well had red hair. As we were in & out of their apartment all the time after school, each others houses, I – and we – learned in our formative years what really mattered and we learned without lectures, preaching but by experience. We didn’t think of her as mother or surrogate or housekeeper or nanny (probably didn’t know what that word anyways meant at our age); She was there to “look after” – not a deal, no drama, just generous as I look back at it, kind, friendly, natural never solicitous, treated us well, and understood each one of us had our own interior and respected that. We all felt like she knew us; We weren’t “just kids.” In retrospect, I see we looked more forward to see her than other grown-ups and parents and yada. We were all comfortable. Actually, we felt the same about Gary’s parents as well.
      I thank you for unleashing that memory at 3-in-the-morning. You are a good soul with a generosity of spirit and a “can-do-ism.” And that’s the meaning of life. And you should present what you wrote on the Moth Hour, especially now, right moment now and all. And now I feel like going on the Book of Face to find Gary after 50 years. Lives in New Jersey, last I heard.

    15. Eve Epstein says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Linda. I am so sorry for what you endured as a child and so glad you had Earlene to love and take care of you. I have always loved visiting you and your store and seeing your beautiful window displays when I passed every day.
      I wish you the best with the reopening!

    16. Michele says:

      Imagine a world where people were more like Earlene. Where people take care of each other regardless of something so small as skin color. What an elegant example that all lives matter.

    17. Jane says:

      Linda you are wonderful. I have noted your sign for years and well remember your clothing drives. Welcom back. Glad to call you a neighbor.

    18. melsybelsy says:

      I was drawn to this store as Linda (now I know your name!) has an amazing eye for getting what women on the UWS want to wear for a long while. Now, I will make it my business to spend more of my money here. I’m proud that you’re my neighbor!

    19. NYYgirl says:

      LOVE