The New York City where the streets buzz with people enjoying freedoms newly found after the COVID vaccine is worlds away from the exhausted streets of Corona, Queens, a year after the coronavirus first devastated the neighborhood.
Corona’s streets are crowded, too — but largely with vendors selling what they can to survive, music blaring to compete with the roar of No. 7 trains passing overhead along Roosevelt Avenue.
Fewer people are vaccinated here than almost anywhere else in the city — a pattern driven not by reluctance, say neighborhood health providers, but the inability of many people to break from the grind to get the shots.
Below the 103 Street-Corona Plaza station, dozens of vendors gather daily to sell tacos, grilled meats, elotes, masks, artisanal jewelry, fruits and vegetables along the sidewalk. At the center of the plaza, a COVID testing van promises quick results.
The plaza didn’t always look like this, locals say.
Pre-pandemic, about a dozen or so vendors plied food and wares and around Corona Plaza, said Carina Kaufman-Guttierez, the deputy director of the advocacy group the Street Vendor Project. That number has ballooned to nearly 90 vendors who rotate in and out of the area, many of them newcomers who lost their jobs because of the pandemic and are working without a highly coveted and difficult to obtain permit.
Among them: Liliana Sánchez, who lost her job last spring when the Upper West Side restaurant where she worked closed. The 35-year-old began selling freshly squeezed orange juice starting at dawn in Corona Plaza last May, with her 11- and 13-year old children in tow.
“When this neighborhood had the most infections we didn’t leave the house for almost two months,” Sánchez told THE CITY in Spanish. “But then our savings ran out. It’s difficult to remember that — our savings were finished.”
“We didn’t have food in our house,” she added as tears welled in her eyes, fogging her glasses. “We had to stand on lines for hours and hours at food pantries. We waited on line at a church pantry that was 15 blocks long. Not everyone was going to get food and we would get whatever we could because there wasn’t any other recourse— there is no work.”
“I had to do it for my kids. I would go looking for food but there wasn’t enough.”