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2023 Village Awardee: Essex Card Shop, 47 Avenue A

Village Preservation is very proud to honor Essex Card Shop as a Village Awardee in 2023. Join us in recognizing Essex Card shop and these other worthy awardees at Village Preservation’s Annual Meeting and Village Awards on Tuesday, June 13th. Registration is free and open to all!

Essex Card Shop is an example of so many of the wonderful things that make the East Village a place to celebrate and preserve. It is a multi-generational small business story. It’s a classic immigrant story. It’s also a story of resilience and how the community of the East Village lifts one another up in times of trial in order to triumph.

The current owner is Mohammed Aslam, an immigrant from Pakistan, who bought the store by Jay Patel. He runs the store with his brother and daughter Noreen. He was an employee of the store when it was owned by Patel. The ties remain deep as Patel sometimes comes back to work in the store, though he is “retired.” This family operation was kept going through the toughest times, with Noreen handling deliveries to patrons when they could not operate.

The history of this family-run store begins decades ago, including when Marvin and Rhoda Meyer bought the store in 1974, at a time when poverty, drug abuse, and crime were potent issues plaguing the neighborhood. A 1997 New York Times article explained:

“Within a year after Marvin and Rhoda Mayer bought the Essex Card Shop on Avenue A and Third Street in late 1974, the area plunged into an era of drug dealing, crime and burning buildings that would last two decades. Many old-time business owners packed up and left, but some who remained, along with priests from the Most Holy Redeemer Church nearby, pleaded with the Mayers not to abandon them.

”They said, ‘You are the last bastion of hope for this neighborhood,’ ” Mr. Mayer, now 66, recalled. ”If you close, we write it off.”

Fortunately, they didn’t close. But in 2000, they did sell the shop to Jay Patel, who then later sold the shop to his employee, current owner Mohammed Aslam. But the 1970s wasn’t the only era in which Essex Card Shop faced hardships and challenges. In January 2022, amidst trying times for all New Yorkers facing the ravages of COVID-19 on our communities, a major blow was dealt to the Aslam family’s business and lives.

A fire decimated the shop — not only its merchandise, but the actual physical structure of the space. A member of the family started a Go Fund Me campaign to help with rebuilding. The page shows the sincere comments of love and support from the community for the family and their small business that means so much to the neighborhood.

The community answered the call to help by raising nearly $92,000. This led to another New York Times article profiling the importance of the Aslam family and their work. It demonstrates what Essex Card Shop means to the community and the way the individuals who patronize and love this small business rose to the challenge to support this pillar of the East Village community when it needed funds to rebuild.

The shop reopened in September, 2022 to much fanfare! It is an “everything” store with cards, stationary supplies, cleaning supplies, clothing, kitchen good, toys, and anything else one could need in a pinch. From floor to ceiling, one can find useful goods that one would have to go to a “super store” chain to otherwise find.

After overcoming the serious devastation in New York City from the pandemic, this small business was faced with an emergency that could stop any business in its tracks. But fortunately, rather than giving up, they soldiered on.

The store’s multi-generational, multi-family operation partially explains its incredible resiliency, as does the generosity and kindness of both the owners and their community. Grit and determination, along with kindness and generosity, seem to be at the heart of Essex Card Shop and what they add about.

Don’t miss out when Essex Card Shop accepts its award on June 13th. RSVP HERE to attend in person at The Cooper Union’s Great Hall. Learn more about our annual meeting and awards, including past awardees and videos of past ceremonies, here.

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