On first hearing, it simply did not make sense. How could Stationery and Toy, a cherished, packed daughter-and-pop store at 125 West 72nd Street, have lost almost all of its inventory during Hurricane Sandy? After all, the Upper West Side was barely discommoded by the storm. Most residents suffered from nothing much more serious than survivor’s guilt.
How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.
When the store failed to open on that Tuesday, however, neighbors knew something was wrong. What they did not yet know was that the proprietor, Donna Schofield, 46, was still trapped in her house in Midland Beach, Staten Island, which had been inundated with up to 15 feet of water.
It was not until Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 30, that rescuers arrived by boat to evacuate Ms. Schofield; her husband; their two children, 8 and 17; her father, Larry Gomez, who works at the store on weekends; and 13 other people — some of them strangers — who had waded their way to the Schofields’ three-story house on Olympia Boulevard because it was the highest ground around on Monday night.
That house survived. However, three smaller buildings nearby that Ms. Schofield had used as storehouses were destroyed. Inside lay most of the inventory for the Upper West Side store, including all the newly arrived Hanukkah- and Thanksgiving-themed merchandise. Most of the waterlogged goods, beyond salvaging, were carted away. The three buildings were declared uninhabitable.
Total insurance proceeds: $300, for lost roof shingles. The family, accustomed to dealing with floods of three or four feet and prepared for 8 to 10 feet of water, did not carry flood insurance, in part because none of its properties were mortgaged.
On the Wednesday morning, Ms. Schofield told her father she was going to work. “We have to open,” she said. “We really need the money.”
She telephoned her employees. Two said they would be willing to walk to the store from their homes on 119th Street and 124th Street. Stationery and Toy resumed business at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 31 and has been rebuilding its inventory since, on a much diminished scale.
Ms. Schofield first opened the store in 1986, offering toys and office supplies because those were the lines carried at her father’s wholesale business in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Over time, she added art supplies and party supplies. Lots of them. Floor to ceiling.
“It’s like a magic attic,” said Valerie Markwood, an artist and loyal customer, who on Friday was in the market for a pen with silver ink.
Another customer asked about 1099 forms. Yes, they were in stock. Fountain pen nibs? Yes. Address labels? Yes. Boxes of writing paper? Yes. Manual pencil sharpeners? Yes. X-Acto knives? Yes.
The man who bought the nib returned. It wasn’t working. Ms. Schofield fixed it. “Now you can write your love letters,” she said.
To the man buying a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle: “Are you ready for the challenge?” To the woman buying eight three-ring binders: “You sure you want to do all this work?” To the little girl who had been given a lollipop at a nearby bank: “Tell them they’re supposed to give you a bagel in the morning.”
To the woman buying two hula hoops: “Are you going to practice for us?” To the boy who was asking his mother to hand over the Playmobil racecar she had just bought: “You jump in your stroller and mommy’s going to give it you.” He complied instantly.
In the past two months, Ms. Schofield has learned what it means to be a neighborhood institution. “You don’t feel it when you work here day to day,” she said on Friday, her head and shoulders barely visible through the wreath of merchandise around the front counter. “You don’t realize that you’re part of their families and their lives.”
Word of her plight spread. A video by the International Institute for Learning, “Sandy Comes Calling,” was posted on YouTube.
Neighbors rallied. A customer, Nell Hanks, came up with an ingenious toy drive, DNAinfo.com New York reported. Donors bought toys at Ms. Schofield’s store for donation to needy children on Staten Island.
Among the donors was Eric Helms, the president of Juice Generation, which operates a juice bar at 117 West 72nd Street. He explained his devotion to Ms. Schofield during a visit Friday to buy a single padded envelope.
Not only does she run an appealingly old-school store, he said, but she couldn’t have been more neighborly when he opened his 72nd Street outlet in 1999.
“She would send us customers,” Mr. Helms recalled. “She would put our menus in her windows. I would come to her for advice on operating in the neighborhood. Where’s a notary public? Who’s your lawyer?”
Not wanting to call attention to a good deed, Mr. Helms declined to say how much he had given. Ms. Schofield was not so reluctant. She said that when Mr. Helms asked how much money would buy a meaningful number of toys, she answered $500. He pressed her. O.K., she said, maybe $1,000. He donated $2,500. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” Ms. Schofield recalled happily. “That’s a lot of toys.”
Juice Generation vans took the toys out to the St. George Theater on Staten Island for distribution. Mr. Helms said the drivers had grumbled at first about the mission but had come back beaming — and wearing red Santa hats.
Last week, there was a bit of Christmas cheer for Ms. Schofield. Painters were working on her house, bringing her return from a furnished apartment in South Beach one day closer.
“By the end of January,” she said, “we should be back home.”
She meant Staten Island, of course. But to spend two hours with Ms. Schofield and her customers in the little shop on West 72nd Street was to be persuaded that in a sense, she was home already.