Exactly 20 years ago, a shock wave hit the world after the catastrophic attack on the Twin Towers, a moment in history that left many lifeless and others with their hope battered. Amongst the rubble of debris and scattered population of the World Trade Center neighborhood was a Puerto Rican-owned mom-and-pop shop: Greenwich St. Jewelers. Building a following amongst their downtown community, Puerto Rican immigrants Carl and Milly Gandia opened the jewelry store in 1976 with their eyes set on forging a better life for their family.
With roughly 14,000 businesses affected by the attack at 9/11, Carl and Milly Gandia had no clue that after celebrating 25 years, their beloved business and community of clients would no longer be what it once was. “After 9/11, the business was closed for 10 months due to structural damage in the building. “My parents hustled during that time, connecting with their clients by phone to continue to service them: dropping off repairs or purchases at offices or homes — wherever they had to, to keep the business running,” now co-owner of Greenwich St. Jewelers and daughter of Carl and Milly Gandia, Jennifer Gandia tells Remezcla.
With little to no guardrails, sisters Jennifer Gandia and Christina Gambale took over the business in 2009 from their parents and, in 2021, are reflecting upon their family’s 45 years of business. Jennifer Gandia reveals, “Those years when we were all working together in the store were so hard. But upon reflection, [it was] incredibly special. We had to fight like hell to survive and evolve virtually everything about how the business was being run.”
Located amongst the corporate giants and nearly no residential buildings within the neighborhood, the Gandias had managed to make a name for themselves amongst the working-class community of downtown Manhattan. “With so much industry, the socio-economic and racial makeup of the neighborhood was incredibly diverse. From the mailroom to the c-suite, the retail stores to the restaurants, this was a neighborhood that had people from all walks of life, and everyone was trying to carve out their piece of the American dream,” Jennifer shares. The family’s loyal clientele provided a solid foundation for the shop, despite the misfortunes faced in the early months after 9/11.
Amidst the conception of Facebook in 2004 and the inevitable social media boom that would follow shortly after, there was no better time for Jennifer and Christina to shift the direction of their mom-and-pop shop and make a digital stamp. “To my parents’ credit, and as a result of the gravity of the situation, they were open to trying whatever it took to stay in business. This included modernizing the entire infrastructure of the company and embracing technology, changing store hours, even the jewelry we sold changed,” Jennifer reveals.
Specifically noting how they had invested in launching a website and starting digital advertising since 2009, the Latine business was an early adopter to the innovative shift in consumer technology. As Jennifer and Christina continue to take marketing risks and overall business alterations with the expansion of their team and own collections of jewelry, Greenwich St. Jewelers remained a steady business even during the hardships of COVID-19.
“Many of our neighbors and friends went out of business. Some that survived 9/11 couldn’t survive COVID.
Talking to Remezcla, Jennifer and Christina underline the importance that community, marketing risks, and financial literacy have in keeping Greenwich St. Jewelers alive. In hopes that their business story can aid other Latine businesses under the turmoil of COVID-19, Jennifer exclaims, “I think that we need many, many more Latinx entrepreneurs and founders/owners in all areas of business. I want to see us succeed!”
Although the Gandia family’s faithful clients and digital imprint had saved the shop before, the business owners still advise on the severity financial literacy holds for any Latine entrepreneurs aspiring to start a business of their own. Jennifer discloses, “Taking risks is necessary in business but doing things like creating emergency savings, budgeting and projecting, and paying attention to your numbers are essential.” Even with Jennifer’s background in marketing and Christina’s in finance, they managed to coach and train themselves in nearly every aspect of running a business.
As they move forward, the duo is looking at relocating out of their memorial World Trade Center location and hoping to celebrate many more years of business. “It was a difficult decision, but we’re excited to begin a new chapter in our business in a neighborhood that’s more vibrant and retail-friendly than where the store currently stands.”