By Priya Idiculla
Vince Smith knew exactly where he wanted to open his own salon after he saw the scale model of Battery Park City in the then-newly opened World Financial Center. That location was South End Ave. and Smith opened his business, Vince Smith Hair Experience, there in 1990. Smith has been a Battery Park City business owner for 16 years now. He lost 36 clients and friends on Sept. 11, 2001.
The salon was able to re-open two weeks later, though Smith knew the trauma of 9/11 would be lasting. He contacted Project Liberty to help his staff and clients heal. Glenn Healy, a trauma specialist, came to the salon bi-weekly for the next two years to help everyone cope.
Smith’s salon continued to grow. Unfortunately, Smith has found that a lot of the businesses in the Downtown area have not been faring as well.
Smith will address that need by putting on the second annual September 11th Small Business Benefit Concert Nov. 16. “I have found that I have an extremely supportive audience in my friends, clients and neighbors,” he said. “I hope to sell out the concert so I will be able to help more than one business owner that evening.”
Healy’s samba group will be performing at the concert. “I think it is admirable what Vince is doing,” Healy said. “I admire his spirit for putting everything together.”
Smith was a musician from a young age, and took classical voice lessons as a form of therapy after 9/11. He started to write poetry, which later morphed into song lyrics. He wrote “The Brothers: A Tribute to the Twin Towers” in April of 2004. He performed the piece with four-part choir for the Downtown neighborhood at an informal outdoor observance on Sept. 11 in 2004. The performance generated CD sales and gave him a fundraising idea.
Smith formed the Lower Manhattan Small Business Fund in 2005 so small businesses could receive some financial help. He organized the first benefit concert last year with Linda Belfer, chairperson of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 and the president of the Gateway Plaza Tenants’ Association. They raised around $5,000 last year for the fund by ticket sales from the concert and Smith’s CD sales. Smith said there were donations from Councilmember Alan Gerson and Michael Fortenbaugh, owner of Manhattan Sailing School. This year, with the help of corporate sponsors, there are hopes to raise another $10,000 and Smith plans to begin awarding the grants.
The grants will be to help small businesses that were below Chambers St. before 9/11 get out of debt. “We all had to incur additional debt to stay in business after 9/11,” he said. “It doesn’t go away on its own, it just grows. I plan to make this an ongoing effort and will continue to raise money. My goal is to help everyone who has applied.”
Belfer said that though Lower Manhattan received some financial aid after 9/11, a lot of the funds were dispersed throughout the country instead of specifically the Downtown area. Smith said that the businesses just south of the World Trade Center site and east of West St. are having the hardest time.
“For a Small Business Administration loan, business owners would have to put up their own home as collateral,” he said. Currently, Smith has received five applications and a few inquiries. He expects additional applications and plans to advertise more after the concert.
Smith will be performing a new version of the song he wrote and performed at last year’s concert with his group Angels and Heroes. There will also be a rock group, Healy’s samba group, and a youth choir, Smith said.
“The main purpose of the concert is to gather the community together and to give some assistance to those businesses that are treading water,” Belfer said. She also thinks the concert’s date near Thanksgiving is fitting. “We get to give thanks that we survived and thanks that we can help others survive.”
The second annual September 11th Small Business Benefit Concert will take place on Nov. 16th at 7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City. Tickets ($20 - $250) can be purchased at Smith’s salon. Visit www.vincentsmithmusic.com for more info.