The rapid spread of the Omicron variant in Brooklyn has left one Bed-Stuy business and community space fighting to keep its doors open. But neighbors are doing what they can to make sure that happens.

Bed-Stuy’s Playground Coffee Shop is in a “fight to stay alive” thanks to the recent rise in coronavirus cases in the borough, and a lack of state and federal aid and funding, the business told its Instagram followers Tuesday. It needs $30,000 urgently, or else will face closure.

“We need exceptional aid to cover our staff, supply, coffee, in-house-upkeep, and rent costs,” the post reads. “Looking to our community for crowd-sourcing seems one of our only remaining options.”

The community heard the call. By Wednesday evening, Playground’s supporters — including other community-centered businesses like Seafood Shipwreck Boutique — had come out in force, donating more than $47,000 to ensure the space at 1114 Bedford Ave. can keep doing its work.

“I love everything that Playground Coffee Shop does and stands for within the community,” donor Sea Harris said. “You are beacon of light in Bed-Stuy and make the best dirty chais. Thank you!”

Playground Coffee Shop — which also operates a bookstore, a non-profit for Bed-Stuy youth, a community fridge and a radio station — said it had been planning to reopen its doors for indoor seating and activities at the end of 2021, after a two-year “pandemic hiatus.”

However, with the rapid spread of the omicron variant, it said in good conscience it could not reopen as planned.

“This reality leaves us at a stalemate for the long winter ahead,” Playground said on its GoFundMe page.

During the seven-day period that ended this past Saturday, more than 6,100 people in Bed-Stuy’s five ZIP codes tested positive for the coronavirus — a positivity rate of 24.2%.

While those figures would have been stunningly high just a few months ago, they represent a slight drop from the previous week.

For small businesses like Playground that were hanging on in the hopes of reopening indoor dining in 2022, the rise in cases has been just another crippling setback.

Playground was founded by Zenat Begum in 2016 as a coffee shop and community space. The corner was previously Begum’s family business that operated as a hardware store for two decades, but in the past years had grown into a community hub.

In the past several years, Playground has provided community services such as its community fridge, a greenhouse growing fresh food, a take-one-leave-one library and the nonprofit Playground Youth, a place for young people to connect and grow.

During the pandemic, while being forced to downsize to a to-go model, it kept sustaining the community by distributing over 8,000 PPE kits, giving out 800 free meals a week and raising more than $7,000 from local initiatives.

Even as Playground founder Begum sought donations to keep her own organization afloat Wednesday, she was collecting essential clothes and toiletries for those impacted by the fatal fire at the Twin Parks North West apartments in the Bronx.

As well as receiving hundreds of donations from grateful individuals in the neighborhood, Playground also received $5,000 from Brooklyn-born coffee company Blank Street.

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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