New York Nico Helping Save New York City


One Instagram Post at a Time New York Nico Helping Save New York City. Reports of New York City’s demise are greatly exaggerated. That’s the truth for millions of people who are still living in the city.

New York Nico Helping

Which was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic this year when more than 23,000 New Yorkers died from the virus and thousands more moved out. Among the remaining inhabitants is Nicolas Heller, better known across the city and the internet as New York Nico.

Heller, a native New Yorker and filmmaker, serves as the “unofficial talent scout of New York City,” interviewing and profiling NYC’s most interesting characters.

Pre-pandemic, you would find Nico out in the streets. Meeting local fixations like Brooklyn’s Green Lady and rapper-turned-congressional candidate Paperboy Prince, or popping into mom-and-pop stores to chat up business owners. With 442K followers and counting,

Heller’s Instagram page became the destination for New York’s best and brightest—a rolodex of who to know and where to go. Then, the pandemic hit.

Quarantine Days

“The first two weeks or so [of quarantine] I was really depressed,” he told over the phone, while unpacking boxes at his new Bed Stuy apartment. “I’m like, what the hell am I going to do? This is what makes me happy. This is what makes others happy.”

In true New Yorker form, Heller got back on his feet and hustled.

“I had the idea to do this Best New York Accent contest and it went viral.”

he says

“I had no idea that that would happen. Also I had to beg a few of my friends to submit and then celebrities started getting involved.”

Then the New York Times wrote about it, so it really reached the mainstream. It was like, what can I do next and how can I add a charitable element to it?”

With subsequent contests like Best New York Mask, Best New York Photo, and Best New York T-Shirt, Heller has raised nearly $300,000 for charities like God’s Love We Deliver, Color of Change, and The Campaign Against Hunger. “I was just like, let’s keep going.

This is my new calling for as long as I can’t interact with people on the streets. God forbid there’s a second wave [of the virus], I already have my ideas ready to go.”

Ahead, Nico talks helping small businesses, Black Lives Matter, and the relentless spirit of New York City.

How did you start helping small businesses in New York City?

About a year and a half ago, I started a hashtag called #MomNPopDrop, just to give free ad space to local businesses. It started out being a self-submit type of thing, where the business owner would [record themselves].

As I got more and more submissions, I realized it’s easier said than done to make these mini commercials. I needed to give them a little direction.

I started out with businesses that I had been going to for quite some time, like Astor Place Hairstylists and I Need More Vintage. It was different from the usual stuff I was posting. People follow me for the quirky New York characters and interviews, so it didn’t get as much love at the time and fizzled out.

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But when COVID hit and all these businesses shut down, I told myself that when they started to reopen, I would do everything in my power to help them. So, I decided to bring back the hashtag about a month and a half ago.

Did the response surprise you?

I didn’t think that it was going to explode the way it did, but I think it’s just the time that we’re living in. New Yorkers are really concerned about these small businesses closing down, so people kicked into action.

I brought the hashtag back with Henry from Army & Navy Bag on Houston Street. He’s super held up on rent and one of his customers started a GoFundMe. I went there and took his photo, learned a little bit more about the situation and then I posted it.

I didn’t realize that he was such a beloved New York business owner. There were so many comments like, “Oh my God, Henry’s the sweetest guy ever. Best customer service.” For the next week or so, there were lines out the door to get into his shop.

Prior to the post, he told me he would be lucky if he got one customer every few hours. So when I saw the response to that, I was like, holy shit. These posts are making a huge impact.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Is there criteria you keep in mind before posting a business?

Right now, I’m kind of focusing on Manhattan, specifically below 14th street, because rent there is astronomical compared to anywhere else in the city. A record store isn’t going to sell enough records to make enough money to cover their $17,000 rent in East Village.

I grew up in Union Square. I went to school in the Village and these are all spots that I remember from when I was a kid. So it holds a special place in my heart. I get hundreds of DMs a day from people suggesting places.

I can’t help every business recommended, but I will glance and remember the name, and if I hear about it again, or if I’m walking down the street and I see that business, then I’ll pop in and introduce myself.

Obviously, the pandemic has affected small businesses across the country. Is there a way to take your model and apply it on a larger scale?

I had this idea to get universities to give their students assignments to help struggling businesses using the skill sets that they’re being taught in school, like eCommerce, social media, marketing, photography, videography. Old school businesses don’t understand marketing in 2020.

So I put a call out on Instagram and one guy commented like, “Hey, I’d be happy to help.” And he ran with it. Today, he went live with this website called The National Assignment, where he is able to match up universities with businesses to do exactly what I proposed.

Also, there’s legislation that can be passed. There’s an organization called Save Our Storefronts that is really pushing for rent forgiveness for businesses.

But at this point, I just don’t trust any of our politicians to do the right thing. So I feel like we need to supplement that by putting in the legwork.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

There’s a common misconception that New Yorkers are rude. In your own words, what are we really?

I think that we’re hustlers. We’re always on our grind. We move fast. We don’t really have patience for people who try to get in the way of that. After college.

I lived in Los Angeles for half a year and that was the only time I’ve lived somewhere else and really experienced another city. LA was just so much more chill and laid back.

Everyone just wanted to get lunch meetings and not really achieve much. I feel like in New York, we live three lifetimes, as opposed to anywhere else because we’re doing so much.

You’ve been very outspoken about issues like Black Lives Matter and saving the USPS on your account. What’s your response to followers commenting, “I don’t come here to see politics”?

First of all, I don’t consider any of those things to be political. Black Lives Matter is just human rights.

The postal service is just common sense. I actually don’t get political on my page at all. I don’t think I’ve ever Don’t quote me or quote me, I don’t care—but I don’t think I’ve ever even mentioned Trump’s name or Biden or any politician really. The only time I get political is when I criticize politicians for not doing their job and I rarely do that.

So, when I was posting about Black Lives Matter, other human rights issues. I was getting a lot of pushback from it and like I said, its human rights. This is not political. If you don’t approve, you don’t have to follow me.

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