Squeezing a 350-pound sofa down four flights of a narrow prewar staircase isn’t easy on the best of days. Doing so in a heat wave while wearing a mask is a lot harder.
“Sweat is dripping down your face, it slips,” said Vladislav Grigor, a foreman and dispatcher at Empire Movers in Manhattan. “It is just terrible.”
While the work can be merciless, movers are busy this season, and glad of it.
For Mr. Grigor and his colleagues, it is fair to say this summer has been like no other. Not only is he having to meet the strenuous physical demands of his job during a steamy summer, but he is also having to do so while abiding by the new rules of social distancing.
On top of these challenges is just how overworked movers are. “It’s nuts out there,” Mr. Grigor said. “There is double the volume of customers — maybe more — than last year.”
While the moving industry is fractured among numerous small business owners, and official statistics are tough to come by, one thing is clear: From professionals who are downsizing following a job loss, to students moving back in with their parents, to families fleeing the city for the suburbs, New Yorkers are changing their addresses in droves.
According to FlatRate Moving, the number of moves it has done has increased more than 46 percent between March 15 and August 15, compared with the same period last year. The number of those moving outside of New York City is up 50 percent — including a nearly 232 percent increase to Dutchess County and 116 percent increase to Ulster County in the Hudson Valley.
“It felt like move-out day on a college campus,” said Bobby DelGreco, who recently vacated his apartment in Stuyvesant Town after nine years and is now living in a long-term Airbnb in Los Angeles. “All the doors were propped open, and there were moving trucks and furniture everywhere.”
Matt Jahn, who owns the Brooklyn-based Metropolis Moving, said he has been inundated with customer requests. It’s more demand than he can handle. “We are turning people away because we just don’t have the capacity,” he said. “Normally, in a given summer, we spend a bunch on advertising. But we cut it this year because we couldn’t afford it. And we have still had amazing demand.”
It certainly didn’t start out this way. In mid-March, when the grim realities of Covid-19 became clear, moving companies braced for a slow season. “Right in the beginning, we weren’t sure if we were allowed to work, and a lot of businesses were in limbo,” said Daniel Norber, the owner of Imperial Movers, based in the West Village. “Everyone was wondering if they should close shop.”
But later that month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that moving was considered an essential service. “Within 30 minutes of the announcement I got a flood of calls,” Mr. Jahn said. Business hasn’t slowed since, and movers expect the trend to continue through the fall.
“The first day we could move, we left,” said Jaime Welsh-Rajchel. In mid-March, Dr. Welsh-Rajchel, a dentist, and her young son, Henry, took refuge from the city with family in Pennsylvania, while her husband, Todd Rajchel, a dental anesthesiologist at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, stayed behind to spend the height of the pandemic intubating Covid patients.
Dr. Rajchel has since accepted a position at the School of Dentistry at Creighton University in Omaha, and his wife, Dr. Welsh-Rajchel, returned to Brooklyn just long enough to help move their items. “Todd was saying we need a five-year period to decompress from this experience before we can come back to New York for a visit,” she said.
While demand is strong, there are new struggles for moving companies, mostly because of an industrywide labor shortage. “Everyone wanted to flee New York because it was the epicenter, but at the same time, our movers started getting sick,” said Mr. Norber of Imperial Movers, adding that the company lost a dozen workers who either fell ill or were too afraid to come in. He has since begun using company vans to pick up workers so they can avoid public transportation. While many have returned to the job, Mr. Norber’s company remains short-staffed and is operating at about 40 percent capacity.
Moving companies throughout the city told a similar story.
“We didn’t know what the summer would bring, so we didn’t ramp up hiring as quickly,” said David L. Giampietro, the chief administrative officer for FlatRate Moving. Then, once it became obvious there would be a lot of demand for their services, “all the moving companies were competing for workers.”
Another factor that made hiring difficult was the $600 government stimulus checks that many workers received until the program expired earlier this month. “No one said it outright, but it’s our assumption that also was a factor,” Mr. Giampietro said. “People didn’t want to come to work because of the program,” said Mr. Grigor, the foreman. “Why make $1,000 working, when you can make the same money not working?”
But there was plenty of work for those who wanted it. This summer, Kiril Gor has been working for Imperial Movers six out of seven days, taking in about $1,500 a week.
“This is dangerous, of course, because of Covid, but we just keep working because we need the money. I don’t want to get some money from the government,” added Mr. Gor, who emigrated from Russia. “I want to make it myself.”
Three months ago, Sam Hassan joined Imperial Movers as a driver after his business overseeing logistics for corporate events shut down in the wake of the pandemic. “I refuse to feel sorry for myself,” said Mr. Hassan, a 57-year-old fitness buff. “It is a lot of fun. I’m being paid to work out.”
While moving companies have been doing their best to manage the influx of customers, as the city continues to empty of residents, conflicted feelings abound, especially for those who have left New York in a hurry. Dr. Welsh-Rajchel, for instance, wishes her family had more time for closure. She returned in late June for a few days to help her husband move out of their apartment, but their hopes for a last hurrah were quickly dashed. “It was a bummer. There were things we wanted to do before we left, but everything was closed,” she said. “It was like a ghost city.”
They were particularly wistful that they couldn’t have one last meal at Crif Dogs on Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg before it closed during the shutdown. “It was one of the first places my husband ever went when we moved here,” she said. “He loves hot dogs. It would have been nice to go back one last time.”
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