Sure, people look forward to shopping on Madison Avenue, visiting the Empire State Building, attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and watching the light shows that dazzle Rockefeller Center, but these annual occurrences do not make New York City what it is. Neither do $1 pizzas, hot dog carts or the trademark “It’s our pleasure to serve you” coffees. What makes the city is the people. Their pitter-patter up and down the concrete streets and in and out of cheese-colored taxi cabs make up the beating heart of New York City.
Nicolas Heller, a New York local known as @newyorknico on Instagram identifies himself as the “unofficial talent scout of New York City” to his 448 thousand followers. He has realized the role of locals as the pulse of the city, and aims to document interesting characters whom he feels contribute to the funky, fresh, unique flavor of the concrete jungle. He has met people from all walks of life, including a San Gennaro festival participant, Vinny “Peanuts,” as he was popularly known, who ran a small business called Vinny’s Nut House. Heller has also become friends with a Central Park dweller whom he calls “Larry the Birdman.”
“New York is changing so much day-to-day. It’s always a fear of mine that it will become so commercialized and corporate that we’ll lose all of New York’s charm,” Heller said in an interview with Vimeo. “Because the charm of New York City comes from the people.”
Heller embodies this New York City charm,having kept New Yorkers and admirers of the city in good spirits throughout quarantine. He has hosted many contests, including a face mask design contest and a New York accent challenge. Though quarantine allowed many to take part in fun, virtual events, it caused many businesses financial hardship. Heller used his platform to shoutout suffering mom-and-pop shops, even turning the shops’ fates from closure. Through his #momandpopdrop, candy stores, pharmacies, restaurants and thrift stores managed to stay afloat amidst the pandemic. Saigon, a Vietnamese Sandwich Shop, had posted a flyer on their front door asking customers to spread the word and order out. Heller passed by the shop, took pictures of the food, the flyer and the owner, and posted it online. It amassed almost 52 thousand likes and garnered much needed support during desperate times. New York Nico is the hero New York did not know it needed, but cannot live without. He encompasses New York’s Beating Heart.