By Alex Eriksen
Most of 161st and River Ave. is hibernating. The streets are deserted and the shops are all shuttered. Well, almost all of them.
On the corner of 162nd St. beneath huge portraits of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and CC Sabathia, the lights are on in the Yankee Shop.
It’s the only link in a chain of stores on River Avenue to defy winter and remain open.
Abdulla Abdulla, a twenty-one year college sophomore, is behind the counter. “We thought we’d have a lot of customers like last season, it’s not like last season,” he says.
With the season not set to begin until March, and an average of only six customers a day, Abdulla says his father, who runs the store, is tempted to close until the Bronx Bombers return, and with them, the legions of fans and tourists.
Winter hats and jackets have been a popular seller since December, less so the beach towels and pool toys.
Unless there’s stock to move or displays to rearrange, Abdulla is on his own most of the time. To pass the hours, he dusts the glass cases, shovels the sidewalk if necessary, or reads from his sociology textbook. Sometimes he practices his signature in English, writing it over and over on the back page of an old newspaper. “Sometimes my friends come and visit,” says Abdulla.
To anyone else it might seem boring, tending to an empty shop, but Abdulla much prefers it to life in the Yemeni village where he grew up. Near the City of Aden on Yemen’s southern coast is the village of Al Klaya. Electricity is a new luxury and running water something of a distant dream, Abdulla says. “Ever see the old movies where they dig water out of the ground? It’s like that,” says Abdulla. He says on his last visit things had improved, they’d dug a small canal to move more water.
He first moved to Yonkers five years ago with his father and two brothers, leaving three more behind in Yemen with their mother. Abdulla, his father and brothers, now all U.S. citizens, hope to bring the rest of the family to America.
One of the more peculiar aspects of American life for Abdulla was that the national sport was not soccer. In Yemen, the closest thing to baseball is cricket, and that sport isn’t even very prolific. Once he began working at the Yankee Shop, Abdulla became enthralled with America’s pastime. When the old stadium was still standing, he’d get someone to take his place at the shop so he could go and watch the game. “I like the rules to how they play, it’s very interesting to me,” he says. He goes on average twice a month when the Yankees are in season.
Robinson Cano used to come in and talk to his father, Abdulla says, but hasn’t in a while. Abdulla’s favorite playeris Nick Swisher, who is a notch above Jeter in Abdulla’s book. He likes Swisher because he can smile while he’s playing; Jeter can be a bit stone-face, Abdulla says. “I’d love to meet both of them,” he says.
While he’s taking classes at Bronx Community College, Abdulla dreams of attending medical school. He wants to volunteer at a hospital before applying. Back in Yemen,he says, many of the parents in Al Klaya keep their kids home to help with farm work. “I wanted to be a doctor since I was born,” says Abdulla.
Across the street, Yankee stadium is asleep on a bed of dirty snow. A passerby comes into the Yankee Shop and asks for directions to the post office. It’s the first time in an hour anyone has so much as stopped in front of the store. “By April, the people will be back,” says Abdulla.