The two-part formula for establishing a first-hand connection to ground zero seems to be this: leave something behind -- flowers, photographs, a signature on a canvas, tears. Then take something with you, however small.
There has been ample evidence for the first part ever since the sidewalk outside St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway was opened to the public. St. Paul's, over the street from the World Trade Center site, has become the premier viewing site for the ruins of the Center.
And in the last five weeks, the accounting books of Trinity's Welcome Center, situated in the mother church five blocks south of St. Paul's, have steadily provided substantiation for the second part of the formula.
As visitors stream through Trinity's bronze doors in record numbers, sales at the Welcome Center have soared correspondingly. Gift books, cards, and hand-woven bags are popular, but it is Trinity and World Trade Center items that are putting sales, as David C. Wright, assistant verger, says, "through the roof."
Trinity's Christmas music compact disc, the choir's recording of the Messiah, and a Christmas card set featuring a photograph of the Twin Towers at dusk are the most popular items in the store.
For the Welcome Center, unlike many other local retailers, its proximity to ground zero has kept business up. Lower Broadway has for weeks been bustling with onlookers, ever since it was opened to regular traffic. As Wright puts it, "we're the only show in town." Many of the gift shops that sold tourist trinkets are no longer in business.
But there is an intangible religious element, which, Wright finds, often seals people's connection to ground zero. "People are coming on a pilgrimage," he says, "and they want to have a memento of it."
In particular, Wright can't keep in stock a previously published Christmas card set featuring a neck-craning shot of the Twin Towers with the words "Peace on Earth" lining the bottom. He's sold nearly 3,500 of them, with a quarter of the cost given to the New York Police and Fire Widow's and Children's Benefit Fund.
Estimates are that the Welcome Center has already made up for its losses after being closed for seven weeks inside ground zero's "frozen zone."
Posted on Trinity News December 13, 2001