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Moving to New York, Despite the Pandemic

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Cynthia Lanzino wanted to move to New York City ever since she was a child growing up in Pennsylvania. So this spring, Ms. Lanzino, 63, decided not to wait any longer. Even if there was a pandemic.

“My grandmother used to bring us — me and my sister and my mom — to see the Rockettes. I’ve wanted to live here ever since,” said Ms. Lanzino, a retired nurse who spent her career in Philadelphia before returning to her hometown, Harrisburg, Pa., a few years ago to be closer to her 85-year-old mother.

“Everyone who ever knew me knew I wanted to move to New York at some time. I thought, ‘I just have to try it,’” she said. “I like the busyness of New York. I lived in Philadelphia for 30 years, but New York is like Philly to the 10th power.”

These days, of course, the streets around the Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment that Ms. Lanzino moved into in June are not packed with the usual glut of Times Square tourists, Broadway crowds and Midtown office workers. But Ms. Lanzino said she doesn’t mind the relative quiet. “There haven’t been many people out, and the people who are out do wear masks,” she said.

Covid-19 made several aspects of moving to Manhattan more difficult, however. First off, there was the challenge of doing an apartment hunt remotely. Ms. Lanzino had already planned to move in June and had given her Harrisburg landlord three months’ notice when the pandemic struck. Rather than waiting it out, she decided to see if she could find a place she liked using listing photos and the videos that real estate agents had started posting.

Ms. Lanzino’s monthly budget was around $2,000, and she had hoped to find a place in Chelsea or on the Lower East Side, neighborhoods she enjoyed visiting. She was also hoping to live alone. “I didn’t really want to get a roommate at 63,” she said. “I really like being able to have private time. If I get tired of private time, I’ll go outside.”

But three months in, she hadn’t found many listings in those neighborhoods. She did come across one for a bright walk-up studio in Hell’s Kitchen, available on June 15 for $2,200 a month.

“I was lucky; they did supply a video. I could tell that it looked clean,” said Ms. Lanzino, who was nonetheless miffed to have to pay a broker’s fee. Still, she was relieved that things had gone relatively smoothly, under the circumstances.

ImageTo Ms. Lanzino’s surprise, there was room for everything from her Harrisburg, Pa., two-bedroom in the new studio apartment, even her Morrissey cutout.
Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

But a few weeks before her scheduled move, the landlord called to tell her that the man who was living in the apartment didn’t want to leave. Her Harrisburg landlord was already expecting new tenants, so she couldn’t delay her own departure by more than a few weeks. And the movers wouldn’t agree to a specific moving day, only a range. It felt like nothing was going to work out.

Finally, at the end of June, the man in the Hell’s Kitchen apartment agreed to leave. The movers arrived, and Ms. Lanzino rented a car and drove to Manhattan with her 12-year-old cat, Matilda. That first night, she slept on the floor. The following day, the movers brought her things.


$2,200 | Hell’s Kitchen

Occupation: Ms. Lanzino is a retired nurse who worked for an insurance company for many years; she is currently working on getting licensed in New York, so she can work here if the need arises.
She doesn’t mind living in a walk-up because she is a big walker: “It’s 51 steps up to the fourth floor.”
Her rent in Harrisburg: $900 for a two-bedroom.
Leaving Harrisburg: was “a tough decision,” because it meant being far from her mother, but not because of any affection Ms. Lanzino had for the city. “After a few years, I was like, ‘I can’t stay here anymore,’” she said.


Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

The first few days in the city were a little rocky: There were roaches in the apartment, and Ms. Lanzino discovered that the movers had broken a number of items. Matilda, freaked out by the move, bit her, and the bite became infected, so Ms. Lanzino had to find a primary care doctor to prescribe antibiotics. And she kept getting lost while she was walking around, although she was using Google maps to navigate.

But as she found her footing, things started to turn around. The landlord offered to send an exterminator and followed up with suggestions of things to do in the city during the pandemic. “She’s very nice, very accessible, a pianist in her 70s who studied at Juilliard,” Ms. Lanzino said. “We met up the other day, and she brought coffee and fruit.”

As Ms. Lanzino unpacked, she discovered, to her surprise, that the apartment had room for all of her belongings from the Harrisburg two-bedroom. Rather than trying to figure out what she would need in an apartment she had never seen in person, she had decided to bring everything and get rid of whatever didn’t work. But the apartment had enough space for even her cardboard Morrissey cutout.

“This is one of my favorite apartments I’ve ever had,” she said. “It’s so bright. And because I’m on the fourth floor, it’s not that noisy.”

An animal lover, she was also pleased to discover that she has an avian neighbor, a pigeon who lives on the fire escape.

The only real hurdle she has encountered has been figuring out how to make friends in the city during social distancing.

She thought she would go to meet-ups like she did in Harrisburg, but the pandemic has meant more virtual gatherings. Other things she had planned to do, like taking Italian lessons, learning Photoshop, going to yoga classes or maybe getting a part-time job — “I love the Strand and would love to work there” — have also been put on hold for the time being.

Still, there is plenty to do. She has been taking a lot of walks — navigation remains tricky, but she is figuring it out; someone even asked her for directions the other day — and searching for the ideal slice of pizza, her favorite food.

The only thing she regrets about moving, she said, is leaving her mother, who lives with Ms. Lanzino’s older sister. But her mother encouraged her to go.

“She said, ‘I want you to be happy,’ and gave me her blessing,” Ms. Lanzino said. “It was hard leaving Mom. But I still talk to her twice a day.”

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