BY GLADYS GARCIA
As longtime residents of Astoria, we know what it means to have Queens pride. We made our home in this community and we know our neighbors. Everyone knows our names at shops in the neighborhood at Johns Vitality Market and Gian Piero Bakery. We ride our bikes up and down 30th Avenue (the heart of Astoria) to Grand Café, Sculpture Park, Astoria Park, Museum of Moving Image and the shoreline of Long Island City.
Living in Astoria is part of our identity and over the past three years we have been fortunate enough to share our love for our community with visitors from around the world.
In 2012, my husband had hip surgery that left him unable to work for 6 months. As a result, we were forced to start dipping into our savings.
It was then that our family made the decision to try Airbnb.
Our first guests were from San Francisco and were visiting New York City for the first time. If our guests had stayed in a Midtown hotel instead of using Airbnb, I doubt they would have ever visited Astoria let alone spend the majority of their time—and money— in our local community.
They would have never experienced a real neighborhood 20 minutes from downtown in one of the best cities in the world.
At the end of their stay, my husband and I were proud to have provided our guests with an authentic New York experience.
We felt like we had done something to help the city we love – and that was more valuable to us than the money we earned.
Since then, we have had a number of amazing experiences hosting guests through Airbnb.
In July of this year, we hosted two guests from Naples, Italy. Our neighbors — who moved from Naples to New York City more than 60 years ago — were initially skeptical of Air bnb, but had a change of heart after swapping stories about their homeland with our guests over coffee.
Afterwards, my neighbors described their new Italian friends as “a breath of fresh air.”
The experience had allowed them to travel beyond their doorstep, without ever leaving home. The same can certainly be said for us, as hosts, as well.
More recently, a retired firefighter and his family from France came to stay with us. We scheduled a tour of Firehouse 12 for them to meet the brave men and women of the FDNY. They shared stories over coffee and exchanged memorabilia. It was an amazing connection — one of the NYC firefighters is planning a vacation in France and exchanged contact information with our guests to visit the firehouse there. To make things like this happen for a traveler makes me a proud New Yorker.
We have kept in touch with many of our guests long after their stay was over.
When we got a panicked call from a guest in France who had accidently lost her wedding ring — we scoured our home until we found the ring and immediately mailed it back to her.
If the same thing had happened in a hotel room, her wedding ring probably would have been lost forever.
All told, the profit that we earn from Airbnb is modest.
What matters more is the feeling of kindness and hospitality that comes from welcoming people into your home and forging new friendships.
Queens is the most diverse neighborhood in the world – and that is something to really be proud of. We should encourage visitors to explore our borough, patronize our local businesses and spend their time getting to know the members of our community.
Because at the end of the day, there is no better ambassador for New York City — and for Queens — than the people who live here.
Gladys Garcia and her husband Bob Capo reside in Astoria.