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Dear New York: We Love You

By Stacey LastoeFeb 11 2021

February’s celebration of love and affection has come a long way. Valentine’s Day may provide a fine excuse for couples to plan elaborate dinners or splurge on jewelry or chocolate, but it also serves as a reminder to spread love and affection widely and in a variety of ways, big and small.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than at Rockefeller Center, where a month-long initiative titled “Love at the Center” includes a digital workshop for painting a portrait of a loved one with artist Hiba Schahbaz, a virtual baking class for kids led by Rainbow Room’s executive chef Mat Woolf, giveaways and edible treats from beloved local brands found at The Center, and more. “Love at the Center” celebrates love in all its myriad forms—from romantic love to love for community—in Rockefeller Center, New York City, and across the world.

Entrepreneur and small business owner Marla Aaron shares these values. With her jewelry collection, Aaron is doing much more than selling her exquisite wares to lovebirds this year with an important part of the “Love at the Center” initiative—a vending machine offering a custom charm supporting the restaurant industry.

The New York City–based creator has been in the jewelry biz since 2012 when she launched a collection highlighting her obsession with bridges, hardware and, well, jewelry. But since the launch, Aaron has taken it upon herself to think bigger. Her current focus? The restaurant industry.

Aaron, who says she ended 2020 feeling extremely grateful for her business with her full team intact, says she was heartbroken over seeing the struggle for restaurants in her neighborhood of East Harlem and beyond. “I have to do something,” Aaron remembers saying to herself around Christmas, and late one night, racking her brain, she went online and Googled: “What is the most common restaurant chair in the world?”

When the image—described by her as “interesting and poignant”—came up on her screen, Aaron got to work. She created a tiny chair reminiscent of the popular restaurant chair, immediately familiar in full-scale form and teeny jewelry replica. Inspired to make a “beautiful object and charm,” Aaron quickly realized how she could help. She sought out World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit founded by celebrity chef José Andrés. One of its programs, #ChefsForAmerica, “is making a key connection between people who need meals and restaurant workers and drivers who need to earn a living.”

On February 15, a vending machine filled with Aaron’s tiny chair charm will debut at Rockefeller Center. The charm, which can be worn on a chain or simply exist as a stand-alone object, costs $250, with 100% of the proceeds going to World Central Kitchen. “I am a New Yorker and Rockefeller Center tugs at my heartstrings,” she says, “and including a project like this—that is showing our collective love for our restaurants—is absolutely perfect.”

Unlike with a traditional donation, those who purchase one of Aaron’s tiny chairs will actually have a tangible reminder of their good deed. Like the rest of Aaron’s jewelry collection, the tiny chair charm is, well, charming—a little bit quirky and fun. And it is ripe with meaning.

February is a time to bake heart-shaped cutout cookies and rich chocolate mousses (or perhaps bake along virtually with chef Woolf). To purchase greeting cards and jot down sweet notes to all of the people in your life you’re grateful for. To donate to a food bank or volunteer your time for a treasured charity. It’s also a time to visit Rockefeller Center’s blood drive at 620 Loft & Garden, and then maybe pop by Aaron’s vending machine to purchase a tiny chair for a good cause. “Giving back feels good in a way that is kind of indescribable,” Aaron says.

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