Publicist Sydney Schiff moved to New York City nine years ago from Tampa, Florida, to attend FIT and always moved around the Big Apple in a carefree manner. But she now carries pepper spray with her everywhere — especially after moving to the East Village last year.
“I’ve had to call the cops four times in the last two months,” said Schiff, 27. “There is one person who has to be on drugs, that sleeps on my stoop and if you ask him to move he gets aggressive. So I always have my pepper spray.”
The man once even told her he’d “murder her,” she said.
“I don’t know if he is lucid, but for me, this is my safe space. What am I supposed to do?” she continued.
A growing number of women in the Big Apple are arming themselves with pepper spray as the city sees a 35.6% uptick of serious crimes from last summer. Though it’s illegal to ship to a New York state address, it’s become a coveted accessory as fewer and fewer outposts in the city sell it.
At Esco Pharmacy in Hell’s Kitchen, an employee told The Post they’ve seen a “major uptick” in sales of the $27 pepper spray. It’s regularly purchased by women, as well as by men for their female significant others.
“People are afraid. It’s crazy out there,” the employee said.
One 28-year-old publicist, who didn’t want her name used for professional reasons, said she attended a spring performance of “Funny Girl” at the August Wilson Theatre and was told she couldn’t take her pepper spray into the theater. Since she bought it in Florida, she was loathe to give it up. Security told her to surrender it and that she could retrieve it after the show.
“When I went to pick it up, there were at least 30 other pepper sprays in the basket,” she said.
Mississippi native Maggie Zazak, a grad student who lives in the Bronx, recently brought her pepper spray on a first date and had to check it at the door of an Inwood bar.
“I moved here last August, and it’s the fact that I am alone here. I like to carry it. I didn’t want my date to think I didn’t trust them, so it was a little awkward,” Zazak said.
But Zazak is okay with a little social discomfort. While she hasn’t had to use it, she did have a man banging on her apartment building door, which jolted her nerves.
“Also, my parents are always texting me about every crime story and we are always experiencing people who are having mental-health crises on the train,” said Zazak, 23.
Schiff first started carrying pepper spray in her purse after a 2020 break-in in her previous apartment building in Brooklyn. In November, she took a class in Tampa to teach her how to properly use the self-defense tool and “feel more comfortable carrying it.”
Still, she’s frustrated that the city she once saw as a safe haven has become so dangerous.
“I’m probably never leaving this city. I love it,” she said. “I don’t want to ever use the pepper spray, but there’s a fear of the unknown. This gives me a little sense of control.”