This essay by founder Rex Hammock first appeared on on September 11, 2014.

In addition to the emotional responses we all experienced while watching the horror of 9/11/2001 unfold, I, like most small business owners, was overwhelmed with sympathy for the hundreds of small business owners and their employees whose companies, shops and restaurants were inside and in the shadow of the Twin Towers.

The photos like the iconic one showing people fleeing the area running by small shops and eateries have stuck with me as vividly as the more graphic and horrid shots from that day.

As a tourist and for business purposes, I had been in the Twin Towers several times before 2001, but other than the towers and Wall Street, I was not familiar with the surrounding area. Much has changed in recent years.

Today, I have a daughter who lives near the 9/11 Memorial Plaza and I have spent many days walking throughout a neighborhood that has risen as dramatically as the Freedom Tower.

The photo on the right, shot at about the same location as the 2001 photo, is from Google Maps’ street view. It captures the vibrance you’ll feel today among the shops located in what is a far more trendy neighborhood than it was before 9/11. (Something true of neighborhoods throughout New York City.)

It was small business owners and their employees who helped revive the neighborhood before the trendy chains started moving into the area. Like other areas of Manhattan, these small merchants are discovering that higher rents are making it harder and harder to survive.

To me, the men and women who returned first to the neighborhood are small business heroes. While others travel from around the world to shop at famous stores further north in Manhattan, I always make it a point to support the shops that were once in the shadow of the Twin Towers.