Stuck in the Snow? This NYC Snow Removal Crew Will Come to Your Rescue

Nelson Santiago, center, stands with two of his crew members about to help an Upper West Side resident unbury her car.EXPAND
Nelson Santiago, center, stands with two of his crew members about to help an Upper West Side resident unbury her car.
Anita Abedian

For many New Yorkers, the morning after Winter Storm Jonas means facing the burden of unburying their parked cars from beneath piles of snow. The blizzard that clobbered the East Coast over the weekend dumped near-historic levels—26.8 inches of snow, according to the final report.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio is telling drivers to drop their shovels. On Sunday, he encouraged car owners to leave their vehicles parked.

“To bounce back from this record storm, we need drivers to continue staying off the roads. This suspension of alternate side parking will ensure we can limit any unnecessary traffic so our sanitation crews can do what they do best,” says the mayor in a statement. He also urged people not to shovel snow into the street as the city begins storm clean-up efforts. 

Not everyone listened.

“We’ve been out here since five in the morning,” says Nelson Santiago, head of a snow removal business eponymously named after him—Nelson’s Snow Removal Crew. The four-person team lives for winter storms like this. Armed with shovels, they wander the city putting in 15-hour days. “Winter is our most profitable time—it’s the only time we make any money. Then we can take summer off.”

He received an influx of calls from customers first thing in the morning, from people with cars cloaked in snow, to the stairs of brownstones, and store owners who wanted the sidewalks in front of their businesses cleaned. And not just because of the massive snowfall. The snowplows passing up and down the streets are piling even more on cars.

“I’m known around the city,” says Santiago. “I’ve been doing this for four years now. My crew is based Uptown, but we cover everywhere from Chelsea to Queens. As a matter of fact, we’ve got a job in Queens to get to in a little bit.”

In the winter storm aftermath, six people have been reported dead from shoveling snow, officials say.

“It’s a difficult job,” Santiago says. He’s happy to provide the service for those who can’t do their own shoveling. Some people are so grateful, they give him gifts. Santiago has a bottle of wine, stashed in the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, given to him that morning by an appreciative customer.

On the other hand, four hours prior, Santiago had feared he’d gotten stiffed on a job shoveling out a car off Central Park West.

“We told the guy to come back in an hour,” says Santiago. They waited for nearly two hours. Finally, Santiago left a note on the car and they headed to the next job, chalking their labor up to a possible loss. But the guy eventually called.

“He’s lucky he came with our money because we were gonna go looking for the guy,” says crew member, Angel Padilla. 

Each job usually takes between one to two hours, depending on the severity of the snowfall. But Santiago notes that people who wait until Monday might face more problems—and a higher rate from his crew.

“Once this snow gets icy and freezes, it’s even harder work,” he says. “As far as how much we charge, it’s more if we have a frozen situation in front of us.”

The going rate for his services is between $50 and $120.

Though it’s Santiago’s birthday, he says he’s planning to stay on the job until at least 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, they stop to assist a couple struggling to dig out their car.

Santiago pulls his shovel off his shoulder. He walks to the couple, who are scooping snow by hand around the outside of their car: “Need some help with that?” 


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