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Asrai Garden Fundraiser: Worker Injured During Robbery Unites Wicker Park Community

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The interior of Arai Garden flower shop in Wicker Park.
The interior of Arai Garden flower shop in Wicker Park.

The owner of Asrai Garden flower shop in Wicker Park, where employee Kristen Romaniszak was attacked mid-day two weeks ago, says she knew immediately that she wanted to organize an event for the community to show support for Romaniszak during her recovery.

She just didn't realize how easy it would be, since many members of the community immediately had the same thought.

"Everyone kept asking, 'What can we do?' Elizabeth Cronin, owner of Asrai Garden, told The Huffington Post.

Romaniszak was assaulted during a robbery attempt Feb. 16, and sustained multiple stab wounds and other injuries.

Romaniszak will likely have justice; police have charged 24-year-old Alexander Hampton with armed robbery in connection with the incident, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last week. Hampton has a history of battery and sexual assault charges.

But Cronin hoped the event could also bring her peace of mind, and buy her extra time to heal emotionally from the attack.

"I wanted to do something for her because I don't know if she's ever going to be able to return to this space, where it happened," Cronin said, referring to the flower shop, where Romaniszak has worked for more than two years. "It's hard for me to be in this space after what happened, after everything we had to clean up, after having to hear all the details. I wanted to allow her to really take as much time as she needs to come back here, and not have to worry about money, so that if she decides that she really doesn't want to come back here, she can have some time to figure out what her next move is. Because I don't think she was planning on leaving the flower shop before [the attack]."

Cronin knew her first step should be securing a location to host the event, so she reached out to Double Door, a music venue around the corner from her shop. They agreed without hesitation, Cronin said, and almost immediately, two bands with members who know Cronin and Romaniszak agreed to play. They signed on one of Romaniszak's favorite new bands to play, too. Sweet Cobra, Canadian Rifle and Paul Cary & The Small Scaries are slated to play the benefit.

When Cronin expressed interest in holding a raffle, she says she was flooded with donations from local businesses and friends of the shop eager to contribute to the cause.

"Every single person who's had any contact with the event has just given us abundant prizes," Cronin said, including elaborate meals at The Publican, Avec and Big Star, donations from some of Romaniszak's favorite shops in New York, VIP passes to Pitchfork Music Festival, and even coupons for service from individuals and small businesses in the area, like an artist friend of Romaniszak who offered a gift voucher for a free tattoo.

The fundraiser, called "A Benefit for Kristen," will be held Monday, March 5 at the Double Door, at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave. Doors open at 6:30 and the music starts at 7. Admission is $10, and raffle tickets will cost $5 apiece, with all proceeds benefiting Romaniszak.

Romaniszak herself will be there, too, Cronin said, though she's still recovering from surgery on her hand and other injuries she sustained in the attack.

"Kristen is lucky to be alive, and we're all lucky that she's alive," Cronin said. "A lot of the customers have grown to adore her, as have other businesses in the neighborhood, and her fellow employees...Amazingly enough, when something terrible happens you get to learn that there are lots of people around that have nothing but good intentions and kindness, and want to support you."