U.S.
4:35 pm
Thu November 1, 2012

Manhattan Businesses Struggle Until Power Returns

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 12:01 pm

Lower Manhattan continues to slog through another day without electricity, and it's taking a toll on businesses that have been shuttered since the storm hit. No electricity means no lights, no credit card machines, no heating and no refrigerators to keep food fresh, so local shops and restaurants are waiting desperately for the power to turn back on.

There's about $4,000 worth of garbage outside B&H Restaurant in the East Village. Twenty trash bags are piled in a small mountain on the sidewalk. Fawzy Abdelwahid, the owner, has just spent the last eight hours cleaning and dumping out what's spoiling in his lifeless kitchen — soups, cheeses, fish, vegetables, lasagna, milk, eggs and tuna salad.

The power vanished Monday night, and Abdelwahid estimates he's losing about $2,000 every day he has been closed. He says he has only $5,000 in savings for himself, his wife and child. And it's the beginning of the month now — bills are due. So Abdelwahid says he's probably going to be calling his mother in Egypt to borrow money.

"I cannot afford more than a week," he says. "More than a week, it's going to be too much. Because this is my only job."

Even if B&H started serving a limited menu, like some other restaurants nearby, where would the customers be? Many people from the neighborhood who are sick of living without electricity or hot water have left.

Socks Get No Foot Traffic

Jeff Johnson has been staring at the trickle of foot traffic all afternoon. He's trying to resuscitate The Sock Man, a shop in the East Village. He had asked his boss for permission to set up a table full of socks outside the store to reel in shoppers, since the darkened store behind him wasn't enticing too many people.

"You gotta try it! You gotta see what happens, you know? Because you're tired of being home," Johnson says.

But by the end of the afternoon, he had sold only three pairs of socks.

The few people sauntering down the street right now aren't looking to retail shop; they're out for water, nonperishable food or just a place to recharge their phones.

This has all been really bad timing for Joshua Suzanne, who owns a vintage store called Rags-A-GoGo in the West Village.

"I'll be very honest with you. When I closed my store on Saturday, I did over three grand that day, and that was just the beginning of what was about to be the Halloween extravaganza," Suzanne says. "I really mean it — anybody that does anything that is colorful, bright and costume-y kicks at this time."

Suzanne says Halloween is her Christmas season, but Sandy stole it away. She says she needed the money from this week to keep her in business during January and February, when things get slow.

Warped Floor And Broken Toe

Other businesses are taking an even bigger hit, such as Battery Gardens Restaurant. It's perched on the southern tip of Manhattan, which was under 12 feet of water during the storm's peak. Two feet of seawater seeped into the dining room.

If two weddings don't go on this weekend as planned, the owner says, he will be out $80,000.

The wooden dance floor is now warped and buckling after being submerged for a day. The kitchen still reeks of floodwater mixed with gallons of grease that spilled during the storm.

But owner Paul Nicaj says as soon as Con Ed powers back up, he's ready to open — thanks to a few employees who walked to work the day after the storm to help clean up all the debris scattered in and around the restaurant.

Many employees had traveled from the Bronx that day, including someone who walked all the way down from 240th Street — a 15-mile walk.

About 80 more employees are still waiting to come back to work.

Nicaj stayed planted in his restaurant all night during the storm, even though the city had ordered him to leave. He says he ran around like a maniac sandbagging the perimeter. A marble table fell on his foot and broke his toe.

"It's OK. When you break a toe you can do nothing. Just tape it and go on with it. Wear a little wider shoe," he says with a shrug.

The toe is the least of his worries now. He's popping painkillers every four hours and just beginning to assess the damage and lost business. By the time all the repairs are done, Nicaj thinks he'll be out a few hundred thousand dollars.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And in lower Manhattan, it was another day without electricity. That's taking a toll on businesses that have been shuttered since the storm. No electricity means no lights, no credit card machines and no refrigerators to keep food fresh.

NPR's Ailsa Chang checked in with some shops and restaurants that are waiting desperately for power.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: There's about $4,000 worth of garbage outside B&H Restaurant in the East Village. Twenty trash bags piled in a small mountain on the sidewalk. Fawzy Abdelwahid, the owner, has just spent the last eight hours cleaning, and dumping out what's spoiling in his lifeless kitchen.

FAWZY ABDELWAHID: Soups, cheese, fish, vegetables, lasagna...

CHANG: The power vanished after Monday night, and Abdelwahid estimates he's losing about $2,000 every day he's been closed. He says he has only $5,000 in savings total for him, his wife and kid. And it's the beginning of the month now, bills are due. So he says he's probably going to be calling his mother in Egypt to borrow money.

ABDELWAHID: I cannot afford more than a week. More than a week, it's going to be too much. I cannot afford more than - because this is my only job.

CHANG: Even if B&H started serving a limited menu, like some other restaurants nearby, where would the customers be? Lots of people from the neighborhood who are sick of living without electricity or hot water have left. Just ask Jeff Johnson. He's trying to resuscitate The Sock Man. It's a shop in the East Village that sells lots of socks.

If people weren't going to venture inside a dark store, Johnson thought, why not set up a table full of socks outside.

JEFF JOHNSON: You gotta try it. You gotta see what happens, you know? Because you're tired of being home.

CHANG: But by the end of the afternoon, Johnson had sold only three pairs of socks. The few people sauntering down the street right now, they're not looking to retail shop. They're out for water, non-perishable food, or just a place to recharge their phones. This has all been really bad timing for Joshua Suzanne, who owns a vintage store called Rags-A-GoGo in the West Village.

JOSHUA SUZANNE: I'll be very honest with you. When I closed my store on Saturday, I did over three grand that day, and that was just the beginning of what was about to be the Halloween extravaganza. And I really mean it. Anybody that does anything that is colorful, bright and costumey kicks at this time.

CHANG: She says she needed the money from this Halloween week to keep her in business during January and February when things get slow. Other businesses are taking an even bigger hit than Suzanne is. Take the Battery Garden Restaurant in lower Manhattan. It was flooded under two feet of seawater. If two weddings don't go on this weekend as planned, the owner will be out $80,000.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWEEPING)

CHANG: The wooden dance floor is now warped after being submerged for a day. The kitchen still reeks of floodwater mixed with gallons of grease that spilled during the storm. But Paul Nicaj, who owns the place, says he's ready to open as soon as ConEd powers back up. Thanks to a few employees who walked to work the day after the storm to help clean up all the debris.

PAUL NICAJ: Most of these people came all the way from Bronx. They came here...

CHANG: Some people walked from the Bronx?

NICAJ: Some people walked from 240th Street, yes.

CHANG: That's about 15 miles. About 80 more employees are still waiting to come back to work. Nicaj stayed planted in his restaurant all night during the storm, even though the city had ordered him to evacuate. He says he ran around like a maniac sandbagging the perimeter. A marble table fell on his foot and broke his toe.

NICAJ: When you break a toe you can't do nothing, just taped them and go on with it. Wear a little wider shoe.

CHANG: It's the least of his worries now. He's popping painkillers every four hours and just beginning to assess the damage in lost business. By the time all the repairs are done, he thinks he'll be out a few hundred thousand dollars.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.