City that never sleeps beds down before Hurricane Sandy

Reuters , Monday 29 Oct 2012

Hurricane Sandy causes early closings for shops and restaurants and power outages in New York City, the city that never sleeps

Hurricane Sandy
Police make a final sweep of the subway at Times Square in New York October 28, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

They say that New York is the city that never sleeps. But throughout Manhattan on Sunday, it seemed as if many businesses were preparing to tuck in, perhaps for days.

A monster of a hurricane, potentially the largest on record, was barreling toward the city, threatening business owners with catastrophic damages, Biblical flooding and power outages that could last for days.

In Times Square, restaurants, electronics shops and perfumeries were sending employees home before 7 p.m., when the city's subways were set to close.

It was the same throughout Midtown, along Madison Avenue and down into the Bohemian enclave of Greenwich Village, where many of famed Bleeker Street's shops were closing early - and indefinitely.

"After Monday, employees will be on call," said Jerome Ison, a clerk at Burberry.

At Magnolia Bakery, the cupcakes shop made famous by the TV show "Sex and the City," the ovens were turned off around noon. "We won't have any extra cupcakes," a worker said.

Throughout Manhattan, the pretzel and hot dog vendors were packing up, too, often to travel across bridges and tunnels to New Jersey, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

"Everybody's leaving," said peanut purveyor Miah Daras of the Bronx. "For me, this is losing $300 a day."

The mad dash out of Manhattan was spurred by the shut down of mass transit Sunday. The loss of transportation illustrated a socio-economic divide: There are many wealthy residents of Manhattan. Those who serve them tend to live elsewhere - the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.

Without public transit, and with the possibility of bridges and tunnels being closed, cutting off vehicular traffic, those two populations were going to be apart from one another. And who knew for how long?

"I need my workers to get home safely," said health food deli owner Gale Shim.


Shim decided to stay behind and deal with the situation himself, meaning he'd bunk down in his deli. He had been hearing the news all week: A foot (0.3 meter) of rain, 75-mph (120-kph) winds, though was happy he has insurance for food spoilage.

But like a lot of New York business owners, it was the flooding that worried him. He stood in the back of the deli's kitchen, surrounded by cases of the hipster health drink Kombucha and pointed to a place in the ceiling where rainwater routinely surges in.

His plan was to fight off the expected deluge with a sump pump, though he didn't know what he would do if the electricity went out. He also hadn't figured out how to get a blanket if he got cold.

On the Upper West Side, lines wrapped around the block at grocery store Trader Joe's. At Abingdon Deli, the cheese and meat shelves had been picked clean.

Throughout the day, more and more closings were announced.

But New Yorkers - who survived the Sept. 11 attacks, a blackout in 2003 and Hurricane Irene last year - can be hard to rattle. Some delighted in being contrarians. As many stocked their fridges with water and food, others blew the whole thing off.

"You know what I have in my fridge?" said Chris Conway, a 41-year-old who lives in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. "Four different kinds of Tabasco and one jar of A-1 steak sauce."

There were also plenty of businesses that were daring the storm to bother them.

"We'll be open, no matter what," said Clarence Ricketts, who manages the 24-hour Walgreens at Times Square. The building has its own in-house engineer, a military-grade power generator and a full staff in the store.

Ricketts will pay for cab fare if an employee needs to go home. But he's cleared out space in the store's fifth-floor offices and has air mattresses for workers.

"We sell air mattresses," he said. "So however many (workers) need, we have."

One business that storms treat positively well: bars.

Downtown Manhattan's Corner Bistro was full on Sunday. The Bistro, legendary for its salty bartenders and tender burgers, stayed open throughout Hurricane Irene. During the blackout in 2003, one manager tried to close the bar - and was fired.

"The Bistro only closes on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that's it," said bartender Jeff Sheehan.

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