In Lower Manhattan, Sandy Still Keeping Businesses Dark Almost three months after Superstorm Sandy, parts of lower Manhattan are limping along to recovery. More than 20 large buildings are without power, and many businesses remain closed and boarded up. Even businesses that are open are struggling without the old foot traffic.
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In Lower Manhattan, Sandy Still Keeping Businesses Dark

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In Lower Manhattan, Sandy Still Keeping Businesses Dark

In Lower Manhattan, Sandy Still Keeping Businesses Dark

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Staten Island and the Rockaways, two places hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, are on the long path to recovery. But New York's struggle to rebuild isn't limited to those shore communities.

NPR's Margot Adler reports that many businesses in Lower Manhattan are still working hard to put Sandy behind them.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: On a cold January evening, about 800 people pack into the lobby and the upstairs galleries of the South Street Seaport Museum. The museum houses a maritime library and the largest collection of privately owned historic ships in the country. Almost three months after Superstorm Sandy, it's finally reopening, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is there to celebrate it. The best days are yet ahead, he says, and pulls out various sailing references.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We did not crash on the shoals and the river finally went down. God bless, let's all get back to work.


ADLER: Seeing these crowds, you might think you were in a vibrant, active neighborhood. But except for the museum, every single store on this block on Fulton Street - Ann Taylor, Brookstone, The Body Shop - is closed and boarded up. Even the museum is limping along. Water from the East River came up to six feet in the lobby; it took out the elevators, heating, air-conditioning.

The escalator was under water, says museum general manager Jerry Gallagher.

JERRY GALLAGHER: But the worst of everything is that the basement was completely submerged in water and that's where all of our electrical equipment comes in, the water pumps...

ADLER: Is that we're hearing what looks like a generator or something, right outside?


GALLAGHER: That is correct. Because we don't have our normal heat system up and running, the museum is able to reopen because we have temporary heaters powered by kerosene on the back of the building. And we're inducting the hot air into the gallery spaces and the lobby space. And that's the noise that we're listening to right now.


ADLER: Most nights outside on this street, all you hear are the generators. Some places are open. Gallagher takes me into the Bowne and Company Print Shop.


ADLER: It's a glorious space, filled with 19th century presses, hand printed stationary, and shelves of wooden and metal type.

GALLAGHER: There's nothing quite like the small of the ink and the sound of a 19th century machine at work. Master printer Robert Warner has his foot is on the treadle of a press from 1901. And he's printing cards with the simple word Love for Valentines Day.

ADLER: The company was founded in 1775, a year before the American Revolution.

ROBERT WARNER: Making it New York's oldest company that operates under the same name in New York City.

ADLER: But if it survived the revolution and 9/11, it almost ended with Sandy.

Jerry Gallagher.

GALLAGHER: There were about 200 cases of type that had been submerged in the water. And they immediately gathered everybody up who was around, about 100 volunteers who came in over the course of the next several weeks.

ADLER: To help dry everything out; much of it very old, very rare, wooden type.

ALI OSBORN: We've had people cleaning every individual letter.

ADLER: Ali Osborn is a printer with the Bowne and Company shop.

OSBORN: And then they had to all dry and, of course, that was hard 'cause we had no power or electricity for a couple of weeks.

ADLER: Some stores still don't have power or phones. Most copper wiring was destroyed, so it may take Verizon months to replace it. Many stores are still relying on cash only. The Downtown Alliance - which manages the Business Improvement District for Lower Manhattan - gave out nearly a hundred of those little attachments that turn your Smartphone into a credit card machine.

Marco Pasanella is a local vintner. He says most Manhattanites don't have a clue.

MARCO PASANELLA: Friends of mine who live even five or six blocks away can't really believe it. And then they come down to the neighborhood and they say, well, I mean it really looks like a disaster area.

ADLER: Pasanella is the owner of Pasanella and Sons, a beautiful store on South Street filled with bottles of wine.

PASANELLA: Ten thousand bottles of which was floating around the next day, after Sandy.

ADLER: Was floating in the water?

PASANELLA: It was kind of actually floating in sort of a romantic way. It was sort of just like suspended in gunk.

ADLER: The water came up six and a half feet into the store. They spent six figures renovating quickly, he says, in three weeks. Terror was the motivation. He says, being a wine shop...

PASANELLA: The holiday season can be up to 60 percent of your year. That helped motivate us.

ADLER: And with a lot of corporate clients they did OK. But now it's January and he's the only shop open on his block. He takes me outside and shows me a closed corner restaurant, The Paris Cafe.

PASANELLA: A favorite hangout of Thomas Edison, amongst others. Above the cafe is 17 apartments, all empty.

ADLER: There's also a 52-story building nearby with no tenants. Con Edison says there are 22 large buildings still without power, or only partial power, and some smaller ones. So for Pasanella and Sons, and other small businesses, there are no people on the street.

PASANELLA: With no neighbors, nobody nearby, there is no one to buy wine.

ADLER: Well, looking outside, I notice all the stores all around you are all boarded up what were they.

PASANELLA: Oh, they were restaurants - it was a whole neighborhood. It's dark outside and very quiet. It's eerie.

ADLER: There are more tourists beginning to come to the area. And The Downtown Alliance says that over 87 percent of Lower Manhattan businesses were back by the first of the year. But some stores may not open until late spring, and financially are barely holding on. For now, at night, in this beautiful, old historic downtown area, almost three months after Sandy, there is often only the sound of generators.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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