Thu., November 1, 2012 5:45pm (EDT)

Manhattan Businesses Struggle Until Power Returns
By Ailsa Chang
Updated: 2 years ago

Paul Nicaj, who owns Battery Gardens Restaurant on the southern tip of Manhattan, says Superstorm Sandy will cost him a few hundred thousand dollars, including income from two weddings that may have to be cancelled this weekend.
Paul Nicaj, who owns Battery Gardens Restaurant on the southern tip of Manhattan, says Superstorm Sandy will cost him a few hundred thousand dollars, including income from two weddings that may have to be cancelled this weekend.
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 after 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? Lots of 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 that sells socks, hats and gloves. 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, 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.

"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."

She says Halloween is her Christmas season, but Sandy stole her Halloween 2012. Suzanne 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 Paul Nicaj, who owns the place, says he's ready to open as soon as Con Ed powers back up 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 evacuate. 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/.