When compared with its neighbors Coney Island and the Rockaways, Manhattan seemed hardly touched by the waters and winds of Superstorm Sandy in late October. But almost three months later, areas of lower Manhattan are still laboring to recover.
Earlier this month, a museum devastated by Sandy finally reopened. About 800 people packed the lobby and upstairs galleries of the South Street Seaport Museum in lower Manhattan as Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed the crowd.
"The best days are yet ahead," he said, pulling out various sailing references. "We did not crash on the shoals, and the river finally went down. God bless, let's all get back to work."
From an outsider's perspective, the crowd reflected a vibrant, active neighborhood. But with the exception of the museum, every single store on the block of Fulton Street is closed and boarded up. Even the museum is limping along.
Sandy swept up to 6 feet of water from the East River to the museum lobby, taking out the elevators, escalator, and heating and air conditioning units.
"But the worst of everything is that the basement was completely submerged in water, and that is where all of our electrical equipment comes in and the water pumps," says Jerry Gallagher, the museum's general manager.
The museum, he says, was able to reopen because of temporary heaters powered by kerosene on the back of the building.
At night, the hum of generators is a now-familiar sound for passersby on neighboring streets. A few blocks from the museum, the Bowne & Co. print shop is one of the businesses that's open. It's a glorious space, filled with 19th century presses, handprinted stationary, and shelves of wooden and metal type.
Master printer Robert Warner has his foot on the treadle of a press from 1901, printing cards with the simple word "love" for Valentine's Day. "There is nothing quite like the smell of the ink and the sound of a 19th century machine at work," he says.
The company was founded in 1775, around the time of the American Revolution, making it "New York City's oldest company that operates with the same name," Warner says. It survived The Revolution and the Sept. 11 attacks, but almost ended with Sandy.
About 200 cases of type were submerged, prompting about 100 volunteers to help dry everything out — much of it very old, rare, wooden type.
"We had people cleaning every individual letter," says Ali Osborn, a printer with the shop. "And they all had to dry, and, of course, that was hard because we had no power or electricity for a couple of weeks."
Some stores still don't have power or phones. Verizon is replacing copper wire damaged by Sandy with fiber-optic cable, a job that may take months.
Many stores are also still relying on cash-only sales. The Downtown Alliance, which manages the business improvement district for lower Manhattan, gave out nearly 100 of the little attachments that transform smartphones into credit card machines.
Quiet, Emptier Streets
Marco Pasanella, a local vintner, says most Manhattan residents don't have a clue about their home's rocky condition.
"Friends of mine who live even five or six blocks away can't really believe it," he says. "And then they come down to the neighborhood and they say, 'It really looks like a disaster area.' "
Pasanella is the owner of Pasanella & Son, a beautiful wine store on South Street. He says 10,000 bottles of wine were floating around the day after Sandy hit.
The water rose up to 6 1/2 feet in the store, forcing Pasanella to spend six figures on renovations. But he turned the place around in a quick three weeks. "The holiday season can be 60 percent of your year," Pasanella says. "That helped motivate us."
Almost three months after Sandy, his place is the only one open on the block. Outside, Pasanella points at a closed corner restaurant, The Paris Cafe.
"A favorite hangout of Thomas Edison, among others," he says. He motions up. "Above the cafe are 17 apartments, all empty."
Con Edison, a New York City energy supplier, says 22 large buildings are still without power, or on only partial power, as well as some smaller ones. That makes tough times for small businesses like Pasanella & Son.
"With no neighbors, nobody nearby, there is no one to buy wine," Pasanella says. "This was a whole neighborhood; it's dark outside and very quiet. It's eerie."
Slowly, more tourists have begun visiting the area. The Downtown Alliance says more than 87 percent of lower Manhattan businesses were up and running by the first of the year.
Still, some stores are barely holding on financially and may not open until late spring.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
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.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)
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.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)
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.
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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.