Over three months since Hurricane Sandy whisked away a full week of last semester’s classes, it may be difficult for the NYU community to imagine that Sandy is still causing trouble as students settle into new classes and begin a semester-long occupation of Bobst. And yet, at the front steps of Manhattan, many of the Financial District’s businesses—locally owned restaurants and national corporations alike—still face a long road ahead to recovery. For some, business may have ceased forever.
Walking along Water Street and into the South Street Seaport, countless generators and portable steam boilers clog the air with the smell of exhaust and a persistent rumbling that echoes throughout lower Manhattan. From the boarded up J.Crew to the barricaded Seaport Marketplace, the only consistent activity in the once bustling area comes from a group of construction workers. Although the economic loss of corporate retail presence should not be ignored, perhaps an even greater loss has occurred in the many local restaurants and shops that, without the backing of a corporate office, may never open again.
Even being one of several of its kind in Manhattan, the Heartland Brewery on the corner of Fulton and South St. has plywood on its windows, a stripped interior, and no public indication of when it may once again open its doors. True, the South Street Seaport is not an area known for culinary genius, with a McDonald’s and a Johnny Rockets just one block apart, but further economic loss to the area’s locals is likely to be sustained. With a closed Holiday Inn Express and fewer name brand stores come dwindling numbers of tourists. Which, of course, means that any small deli or shop that may have been able to physically reopen in the months since Sandy may now be faced with a future of lower sales and declining traffic. With little reason for most people, whether tourist or New York resident, to travel to the southeastern tip of Manhattan (unless of course a thrill is found walking among construction equipment that can’t be heard and sneaks up by surprise), there is a risk that the area and the troubles it faces may disappear from memory.
At the same time that Google is bringing free WiFi to the entire neighborhood of Chelsea, some of the nations most recognizable corporations, located downtown, are still not operating with full Internet capabilities. After three months of ceaseless work, the army of Verizon workers, tasked with replacing the area’s damaged copper wire with fiber-optic cables, are still months away from completion, leaving many businesses stuck with lackluster broadband speeds. From the inability to use a shared drive to a slew of Citibank ATMs that no longer work, the productivity costs are beginning to stack up. Additionally, Con Edison reports that 22 “large buildings” are without full power, as its workers operate alongside Verizon’s in an attempt to restore a fully functioning grid to the ever-crowded area.
Although the tragedies of destroyed neighborhoods in Queens and Staten Island should not be grouped together with a bunch of downtown yuppies who sit around complaining of slow Internet, there exists across the greater New York City area a range of lasting effects from Hurricane Sandy. While large-scale corporations may be able to easily persist and, within a few months, resume completely normal operations, it is still unclear whether the gaggle of local shops and restaurants that once populated the cracks and crevices between the some of the city’s largest buildings will ever open their doors again. For the residents and workers of lower Manhattan, many still have reason to walk down to Battery Park, raise their fist in the air, and shout, “Damn you Sandy! Damn you to hell!”
Photos by Caleb Savage