October 29, 2012 3:47 pm

NY big business shuts as small opens doors

On a typical Monday morning a cavalcade of taxis and trucks thunders up Eighth Avenue through Manhattan’s Chelsea district, but as the rain ahead of hurricane Sandy thickened, the traffic on the road thinned.

That made at least one aspect of Sean Ames’s life easier, as his short journey from the Gem Hotel on one side of the road to the Chelsea Gourmet Deli on the other was even quicker than normal.

As the boutique hotel’s general manager, he had come to buy yet another crate of mineral water, this one for staff who had stayed overnight at the hotel and were likely to do the same again tonight as the subway remained closed.

“We began to call our folks in when the [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] said it would suspend the service,” he said.

People continued to move around the streets of Chelsea – a downtown district popular with young people and the gay community – but most were outside their normal routines having been told by their employers to stay at home.

Big consumer businesses such as Starbucks and Whole Foods had also closed their doors for the day but smaller stores, cafés and restaurants remained open, although many were showing more apprehension than contingency planning.

At Gristedes, a New York supermarket chain, Anita Drain, the store manager, said they had opened as normal as 6am but that plans for the rest of the day were unclear. “We’re waiting for word from head office.”

With half a dozen customers moving through the checkout lines, people were buying “anything they can get their hands on” she said. “We just got some bread, which is good. But it’s only Pepperidge Farm so far.” Other supplies were arriving patchily.

Murray’s Bagels, which had got its regular delivery of fresh-cut fruit salads in the morning, was planning to stay open until 11am. “But it depends on the weather,” said one staffer. “We gotta get home.”

At the Venus Restaurant Diner, a group of six Japanese tourists were sipping breakfast coffee and wondering how to spend their day, doubting that they’d find any stores to shop in and concerned they would not find any restaurants open for dinner.

Looking up to the rolling news coverage on the diner’s flat-panel screen, Keisu Kihara, the group’s leader, said: “If you look at the TV it’s scary, but it doesn’t seem so bad so far here.”

With more hope than conviction, one of his friends asked: “Isn’t this all an overreaction?”

At the Gem Hotel, Mr Ames, who was brandishing his own cup of fresh coffee, said: “Some [guests] have stepped out to get a beverage. Most are just hunkered down.”

He had tested the hotel’s back-up power generators, corralled its flashlights, and tied down or removed anything on its roof that could be blown away.

Supplying him with his crate of water was Jay Kim, owner of the Chelsea Gourmet Deli, who had slept overnight at the Eighth Avenue store rather than return to his home in Queens and risk getting stranded.

All his one-gallon bottles of water had been snapped up long ago, he said, leaving only the smaller bottles. “The money I make is more because people are stocking up. But it’s not that busy.”

He had not laid out the usual kaleidoscope of flowers for sale outside his store, but otherwise he was not overly prepared, or concerned. “We’ll stay open as long as we can. Until outside becomes crazy,” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.”

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