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Shops, Buyers Slow To Return To South Street Seaport


As the holiday season takes hold in New York City, shoppers are heading to FAO Schwartz near Central Park for toys, and to Macy's on 34th Street for clothes or cookware. They shouldn't have a problem, Midtown Manhattan was largely unaffected by Hurricane Sandy. One major tourist attraction in lower Manhattan wasn't so lucky.

Dan Tucker, of member station WNYC, has this report from the historic South Street Seaport.

DAN TUCKER, BYLINE: The Seaport is a small neighborhood of 19th century red-brick buildings and cobblestone streets, tucked between Wall Street, City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge. Fulton Street is the main drag. It's a row of restaurants, and stores like Anne Taylor and Abercrombie and Fitch. One of the main attractions is Pier 17, a sort of mini-mall looking out on the East River and the historic ships docked there.

This time of year, the Seaport is usually packed with tourists and locals. But since Hurricane Sandy flooded the area, the pier, most of the shops and the Seaport museum are all closed.

DARRELL HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, it used to look like, if you can imagine Times Square. It looked similar to that during the days, and even in the evenings. Now, it's fairly much a ghost town.

TUCKER: That's Darrell Hollingsworth, salesman at NYC Bike Rental across from the pier. Before the storm, the business would see as many as 80 customers a day. When it re-opened on Veterans Day, only 10 people came in.

Pasanella and Son Vintners down the block is one of the few shops that re-opened quickly after the storm. Owner Marco Pasanella says he had no choice but to scramble to get up and running again. Like many merchants in the neighborhood, he relies heavily on the holidays.

MARCO PASANELLA: Panic was a big motivator. This is a big season for a wine shop. Up to 60 percent of your business can be in the last two months of the year. So we had a real fire under our butts.

TUCKER: But even though he's open, there's a problem. Most of the people on the streets are workers in hazmat suits throwing moldy drywall and other debris into dumpsters - not his typical clientele.

The neighborhood feels like a giant construction sight and that's keeping people like tourist Tina Wasilewski from sticking around.

TINA WASILEWSKI: Yeah, I'm very surprised because it's all boarded up, the stores. And you can't come here. This is deserted, there's nobody here.

TUCKER: Like so many others, she came, saw the devastation, and turned around to leave. Not good news for shop owners like Marco Pasanella.

PASANELLA: The real challenges remain, uh, having a business in a neighborhood that has no people in it. To have the corner store - nobody on the corner.

TUCKER: Corporate business makes up a big portion of his sales, especially during the holiday season, but many of the corporations on nearby Water Street were also flooded out.

Doggie day care owner, Amanda Byron Zink, says those big businesses are critical.

AMANDA BYRON ZINK: If they don't come back, it's a ripple effect. If they don't rebuild, we don't have a fighting chance.

TUCKER: Her shop lost its electrical system in the storm and could be without power for three to six months. She's opened up in a smaller, temporary space nearby, and her regulars continue to be regulars. It's the other customers, the window-shoppers visiting the pier, or the casual passersby that are notably absent since the storm.

ZINK: They would find us and have a coffee over at Jack's, and come into my little shop and get their dogs groomed. Or if they didn't have a dog, they would just buy a treat for their dog back in Germany.

TUCKER: Some businesses lost so much, they won't be re-opening. But for the others already rebuilding, some good news this week: The local business improvement district has set aside $1 million in cash grants to help flooded small businesses.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Tucker. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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