Tourism at South Street Seaport Hit Hard By Sandy

Friday, November 16, 2012

When Sandy blew into the South Street Seaport the night of October 29, the neighborhood's quaint red-brick buildings were quickly submerged in a raging river full of timber, debris, street signs and fuel oil.

"It was a maelstrom of water," said Jonathan Boulware, waterfront director for the South Street Seaport Museum.

The 14-foot storm surge and gale-force winds sent white-capped waves crashing onto Pier 17 and filled storefront windows on Fulton Street, turning them into fishbowls six, seven and eight feet deep.

Dozens of businesses were destroyed, and as many as 350 jobs lost, according to one estimate.

These days, the cobblestones teem with clean-up workers in white hazmat suits and respirators who fill long yellow dumpsters with sheets of metal and moldy drywall ripped from the flooded buildings. Retail shops and restaurants are being gutted or remain boarded up.

"This is deserted. There's nobody here," said Tina Wasilewski, a tourist from Westfield, New Jersey who stopped by the Seaport for lunch Tuesday. "I guess we have to walk toward the Freedom Tower and find someplace that's open."

Sales Tank At the Few Open Businesses

Sandy hammered New York City's tourism industry. The week of the storm, Broadway was forced to cancel 49 performances and hotel occupancies were down as much as 15 percent. Weeks later, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island remain closed to the public.

Ten million tourists stream through downtown New York every year, but for the time being, they are steering clear of the Seaport.

"It's fairly much a ghost town," said Darrell Hollingsworth, salesman at NYC Bike Rental at John and South streets.

Before the storm, the bike rental business would see as many as 80 customers a day. When it re-opened on Veterans Day — still without power — only 10 people came in.

At Tanveer Hussain's T-shirt stall under the FDR Drive, sales have been even worse. In October, he was pulling in $400 to $500 a day selling NYPD and FDNY gear and "I Love New York" paraphernalia. After Sandy, his daily haul was down to $15 or $10 or even less.

"Yesterday I selling five dollars," he said Tuesday. "That's it. One customer."

There are no estimates on how much Seaport businesses face in lost revenue or how much they will pay to repair Sandy-related damages, but the story of the South Street Seaport Museum offers a clue.

The building on Fulton Street sustained several million dollars worth of damage when saltwater knocked out its elevator and escalator and corroded its heating and cooling systems. The museum also stands to lose six weeks of visitors paying $10 a head by the time it plans to reopen on December 10.

Tourism Suffers as Recovery Comes in Fits and Starts

How long the recovery will take is anyone's guess. Some say weeks, others months, still others as long as a year.

A handful of small businesses, like Pasanella and Son, Vintners, at 115 South Street, were quick to get back on their feet.

Located directly across from the East River, the shop lost more than 10,000 bottles of wine when a six-and-a-half-foot wall of water cascaded through the granite piers that bookend its Greek Revival storefront.

Built in 1840, the building has no basement and no newfangled mechanical systems, so owner Marco Pasanella could start to rebuild immediately.

"The real challenge remains having a business in a neighborhood that has no people in it," he said. "To have the corner store with nobody on the corner."

Nearly three weeks after Sandy, the only businesses open were small local operations like the bike rental, a coffee shop and a doggie day care.

The Howard Hughes Corporation — which owns and operates Pier 17 — did not have a timeline for when its 80 shops would re-open their doors.

Some local business owners expressed frustration and even anxiety that the chain stores and corporate properties were slower to start cleaning up and rebuilding.

"If they don't come back, it's a ripple effect," said Amanda Byron Zink, owner of the Salty Paw, the doggie day care and dog grooming center, located on Peck Slip. "If they don't rebuild, we don't have a fighting chance."

Daniel P. Tucker
Two-and-a-half weeks after Sandy, clean-up workers toss legs, arms and torsos of mannequins from the Gap into a dumpster. "Yo! Get those body parts!" one worker yells to another.
The mannequins from the Gap were so waterlogged two-and-a-half weeks after the storm that water spilled from a torso's belly button when a worker threw it on the ground.
Daniel P. Tucker
Much of South Street Seaport is still without power. The neighborhood feels "otherworldly," according to one business owner, especially at night.
Daniel P. Tucker
Disaster recovery and property restoration teams from BELFOR are working on cleaning up buildings throughout the South Street Seaport.
Daniel P. Tucker
Marco Pasanella of Pasanella and Son, Vintners, began rebuilding immediately after Sandy destroyed his wine shop on the first floor at 115 South Street.
Sara Williams, owner of Fresh Salt at 146 Beekman Street, stands in her gutted bar cafe. "The business did not have flood insurance," she said.


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Comments [3]

Judy McMullan from Bronx

Small Business grant applications begin November 30th - open for affected businesses below Chambers Street, info via the link:

Note to this article's author; You paint a terribly false story by including commentary from illegal t-shirt vendors that squat under the FDR area of the seaport. There are serious shops affected at the seaport and your assertion that a guy selling t-shirts cant jack up his prices for lack of tourists truly misses the mark as far as anyone who knows the area is concerned. You should retract this entire story.

Nov. 23 2012 10:44 AM
Michael from 50 fulton street

We own Strawberryfields Frozen Yogurt and Crepe Shop on Fulton Street. We love the neighborhood and our Clientele so much that we spent an incredible amount of time,effort and finances to get our shop open again. The local neighborhood people and our incredibly devoted staff worked 20 hour days for FREE fixing,cleaning,sanitizing etc to get the business running again. The disappointing thing is that it seems the government is not supporting the area, the whole seaport is closed Abercrombie and others are relocating, the body museum is boarded up, the office building 199 water street and 40 fulton street and residential buildings 200 water street and 2 gold street are not giving there people any information on when they will be operating again. if anyone thinks FEMA is helping small businesses in the area they are NOT. And as far as people thinking the government will pour money into the area to keep it going,they are WRONG. Action and Care is what is needed. What happened to people helping and caring for one another? governments helping the small businesses (FEMA?) People, human beings still 20 days after the storm living with NO HOT WATER or heat in Manhattan (200 water street) WE AT STRAWBERRYFIELDS saw the GREATNESS in people, SIGN SELECT MADE FREE SIGNS FOR US, LOCALS ON THERE KNEES SCRUBBING THE FLOORS, OUR STAFF WORKING FOR FREE 20 HOUR DAYS if more people can see what Helping others,Giving to others,Sacrificing for others,CARING for others, showing KINDNESS to others how great and inspirational and motavating that can be in building back a community, then the Seaport can be back in operation soon. ***Only problem is people as a whole can care LESS about each other. And FEMA etc by them not helping the small businesses prove that our government can care LESS as well.

Nov. 18 2012 10:13 PM
Madeline from Manhattan

Your story on the South Street Seaport was riddled with sins of ommisions. The Seaport is indeed a popular destination tourist destination, but it is also a community where New Yorkers live, work and visit to soak up history -- not to buy tacky tee-shirts and shop in chain stores. That is an image that the Hughes Corporation may wish to perpetuate, but which does a grave injustice to this precious and sensitive remnant of New York's maritime past. The reason the chain stores on Pier 17 are not being cleaned up is because the Hughes Corporation has filed plans with the City to demolish the existing pier and replace it with a much larger mall, filled with big-box stores -- a structure that is totally out of scale with the neighborhood, will destroy views of the Brooklyn Bridge, and will remove most of the public space that currently gives visitors access to the water. Current tenants have already been put on notice that their leases will not be renewed; thus their reluctance to clean up. You also failed to note the many signs of life that exist in the "other" Seaport: an irreplaceable historic district, preserved from demolition years ago by ardent preservationists who also created the South Street Seaport Museum: Pasanella & Son Vintners on South Street was flooded, but is already back in business. The New Amsterdam Market, which attracts thousands of locals to its stalls by the Fulton Market each Sunday, started up again last week and will operate through December 23. The Museum, under the brilliant leadership of the Museum of the City of New York, has attracted dozens of volunteers who have worked tirelessly alongside staff to get the Museum back on its feet. Your portrayal of the Seaport as a dead zone will only hurt its recovery.

Nov. 17 2012 11:57 AM

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