Workers Keep NYC Businesses Open -- Even Without Power

East Village stores open New York

Hurricane Sandy plunged hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers into darkness, and Consolidated Edison doesn't expect lights to flicker back on for another few days. In Manhattan's East Village and the Lower East Side, two of its most bustling, bar-specked residential neighborhoods, most businesses were shuttered. But not all. On almost every block, at least one store -- by flashlight or candlelight -- was determined to keep its customers satisfied, and make a few cash sales.

"Our motto is wine to the people," says Keith Beavers, who says that his shop is the only wine store currently open in the East Village. Bottles of liquor twinkle in the candlelight, as a group of his friends drink red wine in the corner.

Red wine is the most popular purchase, he says, since it's drunk at room temperature. Ninety-eight percent of the box wines are gone, Beavers adds, and there was a run on rye whiskey. But he's still seeing "weekend numbers" of customers at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, when the store wouldn't even usually be open. One guy walked 20 blocks uptown to withdrawn cash from a working ATM, he says, just to come back and buy a soothing something on a chilly, powerless New York night.

Many of the area's corner stores were doing business. Some shopkeepers were standing outside (as pictured above) with their shutters pulled down halfway. Customers simply told them what they wanted, and the clerks would hustle inside to find it in the dark. Other stores let customers peruse in the shadows.

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Many of the homes in the area are without running water, too, so Poland Spring is selling fast by the gallon. Tommy Furtado says that he's almost run out of water at his corner store at Rivington Street and Pitt Street. "Everyone's coming in for beer and water," says John Rodriguez, who owns a shop on Avenue C. He's also selling everything in the refrigerators at half-price.

ice cream giveaway East Village Hurricane SandyAs the contents of hundreds of thousands of refrigerators continued to warm on Tuesday, many residents were spurred to action. "The gas works, whatever food I have in the fridge needs to be cooked, and people are hungry," says Luis Rivera, whose restaurant, Casa Adela, was cooking up rice and beans for locals -- in the dark. When they first opened in the morning, customers stopped by for coffee. "Now," he says, "they're coming back for lunch."

A crowd gathered outside a Fine Fare supermarket on Avenue C and Fourth St., as rumor spread that it would be giving away its stock of cool treats. Suddenly, the shutter popped open a few feet, and a couple employees came out with boxes. The crowd swarmed, climbing over each other to grab what they could. Some walked away triumphantly with free ice cream, Cool Whip and Popsicles, but one woman stepped back from the crush of bodies as soon as the giveaway began. "I can't do this," she said.

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The woman was Malina Barbosa, the vice president of the tenant's association at Jacob Riss, a public housing project in the East Village. Those 19 buildings, and 1,191 apartment units, were all powerless. "No lights, no water, no use of the bathroom," she says. "It's totally unsanitary." As the floodwaters rose in one of the buildings, she says she saw an elderly asthmatic woman climb up 10 flights of stairs in panic, pausing on each floor to catch her breath.

Depending on where you looked, the atmosphere in the area was either neighborly good cheer -- red wine in candlelight -- or creeping anxiety. Some business owners mentioned fear of looting, but so far the only evidence of foul play was a single busted ATM. At sunset the East Village and the Lower East Side would be truly unrecognizable: neighborhoods known to glitter at night, strangely still and silent.

"We're keeping park hours," says Beavers, whose wine store usually does most of its business in the evening. "Or rather, zombie hours."

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