New York Business: A Tale of Two Cities

Right now, there is such a drastic contrast in New York City that it almost feels like two different places. “It’s a huge, huge difference; you don’t see it so clearly by day. But downtown, it's been miserable. You’re lucky if you can get dry food,” said Thomas DeGeest, who lives on the Lower East Side and is the owner of the waffles truck, Wafels & Dinges. “There is no refrigeration, no sandwiches, no Starbucks, no restaurants. But on the Upper West Side, it looks like a regular weekend day with people skipping work.”

“Not only are four of our restaurants currently closed, but our corporate office doesn’t have power either,”

- Jimmy Haber, Managing Partner of ESquared Hospitality

It’s true. While there were some trees down in Central and Riverside Park, uptown and most of Midtown Manhattan did not have any power outages -- or flooding. So while the subway closures and limited bus service has been inconvenient, people -- and businesses -- above 34th street have only had minor disruption from Hurricane Sandy compared to their downtown counterparts.

“It’s been a nightmare downtown,” said Jimmy Haber, Managing Partner of ESquared Hospitality, which operates BLT Prime, BLT Burger, BLT Fish, Go Burger, among others. “Not only are four of our restaurants currently closed, but our corporate office doesn’t have power either.”

However, Haber said, his team was able to open two of their restaurants in Midtown last night and two more today.

“Last night, people were thanking us since we were one of the few open,” Haber said.

Gregory’s Coffee owner Gregory Zamfotis also said customers were appreciative -- and many who didn't have power were camping out at his stores, which offers free wifi.

“Today, we have seen a lot of people stranded,” said Zamfotis, which has five outposts in the city. “People are coming in and buying more than usual. The average sale is double today. Normally it’s $4-$5 dollars, but today it’s $7-$8 dollars.” Zamfotis, whose fifth store, located on 24th and Park Avenue, does not have power, said his team is baking extra goods tonight since today was so hectic. “We have outlets in the ceilings in case we want to plug in a sign,” said Zamfotis. “I saw people plugging in surge protectors from the ceiling and charging eight phones at once.”

DeGeest, who has seven Wafels & Dinges food trucks in the city, said today has also been extremely busy -- and that he intentionally sent two of the carts downtown, one near Union Square and one by City Hall. “Down there, you can’t get a warm cup of coffee, you can’t make a warm cup of coffee, you can only dream of a warm cup of coffee,” said DeGeest. In fact, today he is giving out free coffee and hot chocolate to everyone who is working towards New York’s recovery. “The police department, the fire department, MTA officials, Con Edison workers…. It’s the least that we can do," said DeGeest.

Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about the small businesses affected by the storm and an assistance program that's just been put in place.

“We’ve put together a package of relief for small businesses to help them get through the setbacks caused by the storm. It includes emergency loans of up to $10,000 for small and mid-sized businesses that have had their businesses interrupted by the storm," he said.

Zamfotis said he’s happy that his four stores are open and serving people, but that he is anxious to reopen his Park Avenue location. “That rent is higher than most places. Usually it’s fine, but when you’re losing a week of business and still having to pay rent, it can be difficult," said Zamfotis.