By Sabina Mollot
While the so-called “hot zone” of businesses potentially impacted by the burst of an asbestos-covered steam pipe has shrunk since last Thursday, even businesses in Flatiron that were soon able to reopen say their customers have not returned.
Since the day of the burst, the streets directly surrounding the burst pipe site have remained barricaded off as Con Ed and various cities continue their investigation. Additionally, the streets have been teeming with police and other emergency responders, some wearing masks. The police have mainly been directing traffic to prevent errant photo-snapping pedestrians from getting too close to the work site.
Meanwhile, numerous buildings in the neighborhood remained empty of residents and workers as Con Ed conducted inspections for debris from the explosion.
On Monday, Town & Village spoke with employees at several businesses located on Broadway between 20th and 22nd Street about the lack of foot traffic.
A server at Punch bar and grill said the business never opened on Thursday and when it did reopen on Friday, there were about half as many customers as it would normally serve at the end of the week. There were also a few cancellations.
Maria Abulaiw, wife of the owner at Flowers by Blooming Affairs, said having to close her business on Thursday “cost a lot.” But after reopening, it soon became clear, “There was no point” to doing so, she said. Broadway was a complete ghost town over the weekend.
Flatiron Wines & Spirits employee Sydney Snyder chalked up the slowdown in sales at her shop due to the ongoing street closures as well as the bus and subway detours in the neighborhood since the explosion.
“Getting around is hard for people,” she said, adding that construction projects everywhere only add to the chaos. “It’s disrupting the normal flow,” said Snyder.
Currently, a sign outside the wine shop reminds customers that it’s there “for all your post-explosion needs.”
Le Pain Quotidien, a bakery and coffee bar, actually stayed open until 1 p.m. on Thursday since no one from the city told employees they had to close — this was mandated by the Department of Health later that day — and it took a while for employees to reach a district manager to get permission to do so. But since reopening, business has been slow, with one employee estimating a loss of $2,000-$3,000 in sales a day.
Manager Ty Torres, who was there at the time of the explosion, recalled how people on the street took off running.
Still, she and a server also at work at the time, Adja Fall, didn’t realize “how intense it was going to be… Nobody told us anything. They just left us in here.” Later, as police and firefighters showed up, another coffee bar and patisserie down the block, Maison Kayser, closed, and a furniture store next to Le Pain Quotidien was taken over by Con Ed as a command center.
As for business remaining slow since then, Torres wondered if people were still worried about asbestos in the area, despite Con Ed not having found any while air sampling.
Mayson Kaiser, which is at the corner of 21st Street and Broadway, closed not long after the blast, and it’s still not clear how much income was lost. It was, however, a lot, said manager Jeremy Misch. Business was also lost due to part of the eatery remaining closed since then with only the coffee bar and pastry station open. But in Minsch’s view it could have been worse. He gestured to other buildings further west and south, which he said were “covered in soot,” due to the steam blowing south and additionally, the patisserie’s building, unlike some others in the immediate area, doesn’t rely on steam.
Jennifer Brown, president of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership said the BID has been hearing from business owners in buildings that have been evacuated who’ve been frustrated about timelines on when they can reenter and reopen. “There are businesses that are closed at day six and beyond,” said Brown.