NEW YORK — Two days after Superstorm Sandy brought business in New York City to a standstill, stores that lost power are again serving customers, albeit by flashlight. Companies with closed offices are setting up shop in coffeehouses. And the owner of the Starlight Diner is borrowing bacon from his neighbors because the restaurant’s cupboard is bare.
The world’s financial center is struggling to get back to work as it deals with a subway system crippled by the worst damage in its 108-year-history and power outages in major sections of the city. That’s kept both employees and customers at bay.
As a result, big multinational banks are in the same proverbial boat as corner bodegas: looking for creative ways to get their businesses back up and running.
New York City is home to roughly a million companies both big and small. While the impact of Sandy varies, businesses face billions of dollars in damages and lost sales. So while reopening quickly is a priority, it can require resourcefulness and a smidgen of creativity.
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For Teddy Papaioannou, that meant calling in some favors. The co-owner of the Starlight Diner on Wednesday was running low on supplies at his midtown Manhattan restaurant, so he borrowed a few pounds of bacon from his neighbors who are also small-business owners.
Papaioannou, who owns the diner with his brother and father, was so eager to open that the three of them chauffeured employees around Tuesday and Wednesday. They picked up 20 workers for various shifts over the two-day period.
“Closing for three days would ruin us for a month,” he said.
Lost sales were a big motivator for others, too. William Badie, owner of Food Fair food market and deli, estimated he lost $8,000 by being closed Monday and Tuesday. So he made sure he was open Wednesday.
But by afternoon, only two customers were eating lunch at a table and another bought a turkey sandwich.
Still, Badie said he’s fortunate because he never lost power. “It’s very slow; there are no customers,” he said. “But business is like that. You lose or you make. You can complain, but who is going to listen to you?”
In Lower Manhattan, where a massive power outage persisted, things got even trickier for businesses that wanted to reopen. Below 31st Street, most stores were closed, but a few found a way to get customers.
Bareburger in the Chelsea neighborhood was grilling burgers outside and giving them away, asking only for donations for the Red Cross. The restaurant, in the neighborhood for a year, has lost several thousand dollars a day since losing power Monday.
Workers iced down the restaurant’s meat but decided to grill after they realized it wouldn’t be good after Wednesday.
For many technology companies and banks, the difference between “opening” or “closing” is not as clear cut as it is for a grocery store or restaurant. Getting up and running has been a matter of arranging so employees can work remotely, either from their own homes or the homes of friends or co-workers who have electricity.
Employees at Foursquare, the mobile location service, were working from homes or coffee shops Wednesday, another in a line of tech companies where virtual doors were open even though the physical office remained closed.
Though Foursquare encouraged people to work from home, it also found space for about 70 people in Manhattan and some in the trendy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. There, regular tenants were joined by stranded employees not only from Foursquare but the gossip blog Gawker and the photo blogging site Tumblr, among others.
Meanwhile, financial giants such as Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — all with operations in the evacuated zone downtown — were able to keep open by shifting work to offices in other areas of the city and neighboring states.