By JOHN CHURCH and DAN O’LEARY
When Antonio DeJesus closed the Brooks Brothers store on Sept. 11, 2001, located across the street from the World Trade Center complex, two airliners had already crashed into the towers. Within an hour the two tallest buildings in New York City collapsed into a blocks-long heap, changing the physical landscape and the businesses located nearby.
“We left the building by 9:15 a.m.,” said DeJesus of Hoboken, N.J., an associate at the 1 Liberty Plaza Brooks Brothers store. “We were closed for a year. We lost everything.”
Brooks Brothers assigned the employees to other stores in New York City.“Nobody lost any time or anything,” said DeJesus. “The company was very good with that. I worked at Madison Avenue for a year.” The building was repaired, restocked and ready to reopen on the first anniversary of the attack. Business has returned to previous levels.
“Before we had the people who came to see the towers and now they come in to see where the towers were,” said DeJesus. “We’re still pulling the same numbers. We rebounded very well.”
More than a decade since the attacks, businesses have had to compensate for their closed lower Manhattan locations, others rebuilt and patiently waited for business to revive, and others are still feeling the decrease in business. Responding to the depressed national economy and the high rate on unemployment, young people have organized an ongoing protest within sight of the new World Trade Center tower, still under construction,
Home to businesses from owner operated newsstands, restaurants, retail outlets, international banking, investing and insurance companies, Manhattan was devastated financially after the attacks. In a September 2002 report from the city comptroller, the city suffered overall financial loses between $82.2 and $94.8 billion. The New York Stock Exchange did not re-open until Sept. 17 and over the following week the Dow Jones industrial average lost 1360 points, a 14 percent loss.
New York City lost about 430,000 job-months and $2.8 billion in wages in the three months after the attacks, according to published reports. Tourism in New York City plummeted, causing massive losses in a sector which employed 280,000 people and generated $25 billion per year.
But a decade later, slowly, lower Manhattan is coming back.
Stock Market still is volatile, but gas prices are declining. And the amount of money generated by tourists was double in 2010 what it was in 2001. $15 billions compared with $31 billion. The Big Apple was the biggest draw for tourists in the United States last year, Mayor Bloomberg said, with the number of visitors falling only 3.9 percent despite the recession. These days, some businesses are faring better than others.
Marriott Hotel reopens
The Marriott New York Downtown, on 85 West Street at Albany Street, reopened four months after the attacks, but took much longer to regain the former level of business. Even with the loss of over 700 rooms in the destroyed World Trade Center Marriott, the Downtown Marriott suffered from lack of guests.
Before the attack “business was great, for both Marriott [Downtown and WTC 3 – Marriott], actually,” Front Desk Agent Nicole Francis, of Brooklyn, N.Y. said.
“I actually came back to work before the four months because somebody had to man the phones,” said Francis. “When I came back you would go on top of the roof and you would hear the sirens. You would see the firemen bringing out the bodies with the flag covered, you know, gurneys.”
There were very few business guests and visiting tourists had no reason to be in the area. There was little demand for hotel rooms. Even if they had a reason, potential hotel guests were unable to enter the area around the World Trade Center.
“You needed ID to get into the area,” said Francis. “We struggled. It’s been tough. Now it is beginning to come back. We were really slow for a long time. A lot of people refused to back to this area for a long time.”
The Manhattan location has had an effect on guests 10 years after the attack.
“Even now a lot of people request a lower floor,” said Francis. “If a fire alarm goes off, people panic because of where you are. People from the thirty-something floor run down the stairs. Business has come back a lot, but Marriott has definitely suffered in this area, definitely,” Francis said.
Business owners remember devastation
So many New Yorkers can recall where they were when the two planes struck, but what happened to those who not only were emotionally tied to this area but to their business and economic livelihood here?
Pat Forest owner of Majestic Pizza and Calzone on Cortlandt St. just blocks away from Ground Zero recalls what it was like heading into work that day and just starting to get into his normal routine when BAM!, his whole world was turned up-side-down.
“The thing I remember most was trying to get home to Brooklyn after the second plane hit and I was afraid the Brooklyn Bridge would collapse because of all the people on it,” said Forest. “I had no idea it would be four months before I was able to get back to work.”
Business owners for the first time in their life were not in control of their own economic destiny and for some it was not an easy transition to make. Restaurant owner Ken Firet, originally from Turkey now living in Bergen County, described his situation as lucky in some ways.
“When the buildings came down most of the big chunks landed in the street out front,” said Firet. “Seeing that the city took action on the large pieces first I was able to get back in a little quicker than most.”
Though clean up was a first priority it still wasn’t safe for people to be in the area for months after the attacks. Due to the steady rise of business over the past few years Firet’s attitude was much different to that of Forest.
“I remember the first time back just to take a look around was a few weeks later and I couldn’t believe what it looked like,” said Firet. “You would think weeks later it would be a different place but it was just like the day it happened. I was wearing white tennis shoes and by the time I fought my way into the building for some paperwork and back out it looked like I played in the dirt for a week.”
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 actually did more harm than good to businesses counting on it for numbers.
“There were such anticipation for potential threats they closed all of the streets, I didn’t get a dollar from the millions of tourists that came here that day,” said Forest. “I’ll tell you there’s nothing like this city, my business is getting progressively worse, but man does my rent just keep getting bigger and bigger.”
Slow recovery test businesses’ will
A decade after the attacks, businesses with outlets in other parts of the city have fared best, despite slow economic growth. There are tourists in the area now. The 9/11 Memorial opened bringing visitors and dollars with them. With the re-growth of tourism, the hospitality industry has rebounded slowly.
The single site, small business has had to wait out the completion of the area’s reconstruction to finally regain the past level of business. Raj Patel, of Jersey City, N.J. still runs a newsstand near the corner of West and Liberty Streets.
The morning of the attack after seeing the debris raining down from the stricken towers, he closed down the shutters of his stand, and ran.
“The stand survived but I was closed for 40 or 45 days,” said Patel. “My inventory was OK.”
The city built a new stand on the same location but his business is still down. Barriers within 50 feet of his location block the sidewalk. Construction in and around the World Trade Center site has diverted pedestrians to the other side of the street.
“I still suffer because the side walk is closed,” said Patel. “I’m still losing business.”