Afters years of delays, the construction of One World Trade Center, formally known as the Freedom Tower, is on schedule to open in 2013. The 9/11 Memorial Plaza, located at the base of One World Trade, will be open to the public on Monday, Sept.12. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis
Leading up to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, MetroFocus spent several days exploring the streets around the World Trade Center site. We wanted to see how the events of that day still shape people’s daily experience in the neighborhood. We scouted out Wall Street brokers, queried local shopkeepers and chatted with construction workers. Here are their portraits and their stories, which have been edited and condensed:
Irving Puryar, 57, has worked at VIP Men’s Suits since the early '90s. The shop is located at Broadway and John Street; Puryar had just arrived at work when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in 2001.
Q: Who were your customers before 9/11 and who are they now?
A: We used to sell to people around here and on Wall Street…Everyone wore suits. After 9/11 a lot of people left the area, and suits weren’t important at that time. We were trying to sell the suits, but business was bad, bad, bad – really bad. Things are moving along now, but it’s been taking a long time…I’m hoping the new businesses will be good for us, but it will never be the way it was.
Q: You said September 11 was a terrifying experience -- do you ever feel sad or scared at work?
A: People are still scared down here. Every time someone says the word "bomb," people run out of their buildings. There’s more security but I don’t think it’s really working — better than it was though…It’s different over here now, new stores, more tourists…everything’s different. I’m still hurting. I still cry about it.
Mahanbir Singh, 42, has worked at Stage Door Deli for nearly two decades. The deli is located on Vesey Street, one block north of Ground Zero.
Q: You've been working at this deli for 20 years, were you at work the morning of Sept. 11?
A: I was working that day…We heard the explosion when the first plane hit and everybody ran outside to see what happened and we saw the fire ball. Everyone was looking up, but no one knew it was a plane in there…This place closed for six months.
Q: You must have had regular customers -- do you know what happened to them?
A: We were always very busy, about 50 percent of our customers were regulars, they would come to lunch…Now, it’s all tourists. A lot of faces -- I never see them again. When I came back, I see a couple customers but most of them? No, I don’t see them now...We have a lot of construction workers coming in every morning. When the construction is over, we think people will start working over there and become regular customers…I’m wondering if everything will go back to normal like it used to be.
Anthony Labadio, 41, (left) and Jeff Haddad, 44, (right) have worked together as brokers on Wall Street for nearly 20 years.
Q: Were you both at work when the planes hit the World Trade Center?
Haddad: I was, and it took me four hours to get home. I was living on Staten Island at the time and as soon as I got there I grabbed my first aid badge -- I'm a certified first responder -- and went straight back to Manhattan.
The National Guard had blocked off the Brooklyn Bridge, but I showed them my badge so my friend and I hopped on one of their trucks and they took us down there...I stayed down there for three days, but for the most part we were just culling through body parts...I don't know, I just wanted to help.
Q: What was it like going back to work?
Haddad: We went back to work a week later and I’ll never forget that smell -- it lasted for weeks: pulverized flesh, mixed with scorched metal and concrete…
Labadio: Now, it’s completely different around here…It's like we work at a tourist site! You can’t drive down here anymore and there’s security everywhere… Sometimes when I’m leaving work, I'll see a few of those guys carrying machine guns, you know when we're on 'high alert.' They're down here patrolling the streets.
Haddad: Yeah, it doesn't really make you feel safer…I’m just waiting for something else to happen here, it’s still a target.
Sangita Patel, 45, owns a convenience store located inside an office building on Wall Street.
Q: I just saw three people ask to buy lottery tickets with the numbers nine and 11 -- is that common?
A: Every year, around this time, people play the lotto numbers, "9/11"… It always sells out, but no one ever wins!
Q: Do your customers talk about Sept. 11 a lot?
A: Sometimes, and more so recently because the 10th anniversary is coming up...
I wasn’t here on that day, but ever since then we’ve had a hard time getting supplies delivered to our shop -- there is no parking or driving along these streets. Whenever I call a new company to order more supplies for our shop and I tell them where we’re located, they never want to deliver…Now we always have to plan ahead and have things delivered really early, at 4:30 in the morning.
Kevin Mari, 36, was working at South Ferry on Sept. 11, 2001. Today he works in the gift shop at St. Paul's Chapel located at 209 Broadway, just north of Ground Zero.
Q: Where were you when the planes hit the World Trade Center?
A: I was working for the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises. I remember seeing paper flying down the street and I thought it was a ticker tape parade, because back then we had a ticket tape parade for everything, the Yankees, Sammy Sosa, John Glenn…But then we saw the smoke and debris coming from the first tower. And when the tower fell, I just braced myself like the old Cold War scenarios and after that there was dust coming down like a snow storm.
At first it bothered me to tell my story to the tourists who come to the gift shop where I now work. But if I was a visitor, I would want to know too...It’s such a catastrophic event that happened in history and people want to know.
Q: Why did you want to stay down here when you switched jobs?
A: I like it down here, I’m familiar with it. There’s a lot more residents now then there we’re in the 90’s. Then, I would leave work at six or seven p.m. and it was like a ghost town. Now, with more people living here and more tourism, there’s more people coming in and making the area feel alive again. I liked that after the attacks, there was people coming no matter what -- they’re not afraid. They want to come and support.
Bruno Cohen, 55, is the president of the Galien Foundation. For more than a decade he’s had a home in the financial district.
Q: As a resident, how did Sept. 11 influence your day to day life?
A: I’ve seen the evolution…The good news about Sept. 11 is that it pushed people to transform the squalor in this part of New York to a lively quarter. And there’s more transit now, making it easier for people to come here…A part of the city that was before just for working is now also for living so that’s maybe the bottom line.
I’ve lived in three parts of New York City, Upper East, Midtown and now down here, which has been my favorite — for living and for working. This part of New York is the heart of New York.
Dwight Levy, 41, and Bancroft Smith, work in the accounting department at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Their offices moved to Wall Street area in 2010.
Q: How has your daily working experience changed since you moved so close to the World Trade Center site?
Smith: I go down to the construction site every day -- for at least 20 minutes -- just to watch the progress...I try to get as close as possible. I remember that it took a long time for them to start working on it, but now it’s amazing to see it grow, little by little, everyday.
Q: Why do feel the need to visit the site everyday?
Smith: I feel like I’m just waiting for it all to be finished, for a new building so that people can move into the tower...
John Capone, 33, is an iron worker. For the past year he's been working at the World Trade Center's transportation hub where the subway structures that were destroyed are being rebuilt.
Q: Sept. 11 is just around the corner, are you racing to finish the job?
A: Yes, there is so much pressure to finish by the tenth anniversary. I work seven days a week in 10 to 12 hour shifts…We are working like dogs down here. We have so many guys working side by side -- it’s not usually like that…I haven’t had a day off since the fourth of July. I only get to see my girlfriend when I wake up in the morning and before I go to sleep…Look, I’m happy to be here but let’s face it: the politicians were dragging their feet for a long time to get it started. It’s not our fault.
Q: But are you proud to be part of all this?
A: It’s historic, any iron worker would dream to be down here. Right now, it’s the biggest construction project in New York…We’ll be able to tell everyone we worked on the World Trade Center.
Everyone sees the tower going up, but where we’re building the subway structure, it’s all underground. There are more guys working at the transit hub than at Tower One…But no one appreciates the work we are doing in the hub because you can’t see the changes we’re making underground.
MetroFocus intern Bridget Leahy contributed reporting to this piece.
MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Josh and Judy Weston, Jody and John Arnhold, The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, Jean and Ralph Baruch, and The Nissan Foundation. Corporate funding is provided by Mutual of America.