On a cold February evening, only one streetlight flickers on dark, deserted Front Street. Beloved New York staples like the Paris Café are all boarded up, and generators are still scattered everywhere. During Superstorm Sandy, the East River rushed through the storefront windows of bars, shops and restaurants in and around South Street Seaport, tearing rooms apart and dragging their contents onto the sidewalk. Hundreds, maybe thousands of beer bottles burst through the Paris’s windows and out onto the street, where they lay surrounded by driftwood, seaweed and overturned barstools. More than three months later, the air still smells stale, a mix of mold and salt water. The usually bustling neighborhood is eerily quiet.
The neighborhood around Fulton Street is unusually accustomed to destruction and rebirth. After the Seaport mall opened here in 1985, chain outlets followed, opening along historic Schermerhorn Row. From there, residents and local shops gradually arrived in the area until September 11, 2001, which filled the area with toxic dust and damaged many businesses. Residents rebuilt, and, after the notoriously odoriferous fish market moved to The Bronx four years later, local business owners turned the neighborhood’s empty warehouses into fashionable restaurants such as Barbarini, Bin 220 and SUteiShi. By 2010, the historic cobblestone streets around Peck Slip and Front Street had sprouted more than thirty quaint bars, restaurants and other stores, revitalizing a neighborhood once populated by squatters, the homeless and stray fish guts. Previously only a sliver of a tourist destination surrounded by far less desirable environs, the area was now a bustling, thriving neighborhood. Summer nights took on the feel of one big block party, with happy, laughing business owners, locals and visitors gallivanting on the sidewalk, bouncing from place to place.
In a way, the South Street Seaport area today feels like taking a trip back in time to 2005, when the Fish Market had only recently closed its doors and small businesses were still few and far between. Four months after the storm, many office buildings are still closed and tenants remain relocated. Almost all of the South Street Seaport’s stores and restaurants are still shuttered, so tourists are few and far between. The neighborhood is back to square one, as though the last decade’s wave of gentrification never happened. Many small business owners face a series or do-or-die decisions in the next few months that will determine whether they, and their neighborhood, rebuild or go bankrupt.
Read the full story and read more on the 100 Days Later series on the Narratively site.