Villagers make best of blackout

By Villager Staff

Although inconvenienced and uncomfortable, intrepid Villagers for the most part made the best of last week’s blackout, whether gathering on stoops for lively spontaneous get-togethers or, in some cases, hiking up darkened high-rise stairwells to their steamy apartments.

The big blackout turned out to be quite a social event on Waverly Pl., reported resident Doris Diether. People were sitting on stoops up and down the street, but at 109 Waverly, Serge Lafontant made it a party. The Washington Square Hotel is on the same block and guests from the hotel were out on the street, looking a bit lost, according to Diether.

“I joined Serge and his wife, Julie, on their steps with a few other neighbors, and then some people from the hotel also drifted over,” Diether said. “We had a portable radio tuned to the news, and people going by would stop for a time to listen in, and then continue on their way. Serge brought out some glasses of wine for us, and some snacks. Across the street the waiters and help from Babbo restaurant were playing ball in the street. Among the hotel guests who joined us were a woman from Zimbabwe, Africa, who used to work for the United Nations and an author from England. So the conversation was lively and friendly, as the radio droned on about the blackout, subway service and rumors of where the blackout had started.”

Although many seniors were grounded by the power outage as high-rise elevators were out of commission, at least one local senior was undaunted. Herman Gerson, 90, father of City Councilmember Alan Gerson, walked the full 20 flights up to his apartment at 505 La Guardia Pl.

The elder Gerson, a former Village Democratic district leader, bumped into Keith Crandell on the street and recounted the feat.

“He’s always been in great shape,” Crandell said. “He was a runner.”

Meanwhile, Councilmember Gerson was busy rushing around Downtown dealing with the crisis. He set up an emergency office at City Hall and had a Downtown relief plan set to go into effect if the blackout lasted into another night. On the home front, Gerson who also lives at 505 LaGuardia, contacted New York University, with which the building shares a common system, to get the hot water switched back on.

On the commercial side, wholesalers in the Gansevoort Meat Market sustained some losses during the blackout of 2003, but many had backup power generators to keep at least part of their stock safe.

“We were ready for the blackout — our backup system kicked in and we didn’t lose any meat,” said Lisa LaFrieda, a partner in the family-owned wholesale firm, Pat LaFrieda Meats at 601 Washington St. at Leroy St.

LaFrieda said that lights in the office went dim, but the backup power kept the stock refrigerated until power returned at about 2 p.m. on Friday.

“The U.S.D.A. inspectors were coming in and out the whole time making sure meat was at the right temperature,” LaFrieda said. “It’s got to be that way. That’s what keeps everything safe.”

Backup power also saved most of the food at Western Beef, the supermarket at 403 W. 14th St. at Ninth Ave. in the Meat Market District.

“We lost some ice cream because some freezers weren’t on the same line,” said Jim Wilson, an employee at the Western Beef branch on 14th St. “But everything else was fine. All 25 stores in the chain have backup generators.”

The 9,000-sq.-ft. 14th St. and Ninth Ave. branch, a mainstay for many West Chelsea and West Village residents, is usually open until 10 p.m. but on Thursday and Friday the store was open for business until after 11 p.m.

Woolco, the wholesale meat distributor at 36-40 Gansevoort St., has a backup power system that was able to keep some of its stock refrigerated, but some was lost, according to Steven Toccaro of Woolco.

It was business as usual in Hudson River Park during Thursday’s blackout, according to a spokesperson. Except for the increased numbers of pedestrians crowding the bike paths, the park looked pretty much like normal, said Chris Martin, a spokesperson for the Hudson River Park Trust.

“We just followed our regular routine,” Martin said.

The park closed at its customary time of 1:00 a.m., so stranded pedestrians needed to find somewhere else to crash for the night.

Speaking of the Hudson River Park, John Kurtz, a W. 13th St. resident, said he was irked to see while riding bikes with some friends on the park’s bikeway the Traveler’s Building, Borough of Manhattan Community College and other large Tribeca-area buildings ablaze with light on Friday night.

“All these buildings, every building and B.M.C.C., they were all just lit up,” he said. “We thought it was kind of funny. We’re being told to conserve energy. We have to conserve using the toaster.”

A switchboard operator at B.M.C.C. said the college does not have an emergency backup generator but that the Traveler’s building does.

At any rate, Kurtz, an artist, said the mayor had told workers to treat Friday like a “snow day,” and that’s what he and his friends did. They were surprised to see the offices and school buildings all lit up.

“We were told to take the day off,” Kurtz said, “so we did.”

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