Business is not back to normal in the Flatiron district following last week’s a steam pipe explosion, which showered the surrounding buildings in asbestos. Although more side streets around the blast site have reopened, some local businesses continue to shoulder the cost. The immediate vicinity of the “hot zone” remains cordoned off, siphoning money out of neighborhood cash registers.
On Thursday morning, an old steam pipe dating back to 1932 ripped a sink hole at the intersection of 21st Street and 5th Avenue, filling the air with debris and “a dank odor not unlike a musty basement.” 49 buildings were evacuated thereafter, and while 18th, 19th, and 22nd Street have all reopened since, the blast’s immediate vicinity remains closed off. The NY Post reports that the resulting “ghost town” means many businesses have taken a financial hit.
“There’s no traffic, no one coming into the store,” Tina Burk, bookkeeper for J&M Hardware at 19 E 21st Street, told the Post. “A lot of our customers are the people that live in the area,” and local residents have only just begun to return to their apartments. “All of our friends on the block are hurting, too,” Burk added. She estimates J&M’s daily losses total between $500 and $1,000.
That adds up, and other businesses are feeling the pain. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese at Broadway and W 20th Street had to cancel an event and ate $14,000 as a result. According to Eater, the Taj II lounge located at 48 W 21st Street may have lost over $100,000 this weekend alone, thanks to a thwarted bar mitzvah and two missed brunches that would’ve raked in revenue from roughly 400 patrons each. The Taj operations manager, Christopher Collins, told Eater that the restaurant had to throw away “six days’ worth of food,” and enlist a crew to get its air systems cleaned—asbestos is a known carcinogen, after all—while still paying its salaried employees. “It’s been a rough weekend,” Collins said, in a remarkable understatement.
Here is the latest information on buildings affected by the steam pipe explosion. 27 of the 45 buildings are cleared for re-occupancy. pic.twitter.com/88hkMfgccl
Cleanup crews did spend much of the weekend trying to make Flatiron habitable again, but it’s a formidable undertaking. While Con Edison, which controls the New York City steam system, gave displaced households $500 each and invited those who needed more to file claims, some residents say they have little insight into when they’ll be allowed to “fully return,” according to CBS New York. The Office of Emergency Management, meanwhile, continues to test the air inside buildings for asbestos contamination.
We asked Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s office if businesses affected by the blast would be compensated for lost profits. We’ll update if we hear back. In the meantime, though, many local entrepreneurs are struggling.
“Every day is a horror,” Melissa Magal told the Post, explaining that the explosion slowed construction on her W 20th Street restaurant, Gotan. “Every day we are losing thousands of dollars.”