Empty Sidewalks


Sandy keeps suppliers and customers away from West African salesmen on Broadway.

As Mohammed Bai shuffled around the corner of Broadway and West 30th Street this morning, he looked antsy, even restless. This is the corner where, most weekdays, Bai and dozens of vendors shout sales pitches at pedestrians and tourists who stop to peruse their cheap sunglasses and handbags.

“In an hour, maybe 10, 20 people come here,” said Bai, a 37-year-old salesman from the West African country of Guinea. “Sometimes it’s so full, you can’t imagine.”

Empty Broadway

At Broadway and 30th, the sidewalks are usually full of West African table vendors and customers. Since Sandy, they’ve been empty. Credit: SETH MAXON

In the three days since Hurricane Sandy struck, though, the sales tables have disappeared. Bai’s table typically sells scarves, cell phone cases and socks for as little as one or two dollars apiece. But on Wednesday morning, with the storm shutting down subways and regional trains throughout the city, his suppliers were still trapped in Brooklyn and the Bronx with their wares, with no way to get to Manhattan.

At Decent Trading, Inc., a small storefront near Bai’s table, salesman Ali Ocansey brushed aside a question about whether his wholesale operation had lost sales because of the storm.

“Yeah, definitely!” said Ocansey, a 42-year-old Ghanaian immigrant. “For two days?”

How much had been lost, Ocansey was asked.

“A lot, man. A lot,” he said, shaking his head.

Ocansey said that on Sunday night, the night before Sandy made landfall, he and another salesman packed their suitcases and bags inside the store, closed the storm doors and went home. Ocansey lives with his wife in the Bronx near University Avenue, where he said they felt the rain and wind, but the damage they caused wasn’t too severe. His family in Ghana phoned to see if they were okay. He could report that the impact on the family was pretty minimal.

But in the aftermath, it took him two and a half hours in storm-clogged traffic this morning to get into Manhattan.  So maybe asking him how business was doing just rubbed the wrong way, after a frustrating morning.

Across the street, in another Decent Trading, Inc. storefront, questions about lost revenue seemed to touch another raw

Decent Trading Inc on Broadway

Decent Trading Inc., with its hanging blue banner, has lost valuable business in the days since Hurricane Sandy. Credit: SETH MAXON


“You can’t come in here and ask a question like that, about how much money we lost. That’s private, it’s too direct,” said a stubbled young salesman in a gray sweater. Though he didn’t give his name or any other business information, he did acknowledge that the business had lost money because of the hurricane.

“Monday and yesterday, that’s two full days. And today, now nobody’s coming in. It’s just tourists,” he said.

Wednesday afternoon, Governor Cuomo announced that subways could be running north of 34th Street as early as Thursday. Maybe when the subways start bringing customers and profits back to Decent Trading and the other Broadway salespeople, they’ll be in better spirits.



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