MIDTOWN EAST — They came in a steady stream on the sidewalk along First Avenue, a line of people heading uptown clutching barely-powered cell phones, lugging rolling suitcases or backpacks carrying their laptops, iPads and other gadgets.
Nearly all day Wednesday, as New York City came sluggishly back to life in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, lower Manhattan residents made a mini-exodus from their neighborhoods downtown— still without power, and many without water and cell phone service — in search of electrical amenities above 39th Street.
“Everyone is on this big trek,” said Sarah Whitlock, 32, a Fordham University grad student who lost power in her East Village apartment during the storm. She walked two miles on Tuesday and Wednesday to Midtown, where electric lights still hum and restaurants still have working refrigerators, in search of a place where she could plug in her cell phone and laptop.
"When the power went out, we lost our connection to the world," she said.
The boundary between 39th and 40th street has become the border that separates the haves and the have-nots of Manhattan: the northern portion which has electricity from the southern half that’s without.
The dividing line includes hot food as well as creature comforts, luring downtown residents with the offer of open retail and food shops and working restaurants. Some had come for a hot meal, others to stock up on groceries and supplies to bring back to their darkened apartments. But the hottest commodity of all was a working electrical outlet.
“I actually jogged uptown yesterday to go to the ATM, and today I came up to plug in,” said Andrew Mitchell, 35, an East Village resident who was charging his cell phone at McFadden’s Bar on Second Avenue and 42nd Street, where people were taking turns plugging their gadgets into a power strip that had been set up near the door.
“I think next time I might go a little further north, so it’s not as crowded,” Mitchell said, saying today was the first time he’d been able to call friends and family since the storm hit Monday.
In nearly every bar, restaurant, and deli near or just north of East 40th Street, groups of people were huddled around any available outlet. They sat on the floor at Duane Reade, the cords of their cell phone chargers snaking across the tiles. Dozens of people were crowded around power strips in the lobby of a Chase Bank on Third Avenue and 41st Street, many of them also taking advantage of the bank’s complimentary coffee and tea while they waited to power up.
“I found this one by accident—it’s like the secret spot, the secret outlet,” said Stuyvesant Town resident Alyson Yoshimori, 34, who plugged her Samsung Galaxy into an outlet on the side of a bodega on 41st Street and Third Avenue, settling down in the chilly autumn air to wait for it to charge.
The influx of people from downtown was a boon to local businesses, making up for the missing midtown office workers who made up their usual customer base. The Pax Wholesome Food on East 42nd Street had run out of pre-made sandwiches by lunchtime, its display case filled with stark empty white plates. Anastasia Julius, the manager at Liati’s Gourmet Café on 41st Street and Second Avenue, said they’d been busy all morning.
“We got a lot of walking customers,” she said, noting the flood of people who were heading uptown from their darkened homes further south. “A lot of them came to charge their cell phones.”
Walking south on First Avenue, Danny Breder, 37, made his way back towards his apartment on 29th Street pushing a baby stroller filled with supplies — bread, paper plates, bottled water.
“I’ve been going uptown to friend’s house to power up and shower,” he said. “We try to stay uptown until it gets dark.”