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Verizon Outages Hurt Little Italy Businesses

By Patrick Hedlund | October 6, 2011 5:24pm | Updated on October 6, 2011 5:44pm

LITTLE ITALY — Merchants on a tourist-heavy stretch of Little Italy say they've lost thousands of dollars in revenue due to phone and Internet outages on the block in recent weeks.

The outage has hit Verizon customers along a busy strip of Grand Street for the past three weeks and counting, locals say.

It has prevented many businesses from a performing range of basic operations, including credit card transactions and taking phone calls from prospective customers.

Merchants have been given no timetable for the when the problem will be fixed or a full explanation on what caused the problem.

“It consumes so much of our time,” said Adeline Cessa, whose 119-year-old, family-run Ferrara Café at 195 Grand St. lost Internet and phone service Sept. 23 and only got it partially restored on Wednesday.

“Until it happens, you don’t realize how much you rely on phone and Internet,” she said.

Cessa estimated her historic bakery and pastry shop had lost thousands of dollars in revenue from walk-in customers and online orders, because her shop's web operations and credit card machines were offline during those weeks.

The outages came during a particularly busy time for the area, with the Feast of San Gennaro drawing hordes of visitors to the area in September.

“People were calling to see if the feast was on, but [they thought] we were closed,” Cessa said, noting that she hasn’t been able to get a straight answer on what caused the outages and when they would be repaired.

“We appreciate them working, but we’d like them to work faster,” she said of the Verizon crews who have lined the block trying to fix the problem. “We would like truthful answers.”

A Verizon spokesman blamed the outage on a recent underground fire at the corner of Grand and Baxter streets, which a Verizon worker at the scene said burned its cables connected to multiple buildings on the block.

A ConEd spokeswoman noted that utility crews have been working on underground steam pipes in advance of the upcoming installation of a new water main on Grand Street. She added that a Sept. 29 report of a smoking manhole at Grand and Baxter streets, where work was being done by an outside contractor not affiliated with ConEd, forced the company to come make repairs.

A Verizon spokesman said that the company had to relocate certain fiber cables away from the steam to prevent further damage, affecting customers' service.

The Verizon outages were followed by Time Warner outages on Thursday, as approximately 20,000 customers Downtown lost their cable and Internet services, a spokesman said. 

A Time Warner spokesman confirmed that its outages were caused by a fire at Grand and Baxter streets — "created by steam-related malfunction from other equipment co-located with ours" — that melted its fiber cable. He noted that power companies tend to activate more of their infrastructure in the fall, creating steam that can lead to fires.

A few storefronts down from Ferrara, at Manhattan Grand Optical, employees said they relied heavily on credit card purchases for items such as eyeglasses, which could cost hundreds of dollars. In addition, customers coming from out of state often called the shop at 203 Grand Street ahead of time to make appointments.

“We did whatever we had to do,” said Salvatore Riggio, co-owner of the store, which has had a location in the area since 1933. “We gambled and took people’s credit cards without processing them.”

Riggio explained that he was able to get Verizon to forward all calls to the shop to a cell phone — but only after he got pushy.

“They should be giving us free phone service for a year,” he said. “We’re more concerned about trying to keep business. We’re not even small; we’re microscopic.”

At the high-end clothing store Nara Camicie at 197 Grand St., a staffer said the phones have been out for weeks, but that the internet service had only gone out on Tuesday.

And while Internet was restored the following day, the employee said that a single day without the ability to process credit cards had cost the shop hundreds of dollars.

“We had a guy who came in and wanted to buy six shirts,” said sales associate Phoebe Lee, of the wares that run about $150 to $200 per item. “That could have paid payroll for a week.”

She added that some customers who were told the credit card machine was down promised to return with cash — but never did.

“We’re all so frustrated. We’ve lost a lot of money,” she said. “We’re turning down money that we can’t afford to lose.”