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Morningside Heights Buzzes with Business Ahead of Hurricane Sandy

By Patrick Wall | October 29, 2012 5:30pm

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Though Columbia University canceled classes and mass transit suspended service, Morningside Heights buzzed with activity early Monday as residents crammed in some last-minute shopping, dining and exercise before Hurricane Sandy’s arrival.

The university on Sunday canceled all classes and events for the following day and, about 2 p.m. Monday, extended the cancelations to Tuesday.

Monday morning, the campus was damp and mostly deserted.

A junior there who gave only her middle name, Emily, said the school notified students of the closure by email Sunday evening.

After that, she said, many students embraced the hurricane as an excuse to relax — or at least not to do school work.

“It’s kind of like an extension of the weekend,” said the undergraduate, who wore pajama pants and sandals as she shuffled past Low Memorial Library. “My friend was stocking up on water and bourbon.”

Along Broadway, most groceries and delis remained open and busy early Monday, but lacked the long lines that snaked through many stores just a day earlier.

At the corner of Broadway and 112th Street, patrons packed into the famed Tom’s Restaurant, where the MTA and public school closures meant brisker business than on a normal Monday, according to owner Mike Zoulis.

"Where are they going to go?" Zoulis asked, adding, "They got to eat, right?"

Zoulis said most of his employees showed up, including the four Bronx residents he picked up on his drive from Westchester around 4 a.m.

He added that he planned to keep the diner open until the night, even after the hurricane is expected to crash into the city, since he is skeptical of city officials’ dire weather warnings.

“Sometimes they go overboard,” Zoulis said. “I don't think we're all going to get blown away, are we?"

Others in the area shared Zoulis’ laidback assessment of the impending storm, including the tourists who continued to stream into the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which planned to stay open until 6 p.m., according to the church website.

“This seems normal. People are out,” said Ettore Pellegrini, 27, a visitor from Milan, Italy, after ambling through the cathedral with his girlfriend, Clara Zanni, 24.

Their families back home were more concerned so far than them, Pellegrini added.

“Our parents called us to say the hurricane is coming, stay home,” he said, but early Monday they had yet to heed that advice.

Bishop Mark Sisk of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which is headquartered at the cathedral, said staff members had prepared the colossal Gothic and Romanesque edifice for the hurricane.

“They’ve gone around to make sure everything is tied down,” Sisk said, adding that workers insured gutters are unclogged and dead tree branches removed.

His wife, Karen Sisk, said she and her husband readied their own home, which is on the church grounds, by filling their bathtub with water and their cupboards with easily prepared food, leading her to feel prepared for a possible power outage.

“We can get by a couple days — we have bread and crackers and peanut butter,” she said, then pointed to her stomach. “And we’ve got enough on us that we should be okay.”

Just east of the cathedral, a scattering of people passed through Morningside Park to stretch their legs and walk their dogs before holing up their apartments.

John Lewis, 49, watched his children, Martin, 6, and Edie, 10, dangle from some monkey bars in matching yellow windbreakers.

“To them it’s fun,” Lewis said, adding that he wasn’t too anxious about the approaching storm either.

“We’re New Yorkers,” he said.

Shortly after, some Parks Department employees sped through the park in a truck to announce on loudspeakers that the park was closed. A few minutes later, Lewis and his children strolled out.