On any given Saturday, SoHo, the boutique capital of New York City, is bristling with shoppers fighting shoulder to shoulder for space on sidewalks and popping in and out of stores. Patrons brave rain, snow and blistering temperatures to visit the flagship stores of some of the world's most famous designers. This weekend, the tail end of the summer tourist-shopping season, was supposed to be a big one for SoHo. But with Hurricane Irene making landfall in North Carolina and working its way up the East Coast, on Saturday evening the neighborhood in downtown Manhattan looked more like a scene from I Am Legend, Will Smith's film about post-apocalyptic New York.
With few exceptions, stores closed early on Saturday, while the hurricane made its way up the Virginia coast. Chanel had large X's made of blue masking tape over its windows; across the street, Dolce and Gabbana's storefront was covered in cardboard boxes. Diesel took no chances and boarded up with plywood.
A tourist from Israel named Tal crouched on the sidewalk on Broadway looking at a map. He and his girlfriend were hoping to see Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty, which are right in the middle of the evacuation zones. "Hopefully we'll see that tomorrow," Tal said, "and then we planned to get up north and see Niagara Falls on Monday." But with public transportation shut down and trains in and out of the city canceled, he wasn't sure how they were going to accomplish that.
A little further north on Broadway, Top Shop, the massive New York flagship of the British clothing retailer, was shuttered. Ordinarily, hundreds of shoppers would be coming and going from the store, even in fairly severe weather. Yet, even though only a slight drizzle fell on the street, a sign advised patrons that the store would be closed Saturday and Sunday.
On Spring Street, the large Duane Reade pharmacy that is housed in a former neo-classical bank was closed. It's usually open 24 hours, and does not close for most holidays. At the H&M store, sandbags packed the bottoms of the doorways to keep out any potential floodwater. Even Lombardi's, New York's oldest pizzeria, which has been in operation at the same location on the edge of Little Italy since 1905, looked abandoned. Metal grates covered the windows, and the sidewalk, which is usually teaming with people waiting to get inside, was packed instead with home made sand bags, garbage bags filled with heavy material.
About the only thing open in SoHo were the bars. Spring Lounge, a popular spot on weekend afternoons, was packed with people trying to have a bit more fun before the hurricane hit. To celebrate Irene's landfall, the bar was serving Hurricanes. A group of women dressed in cut-off jean shorts and knee high Wellington rubber boots passed the time before they headed home to wait out the storm. Across the street at Gatsby's Pub, Tony Donger, who flew to New York from Sydney, Australia, drank a pint of Guinness while waiting for his wife, who was trying to find an open shop to buy an internet sim card. She was having little luck. As far as the approaching hurricane, Donger admitted that if he had to ride out a hurricane in any city, it would be New York. "I feel safe here," he said. "There's a little brassiness to New York."
Broome Street, one of the larger streets that leads into the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey, is usually packed bumper to bumper with traffic across three lanes for nearly 10 hours on weekends. On Saturday afternoon at 4pm, when traffic would usually be the worst, there was not a single car on the street. "This is the emptiest I've ever seen this road," a traffic policeman said.
A little further south, the Jubilee Market remained open for business. A classic New York bodega/grocery story/deli, Jubilee Market was filled with people stocking up on food and beer. When asked why they weren't closing, Simon Park, the market's owner said, "We're open 24 hours. We'll be here until this is over."