For Long Islanders, Irene was the hurricane that wasn’t, thanks to a last-moment change of course, faster-than-expected weakening, and a downgrade to tropical-storm status. Still, in its wake, the storm left some 40 people dead across the Eastern Seaboard, with horrendous inland flooding, property damage that is still being tallied, and as many as 750,000 utility customers without electricity in New York alone as of press time.
Here, with power in some streets not to be restored for as long as a week, the unfolding story is one of economic disruption, lost business, and destroyed inventory.
Poignantly underscoring how hard-hit some businesses have been, an East Hampton ice cream shop was selling scoops for $1 apiece on Monday as its ample pre-Labor Day weekend supply rather quickly melted away. Some business owners will have insurance that covers this kind of loss; others will not.
The silver lining of Irene’s dark economic cloud is that other shopkeepers and many of those in the hospitality trade are profitably helping residents make the best of the blackout. Those restaurants that did manage to reopen quickly have been bustling, serving people whose stoves are out of commission along with their lights. The Palm in East Hampton was packed on Sunday night, with a long line of cars waiting for valet parking, and Astro Pizza in Amagansett, which was up and running even before the winds died down, offered dinner alfresco by torchlight.
Meanwhile, the storm’s many downed trees and broken limbs have been a boon to those with chain saws, rakes, and trucks ready to haul away the debris. Cash got you a quick cleanup Monday, as willing hands emerged to make quick work of it. As night fell, others were loading roadside logs into their vehicles, presumably to split for firewood to sell or for their own use. If you were selling batteries, bottled water, or canned goods before the storm, you were making money as Irene approached; gas stations, too, emptied their tanks with speed. (And at Hamptons premium prices, you can be sure there’s a hint of a smile on some vendors’ faces this week.)
Labor Day, which symbolically ends the season here, is a kind of reckoning day for those whose year-round livelihood depends on the summer trade. If it goes well, they have made it through until 2012. We shouldn’t forget that hurricane season isn’t over until the end of November. Let’s all cross our fingers for a good holiday weekend: fair skies, troops of relieved Wall Streeters seeking sunshine, and no more dire bulletins from the National Hurricane Center.