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Naked mannequins? It's business not 'as usual' in wake of Sandy

Updated 5:48 pm, Sunday, November 4, 2012

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  • Mannequins are stripped nude of their clothing at the Ann Taylor store in downtown Westport as the business restores merchandise displays in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Mannequins are stripped nude of their clothing at the Ann Taylor store in downtown Westport as the business restores merchandise displays in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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Visitors to Main Street on Saturday may have noticed that many of the mannequins in the store windows were sporting a more minimalist look than a week ago -- they were naked.

The stripped mannequins were evidence of the disheveled, disrupted state of much of the town center, five days after Superstorm Sandy struck Westport. More than a dozen retailers in the downtown were still closed Saturday afternoon, as papered-over windows, sandbags, piles of water-warped floorboards and "closed" signs were still scattered around the area.

Sandy triggered some of the most severe flooding the town center has experienced, as an overflowing Saugatuck River inundated parts of Main Street and Post Road East with about 3 feet of water, according to town emergency management officials.

Retailers who did manage to open by the weekend reported that their stores suffered substantial impact. The Age of Reason toy store at Post Road West on the west side of the downtown had 2 feet of flooding, damaging about 30 percent of its stock, said owner Dina Berger.

"It's a nightmare," Berger said. "And now we're really gearing up for Christmas. We had merchandise that we haven't put on the floor yet, brand-new merchandise that is gone. And I don't know if I have the funds to replace it."

Other downtown retailers were more fortunate. Six inches of water seeped into The Brownstone, a Main Street fashion and home accessories boutique, but it survived with relatively little damage to its stock. Co-owner Celeste Puglisi noted the prevalence of recent storms that had wracked the town's main shopping boulevard.

"It's just unbelievable the devastation," she said. "It's so hard for these people, who just went through this with Irene, to go through this again."

Widespread impact

The damage and disruption wrought by Sandy has extended throughout the Westport business community. Its local economic impact far exceeds the toll of Irene or the October 2011 nor'easter, according to many merchants interviewed by the Westport News.

While Connecticut Light & Power restored power Thursday night to the town center, many establishments in the downtown and other parts of Westport continued struggling to resume normal operations.

On Friday afternoon, Gold's Delicatessen in the Compo Shopping Center on Post Road East was running on partial power. With most of its kitchen appliances knocked out, the restaurant's management improvised with a basic menu.

"The Westport community is outstandingly grateful," said co-owner Nancy Eckl. "All we have is coffee, buttered rolls and matzo ball soup and everybody who walks in the door says, `That's exactly what I want.' "

Unsurprisingly, Sandy has also interrupted regular service at the gas pumps. During the last week, shortages and long lines were commonplace at many Westport service stations. The Citgo station at 786 Post Road East kept its power during the storm, but it has not received a new delivery of diesel fuel since Oct. 22, according to Gloria Osterberg, the station's owner.

"It's really hard because a lot of our customers are garbage companies and tree people and most trucks are diesel," Osterberg said. "It's been a nuthouse."

In the Saugatuck section of town, cancellation of Metro-North Railroad service between Westport and Grand Central Terminal from Sunday night through Thursday affected merchants near the Saugatuck depot.

"You lose business because you don't have people going into the city," said Hemanshu Patel, owner of Desi's Corner, a news agent on Railroad Place. "When you don't have people on the trains, you don't have a lot of people around here."

Some businesses, especially those that maintained power throughout the storm, have taken less of a financial hit.

Revenue increased "substantially" during the last week at the Ace Hardware store at 345 Main St., according to owner Jimmy Izzo.

"We're just trying to make it as easy and comfortable as possible to supply people with needs such as gas cans for their generators, batteries, lanterns, the necessary clean-up equipment like leaf bags, rakes and -- for those out of power -- firewood and charcoal for cooking."

As thousands of town residents still languished in the dark over the weekend, many of those items are not on the shelves for long.

"Maintaining inventory, it's almost impossible," Izzo added. "It just goes out as fast as you get it in."

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott