From the BCL vault: Power restored after Hurricane Sandy, Halsey Street stalwarts get back to work

One year after Hurricane Sandy, a small tribute to the Newark shops on Halsey Street that got back to business the morning after the lights came back on downtown. After this story idea was approved but not printed on NJ.com, Brick City Live’s creator decided it was time to build a permanent home for her and others’ stories about the brilliance and resilience of Newarkers.

October 31, 2012

Mindy Singh inspects the dining area of the brand new Elbow Room eatery on Halsey Street, Wednesday, October 31, 2012. Elbow room's ribbon cutting is scheduled for November 8.

Mandy Singh inspects the dining area of the brand new Elbow Room eatery on Halsey Street, Wednesday, October 31, 2012. Elbow room’s ribbon cutting is scheduled for November 8.

NEWARK, N.J. – Signs hung precariously from joints, or were blown off altogether. A chunk of the historic Hahne and Company building lay scattered in jagged shards on the sidewalk. Newark Downtown District workers, clad in their bright yellow uniforms, reported damage via walkie-talkie, and cleared what they could.

But in spite of Hurricane Sandy’s clear mark on Halsey Street downtown Newark, many businesses there were open yesterday, the morning after Public Service Electric & Gas restored power to much of the city.

The drag of Halsey Street between Washington Park and Raymond Boulevard is notable in part because of the new businesses that have opened there in the last five years, but it was primarily the veterans who showed up to work yesterday, even as customers mostly stayed home.

Kilkenny manager Robert Lynch appeared to sprout multiple arms as he poured drinks, operated the cash register, wiped the counter, and kept an eye on the door, seemingly all at once.

“We’re light on customers today,” Lynch explained, his gaze sweeping across the eight men who sat at the bar.

Most of the patrons were trading war stories about the hurricane. One man, who watched a projector screen attentively as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo briefed the press on the hurricane aftermath, declined a plastic bag for his takeout order.

“I’m just going down the street,” he said to Lynch. “You might need to save those for the next few days.”

A crowded Central Restaurant, the only Halsey Street eatery north of Raymond Boulevard besides Kilkenny that is open every day of the week, was the only packed business on the strip.

Inside at lunchtime, the diner was heavily staffed, and every booth and barstool was occupied. A waitress paused between answering phones and taking orders to take in the sight of a swelling gaggle of customers. She sighed heavily.

“Don’t worry, we’re practicing patience,” a waiting customer reassured her, snapping the waitress out of her stupor.

Past Michael Lamont Neckwear, 27 Mix, Karma Consignment Shop, The Coffee Cave, and Elbow Room – all closed – Cut Creators barber shop, a nine-year-old business and recent transplant to Halsey Street, was open for business.

“So far we’ve had four customers,” said receptionist Anthony Smith of Elizabeth, who lounged on a white couch in the back of the shop. He and a barber, who sat in a chair near the front, were manning the empty shop while watching the same channel on different televisions. “We typically have 10 to 15.”

Smith was still without power when he left his residence yesterday morning, but he said the promise of blackout relief is not what convinced him to open the shop. “The power was on, so I just decided we should be open,” he said.

Many of the Halsey Street business managers and owners who decided to open yesterday made the same, simple calculation.

“Last night the power came on, so I figured we might as well open,” said John Trainello, owner of Art Kitchen. Like the other Halsey Street establishments that saw property damage, Art Kitchen experienced minor nicks and cuts. Trainello also said food spoilage was only a minor problem.

Kyle Beloved, owner of Beloved R Kutz unisex salon, opened at 7:30 AM, his normal time.

“I got a few phone calls yesterday asking if I’d be open,” Beloved said, as he lined the beard of Darnell Bunche, his sole customer at the time. “I just want to make sure I’m here for my clients.”

Beloved said that besides moving the shop’s sign, which had blown into the stairwell, Hurricane Sandy left no major trace. Like most of the other businesses, he’d seen only a fraction of his normal daily traffic by midday.

The impetus to open was the same for Underground Tattoos, Halsey Cleaners, Halsey Fabric Shop, Queen Pizza, and Joe’s Shoe Shop. But while those Halsey Street mainstays wanted to maintain normalcy for their customers, the owners of newbie establishment Elbow Room sought to ensure they were on track to have an impressive coming-out at their ribbon cutting, scheduled for November 8.

“We had a 12-hour outage, so we have to assess everything,” said Mandy Singh, general manager of the Brooklyn-based restaurant’s Halsey Street location. Joel Bolden, the restaurant’s owner, pulled up in his truck just as Singh arrived at the restaurant by foot.

The pair carefully inspected the newly renovated space, making their way from the dining area on the ground floor to the basement, where the food storage and offices are located.

“No water!” she said with a broad smile, as she peered inside a storage closet.

“No water damage!” Bolden echoed from another basement-level room.

The pair looked relieved. “The last thing we need,” said Singh, “is a natural disaster to delay us.”

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