NEW YORK – As much of New York City plunged into darkness, and major supermarkets, restaurants and stores remained shuttered, one of a few businesses helping neighborhoods sputter back to life are the often reliable corner bodegas, which rarely shut their doors.
While big box stores quickly ran out of essential supplies as the storm approached, these mini markets kept their shelves filled of water, batteries, flashlights and candles. And as soon as Hurricane Sandy moved on, before even clean up efforts began, these bodegas opened their doors to offer food and drinks to anyone who needed it.
“We weren’t going to be open today but we thought people need their stuff,” said Chalil
Alward, who co-owns a bodega in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. “All the neighbors are so happy we are open.”
These bodegas often open 24 hours a day and stay open through snow storms and power outages. But even the bravest bodega owners closed for a few hours during the height of the storm, when shoppers became scarce.
Alward said he did try to keep the Gourmet Market open as long as possible and even attempted to stay open as Sandy arrived.
But as the devastating storm arrived Monday night, Alward decided it was best to close for a few hours. The store opened up again early Tuesday morning as regular customers headed to get their morning coffee.
"I come from a country where there are wars every day,” said a cashier from Iran who did not give his name. “We will be fine.”
Juan Castillo, owner of Castillo Deli in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, counts himself fortunate that nothing happened to his store or his family during Sandy.
"I feel very lucky that there was no damage to my store and my family is safe," the Dominican-born bodega owner said. "All is well."
So there he was soon after the storm, making sure everyone had their essentials. And for Latinos, it not always just food and water.
"They picked up a lot those," Castillo said, pointing to the tall candles with portraits of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and other Christian figures adorning his wall.
And why do the workers show up, when everyone else seems to be holed up at home?
“I have wife and a small baby,” said a bodega worker from Mexico who did not want to give his name. “I come and work and do what I need to do.”
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