NY Businesses Stay Open Amid Strike

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From Wall Street investment banks to major retailers like Toys R Us Inc., many New York businesses found a way to keep going Tuesday as a shutdown of subway and bus lines inconvenienced millions of employees and customers at the height of the holiday and tourism season.

Many large companies, including Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., provided buses or vans for employees at strategic points through the city, especially at major transit hubs like Grand Central Station and Penn Station.

Both the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market opened on time and while trading volumes were lower than the previous session, analysts attributed that primarily to a usual preChristmas slowdown.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged Tuesday that there is no way to know if his estimate of a $400 million daily hit to the local economy from the strike is accurate. But he said it's clear the most profound effects will be felt by low-paid workers who won't be paid if their employers close shop or if they are laid off as customer counts dwindle.

Anthony Sabino, professor of law and economics at St. Johns University, said the loss is more likely to be about $100 million a day. But he described that as still being "a big blow to New York. The timing is lousy and the economic impact is lousy."

New York retailers, restaurants and bars are expected to bear much of the brunt of the strike. The week before Christmas traditionally accounts for up to 20 percent of many stores' holiday sales, and consumers who must pay higher taxi fares or face long walks could slow their spending, analysts said.

Toys R Us, Macy's, Bloomingdale's and FAO Schwarz scrambled to open the doors of their flagship stores in Manhattan and some dispatched executives to help with floor duties.

"Traffic and sales are very strong," said Ed Schmults, CEO of FAO Schwarz, who pitched in by emptying the trash cans and sweeping the floors. Other department store officials said they are counting on increased sales at suburban locations from New York commuters who decide to work from home.

And while online shopping should also benefit, shipping giant UPS Inc. suspended time guarantees on next-day and second-day air packages destined for New York City until the strike ends. The reason is that authorities are limiting commercial vehicles' use of bridges and tunnels, and delivery of packages from airports have been affected, said Peggy Gardner, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based company.

Many smaller stores delayed their openings or stayed shut.

Ralph Israel, an owner of the Manhattan Train & Hobby store, said he had only one customer by noon on Tuesday and said if the strike lasts for more than a few days, his business could lose $50,000 in sales.