Post 9/11 Our Story
“TAKE THE GROUND ZERO ORIENTATION TOUR”
All Points Tours is giving a walking tour starting at the STAGE DOOR DELI, 26 Vesey St. and ending at St. Paul’s Chapel every Saturday and Sunday beginning at 1:00 PM and lasting about two and a half hours.
Costs: $12.00 per person or $10.00 per person if over 60 or if under 10 yrs of age.
Contact: Mason R. Logie Jr., Historical Consultant, 718-273-1813 or email@example.com
NEW YORK — Business seems back to normal in Lower Manhattan. But just a block from where tourists and traders bustle down Broadway, narrow streets remain closed, cloaked in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Pedestrians are scarce on Vesey Street, where the twin towers once cast their shadow and which now seems to dead-end at Ground Zero.
In the basement of Stage Door Deli, one of only two businesses that reopened on Vesey after Sept. 11, all is quiet as accountant Peter Theodoratos talks figures with co-owner Pete Travlos.”One bit of good news,” Theodoratos says. “You did better in May than you did in April.”
Travlos reacts with a look of surprise. He spent most of May worrying his business would drop even more as construction workers, their work finished, began leaving the World Trade Center site. “We’re the only store here — that’s why we took the chance to reopen, because of the construction,” he says. “They say they’re done, they clean up everything. So if they go, maybe I go, too.”
Travlos was living the American dream before Sept. 11. He emigrated from the Greek island of Kefalonia when he was 16 and started working in the restaurant business “straight off the boat.” He and his brother-in-law Tom Argyris opened Stage Door in 1989. The deli served food 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for nearly 13 years.
With the World Trade Center literally across the street, business stayed brisk even when the sun went down. The staff took hundreds of orders throughout the night from professionals working after hours. At 52, life was on track. Travlos worked five days a week and spent weekends fishing or with his wife, children and grandchildren. He paid off his mortgage and was thinking about retirement.
BACK TO THE GRIND But terrorists derailed Travlos’ plans. He now works like he did when he was 16 but has to support a wife and three children. He goes to bed at 7:30 p.m., wakes at 2 a.m. and starts his hour-long drive from Wantaugh, Long Island, to Manhattan by 2:45 a.m. Travlos opens Stage Door Deli by 4 a.m. and works a 12-hour day, seven days a week.”Of course I feel patriotic reopening and serving these workers,” he says. “But for six months I was out of work. It was the first time in my life I have no work. But life goes on, and you have to pay your bills. Pay off my bills, that’s what I want.”
Unfortunately, hard work may not pay off. The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce estimates that 100,000 jobs were lost in Lower Manhattan after Sept. 11, resulting in far less foot traffic and consumers. Tourists who frequented the World Trade Center and South Street Seaport create a loss of another 150,000 shoppers. Stage Door is one of 3,400 neighborhood businesses forced to close temporarily after the attack.
The deli, which served nearly an exclusive crowd of businessmen and women from the World Trade Center, now sees only about 20 suits for breakfast and 100 for lunch. Phones that rang steadily through the night barely ring during the day. The deli closes at 9 p.m. because there is no need to stay open later. Travlos and Argyris thought they would “fuhggedabout” reopening Stage Door Deli after Sept. 11. Instead, they decided to relocate. Both re-mortgaged their homes and signed a lease for a new store.
After plans for a fresh start were in place, City Hall contacted Travlos, urging him to try again. Bills continued to pile up and, because the building on Vesey was still structurally sound, he would not receive any insurance money if Stage Door remained closed.
“I never thought I would reopen the store,” Travlos says. “I didn’t feel good coming down here. Now it’s different. Time heals everything.”Prices increased “nickels and dimes” when Stage Door reopened in March, yet Theodoratos estimates that revenue is still down more than 50%. “I’m surprised he’s doing as well as he’s doing considering the population isn’t here anymore,” he says.
‘Give back to the guy’ But Patrick Buckley, a 42-year-old ironworker whose construction company has just started a five-year contract, has faith that Stage Door Deli will have no trouble recovering from its Sept. 11 failings. He represents part of the new population moving into Ground Zero.
“All the guys on the job usually come over here because they know it’s somebody from New York that owns the place,” he says. “Everybody, and especially the union guys, feel like we want to give back to the guy. At least he was here during the crisis. In that way, I think he’ll do quite well.”
However, major construction on the 16-acre site is still years away. Approval of a plan for reconstruction won’t happen until December, at the earliest. Ongoing projects will have to satisfy Travlos’ hunger for customers until then.Reconstruction of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) Station, 1 and 9 subway lines, and prep work for 7 World Trade Center are underway. These projects employ hundreds of construction workers, rather than the thousands that Stage Door Deli needs to regain its former success.
Despite the odds, Travlos is not alone in his decision to make a go of a business nearly brought to the ground. The New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce say that, like Travlos, dislocated tenants who occupied about 77% of destroyed space have decided to stay.
“Every start is hard,” Travlos says. “You have to make people trust you. If you do the right thing, you’re always going to do business. Now I’m trying harder because there’s no people here. I start with nothing and I’m building it up. It’s making me feel good. That keeps you going, too.”