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Power-less in home tex

New York —The lights were coming back on in Times Square and along the mill run on Avenue of the Americas, but at mid-morning they were still out at 295 and 261 Fifth Avenue in the textiles district, as New York City and the entire Northeast began the slow recovery from the largest blackout in U.S. history.

From as far north as Canada, west to Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, and down through Pennsylvania into New Jersey, the lights flickered then went dark at about 4:11 p.m. yesterday. Officials estimated more than 50 million Americans —many of them still at work —were suddenly without power.

By today power had been restored to much of the region and was coming back on slowly in Manhattan. The area’s three major airports were open, but few planes were moving Friday afternoon and subways remained idle. However, buses along with some trains had resumed limited service. Telephone and cell service remained inconsistent.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg predicted the rest of the power would be restored by the end of the day Friday. In the meantime, he counseled New Yorkers to take the warm summer day off if they could. “There are worse things than taking a summer Friday off from work,” Bloomberg said in a televised briefing.

Retailers, ranging from Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, to Bed Bath & Beyond and Wal-Mart were forced to close. Stranded home textiles industry executives literally camped out in their sweltering Fifth Avenue offices or just walked to the apartment of a family member, colleague or friend. Some got lucky and found hotel rooms before they sold out. Some rented cars or limos for the long, artery-clogged ride to the suburbs.

The even luckier ones were already out of town, merely frustrated by their inability to reach anyone in New York. All the same, early reports indicated the blackout was little more than an inconvenience from a business standpoint.

“I wasn’t even there. I was in Kansas City for the opening of a new Nebraska Furniture Mart, so I missed the whole thing,” offered Steve Mazarakis, Hellenic Rug Imports, in an interview Friday morning. “But in Brooklyn, the lights did go out, and we did lose some production time. But it’s not a major setback. It’s just a temporary thing.”

Ex-Cell Home Fashions’ Barry Leonard was struggling to reach any of the 40 staffers at his New York showroom. “I was lucky. I got on standby for a 1:30 p.m. flight and made it,” he said from Charlotte, NC. “I was supposed to leave at 4 p.m., but I finished up an appointment early with a retailer and was able to leave earlier. But it hasn’t affected our production at all.”

Ashford Court’s Neil Zuber was just driving back into Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel with a buyer when the blackout hit. “I dropped him off at 47th and 7th and then went to our showroom at 295 where we picked up a big flashlight we keep there. I ended up spending the night in the city,” he said. Zuber lives on Long Island and was able to get design director and principal Amy Bell out on a flight from Long Island’s Islip MacArthur Airport —a backdoor to the air traffic problem.

Santens’ Jennifer Buffalo, visiting from Anderson, SC, ended up camping out at the firm’s first floor 295 showroom, along with the company’s design director. This morning she was trying to find a flight to Washington where she planned to rent a car and drive the rest of the way home.

Tom Merriman, vp, sales of department and specialty stores for Mohawk Home also stayed at his 295 office, arriving home this morning at 7:00. But Mohawk’s Merle Johnson decided simply to go with the flow. After stopping out for a couple of beers with her son, Andrew, they walked 40 blocks uptown to her daughter’s apartment.

“We got there about 7:30 p.m., went to get a pizza down the street where there was a gas oven,” she explained. “[We] waited an hour in line for it as it was the only place that had food. Then we went to a street party.”

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