Sandy's Unbridled Debauchery: One Business' Struggle against the Mighty Hurricane

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A whole year has passed since hurricane Sandy's assault on New York City and other communities. Almost destroyed by the hurricane, New York's Saint-Petersburg Global Trade House, the premier retailer of European fine china, housewares, home textiles, and other products, still stands strong as a grand testament to the power of human will and determination.



How does the human spirit fare in the time of danger, in the time of emotional and physical struggle, in the time of utter vulnerability, when the familiar tenets of our lives fall through the thin, sticky film of the false sense of order and safety, which is all that our civilization has been able to cover us with through the years? Those living in the coastal Northeast got front row seats to the grand spectacle of real-world drama of the struggle for physical and emotional sanity that taught us all about greatness and mediocrity. This is the story of one business' journey during the infamous night of October 29th, 2012, when hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York City, and of the aftermath, effects of which are still being felt one year later.

When news of impending danger from Sandy, the powerful hurricane born, as always, in the warm waters off Africa, reached the states in the American Northeast, many dismissed the grave danger it posed, remembering a similar hurricane from the year before, Irene, which never realized the fears many had about it. Sandy, however, was different, as the coastal communities and neighborhoods up and down the East Coast learned firsthand. Brooklyn's Brighton Beach Avenue, dubbed Little Russia by the Sea by the locals, was among the hardest-hit communities. Saint-Petersburg Global Trade House's flagship store, the long-standing main attraction of Brighton Beach Avenue, standing tall one block from the Atlantic Ocean and offering Russian gifts, housewares, books, music, and more, had no chance of withstanding the storm surge that ended up covering cars up to their roofs in many neighborhoods.

The water receded almost as quickly as it came ashore, leaving everything soaked and completely filled with silt. The Saint-Petersburg store lay waterlogged, most of the merchandise destroyed by the cold, salty water of the Atlantic Ocean. Coming in and seeing the devastation for the first time was a truly humbling experience for absolutely everyone, which was apparent in the eyes of the people, aimlessly wondering the rubble-filled streets. One may say that this felt a lot like the aftermath of the proverbial global apocalypse.

The next day saw the ruined store staring into the street with its black, lifeless windows, as a human body would, having suddenly lost its soul, sucked out by some dark, mighty wizard. It seemed that the store would remain lifeless and soulless for days and even months, deserted by employees, most of whom had similar problems at home. But this was not the case. One by one they came to help, volunteering their precious time to help the company. One by one they put their gloves on and carried garbage, cleaned, scrubbed, sifted through the mountains of destroyed merchandise to find the few items that survived the attack of the ocean. One by one they swarmed the seemingly dead store and, in the course of several days, brought it back to life. The office and the customer service departments resumed operation just 4 days since the ravages of the killer hurricane, people huddling in their warm clothes by the workstations, which, by some unknown fortune were spared by water, leaving all of the office computers intact. Taking phone orders remained to be a tedious task, however, because all order printouts needed to be taken by car to the warehouse and shipping facility, located in another part of Brooklyn, which was spared by Sandy. The store itself took another week to get ready to open its doors to the customers, but it took several more months to get everything back to the pre-hurricane state.

A different fate awaited Saint-Petersburg's second store on Brighton Beach Avenue, Kids' World. Offering a great selection of children's products, ranging from books to puzzles, to toys, the store was a favorite among parents in Brooklyn. As the Sandy recovery efforts continued, it became apparent that rebuilding and restoring this location was impractical and Kids' World moved in under the same roof with Saint-Petersburg GTH in a grand merge of the parent and its subsidiary. The Fates, it seemed, had big plans for the company and those plans were not necessarily good. But what is the famed human spirit if it cannot become the driving force behind the hardly believable turns of events, like the Universe's dark energy, undetectable by any of the available means, yet comprising more than half of everything that is? The answer to this question is better felt, than heard, as less than one year after Sandy's devastation, a brand new Saint-Petersburg GTH location proudly opened in the heart of Manhattan, on Fifth Avenue. The Fates may not have been that powerful, after all.

Not every business in the neighborhood was able to rebound as well and for long weeks to come the featureless emptiness of rows after rows of disabled stores lay empty, seldom breaks in this monotony brought about by solitary figures carrying bags of destroyed merchandise to be collected on the sidewalks into mountains of garbage, to the hoarse shrieks of excitement and anticipation from the mobs of old people, tearing into each of those bags and smearing their contents nearby in hopes of finding something worth keeping. But as with everything else in this life, eventually buildings and businesses got over Sandy and the grand amalgamation of countless manifestations of the storm's capricious temper, finally getting back to life as it was before. Get back to life as it almost was before… almost, because events, such as those that transpired on the night of October 29th, 2012 never completely fade from memory.

Many like to ponder how ordinary people will react to extreme situations, where social order ceases to be (even if only for a brief period) and they are left alone, staring into the emptiness of the bottomless eyes of mayhem. Cynics among us will surely have the whole speech ready, telling about the human selfishness, about the shapeless cocoon of egotistical force field that they believe exists around every single individual. But they will be wrong for the most part, as this cocoon does not stand a chance against the inherently social inner core that is simply often coated with growing layers of individualistic and self-interested expectations of the preferred human behavior. In the time of need, in the time, when great hardship becomes unbearable for individuals, they will remember their social nature and become both physical and psychological support pillars for those around them. This is the biggest secret that all of us know, yet choose to ignore in our hectic lives of consumer self-indulgence. The secret, however, will stay with us, dormant until more "Sandies" cross our paths, and in these times of grave danger our callus social spirit will shine again.

by Mikhail Kholodov

About Saint Petersburg Global Trade House

Founded in 1994, Saint Petersburg Global Trade House takes its roots in Brooklyn, NY – the heart of NYC’s Russian community. Saint Petersburg GTH takes great pride in the fact that it is the largest seller of Russian gifts, books, music, and movies outside Russia. The company offers products through its free colorful printed catalog, as well as operating brick-and-mortar stores in Brooklyn. The catalog is published quarterly in editions of 50,000 copies and can be requested by calling the toll-free number at 1-800-531-1037.

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