It takes Steve Bari and Steve Richards 18 minutes to lock up their furniture store now.
Before July 13, they turned a key in a lock and walked out. Then came the blackout and looters who cleaned out their store on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and before they reopened they bought $250 worth of padlocks and 75 feet of steel rolling gates to cover their storefront.
About 80 per cent of the New York businesses looted during last summer's blackout have reopened, according to city figures, but many of the owners, like Bari and Richards, are still struggling to get back where they were.
Few insurance claims have been paid except where fire did the damage. Bari and Richards, armed with shotguns, spent the blackout night guarding their store records and prevented attempts to burn the building down. In his anger at the insurance company for not compensating him for his losses, Bari wonders if they shouldn't have allowed their store to burn.
Bari's anger has other targets. When he tried to stop looters by swinging his shotgun butt, he says, police told him he was being too violent. He and Richards were threatened with arrest as the looters carried off their stock.
After the blackout, the two partners were short of cash with which to make repairs and buy new furntiure.
Consolidated Edison sent them a bill and Bari asked for extra time to pay it. The power company whose failure caused the blackout denied his request and warned him that his power was baout to be cut off.
"There should be some sort of class action suit against Con Ed," Bari said in an interview. He would be happy to join one.
"You know what I learned from the blackout?" Bari asked. "The people on welfare are right. The system says 'beat me.' That's what it's there for."
During the close seven-candidate Democratic mayoral primary, Bari said, he received letters of sympathy and support from several candidates, "It's all bull," he said.
New York City provided $1,800 maximum to businessmen whose stores were damaged during the blackout. That, plus stretched-out credit terms from some furniture suppliers, is the only valuable assistance Bari and Richard, whose store is called Alec Zanders Ltd., have received, Bari said.
The city also sent him several teenagers to help clean up as part of a citywide program. According to Bari and others, the youths were little help. Most of them couldn't read or write well enough to address envelopes, Richards said.
Eugene Riback manages the Great Union Furniture Co. in predominantly Spanish-speaking East Harlem.
Great Union spent $10,000 on new windows and steel rolling gates, Riback said.
He was luckier than Bari and Richards. The mob took everything from his large ground floor showroom, but he has three floors and the top two were untouched. Riback never had to close and resumed selling furniture while there was still debris of broken galss in the front of the store.
Riback estimates his store lost $80,000 worth of furniture, and his insurance claim has not been paid.
He went to the bank he has used for nine years to get a $40,000 loan and offered $1 million in accounts receivable as collateral, Riback said. The loan was turned down.
"They've redlined the area," Riback said, accusing the banks of refusing to make loans in Esat Harlem where unemployment and crime rates are high and many buildings are abandoned.
Like Alec Zanders Ltd., Great Union now closes an hour earlier than before the blackout, but otherwise the Third Avenue cluster of furniture stores, of which Great Union is one, appears to have been little changed by the blackout.
"It hasn't changed ma thinking about anything. "I've been here 15 years," Ricback said.
"The people who aren't working now have a good excuse because the economy's gone rotten," he said. "But they're the same people who didn't want to work in the 60s when the newspapers were full of jobs."
Riback said his neighbors in East Harlem are not his customers. Most of his sales, he said, are to people from New Jersey, Long Island and other parts of Manhattan. They come to him for low prices, Riback said.
Bari and Richards said about 98 per cent of their customers are their neighbors and most are black or spanish-speaking.
Some tried to help the partners get restarted by pinting to a corner of the vandalized and empty showroom and saying: "Remember the table that was there, well, here's $5 deposit on it," Brai said. He was grateful for the gesture, but refused the gifts, he added.
The other side of the coin is the threats Bari and Richards still hear from young men who pass by their store. "We'll see you again," the young men tell them.
"In their minds we didn't lose anything," Bari said. "They think our insurance paid for everything so they don't think they hurt us. For them, the looting was another way of beating the system."
Bari is convinced it will happen again.