Manhattanites went to work, took cabs and shopped through one of the worst hurricanes never to hit the city.

Though the Port Authority had closed the 110-story twin towers of the World Trade Center Thursday evening, 3,000 to 4,000 diehards with briefcases showed up this morning and rode the few operating elevators to offices nearly a quarter of a mile in the air.

"No one stopped them," said a lobby security officer. "This is America. The building has been declared closed, but you can't argue with tenants. Shearson Lehman a brokerage firm even brought up an elevator full of onion rolls. How bad can it be?"

Although the New York Stock Exchange was closed, the American opened for trading. Hundreds of people walked the streets of the financial district as the storm intensified, leaving skeletons of umbrellas on street corners.

Below the Staten Island ferry slip on the Battery, workers answered the constantly ringing telephone with a reassuring refrain: "Everything is fine; the boats are running." The few passengers coming off the ferry into Manhattan insisted that the crossing was unremarkable.

At the emergency control center at police headquarters, about 40 managers from the police, fire, sanitation and traffic departments, along with the Emergency Medical Service and the American Red Cross, sat at T-shaped tables talking urgently into telephones. Taped to the walls were shelter locations -- the city and the Red Cross had opened almost 30 pickup points where evacuating residents could board buses to shelters.

Officials had urged residents in low-lying areas of the outer boroughs to leave, and residents from three nursing homes had been moved. By afternoon, 2,300 people -- mostly from outlying boroughs where the storm was strongest -- had taken refuge. But at the only Manhattan shelter, in the gymnasium of Norman Thomas High School on East 33rd Street, a squad of emergency volunteers and professionals nearly outnumbered the 64 evacuees.

By early afternoon, Korean greengrocers were reopening their shops and cabbies were complaining that official overreaction to Hurricane Gloria had emptied the city unnecessarily.

But on the Upper West Side, where stocking up on staples means laying in extra supplies of smoked whitefish, business at Zabar's, the delicatessen nonpareil, was 20 percent above normal, according to partner Murray Klein. What better way to spend a hurricane, he wondered, than with whitefish and rye bread.

"The fish counter," he said proudly. "You couldn't get near it."

Mayor Edward I. Koch, who'd spent much of the day touring flooded areas, offered his assessment as the storm moved: "We scared the hell out of the hurricane, and it went elsewhere."