For Powerhouse Arena and other Dumbo merchants, a time for brutal assessments

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Daniel Power surveys the damage at his Dumbo bookstore. (Jed Lipinski)
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Jed Lipinski

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What happens when a bookstore floods?

In the case of powerHouse Arena—the 5,000-square-foot store on Main Street in Dumbo, which took on nearly three feet of storm-surge water during Hurricane Sandy—tubs full of children’s book became floating vessels and then capsized. Wooden IKEA shelves turned buoyant and crashed into merchandise racks and event tables, spilling stationary, tote bags and event copies into the flood. The ADT system, DVR player and store computer all shorted out.

Then, as the floodwaters receded, the pressure exploded the glass front door, dragging waterlogged books and postcards out of the store toward the Hudson River.

“We probably suffered around $40,000 in damages,” said Daniel Power, the C.E.O. of powerHouse Books, a publishing company housed inside the massive store, a sort of gathering place for literary-minded and civic-minded Dumboites. “Unfortunately, like a lot of businesses that got swamped on the block, we didn’t have flood insurance.”

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Still, you can’t blame Power for being unprepared. In advance of the storm, he and his staff triple-sealed the windows and placed most of the inventory on the concrete mezzanine steps toward the back of the store. By 5 pm on Sunday, with the store barricaded in sandbags, Power had returned to his home in Park Slope.

“We were prepared for an 11-foot storm surge, as expert meteorologists predicted,” he said. “The problem was, we got a 14-foot surge.”

Outside, dozens of clear plastic recycling bags full of wet books lined the sidewalk. Some titles were visible: Friends, Followers and the Future; Aging in America: The Years Ahead; Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun.

“I think these are signed copies,” Power said, ripping open a bag full of swollen editions of Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.

He opened to the title page.

“Yep.”

A man in a plaid shirt, walking with his daughter, leaned over Power’s shoulder.

“Brutal, dude,” he said, shaking his head in sympathy. “I’m reading that right now on my Kindle.”

To help replace the destroyed merchandise, Power is planning a large fund-raiser at the store on Nov. 17. Along with cooking and kids events, he has invited notable Brooklyn authors to read stories loss and devastation. Updates and more information can be found at the store’s new website and the blog Sandy Hates Books.

Preparations for a second store location, which we wrote about in August, will be pushed back several days or weeks, Power said.

PowerHouse was one of many Dumbo businesses to suffer devastating damages in the storm. One Girl Cookie, Aegir Surfboards, Governor and Almondine Bakery were all seriously hit.

“The guy from Almondine came by earlier and said he’s done for,” Power said. “Besides Jacques Torres, they’re the only bakery around here.”

As Power spoke, Johnny Delshad, the superintendent for Two Trees Management Company, the Dumbo development firm founded by David Walentas, came ambling down the sidewalk.

Power asked about the damages to Two Trees properties.

“We had three-and-a-half million gallons of water in the basement of 20 Jay Street,” Delshad said. “That’s a whole city-block building, brother!”

In addition to overseeing 20 Jay Street, 1 Old Fulton, and the Galapagos art space, Delshad is also in charge of maintaining Jane’s Carousel, the glass-enclosed vintage merry-go-round along the East River in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

On Monday night, a stunning photograph of the carousel, still lit but surrounded by black water from the rising river, began trending on Twitter. It became one of the quintessential images of New York City’s perseverance during the devastation of the hurricane.

“The night the water came, I tried to check my carousel,” Delshad said, growing animated in the retelling. The police wouldn’t let him down Old Dock Street, he said, so he detoured down Main Street toward the park. When he reached the corner of Plymouth Street, however, he found himself standing in 5 feet of water.

“It was right up to my chest!” he said, and pointed at the gate down the street that he’d held onto for support. “I could feel it trying to pull me out. And the worst part about it? I’ve sandblasted whole buildings in DUMBO with engines and mortar-powered pressure. I finished four universities. I once took off and landed a private airplane in Long Island. But in all that time, I never learned to swim.”

Eventually, as the waters receded, Delshad was able to let go of the gate and wade over to the base of the carousel.

“My horses got wet, but they're not sea horses anymore,” he said, adding that the flood had filled the basement and the boiler. “Give me a week and I’ll have it running again.”

Delshad excused himself, explaining he had to check in on Almondine.

As he walked away, Power said: “Wow, that’s the most I’ve ever heard him talk.”