Volume 76, Number 37 | February 7 -13, 2007

Villager photo by Robert Kreizel

Max didn’t seem to be minding the cold on Tuesday in Tompkins Square Park

Outdoor workers are braving the big chill

By Julie Shapiro

Temperatures on Tuesday hit the low 20s, but the wind chill felt much colder — especially to people working outside.

“It’s really cold today,” said Fermen Peguero, who was unloading stacks of wood and boxes in front of Cosmopolitan lumber shop on Spring St. “Today, it’s very, very cold.”

“You get used to it after a while,” said Jason Vega, who was also unloading. He and Frankie Magnard spent over nine hours outside, bundled in thick gloves and hats, wearing tan one-piece jumpsuits. Vega called his outfit a “monkey suit,” but Magnard said it was more like a “keep-warm suit.”

Their advice on how to stay warm?

“Stay indoors,” Vega said.

But not everyone had that option. Construction workers wielded equipment with gloved hands and wore hats with earflaps descending from beneath their helmets. Vendors lined Canal St., huddled behind their tables of purses and shoes, blowing on their hands.

A man named Shaon stood beside a table of watches on Canal St., where he worked for 10 hours. He kept warm by ducking into nearby buildings every 15 to 20 minutes. Shaon didn’t notice a change in business, but “Everybody is wearing a lot of clothes,” he said.

Boris Rafael spent nine hours in a small heated stand on Spring St. and Sixth Ave., selling bagels, pastries and drinks to passersby. He said he’d sold more hot drinks than usual.

Dmitry Lenin worked all day in an outdoor booth at a parking lot at Canal and Greene Sts., but the cold didn’t phase him.

“I’m from Russia,” Lenin said. “This is summer in Russia.”

Lenin is surprised by the people he sees who aren’t properly dressed for the weather.

“Layers will save you,” he said, zipping down his overcoat to reveal a fleece pullover and, beneath that, a sweatshirt. “Layers, layers, layers.”

Lenin has a small heater in his outdoor booth, but it isn’t for him — it’s for his cash register, which is prone to freezing.

Lenin considers himself an expert on staying warm: “You have to move around,” he said. “You have to eat properly, have hot tea a few times a day, and you can survive.... If you drink alcohol, you’re going to freeze.”

The extreme temperatures prompted the Department of Homeless Services to deploy outreach teams around the clock to look for at-risk individuals.

“This cold weather can be downright dangerous and we don’t want anyone dying on the streets,” D.H.S. Commissioner Robert Hess said. Since D.H.S. workers cannot be everywhere at once, Hess asks New Yorkers to call 311 or 212-533-5151 if they see a person in need.

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