Yesterday a friend told me she heard that our local Brooklyn supermarket—about a block from Zone C, which could experience flooding from a Category 3 or 4 storm —was out of bottled water. (Irene is a Category 1 storm but a really nasty one.) I went there today to verify this third-hand information, and it turned out to be false: The shelves were teeming with all manner of Poland Spring, SmartWater, and Evian. Even though people mere blocks away had already been evacuated because of Hurricane Irene, the place was not much more crowded than on a normal Saturday. My Twitter feed was littered with reports of panic in the Whole Foods over in Manhattan, so I was surprised to find the outer boroughs less dedicated to hurricane preparedness.
Hoarding of liquor, however, was another matter. "Short lines in the grocery store and long lines in the wine store," reported a friend in an adjacent neighborhood. So I visited a few local liquor stores to see what kind of business they've been doing.
"It's Christmas in August," says Sherry Rader, manager of Smith & Vine. She says that hurricane hoarders are gravitating toward lower prices than average, but at a much higher volume. One Smith & Vine customer named Suzanne says she is planning to buy four bottles. "That's for three adults, if you want to do the math," she says. (The math: 1.33 bottles per adult.) She expects that cache to last her for two days.
At Henry Street Wines & Liquors, owner Dominick Tutrone says he's also been selling a great deal of wine, but he's also been nearly cleaned out of high-end bourbon, too, and he has an empty shelf to prove it. "I heard some woman comment that you don't need ice for bourbon, and it's strong and powerful, and people want to be, I guess, mellow," Tutrone says.
And locals are mellow: Walking down Smith Street, the retail center of the neighborhood, at around 4 p.m. on Saturday, you would have no idea a hurricane was coming except for the occasional duct tape cross stuck to a plate-glass window. The wine bar JakeWalk was nearly full, and guys in matching T-shirts and goofy hats were spilling out of the sportier Angry Wade's. "It looks like Irene's going to be a dud," said Suzanne. The rest of the neighborhood appears to agree.