As people often said in the days after September 11, everything will
Certainly for workers at the World Trade Center and other buildings damaged
in the attacks, that was quickly apparent. So much was lost -- thousands of
lives, of course, but also files, mementos and software code. The buildings
where these workers were employed, symbols of New York City and the nation
-- gone. As others returned to a semblance of normalcy, the transition has
been a more complicated one for those who worked at a place now called
"People remember it every day," says Calvin Mitchell, senior vice president
of corporate communications for Instinet, the electronic trading company
that occupied offices on the 12th through 14th floors of the South Tower.
About 200 employees made it safely out of the building. But two senior
Instinet executives who were attending a conference at Windows on the World,
the restaurant atop the North Tower, died in the attacks. The company
continues to offer counseling. "The effects can be felt for many days,
months and years after," says Mitchell.
Stay or Relocate?
The degree of upheaval varies from business to business. Some were
destroyed. Windows on the World, the nation's most lucrative restaurant, no
longer exists. Other businesses struggled to stay in operation, even as
scores -- or hundreds -- of employees were missing. Still others, all of
their workers safe, faced assorted challenges, such as locating office space
and reassuring clients. Many companies, like Instinet, moved rapidly to
recover; between its Times Square headquarters and other locations, all
employees had space in time for the markets' opening on September 17.
The 34.5 million square feet of office space destroyed or damaged in the
attacks is resulting in a "tremendous exodus from Lower Manhattan," says
Myers Mermel, CEO of TenantWise, a real estate market research and
leasing firm. According to TenantWise, company relocation decisions will
result in 62,467 jobs leaving downtown Manhattan. Of these, 37,687 will head
to Midtown, while 17,575 will be in New Jersey, and the rest will be shifted
Companies essentially have had three options: Reoccupying damaged space, as
Merrill Lynch did at the World Financial Center; leasing new space, as
Empire BlueCross BlueShield is doing (with plans to locate 1,300 employees
at a new space being built in Brooklyn); or backfilling vacant offices, as
is the case with Instinet.
Even now, uncertainty remains for many companies. Until September 11,
Abbeville Press, a publisher of fine art and illustrated books, was located
at 22 Cortlandt St., a building directly across from the World Trade Center
and known for its street-level Century 21 store. Though Century 21 reopened
in February, Abbeville Press decided the location was no longer right for
the company, says Susan Costello, vice president and editorial director,
whose 32nd-floor office had windows overlooking the towers.
Costello and others now work out of their homes and a temporary office on
23rd Street shared with other businesses. Only a few work there full-time as
the publisher seeks a permanent space, says Costello.
Employees have had to adjust. "It's a virtual office," she says. "You have
to be a bit more organized this way and foresee difficulties to make the
projects work. We have to be more resourceful and resilient."
Business As Usual
Workers have managed to return to their jobs since September 11, often with
a renewed sense of both on-the-job teamwork and what matters in their
"While we'll never really forget and we'll always remember the event and
those who were lost, by and large, people have adjusted as well as they
could, and we're moving on," says Bob Lawrence, senior vice president of
human resources and services for Empire, which occupied 10 floors of the
South Tower. About 1,900 employees worked there. Nine employees and two
consultants died in the attacks.
Empire's Employee Assistance Program for counseling workers experienced much
higher usage after the attacks, but the numbers have returned to normal in
2002, says Lawrence, who was on the 29th floor when a jet slammed into the
tower. With renewed attention to the attacks due to the anniversary,
Lawrence expects more employees may seek counseling.
Work As Catharsis
Work can offer a sort of solace, too. Shortly after the attacks, Costello
got a phone call from photographer Angelo Lomeo, whose books on Provence and
Venice (with his wife, Sonja Bullaty) were published by Abbeville.
Unbeknownst to Costello, Bullaty and Lomeo had photographed the towers for
years. Would Costello like to see the photos? She did, and in October they
began to discuss a book. The World Trade Center Remembered, with an
introduction by New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, was
published in November.
"It took us about five weeks to do the book in total," says Costello. "And
we never do instant books. It was very cathartic for us to work on a
Work as catharsis, in fact, seems to be a common theme among those whose
jobs were disrupted by the attacks.
Beast Financial Systems, a technology firm with offices on the 80th floor of
the North Tower, didn't lose any employees in the attacks, but it did lose
software code. The company moved quickly to recover. "The event definitely
brought everyone together as a team," says Jennifer Van Hofwegen, director
of strategic alliances and marketing. "Our development team was very, very
busy after that. They didn't even have a lot of time to realize what had
After working out of offices in Parsippany, New Jersey, and elsewhere in
Manhattan, the company moved into permanent offices at the corner of Fifth
Avenue and 37th Street in April 2002. "We're all under one roof again," Van
Likewise, Instinet workers were galvanized by the crisis, with workers
driving from other US locations the week of the attack to bring equipment
and help the company ready itself for the markets' opening. "The team spirit
that was forged at that time certainly continues today," says Mitchell.
Of course, even as workers devote themselves to their jobs, the events
helped put things into perspective. "People are really prioritizing," says
Van Hofwegen. "We work hard, but people are really trying to get home
earlier, too. It made people realize what's important in life."