Josephine Puleo spent her second straight day at Lowe’s in Bay Shore, hoping to keep the power on this weekend should Hurricane Irene wreak her expected havoc.
After being at the store more than six hours Thursday, the 70-year-old Bay Shore resident showed up again at 5 a.m. Friday along with more than 20 other customers seeking portable generators. The group lined Aisle 1, the light bulb aisle, waiting for a shipment they were told would arrive by the time the store opened at 6 a.m.
That didn’t happen.
“In a way, it’s fun,” she said, likening the experience to Black Friday, the big holiday season shopping day that follows Thanksgiving. She had befriended several of the people ahead of her in line, many of whom arrived at 4:30 a.m. Puleo said she was desperate to keep her power on because of an assisted breathing apparatus she uses while she sleeps. She tested her generator earlier this week, but it didn’t fire up.
As the morning went on the line grew to around 150, and what was once a straight row of strangers grew into an exhausted mob of comrades. Customers pulled outdoor furniture onto the line to kick back while they waited for, as one aggravated customer put it, “the mysterious generators” to show up.
People spent the morning reading books, talking on cell phones and commiserating.
As the line increased, so did stress levels. The first 20 people or so were calmer because they were confident they would go home with what they came for. Folks like Philip Abad, of Sayville, who didn’t arrive until 5:30 a.m., were agitated by the thought that they may not be so lucky.
“It’s been interesting,” he said. “We’re outside, they moved us inside at 6, they told us the delivery was going to be here at 6. It’s 10:30ish now and it’s still not here, and nobody has any answers to our questions.” About 30 minutes later he and group of others on the line began arguing with a sales associate who had alluded to the possibility that not everybody in line would get a generator.
Andrew August, assistant store manager, said the store has been stocking up since Monday on flashlights, batteries and wood, but Lowe’s ran out of generators Wednesday night after expecting a delivery that morning. A truckload failed to arrive as promised Thursday night.
At one point Friday a shipment of batteries arrived, sparking a mob scene of people fighting to get their hands on C and D batteries to power flashlights. Sporadic rumors circulated the line, including one that said the truck wasn’t coming to Bay Shore because it unloaded in Farmingdale. Still, with no guarantees of going home with a generator, most of the line stuck around.
At 1:25 p.m. Atlanta’s Alvin Gibson, the Western Express truck driver, showed up with 240 generators in his haul, to the relief of sales associates and cheers of customers. Lowe’s was able to provide a generator to everyone on the line, at $800 a pop.
“I could scream with happiness,” said Puleo.