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December 26, 2002
Weather outside is frightful for pedestrians

by Leslie Casimir, Nicole Bode and Paul H.B. Shin
Yuletide revelers and last-last-minute shoppers braved a chilly Christmas downpour yesterday that turned to heavy snow - with some seeking refuge under wind-battered umbrellas while others basked in holiday goodwill. New Yorkers and tourists found themselves equally short-handed, whether they were struggling to keep their Christmas gifts dry, make one last purchase or serve holiday meals to the needy.

But even the slushy mess couldn't dampen the spirits of those drawn by the allure of Noel in New York.

"We're very lucky to be here for Christmas," said Mary Jane Mahaley, 54, of Bluffton, S.C.

She and her husband, Ron, 62, attended one of 10 Masses at St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the Rev. Joseph Marabe delivered a homily calling for America to promote peace.

Mahaley said she couldn't help but be reminded of the Sept. 11 attacks when she saw the church's heavily guarded entrance.

"At least the cathedral is still open to the public," she said, noting that the Statue of Liberty's interior was off-limits this week because of security concerns.

Services were briefly interrupted about 11:15 a.m., when a man described by police as emotionally disturbed started screaming inside the cathedral. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital for evaluation.

Around town, shoppers who put off gift buying until the last possible moment scrambled.

"I need to get a last-minute gift for my nephew. I just found out he was coming over," said Sashaun Robinson, 23, of the upper West Side, as she scanned the toys at the Super 99-cent store at 104th St. and Broadway.

"I need something that makes noise," she said, latching on to a colorful plastic phone for $5.99.

Stores in transit hubs - the ones that were open - did brisk business.

Perfumania in Penn Station raked in $3,000 in three hours, one manager said.

"Everybody's being a pain," she said. "They say, 'What's the cheapest thing here?' And then they all want it gift-wrapped."

Her biggest seller: $7 bottles of perfume.

At Grand Central Terminal, most would-be shoppers were out of luck.

"I am a little upset nothing is open," said Jackie Wheatley of Manhattan, who was hoping to do some last-minute buying before meeting friends.

"I was going to buy a briefcase I saw the other day, and was going to buy a few books in the bookstore. Where can I go now?" she said in a panic.

The holiday season has been a disappointment for many retailers, who generally rake in 40% of their annual revenue between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"People are worried about the economy, the stock market," said Taeko Yanagida, who has had a hard time keeping up with the rent for her Flowers on Lexington shop in Grand Central. "No profit. Nothing. Zero."

Others sought the true spirit of Christmas helping the needy.

Advocates for the homeless held their annual candlelight vigil at Grand Central to commemorate the death of a 61-year-old homeless woman known as Mama Doe, who died there in 1985.

"She died of pneumonia. That was a tragedy," said George McDonald, founder of the Doe Fund, which offers the homeless job training and housing. The vigil drew more than 100 formerly homeless men and women.

Ernest Grosvenor, 54, a former beneficiary of the Doe Fund's programs, said the group saved him.

"They are my lifeline and the family I never had," he said.

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