Mourning Chelsea: New York’s Art District Goes ‘Raft of the Medusa’ Post-Sandy

How long will restoration take?

“I think you might see a big demographic change,” Mr. Jenkins said. “Not tomorrow, because people have leases, but it might make people think about whether or not they want to stay here. If I was looking at one of these Chelsea spaces and it had a basement, what would you feel you could use it for? Wouldn’t it make you think twice?”

“It does make you wonder if that coveted ground-floor space will remain so coveted,” Mr. Winkleman said with a chuckle. He’d been cleaning out his own flooded basement on 27th, which had filled to the brim just a few days ago, and wore a homemade headlamp of tiny flashlights attached to his baseball cap. His lease is up in 2014, and he will consider moving then.

“Every time you have a new lease, you have to consider that,” he said, “Everybody does. Will this influence it? Probably, to some degree. Because this,” he paused to gesture to the trap door that leads to his basement, “is no fun.”

But there are reasons to be optimistic. Many dealers compared the atmosphere to the uncertainty after 9/11. But collectors came back then, and galleries survived. Ms. Newman almost signed her first lease in September 2001, but the terrorist attacks delayed that. “The gallery has known its share of disasters, and we’ve continued,” she said. “So I think we’re going to continue. That’s my goal.”

“It does make you rethink how you’re going to operate,” Ms. Kustera said. She speculated that dealers will prepare more aggressively in the future. “I have no intention of moving out of my space,” she said. “You move someplace else, and a fire breaks out.”

Asked why he still expressed optimism as he stood in the wall-less space that used to be his gallery, amid ruined files and useless computers, Mr. Feuer shrugged. He stopped texting and set down an iPhone intricately attached to a generator that was running out of gasoline.

“Because we’re going to rebuild,” he said. “And hopefully we won’t have to battle the insurance companies, and hopefully they’re going to pay for most of the building, and then we’re going to sell some art.

“You know, being an art dealer,” Mr. Feuer said, looking over his glasses, “isn’t the worst job in the world.”

Sarah Douglas contributed reporting.

Mourning Chelsea: New York’s Art District Goes ‘Raft of the Medusa’ Post-Sandy