By  on December 21, 2005

NEW YORK — They walked, cycled or used Rollerblades to get across bridges and traverse streets at dawn in subfreezing temperatures, hopped into taxis with strangers, carpooled and packed into private buses.

Millions of New Yorkers and tourists struggled to cope with the first subway and transit strike in 25 years — and some even went shopping in the final countdown to Christmas.

The stakes were high for the city's retailing industry, particularly major department stores such as Macy's and Saks, in a holiday season that has been marked by ups and downs as retailers aim for same-store sales increases of 4 to 6 percent.

"The retail sector is the hardest hit, though that's due to the loss of customers, as opposed to loss of workers," said Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive officer of The Partnership for New York City, a consortium of 200 top companies.

An analysis of the strike's impact on the city by Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. determined that New York could lose about $1.6 billion during the first week. That figure factors in decreased output from reduced workforces and productivity, tax losses, overtime charges and retail losses. For December, the city had projected collecting $466 million in retail sales tax — without the strike.

"If [the strike] goes the full week," said Burt P. Flickinger 3rd, a retail industry analyst, "sales could be off 50 percent or more this week," which would translate to the loss of 5 to 10 percent of the entire year's profits. "In terms of lost operating income for New York-based retailers, it could be a quarter to half a billion dollars if they lose the entire week."

The nation's largest mass transit system, which serves seven million riders a day, shut down at 3 a.m. Tuesday for the first time since April 1980. Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, which represents 33,700 workers, called the walkout after a breakdown in negotiations with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Hours later, a State Supreme Court justice found the union in contempt and imposed a fine of $1 million a day for violating the state's Taylor Law, which bars walkouts by public employees. The union said it would appeal.

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