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'Slow process of renewal'

New York—It took awhile, but life in the Tribeca neighborhood of Lower Manhattan eventually resumed its day-to-day pace after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. But things were never really the same.

Image: Dr. Marshall S. Dicker
Dr. Dicker

Dr. Marshall S. Dicker, a general practitioner whose office on Church Street was eight blocks from Ground Zero, practiced in the area since 1988. His building sustained some damage from the attacks but could be repaired. After 9/11, he moved his office one block but chose to stay in Tribeca.

For one thing, it was a good place for a dentist to set up shop. There were fewer dentists than in midtown Manhattan but the bustling business scene propelled foot traffic and patients in various business sectors appreciated being able to have regular dental care close to their offices. By the mid-1990s, real estate boomed. Developers were turning old decrepit industrial buildings into million-dollar condominiums, drawing more people to the neighborhood who began to invest in property.

“It's an entirely different ball game now,” Dr. Dicker said days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11. “Before that, it was the typical kind of office location where we knew when we would busy, we knew when we wouldn't be. Everything was predictable, and we didn't do any marketing because we didn't need to.”

During recovery efforts, Dr. Dicker, his staff and patients had only limited access to the area. Many of his patients worked in the World Trade Center towers, but all survived the attacks. “People couldn't get down to us for about a month, and then there were so many patients who no longer worked in the area. The World Trade Center provided so much space for businesses, and once it was gone, the businesses and people were gone.”

Some business people continued working in the area, but it was more transitional, he said. “It was hard to get patients coming back for steady appointments.”

The building boom subsided and fewer people were buying real estate in Tribeca, which was made worse by the economic downturn starting around 2008.

Some buildings remain vacant, Dr. Dicker said. One well-known empty space is Park51, the Muslim community center being developed two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

“What's it's been since is a slow process of renewal,” said Dr. Dicker. “The whole nature of the area is much more transitional now. Every day that I'm in the office, there's something new to address. Now we have so many people out of work, and they can't pay for dental work. A lot of those decisions are motivated by the availability of dental insurance.

“It can be hard to plan for the future,” he continued. “But fortunately, the type of treatment I do is a higher level. For example, I do my own perio surgery. That keeps me busier.

“But I still love being a dentist. Every day I go into the office and difficult problems come up. For me, being a dentist is a joy because you're always challenged to come up with a solution to a problem. From that standpoint, I have a busy day and I'm thrilled.”

Dr. Dicker has been providing dental care for too long in this area to pull up stakes now. Asked whether he worries about another terrorist attack, he says, “It's constantly on everyone's mind.”

For more 9/11 remembrances, see related story.