Bedbugs Expand Their Horizons Beyond the Bedroom

By: Hudson Horizons

Warning: Bedbugs are not just in bed anymore.

Epic Hollister, a popular clothing store in SoHo, closed this week amid a bedbug outbreak. Exterminators say infestations in commercial spaces are becoming increasingly common, including banks, hotels, offices and hospitals. Even "libraries are dangerous now," said Jeff Eisenberg of PestAway exterminating company in Manhattan. "The commercial market is growing three times faster than the residential market."

The city's non-emergency hotline, 311, reported a record number of bedbug-related calls for the fiscal year just ended—31,719 calls in 2010, a 19% surge compared to 2009. That number includes bedbugs in residences, hotels, public schools, day care facilities, domestic-violence shelters and public housing, but does not include calls about bedbugs in business establishments such as stores and restaurants.

Hollister was closed Thursday for the second day in a row. Abercrombie & Fitch, which owns the retailer, declined to comment. In a statement Wednesday, the company had said it was dealing with the outbreak.

Commercial buildings, such as offices or retail stores, are not currently required to report bedbug infestations. Lawmakers want to change that.

"We're going to take a good, long, hard look at all the places where bedbugs appear, like clothing stores or furniture stores," said Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side and sponsored legislation to require landlords to disclose to prospective renters any bedbug infestations that happened within the past year. Gov. David Paterson is expected to sign the bill into law.

Professional treatment for ridding homes and offices of the pests typically involves detection by dogs, blasting affected areas with heat or freezing areas with carbon dioxide, heavy-duty vacuuming and application of an insecticide. Often multiple treatments are required and costs vary widely between residential and commercial spaces.

"You might start at $5,000 for an average-size office and go all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In town, this is not unusual today," said Barry Beck, chief operating officer of Assured Environments of Manhattan, a pest control company that handles mostly commercial clients.

Regularly calling in the hounds can help prevent infestations and, in the long-run, save money, experts say.

"The dogs are much more cost effective. They can tell if you have a problem and where is it," said Jennifer Erdogan a director at Bell Environmental Services in Parsippany, N.J.

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