Mark and Nancy Funte have a generator at their North Stamford home, but by Monday afternoon the Internet was still out. Armed with an iPad and laptop, the couple went to Starbucks to jack into its Wi-Fi network.

"I have no Internet, so this is how I can find out if I have school tomorrow," said Nancy Funte, a teacher at Westhill High School, as she scrolled through her email.

The Funtes were not alone as Connecticut residents -- weary from lack of power and other amenities knocked out on Sunday by Tropical Storm Irene -- plugged back into the economy by spending money at coffee houses, home-improvement stores and restaurants. The storm has left more than 470,000 people still without power as of Tuesday and raised speculation that recovery efforts, including rebuilding, repair and sales of equipment, could act as an infusion for a sputtering economy.

On the surface, that appears to be playing out in coffee shops and restaurants across the region as people come in to spend money.

Inside the Starbucks at the Ridgeway shopping center in Stamford, business owner Eric Bernhard said managers have been great.

"They offered to charge my laptop in the back if I couldn't find an outlet and they brought out power strips for us to use," said Bernhard, the owner of TrueRenu.com, an online Japanese beauty and health supply store.

Power was out both at Bernhard's home and warehouse, and he relies heavily on the Internet for sales.

"If I don't sell enough, Amazon.com will kick me off their site and I get 75 percent of my business from there," he said.

The long lines in the coffee shop serve as a kind of metaphor for the economic impact of the storm: Crisply dressed people who didn't lose power -- or water -- at home stand in line with rumpled patrons with glistening skin from missed showers and a few days' beard growth.

In the Riverside section of Greenwich, Pomodoro Pizzeria & Pasta opened at 11 a.m. Sunday, and eventually had a line out the door.

"We're always busy," said owner Mark Mazzotta. "By default, we got a little extra activity."

Lunchtime was exceptionally busy at the free-Wi-Fi-offering-Cosi sandwich shop on West Putnam Avenue, as the store had spillover customers from the Stamford location, which was closed, said assistant manager Michele Rebando.

"Net net, it's a negative," said Todd Martin, president of a Fairfield-based economic advisory firm bearing his name. "I was driving up Black Rock Turnpike and the gas stations at the bottom were all closed and the ones at the top were open with big lines."

The example illustrates that while some businesses are gaining sales, others are closed, leaving people out of work. He also said some businesses and homes might be lost for good due to inadequate insurance. Retailers that haven't been able to open are losing a key week of business right before schools go back in session, Martin said.

Big home improvement centers and some equipment and construction services, will come out as clear winners from the storm, but it could ultimately be another case of stealing future activity, he said.

Martin pointed to programs like cash for clunkers and the first time home buyers tax credit as having both sparked sales, but they failed to create a more sustained economic recovery because it just allowed people to make planned purchases sooner.

Across the state and the East Coast where Irene hit, Home Depot and Lowe's saw strong sales for batteries and other supplies and there were indications that some of that followed into Monday with packed parking lots, though business had tapered off some as the stores awaited replenishments of supplies, according to one Danbury Home Depot worker.

It was the same for smaller hardware stores.

"I sold a lot prior to the storm," said Jim Ellison, manager of Barnum Hardware in Bridgeport. "I'm selling some rakes and leaf bags, but not doing as much now."

He's expecting inventory including chainsaws to arrive this week, when he anticipates a pickup in business.

Newtown resident Brian Mauriello, vice president of sales for East Granby-based Kinsley Power Systems, which sells generators, said the company has seen its sales and rental revenue soar in the last few weeks.

"From Quincy, Mass., to the West of Albany; we had requests down to Maryland," Mauriello said of orders for backup power supplies. His company provided emergency generators to homes, hospitals, telecommunications firms and big stores, including Stop & Shop and Big Y.

"A lot of the big retailers have backup for payment systems and the lights, because the power isn't expected to be out for more than a few hours," he said. "But refrigeration requires almost as much power as normal."

Kinsley rents generators as big as a tractor-trailer truck that can provide up to 2 megawatts of power. The storm's aftermath has all 38 of Kinsley's technicians out on the road, and has created trucking jobs as units are sent across the country, Mauriello said. The company just placed a generator Tuesday at a Fairfield factory that allowed the firm to get its 66 workers back on the job.

The crisis also drummed up a lot of business for electricians.

"Every electrical contractor we know is out and running ragged," Mauriello said.

That surge in business has yet to reach the other trades as the recovery effort gets underway.

"We haven't seen an effect on the hiring end," said Carpenters Union Local 24 President Bruce Lydem, who said many of the carpenters are cleaning up their own homes and helping neighbors.

The construction industry is down about 30 percent from its peak of a few years ago, he said.

Whole Foods' experience in the storm might be indicative of the general impact on business. The company elected to close early on Saturday and remained closed on Sunday due to safety concerns, said Michael Sinatra, a Whole Foods spokesman. Instead of backup generation, Whole Foods brought in refrigerated trucks to store as many perishables as possible.

Its stores in Westport and Milford lost power, resulting in some product loss. The Milford store reopened Tuesday, and has seen people coming into the stores that are open looking to use the free Wi-Fi and to buy fresh food.

Hearst Connecticut Staff Writers Kate King, Rob Varnon, Lisa Chamoff and Rich Lee contributed to this report.