Small Business Feels Brunt Of Damage
By TRIBUNE STAFF
Rampant flooding, gas shortages and power outages are inconvenient for anyone, but they are especially disastrous for small businesses.
After ravaging the New York metropolitan area, Superstorm Sandy brought economic activity, at least briefly, to a stand still.
As New York City inches toward normalcy, the numerous damages the storm caused have burned deep holes in the wallets of small businesses across Queens.
“Small businesses unfortunately bear the disproportionate brunt of lost economic activity,” said Comptroller John Liu. “The everyday goods and services provided by small businesses are the least likely to be postponed for a future date.”
With gasoline scarce and power still out in some households, small businesses have found that their customer bases suddenly diminished.
Liu said that as the region recovers from the storm, there will be an increase in consumer activity to match a pent up demand for goods. Businesses like restaurants, hotels and bars cannot necessarily make up for weeks of depressed demand, however.
|After Sandy, Alewife NYC experienced four feet of flooding, prompting an eight-day closure.
Photo courtesy of Alewife NYC
Clouded Waterfront Views
In western Queens, a waterfront view of Manhattan typically means more business. But, during Superstorm Sandy, the close proximity to the very view that once attracted so many customers was exactly what put several establishments at a higher risk for flooding.
At Alewife NYC, a popular pub on 51st Avenue in Long Island City, the damage incurred by four feet of flooding caused an eight-day closure.
“It was not a pretty picture,” owner Patrick Donagher said. “Our fridges and motors were damaged, the floor will need to be replaced and we still do not have power.”
Despite the repairs needed, Donagher said he has been working to help storm victims in the Rockaways, Long Island and Staten Island.
“What happened to our business is certainly unfortunate, but the important thing is that we still have a roof over our heads. Many others do not,” Donagher said.
Once the business resumes operation, he said he hopes to host multiple events to help aid storm survivors.
Currently, he has launched an online fundraiser for Alewife NYC at www.gofundme.com/alewifenychelp and continues to open for a few hours during the evening to supplement the loss of income.
Elsewhere in western Queens, larger businesses have also been working to recover from the storm.
Due to a flooded lobby, restaurant and business center, the Wyndham Garden Hotel, located at 44-29 9th St. in Long Island City, anticipates being shut down for a month.
The closure of the 128-room hotel that opened just seven months ago came as a shock for employees.
“We knew the storm was coming, but we had no idea how much damage it would cause,” said Jeffrey Reich-Hale, director of sales and marketing. “Much of our electrical equipment was damaged during the flood. We’re not happy about it, but it could have been a lot worse.”
To make up for the monetary loss, Reich-Hale said the hotel has opened its doors to FEMA employees and their affiliates.
“Being able to house FEMA has allowed us to keep some of our employees working,” Reich-Hale said. “Right now, we are nowhere near being ready to open to our regular transient customers.”
On any given month, Reich-Hale said the hotel earns anywhere from $400,000 to $800,000 and employs a staff of 15 to 20 employees.
For the month-long closure, he said the hotel will not be able to earn anywhere near the usual revenue mark, with only 10 employees working.
As the Wyndham is struggling to reopen at the full capacity, the Riverview Restaurant, located along the East River at 2-01 50th Ave., also faced similar issues.
Since Sandy hit, the Riverview has been unable to open for business, leaving their routine staff of 25 to 30 employees out of work.
Although the owner has been working hard to make repairs with the intent to reopen at the end of next week, Riverview Event Coordinator Doris Nowillo Suda said many of their employees have begun seeking other means for work.
“After Sandy, we had about two feet of flooding. All the fridges, food, liquor and Internet was damaged,” Nowillo Suda said. “It was devastating. I had to be honest with myself and my staff. We hate to see any of our employees go, but they have to do what is best for themselves.”
As the restaurant nears its reopening, Nowillo Suda said she hopes the staff members will be able to return to work.
“We don’t want anybody to forget about us,” Nowillo Suda said. “We want to send the message that we came back stronger than ever.”
Although Bagel Time in Whitestone did not suffer any physical damage, the economic effects of Superstorm Sandy may have long-lasting consequences for the business.
Fred Park, the owner of Bagel Time, felt that the lack of power, supplies and gas have all contributed to a perfect storm of economically-harmful problems for the small business located at 150-51 14th Ave.
“It’s not normal. There’s no gas, no electricity, no food, no supplies,” he said. “For business people like me, it’s completely chaos.”
The first sign of trouble after the storm was a lack of food supplies and a lack of available funds, since the Chase Bank the store uses remained closed until Thursday, Nov. 1.
There was still some online banking available, but that did not help when customers needed change for their purchases.
“For business owners, bank connection is very important for daily change. Cash management was very important throughout this week,” said Park.
Since Bagel Time’s business is centered on perishable goods, delivery troubles compounded the already slowed-down sales. The company who supplies Bagel Time ran out of gas around the end of last week, making distributions far more sporadic. As a result, supplies would start to run low or run out on days without a shipment.
“We need dairy, flour, coffee and all that kind of stuff,” Park said. “If it’s out, we can’t do regular business.”
The gas shortage has not only hurt Bagel Time’s delivery, but it has directly impacted their consumer base. Due to the presence of a gas station less than three blocks away on Clintonville Street, the car lines would clog up 14th Avenue in front of the bakery. The gridlock stopped regulars who still have gas from accessing the streets surrounding the store.
“We had tons of people complaining that they couldn’t come here because of the traffic mess. People don’t want to come out,” Park said. “I noticed a lot of people who work in Whitestone couldn’t come because of no public transportation in some areas and no gas either.”
Park said he hopes things return to normal very soon, so the store can make it through the difficult winter months. The Bagel Time owner said he uses the usually strong business between October and December to cover expenses in January and February.
“I just have to have patience,” Park said. “I hope that New York City gets back to what we were two weeks ago so we can get ready for Christmas.”