Businesses recovering after Sandy


| tcullen@queenscourier.com |

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Howard Beach businesses are getting back on their feet after the catastrophic damage of Superstorm Sandy.

When Sandy’s wrath started to hit Howard Beach, the channel — one of the main links of the community — started to flood. Pockets of low-lying areas of Cross Bay Boulevard became pools of icy water.

The result was catastrophic damage to area homes and to the string of small businesses that characterize the neighborhood.

Several forums and information sessions have been held to help businesses get back on their feet. Many have been able to get grants or loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which is a federal office to help businesses nationwide. Some loans are at low rates and have repayment periods that stretch as far as 30 years.

And while some shops on the west side of the bay only suffered damage to property or lost some supplies, some east side stores have had to rip out everything and start from scratch.

One landmark eatery that took the brunt of flooding was Lenny’s Clam Bar, which had prepared for the storm with sandbags and other measures. When the water turned Cross Bay Boulevard into a canal, the valet booth was pushed, floating, into the street.

A decent amount of equipment was damaged by the storm, owner Joe De Candia said, and some walls were damaged from the salt water. The floors, for the most part, remained intact. Destroyed or damaged equipment ranged from computers to ovens to stoves.

The Tuesday after the storm, as strong winds were still gusting through the waterside neighborhood, De Candia and the Lenny’s staff got back to work repairing walls and getting new machinery.

“I wanted to get open as soon as the power was on,” he said. “We did a lot of work in the three weeks [since the storm].”

By Friday, November 16, the Clam Bar was back open serving foodies in Howard Beach.

De Candia said he did not go through any kind of insurance, rather, opting to pay out of pocket. But even with an insurance policy, it would not have ensured Lenny’s would be open as fast as it did. While he could not estimate how much total repair would end up costing, De Candia said so far rebuilding has cost an upward of $200,000.

And although business is not as busy as normal for this time of year, the restaurant is up and running and De Candia’s staff is back at work.

“We’re definitely off from our normal flow of business,” he said, “but we’re up, we’re open and my employees are back to work.”

While many businesses are still reeling from the loss of property and economic activity, other Howard Beach services were drastically damaged by Sandy.

A brand new facility of the New York Families for Autistic Children (NYFAC) in Howard Beach was set to open two weeks after Sandy struck. The larger facility on Cross Bay Boulevard was set to expand the services of the organization.

The building took on four-and-a-half feet of water to the first floor, ruining the sheet rock, floors and furniture, according to NYFAC CEO Andrew Baumann. The building’s elevator system was severely damaged by the storm, and the entire electrical system for the lift has to be replaced, Baumann said.

“I had to replace sheetrock,” Baumann said. “I had to replace floors, desks, computers. We were two weeks from opening. We had furniture that came in that got ruined. We took a big hit.”

But while there is no time frame for the facility’s delayed opening, originally intended to by November 16, Baumann said construction was pushed back at least six to eight weeks while the elevator system is repaired and then inspected.

The cost of repair came out to about $165,000, Baumann said, adding he’s not sure where these funds will come from. Baumann said the facility was not insured for flooding so the organization is essentially on its own to finance repairs. The nonprofit has been looking into loan programs, particularly from SBA, but repayment is the problem.

“I have no problem finding the money,” he said. “I can borrow the money from a million different places. Where do you get the money to pay it back? That’s the problem.”

Baumann said the NYFAC board will hold an emergency meeting to figure out fundraising methods to ease the cost of repairs. One way is the annual NYFAC dinner dance, which will be held on February 28.

“We’re going to see what we can come up with, some kind of innovative idea. I don’t know what we’re going to come up with,” said Baumann.