Small businesses devastated by storm

  • Article by: SUZANNE SATALINE
  • New York Times
  • November 7, 2012 - 9:02 PM

Few small-business owners were prepared for the wrath of superstorm Sandy.

The storm and its tidal surge ravaged stores and restaurants, soaked inventory and stalled manufacturing throughout the New York region last week.

Food and goods not ruined by seawater and the lack of power fell victim to sewer waste and mold. Even businesses on working power grids lost an important ingredient for success: employees. Many workers faced impossible commutes because of gas shortages and spotty transportation.

As is often the case, many business owners in the storm's path had not bought insurance beyond standard business protection -- nothing for floodwaters or business interruption. Even a week later, after hauling out sodden goods and trying to reroute shipments and find insurance brokers, some were too overwhelmed to know if their businesses could survive.

"We made a pact that we weren't going to think about it," said Kristy Hadeka, co-owner of Brooklyn Slate Co., which sells slate cheese boards and kitchen items. "If you think about how the situation is, it's so incredibly overwhelming, you don't want to do anything."

Hadeka, 29, and Sean Tice, 28, her boyfriend and business partner, were weeks from moving their business into a renovated storefront in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, three blocks from New York Harbor. New plumbing and electrical work had been installed, costing them more than $10,000.

They planned to have offices and a small store there, too. It would be a big step for the 2 1/2-year-old company, which started in the couple's South Slope apartment and grew to $1.5 million in sales last year, including to big clients like Whole Foods.

All of that -- and $5,000 in merchandise for a holiday market -- was ruined by six feet of water. The company did not have flood insurance. Tice called the agent later to say, "Add it."

The storm "wreaked havoc on the business," Hadeka said. "We invested a lot of money."

They were just weeks from the start of the holiday season, when they expected to collect 75 percent of their revenue for the year. Tice said the company has business-interruption insurance, "but we haven't stopped operating, so that hasn't been an issue."

With their 10 employees scattered -- six in the city, the rest in upstate New York, where Hadeka's family owns the quarry that produces the slate -- the co-owners shouldered most of the work in the days after the storm.

When faced with another hurricane warning, Tice said, "we'll probably take everything valuable out of there and put it on a higher floor or a storage facility."

In Sheepshead Bay, in southern Brooklyn, many mom-and-pop businesses were destroyed. Water gutted Istanbul Restaurant, a 17-year-old enterprise owned by Riza Atas.

The day after the storm, Istanbul's interior looked like a scene from "Titanic." Tables, chairs and settees were toppled. Plaster board and wallpaper hung from walls. Gawkers who entered stood not on a floor once made of marble and granite tiles but on shards of wood and dishes. Atas lost a great deal of meat and fish. Worse, the storm destroyed the photographs, tiles and carpets from his native Turkey that he had lovingly displayed. "We did not lose a restaurant," Atas said. "We lose Turkish culture here."

Atas said he had not yet decided whether he would reopen. He estimated he would need $200,000 and three months to do so. "If the government or city helps, we can rebuild," he said.

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