Posts tagged NYCEDC
HURRICANE SANDY RECOVERY UPDATE:
This is to let you all know the status of our “recovery” as we close out the 10th month after the storm…
I just got off the phone with NYS & NYC offices for various “Recovery Programs”. My conversation with the representative of both agencies ended with this statement – “I couldn’t get any luckier if I stood in the middle of a field with a metal pole in my hands” – we applied to every program the State of New York offered and luckily, our last application went in on March 24th – the following week, the State turned over all applications for city based businesses and homeowners to NYC.
Guess what?? “Some of the thousands of applications were actually lost in the transfer” is the answer I was told. Upon further investigation and tracking of my application registration number, we have determined that our application was, you got it, LOST!
So while I harbor no animosity toward the staff at any of these agencies that go home every pay period with a paycheck, NO ONE in the State or City bureaucratic machine gets the idea that we, small and micro businesses literally swamped by this storm have been breaking our backs, going without, exhausting savings, and standing by aimlessly as we watch everything we’ve built for years, even decades, ebb away. Who cares about the year round community as long as rides are running and people can lay on a beach? Coney Island looks like a ghost town when many of those businesses never even bothered to open again. And by the way, even the few businesses that have qualified for the “Emergency Loans” have yet to see the money – 10 months later!! Some emergency!!
So our status? Contrary to what some may believe, we did not “hit the lottery:, we are not “sitting on our winnings”, and no, Sandy wasn’t “the best thing that could have ever happened to us” (all things I have heard from people who think we made out like bandits!) Disappointed by a system designed to fail the people who it was supposed to serve – you know, the ones that pay the corporate taxes, payroll taxes, providing year round jobs and stable foundations in a city we have been born into, immigrated to, raised in and supported. Doesn’t matter who is in charge – what a disappointment to not even be allowed to BORROW ourselves into oblivion to try to get back on our feet.
By now, most people (at least those in the Northeast) are familiar with the commercials featuring the jingle, “Cause we’re stronger than the storm”. Running on both TV and radio, the driving rythmn of this promotion makes you stop and take note.
The Jersey shore is back as they boast in the commercial – even Governor Chris Christie and his family appear, the state’s biggest cheerleaders, reiterating the jingle – not even a storm can hold back the spirit of the Jersey-ites! But let’s be honest here, stronger? It sounds nice, positive, and downright optimistic. However, for most homeowners, small business owners and people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time last October, the word “stronger” brings more sarcastic humor to the table than anything else.
My scorecard from Superstorm Sandy?
Three cousins with completely destroyed basements – every momento, appliance, and memory – gone in an instant. One cousin’s house was almost completely destroyed by the Atlantic Ocean. Over one dozen cars, both personal and those used for business – flooded. A 105 year old business flooded – its first and basement floors rendered useless. The business my partner and I put every ounce of our effort into for 20 years, gone along with every piece of equipment. Buildings so damaged that going back down to brick was the only solution.
Now after most of the repairs have been done, let’s talk about how the government sponsored programs have worked for us “victims”.
There was a tremendous amount of money “set aside” by the Federal government for people that were the latest victims of Mother Nature’s wrath. The United States Senate passed a $50.5 billion aid package and a $9.7 billion increase in national flood insurance in early January. Sandy victims were told that $60.2 billion was indeed set aside for them and financial rescue would be on its way. Then the rejection letters started piling in.
Any program, whether on the state level or the Federal level came with it a huge amount of paperwork. Funny how in the first few days, the paperwork was downplayed and every FEMA/SBA worker, every NYCEDC staffer, Congressmen, City Council Members and any other dignitary who was around at that time, reassured the “victims” that they would indeed be “there for all of you”. The money was allocated and once approved, we would be able to come back “stronger than before”, kind of like the jingle says.
People who open a small business are told that most businesses fail within the first year or two. I have watched businesses that were “in business” for 3, 5, 10, 20 years or more struggle over the last few years – from terrorist attacks to economic downturn to the “bubble of the week” that burst and now, a 100 year storm. A good number of these businesses tried every way to get approval from whatever agency would listen. A lot just never reopened. The required paperwork assumes that every person in a small business has enough time in the course of their day to be completely caught up with their record keeping, invoicing and debt totals and the ability to continue a clean-up, the likes of which most people should never have to see in their lifetime’s while trying to maintain their business footing in a very competitive market during “iffy” economic times and corral the required financial paperwork. And to boot, a lot of businesses have all their property on one level – so most paperwork, financials, computers and more were swept out with the tide, making compliance almost impossible. In Coney Island, 98 “micro businesses” came back after the Superstorm – over 75% of those businesses footing their own bill – no help, no loans, no grants (save for a $500 dollar grant from the Alliance for Coney Island).
The point of this article is not to cry over what has happened. The purpose of this article is to warn small and microbusiness owners. The days of the pizza man with his receipts in a shoe box are not ever going to go away – let’s face it, some businesses are just that small and although most people couldn’t live without their computers, there are still many people in business that rely on support staff or other professionals to pull it all together once or twice a year. Even so, accounting software, tax laws, credit applications and government filings are a daunting process. Stay on top of your business’ “business” – know when too much is just that – too much. Small business is a gamble even in the best of times.
Second opinions make sense when dealing with health issues; second opinions should matter where the health of your business is concerned also. Take yearly inventory or your insurance policies – liability, property, general, umbrella and don’t forget Worker’s Compensation and Disability. Make sure employee numbers and equipment purchases are noted and updated whenever they change. Make sure you “self-insure” for those things that are never supposed to happen but do. It may not be a lot that you can put away, but the rainy day can come sooner than you ever expect and 3, 5, 10 or 20 years seem like a blink of the eye.
Regardless of what other community based businesses or organizations tell you, ALWAYS get involved with the community you are in. The particular industry our business has been involved in has always stressed community involvement and activism in order to spread the word about our products and services. Many years ago, we spoke to business owner’s in our community about going to Community Board meetings and Chamber of Commerce meetings – we were told that “those people” were shady and crooked and you “really didn’t want to get involved with that sort of thing”. Funny thing about that is the same people who told us not to get involved with the local groups are now “in tight” with them and (surprisingly, or not) are receiving media attention and (funnier) money. Go to those meetings, network, network, NETWORK!!! It is the key to knowing what is going on, how you can be involved and most importantly, regardless of the size of your business, you will never be “too small to be forgotten” in the eyes of your community.
One question still remains, and that would be where all the Federal Aid promised is going. New programs seem to be cropping up constantly as the money allotted still sits in Federal coffers. Hopefully, the “right thing” will be done (eventually) and sometime before the micro businesses go under for the last time (pardon the pun), help will truly arrive.
Bureaucratic processes never cease to amaze me in the length of time they take to transpire.
My partner and I own a 20 year old business located in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. It’s a small event management company handling all types of occasions from Baptisms and Brises to Weddings and 50th Anniversaries – corporate or private parties – large or small, no difference. We are located right across the street from Gargiulo’s Restaurant, a 106 year old Brooklyn staple. That restaurant/catering hall has been in my partner’s family since 1965, family owned and operated.
On October 29, 2012, all of our day-to-day routines were swept out with the tide – literally! Hurricane Sandy moved in, bringing over five feet of water from Coney Island Creek first then the tidal surge from the ocean. All of Coney Island was covered with water and sand from the shore to the Belt Parkway. Not one property was spared.
Cousins had flooded basements; one cousin lost his beachfront home to the ravages of the Atlantic; at least a dozen personal vehicles all sunk; over 10 inches of water on the entire frst floor of the restaurant which is elevated over four feet from street level; a 10 foot tall basement, over 20,000 square feet, filled to the ceiling with sea water.
And then there was our store.
All of our stock had just been delivered. We had some of the best opportunities and events of our careers during the week previous to the storm – a soup-to-nuts First birthday party with a Halloween theme, American Cancer Society called us to due giant arches in Central Park at the start and finish lines of their main New York City fund raising walk, complete balloon decorations on the set of Rachel Ray for her Halloween show. It all seems like a blur at this point – so far removed from our reality now. Counters cracked the front door, items that had been raised up all fell to the floor and were sunk in over five feet of water, all balloon inflating equipment under water, almost all of the stock of balloons we owned gone. Not even the drawer of scissors survived.
We were done.
The day after the storm, my partner and I decided to close. Everything that was ruined by the salt water went into the garbage. Someone came by and told us that FEMA was in the area and we should go speak to them, which we did. It seemed surreal to me – we had vacationed in New Orleans a year before and to be sitting outside the same trailers we had heard about from the residents of the Big Easy was almost too much to bear. My partner was upbeat – positive even. All I wanted to do was cry.
With a restless night’s sleep in a home with no power, we came in the next day and decided to reopen because the representatives at the FEMA trailer sounded so upbeat. We would apply to the SBA and to the NYCEDC – we would be helped. Our staff stepped up and cleaned out the entire store – the young kids who had walked into our store looking for a job years before stood in front of us and told us that “We were in this together” and that they would help us rebuild. We knew we could work as long as we had a pair of scissors, a helium tank and some balloons. And that is what we did.
As we had back in 2001, after the September 11th attacks on our city, we got back to business. Back in 2001, our bank representatives showed up less than a month later to sign off on “Bridge Loans” available from the government to “help us recover”. Then, Coney Island didn’t seem to us like a terrorist’s target but the money came in and we were able to strengthen our business with the SBA behind us. This time, the SBA was behind us – basically kicking us while we were down.
All paperwork filed, interviews and meetings kept. Over thirty phone calls and hundreds of pages later – I am the proud owner of a denial letter from the NYCEDC (too high a risk), a denial letter from the SBA (we didn’t make a large enough profit in 2011) and a final denial from a private program as we owned property – no way to get the funds we needed to rebuild.
We were told we could reapply and appeal decisions. Any money we have made has gone to pay for the new electrical panel, new walls and insulation, new doors and moldings. Jim Parker and over 30 members of BalloonPlanet.com raised money to help us restock our balloon inventory. We received a $500 grant from the Alliance for Coney Island and a “Pay It Forward” grant of $1000 from LiteWing Naturals in New Jersey. These grants have helped us immensely – our thanks will never be enough to repay their kindness and thoughfulness.
But as for my faith in government sponsored programs that are designed to help those who need it most, I can tell you this: I was always told to do good and good would be returned. My partner and I have always tried to do the right thing – we’ve always tried to be fair, honest, supportive of our staff, eager to work for and help others. That is one thing that will never change.
My faith on the promises of our government programs? Swept away with Superstorm Sandy.
Lessons learned? Rely on yourself, treasure those that support you, work hard and pray for sunshine.
Please read the article below for information on the statistics the SBA and NYCEDC claim as “good percentages”.