Many small businesses along First and Second avenues in Spanish Harlem that were damaged by the flood reopened Wednesday but had few customers, providing little salve to make up for their losses.
Most of the restaurants, delis, laundromats and other businesses along the once-thriving avenues had pumped out the water from basements, cleaned the debris from their first floor storefronts, and took stock of damaged and lost inventories.
While many residents in the area returned to work and salaries elsewhere, many of the small-business owners found themselves having paid high costs and still bringing in little income — and worried whether the insurance they had would make up for all their losses.
East Harlem resident Jason Kim said that the busiest days at his laundry and dry cleaning business are Monday and Tuesday, when the storm was most destructive. “I opened the store on Wednesday morning, but hardly anyone came,” Kim said. “I’ve lost about $4,500 worth of business in two days.”
Leslie Urrutia, manager of a Halloween costume store on East 93rd Street, said she had the same problems. She said ordinarily they would have more customers around this time of the year. “We are a pop-up store and we open a couple of weeks before Halloween each year. Our most crucial two days, we were closed.”
While her store remained open for the entire day on Wednesday, she said her sales figures show a sharp drop compared with Halloween day last year.
In two days, the store brings in about $10,000 worth of business. “We’ve done about a fifth of that figure this year,” Urrutia said.
Business owners like Aman Singh have a similar story. Singh, who lives in New Jersey, owns a deli in East Harlem and another store downtown. “I have no electricity at home or at my store downtown,” he said. “My brother and I went and opened our store downtown for a few hours selling flashlights, batteries and other essentials. But we couldn’t function for long,”
Singh said that while he is losing business downtown, his East Harlem store has picked up since the hurricane blew over Tuesday. “Most of the neighboring delis are closed. So people who would usually go there are coming to my store instead,” he said.
Meanwhile the flooding has made it harder for some businesses to recover. In addition to remaining shut, many of the businesses had to deal with goods damaged in flooded basements. “The road to recovery for them, will be an uphill one,” said Singh.
Business owners are also facing another problem: an acute shortage of staff members. Singh said limited public transportation service cut off six of his workers who were not able to come to work. “Until the subways start, I doubt my staff members will come,” he said.
Urrutia said that she too faced the same problem. “Most of our employees come from the Bronx,” she said. “They haven’t been able to come to work because of the lack of transportation.”
Even though the storm put many New York City businesses out of operation earlier in the week, Kim said he is confident that it will pick up again in a few days. Urrutia said she too felt the same way. “Businesses will recover as soon as life goes back to normal,” she said. “Since the area didn’t suffer major damage, we are sure that things will go back to normal soon enough.”
While small businesses are bearing the brunt of the hurricane, established businesses were spared many of these problems. “We do about $2,000 worth of business every day,” said Nigel Barret, who oversees a UPS outlet on Second Avenue. “Today feels like an average day.”
“We had very little water seep into our basement. Plus shipments were sent out before the storm and the remaining stored here,” Barret said. “But due to minimal damages, we suffered no losses.”