Small Business Saturday came and went. Signs in various Washington Street storefronts urge residents to “shop local.” Even U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez echoed the message during a trip last week to Big Fun Toys on that street. Still, many Hoboken businesses need to get the word out that they are in fact open, post-Hurricane Sandy. In fact, more than 97 percent of the city’s businesses have reopened.
But shoppers seem to be unsure what is open and what isn’t. Thanks to a still-inoperable PATH station the downtown foot traffic of thousands of commuters has dwindled to a trickle. On some blocks, sidewalks still piled with storm debris cause customers to think businesses on certain streets are not open when they are.
Having suffered anywhere from one week to four weeks of lost revenue, now more than ever, businesses in Hoboken need consumers.
Advertising funds, free parking
Two recent initiatives were proposed to help boost businesses, and there are talks of others to come. Greg Dell’Aquila, president of the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that the recent funds from the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce Business Awards dinner (see story inside) will be put back into promoting local commerce.
“What I would like to see now is the city of Hoboken take a lead role in marketing. To get the message out that we are open.” – Fig Tree owner Gerry Farrelly
Additionally, the city of Hoboken, with feedback from the Chamber of Commerce, has approved free parking during the month of December in municipal garages B (28 2nd St), D (215 Hudson St) and Midtown (371 4th St) seven days a week during the month of December between the hours of 9 a.m. and midnight. To receive up to four hours of free parking, visitors must present to the parking attendant a receipt for at least $20 from any Hoboken business during these hours. Any time beyond four hours will be charged at the regular rate.
First Street awaits you
Although parts of First Street look deserted, not all of southwest Hoboken is down. The Guitar Bar, 160 First St., missed the devastation that struck between Garden Street and Park Avenue by a hair.
“People are still digging out; especially on First Street, just west of us,” owner Jim Mastro said Tuesday.
Mastro owns a second location on Eleventh Street which escaped damage. However, the recording space that Mastro also owns, The Pigeon Club on Newark Street, was destroyed beyond repair.
But the Guitar Bar locations are suffering lost revenue anyway. “A lot of our students come from New York,” said Mastro. “[Students] have put lessons aside until they can get here easier.”
Mastro said that his downtown neighbor, Luca Brasi’s Italian Deli at 100 Park Ave., recently reopened its doors.
A bright jeweler
For over 25 years, Vicki Aligo, owner of Vicki Jewelers, ran her boutique jewelry shop on Washington Street. Aligo had recently purchased a new space for the store at 1300 Grand St.
She came back after Hurricane Sandy to nearly four feet of water damage in her store, and was forced to throw everything out. “Nothing was saved. Boxes, display cases, safes, batteries, antique watches.” Aligo also suffered the loss of many possessions in her summer home in Seaside Heights.
“I had a river go right through one, and an ocean go through the other,” said Aligo.
At that point, Aligo had a choice.
“It was either I open, or I close for good,” said Aligo.
She explained that with the help of her husband Lou, many friends, her condo association, and money that she had saved, she decided to re-open.
Now Aligo finds herself in a new situation, as do other business owners in town that need to make up for lost time and have a limited budget for advertising.
“It looks like we are doing okay,” said Aligo. “But we went through hell.”
A fig tree and peach trees
The Peach Tree Hollow Commerce Center, located on Adams Street between 13th and 14th streets, is home to several businesses, including the Adventures in Learning Early Learning Center, San Giuseppe Pizza and Koko FitClub. Mike Gorman, the owner of the 15,000 square foot space named for the gargantuan peach trees of Hoboken’s past, put his complex back together on his own dime.
Gorman found at least thirty inches of water in his spaces, and even sixty-three inches in an area below ground level. Gorman had to make sure children from the day care center (Adventures in Learning now leases two spaces) could get back in.
“All these kids have parents,” said Gorman. “And all these parents have jobs they needed to get back to.”
Gorman cashed in his own personal stocks and bonds to fund rebuilding his entire complex.
“We had to get, so far, 400 sheets of sheet rock. To put in 400 sheets of sheetrock, I had to take out 400 sheets of sheet rock. We had to replace every room, every wall, all the electric, scrub, and sanitize.”
Gorman has not received aid from the government and is not sure when he will.
“Just two nights ago, I received a fax saying that the U.S. government will get to processing my claim hopefully sometime in the near future. So far I haven’t seen ten cents. I have put out a few hundred thousand dollars from my own pocket. Otherwise I would have had to tell parents to wait until I received a check.”
Gorman was able to get the day care completely up and running, the fitness club opened over the weekend (though it’s still replacing some parts) and the pizza parlor plans to re-open next week.
Though open since Nov. 7, The Fig Tree, located at 306 Park Ave, has had a hard time coming back to life. Originally opened to bring culinary sophistication to a local level, The Fig Tree owner Gerry Farrelly said there are a number of reasons that businesses are struggling.
“Everybody is trying to get back to normalcy,” said Farrelly. “[Everyone’s] normal routines were disturbed. We had a difficult economy even before this. And then, specific to us, people are taking photographs of the clean up efforts and posting them on their Facebook accounts or wherever. Then people assume you are in dire straits, even if you’re not.”
Farrelly said at The Fig Tree they were well prepared for the storm and got the water out quickly. They have been operating on a limited menu, and recently were able to go back to their full menu.
“What I would like to see now, is the city of Hoboken take a lead role in marketing. To get the message out that we are open. So they don’t see the devastation on television and just think ‘Jesus Christ.’ ”
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.