Storms come and go, but Hurricane Sandy left a mark on Bayonne businesses and recovery will take time – and money.
As a captain on the Bayonne Fire Department, Mickey Czok had to work the day Hurricane Sandy hit, part of a city-wide and even a regional effort to help residents and others that were in dire need. As owner of The Starting Point tavern on Avenue A and West First Street, he didn’t realize how bad the business got hit until the next day after the storm.
“The day after the storm, I had to go to work,” he said. “I came in here before I went to work. I looked in, and it looked like someone had come in and thrown everything all over the place. So I said, all right, I’ve got some cleaning up to do. So then I went behind the bar. I had a reach in the bottle cooler that holds sixteen cases of beer. They filled it up the night before. That thing was upside down. I went, ‘Oh my God, how much water was in here?’ Then I went to get something out of a drawer and the drawer was full of water. So I went back to the kitchen and couldn’t get into the kitchen.”
Apparently the hallway was at a low point and a number of things had flowed into the hall and blocked the entrance.
“I said, ‘Let me just get out of here,’” he said. “That night I realized I was in for more than I thought. I went outside and my walk-in box was in pieces. The water just lifted it up and moved it away from the building, then broke it up. So I said, ‘Let me just go to work.’ Work wasn’t much fun, but it was better than here.”
This was only half the bad news, since his home – located on the east side of Bayonne – also got hit as rising water off New York Harbor brought water with an oil slick into his house. Anything on the floor was lost, giving him a unique perspective on the woes businesspeople and homeowners face. Insurance companies aren’t even calling him back on his house.
“FEMA helped me out a little bit there. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough,” he said. “We have to buy everything.”
This was particularly true at the tavern where insurance companies played phone tag and FEMA offered no grants, just loans.
Everything but the album covers on the walls was lost.
“Another couple of inches and they wouldn’t have made it either,” he said.
Although according to Frank Robinson of the New Jersey Industry and Businessman’s Association, this may change in the upcoming weeks, but at the time, FEMA wasn’t helping commercial properties.
Grants are being made available to local businesses, but that they must sign up for FEMA and Small Business Association loans in order to qualify and as much as $1 billion may be available in grants to businesses and homeowners in the state over the next few months.
Czok said FEMA offered loans and he refused them.
“They wanted to give me a low-interest loan. I told them I don’t need it; I don’t want any more debt,” he said. “I’m fighting with the insurance companies now. With one I have to contact an attorney, and with the other one, I hired a public adjuster and he’s fighting with them. They don’t return my calls.”
What did it take to get the business back up?
“I started from the beginning,” he said. “This was all gutted. Everything was lost. Nothing made it. None of my refrigeration equipment, none of my bar refrigeration, my tap system, tables, stools, chairs – everything was gone.”
He said he and his staff started working after the storm.
“I had my whole staff down here to do the demolition work,” he said. “I had no power, and had to get rid of all my stock. The walk-in the box in back, pizza oven, all the kitchen equipment, fryers, everything – gone. I have to replace it all.”
He’s owned the restaurant for 10 years.
“Dec. 6 was my 10th year anniversary, which we missed,” he said. “Everybody wants to talk and try to get a couple of beers, but I can’t go out.”
Water destroys First Street Laundromat
For Paul Jamolawicz, the owner of a Laundromat at 83 West First Street, flooding is no surprise for any business or residence living across the street from the Kill Van Kull. But with Sandy, with the unusually high tides and the rush of water from two directions, flooding came from two directions and was enough to wipe out every piece of equipment in his store.
“We had a six-foot tidal wave,” he said. It was a wave that smashed through the panes of glass and walls.
“It was total ruin,” he said. “Everything below eight feet was destroyed.”
“So all the equipment is new. We worked around the clock and it took us three months to get the place open again,” Jamolawicz said.
The hardest part, he said, was getting the old equipment out. Because the business was so far into the flood zone, insurance was expensive even though it was available. To date, Jamolawicz noted, FEMA has not been helpful. For his business, like many others in the city, he has had to foot the restoration bill with the hope that he can get enough business later in the year to justify the investment.
Making the best of a bad situation, Jamolawicz said his facility currently has the most up-to-date technology that makes his establishment the most modern in the city.
“We upgraded to state-of-the-art equipment,” he said, noting that his dryers are faster with 220g force compared to 90g before the storm. The facility is now open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
Originally opened in December 1995, the Laundromat reopened on Feb. 1 after being closed down by Sandy.
While FEMA isn’t very helpful when it comes to businesses like his, Jamolawicz has some hope that Gov. Chris Christie will put together an aid packages that may provide some relief.
“They wanted to give me a low interest loan. I told them I don’t need it; I don’t want any more debt.” – Mickey Czok
Terrence Malloy, executive director of Bayonne’s Special Improvement District and Urban Enterprise Zone said businesses in Bayonne are recovering and said that while flooding affected some businesses, most of those hurt by the storm suffered as a result of the nine-day power outage that destroyed stock and prevented customers from doing business with the establishments.
“Carvel, for example, lost their entire inventory due to the black out,” Malloy said. “What FEMA says it is covering and what it is actually covering are two vastly different things. There are gaps in system and there seems to be more help for homeowners than for businesses. Even then, there is a cap on what FEMA grants will cover, after which a homeowner must go into the loan program. The grant portion only covers the basics of what is livable, but not replaceable at the same value. Often it covers only the cheapest materials possible.”
But FEMA, Malloy said, requires people to go through insurance coverage first.
Businesses, he said, were mostly affected by the citywide power outages, and some of these damages were invisible.
“Any establishment that provided food services, such as restaurants or delis, all suffered,” he said. “While most of them are up and running again, many suffered along with inventory losses and loss of business.”
This, he said, affected the cash flow businesses rely on to maintain day to day operations. He said there is very little the UEZ or SID can do to help.
“This is not our role and given the limited resources, we have to remain more focused on improving the business environment,” Malloy said. “For example, the UEZ has made a $2 million loan to the Maidenform Project. While Maidenform doesn’t create any retail jobs, it is important that it is located a block away from Broadway. It will bring in business when completed upscale rental units are on the market and there are people with disposal income. This will bring in businesses that would cater to these residents as well. It’s not so much that we want to follow the Hoboken model – Bayonne is Bayonne. This is not a place like Hoboken where people go to socialize on Friday and Saturday nights. But it is place that has a good lifestyle, good school system, good shopping district, and good restaurants and still has ready access to downtown Jersey City, Hoboken, and the Path to New York.”
Vincent Virga, president of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce, said Sandy relief efforts for businesses is also beyond the scope of his organizations. The chamber’s function is to act as a lobby group for its membership and to seek to get the government and others do to what will help foster a better business environment.
“We have to concentrate on economic practices and to be proactive,” Virga said. “We need to provide our members with access to all the resources necessary, such as grants or other business association services.”
This would include reaching out to the Small Business Association, which is offering loans to help with Sandy relief efforts.
“SBA has established an office in the area that offers assistance and guidance,” he said.