By the light of the Christmas tree at Cherry Hill Market, a Sheepshead Bay staple hard-hit by Sandy but up and running, South Brooklyn residents and small business owners met Wednesday with representatives from the mix of agencies offering help to those hurt by the storm.
The second of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz’s “One on One Sandy Recovery Workshop for Residents and Small Businesses” offered individuals the opportunity to speak to representatives and officials from FEMA, SBA (the federal government’s Small Business Association), NYC Business Solutions, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, and the Legal Aid Society.
The Assemblyman, whose website says he wants his office “to be your first stop for storm-related assistance,” has served about 100 small businesses at the two workshops. Cymbrowitz’s district includes some of South Brooklyn’s shorefront neighborhoods like Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, and Brighton Beach.
Sheepshead Bay in particular has a host of small businesses along Sheepshead Bay Road and Emmons Avenue, many of whom are still struggling to get their doors open, due to the massive damage sustained from flooding and sewer overflow. Emmons Avenue is right on the Sheepshead Bay Canal. During Hurricane Sandy, the canal overflowed, filling the restaurants with three feet of sea.
Selahattin Karakus is the owner of Masal, a large Turkish Restaurant and Lounge on the corner of Emmons Avenue and East 19th Street. He has been a business owner in the area for eleven years. He came to the workshop hoping for some help from SBA. Six weeks after the hurricane, he still hasn’t been able to open his doors.
“I have 35 employees,”he says, “and they are all unemployed right now.” So far, he has been paying for recovery by himself, but “it’s too much damage,” he reports. When the Hurricane hit, he stayed in the restaurant, afraid to leave it alone, and watched as the water climbed up the stairs of his livelihood. He estimates the damage at $200,000. “I hope they can help,” he says, gesturing towards the officials.
Businesses in need of assistance have a few options available to them. SBA is offering a Disaster Assistance program with loans up to $2 million. They are also offering an Economic Injury package. Both of these would be repayable over a period of 30 years at an interest rate of 4 percent. Alana Chavez, SBA Public Affairs Specialist, estimates that she helped thirty businesses on Wednesday night.
Also available to businesses are NYC Business Solutions, which offer $5,000 to $25,000 in loans, repayable at a 1 percent interest rate for a period of two years.
There are also short term “bridge loans” for someone who needs capital right away; these are then repaid when SBA loan money comes in.
One of Mayor Bloomberg’s recent initiatives to help small businesses is the creation of Business Recovery Zones. Nate Bliss is the Captain of South Brooklyn’s Recovery Zone, which includes Gerritsen Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Seagate.
“Those with access to capital are open,” Bliss reports. “These are scrappy Brooklynites. They dipped into their own pockets to serve their clientele, and there’s a real sense of pride about that.”
But others are not so lucky, and some are finding it hard to imagine further leveraging themselves when they have lost so much. “This is also the most important time of the year for retailers,” Bliss adds, explaining the biggest challenges facing businesses in the wake of the storm.
He insists New York City is not going to turn its back on its small businesses. “Small Businesses are the lifeblood of South Brooklyn. Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road and even the Amusements on Coney Island are all major contributors to the economy. They are employers. They are a major sales tax base. They are part of what makes Brooklyn Brooklyn.”