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New York cafes, shops slammed by Sandy struggle back to business

Destruction from Hurricane Sandy in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, is pictured in this Red Cross handout photo taken November 4, 2012. RE
Destruction from Hurricane Sandy in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, is pictured in this Red Cross handout photo taken November 4, 2012. RE

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After filling dumpsters with ruined inventory, many owners of New York City's shops and restaurants find themselves waiting on emergency loans and insurance companies or trying to personally finance their recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

The progress is uneven on lower Manhattan's trendy Avenue C, which was heavily flooded during last week's historic storm.

A still unheated hardware store was doing a busy trade in clean-up supplies and equipment but a supermarket on the next block was still closed and in disarray a week and a half after Sandy flooded its basement and sales floor. A bar and beer shop across the street was open, but serving a limited menu to fewer than usual customers.

"We don't have the product to sell and we don't have the people to sell it to," said Zach Mack, a co-owner of the ABC Beer Co, which flooded last week, knocking out electricity for days.

The massive storm whipped ashore on October 29 and caused widespread flooding in New York and New Jersey, leading up to as much as $50 billion in economic losses. The recovery effort, already hampered by lingering power outages and fuel shortages, was dealt another setback this week when a Nor'easter blew through, delivering the area's first snowfall of the season.

With telephone landlines still down, businesses here say they are losing potential sales because they cannot accept credit-card payments and typically insist on cash only.

Replenishment of ruined stock and equipment is moving slowly, as many suppliers have themselves lost merchandise in flooded warehouses and deliveries were halted when trucks either were damaged or unable to find gas after the crippling storm.

"It's compounded by the fact that people around here are getting their own lives back in order, so they're not into going back out yet," Mack said, although Election Night drew a decent crowd to his business.

Like other neighborhood business owners, Mack said he was applying for emergency loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, a federal agency, and the city.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg increased to $25,000 each the emergency loans available to small- and medium-sized businesses affected by Sandy, and they are interest-free for the first six months. About 1,000 businesses have inquired about the loans, a spokeswoman for the mayor said.

On Friday morning, more than 200 business owners crowded a neighborhood community center gymnasium to learn how to apply for loans from the city and the SBA, which offers low-interest loans of up to $2 million. Many had complaints about utility companies and said grants rather than loans should be available.

After spending the weekend filling a dumpster with flood-damaged merchandise, hardware store owner Monica Pedreros said she would rather dip into her savings than take out an emergency loan, saying she could not afford new debt.

Laura Tribuno, co-owner of a nearby Austrian-cuisine restaurant that reopened with a scaled-down menu, said she had applied to see if she was eligible for emergency loans but was undecided as to whether they were worth incurring interest.

Business owners on Avenue C say they have begun to file insurance claims but some are hamstrung by everything from phone and Internet outages to the absence of accounting staff still dealing with their own personal crises from the deadly storm.

For now, businesses are relying on their customers and the generosity of others. Many business owners said vendors have offered to give them more time to repay invoices, and that complete strangers have arrived on their doorsteps, some already wearing gloves, masks and boots, offering to help drain basements and drag ruined equipment to the curb.

"They made what seemed like an insurmountable task go by a lot faster," Mack said.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)

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