Bureaucratic processes never cease to amaze me in the length of time they take to transpire.
My partner and I own a 20 year old business located in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. It’s a small event management company handling all types of occasions from Baptisms and Brises to Weddings and 50th Anniversaries – corporate or private parties – large or small, no difference. We are located right across the street from Gargiulo’s Restaurant, a 106 year old Brooklyn staple. That restaurant/catering hall has been in my partner’s family since 1965, family owned and operated.
On October 29, 2012, all of our day-to-day routines were swept out with the tide – literally! Hurricane Sandy moved in, bringing over five feet of water from Coney Island Creek first then the tidal surge from the ocean. All of Coney Island was covered with water and sand from the shore to the Belt Parkway. Not one property was spared.
Cousins had flooded basements; one cousin lost his beachfront home to the ravages of the Atlantic; at least a dozen personal vehicles all sunk; over 10 inches of water on the entire frst floor of the restaurant which is elevated over four feet from street level; a 10 foot tall basement, over 20,000 square feet, filled to the ceiling with sea water.
And then there was our store.
All of our stock had just been delivered. We had some of the best opportunities and events of our careers during the week previous to the storm – a soup-to-nuts First birthday party with a Halloween theme, American Cancer Society called us to due giant arches in Central Park at the start and finish lines of their main New York City fund raising walk, complete balloon decorations on the set of Rachel Ray for her Halloween show. It all seems like a blur at this point – so far removed from our reality now. Counters cracked the front door, items that had been raised up all fell to the floor and were sunk in over five feet of water, all balloon inflating equipment under water, almost all of the stock of balloons we owned gone. Not even the drawer of scissors survived.
We were done.
The day after the storm, my partner and I decided to close. Everything that was ruined by the salt water went into the garbage. Someone came by and told us that FEMA was in the area and we should go speak to them, which we did. It seemed surreal to me – we had vacationed in New Orleans a year before and to be sitting outside the same trailers we had heard about from the residents of the Big Easy was almost too much to bear. My partner was upbeat – positive even. All I wanted to do was cry.
With a restless night’s sleep in a home with no power, we came in the next day and decided to reopen because the representatives at the FEMA trailer sounded so upbeat. We would apply to the SBA and to the NYCEDC – we would be helped. Our staff stepped up and cleaned out the entire store – the young kids who had walked into our store looking for a job years before stood in front of us and told us that “We were in this together” and that they would help us rebuild. We knew we could work as long as we had a pair of scissors, a helium tank and some balloons. And that is what we did.
As we had back in 2001, after the September 11th attacks on our city, we got back to business. Back in 2001, our bank representatives showed up less than a month later to sign off on “Bridge Loans” available from the government to “help us recover”. Then, Coney Island didn’t seem to us like a terrorist’s target but the money came in and we were able to strengthen our business with the SBA behind us. This time, the SBA was behind us – basically kicking us while we were down.
All paperwork filed, interviews and meetings kept. Over thirty phone calls and hundreds of pages later – I am the proud owner of a denial letter from the NYCEDC (too high a risk), a denial letter from the SBA (we didn’t make a large enough profit in 2011) and a final denial from a private program as we owned property – no way to get the funds we needed to rebuild.
We were told we could reapply and appeal decisions. Any money we have made has gone to pay for the new electrical panel, new walls and insulation, new doors and moldings. Jim Parker and over 30 members of BalloonPlanet.com raised money to help us restock our balloon inventory. We received a $500 grant from the Alliance for Coney Island and a “Pay It Forward” grant of $1000 from LiteWing Naturals in New Jersey. These grants have helped us immensely – our thanks will never be enough to repay their kindness and thoughfulness.
But as for my faith in government sponsored programs that are designed to help those who need it most, I can tell you this: I was always told to do good and good would be returned. My partner and I have always tried to do the right thing – we’ve always tried to be fair, honest, supportive of our staff, eager to work for and help others. That is one thing that will never change.
My faith on the promises of our government programs? Swept away with Superstorm Sandy.
Lessons learned? Rely on yourself, treasure those that support you, work hard and pray for sunshine.
Please read the article below for information on the statistics the SBA and NYCEDC claim as “good percentages”.