2 businesses face difficulties rebuilding

Maria and Tommy Asher, who owned the Village Maria and Tommy Asher, who owned the Village Nursery School in Island Park, are now converting the one-story schoolhouse that was destroyed by superstorm Sandy into a two-family home to rent. The Ashers plan to use the rent to pay taxes and the mortgage on their waterlogged home nearby. (Jan. 11, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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The economic challenges facing Long Island in Sandy's aftermath can be seen in the struggles of two small businesses.

Both are owned by a founding family's second generation; both closed because of extensive flood damage.

In the Barnum Island neighborhood of Island Park, the superstorm destroyed Village Nursery School, where 10 teachers cared for 55 students.

Owners Maria and Tommy Asher are now converting the one-story schoolhouse into a two-family home; the first tenant moves in Feb. 1. The Ashers plan to use the rent to pay taxes and the mortgage on their waterlogged home nearby.

They are constructing a one-room school in an adjacent building that also has an apartment. "We will start with five to 10 kids and see how it goes," said Tommy Asher, 42, a former New York City firefighter. "It will take 10 years to get back to where we were."

The couple, with two young children, is paying for the work with savings, Tommy Asher's $5,700-per-month disability pension from the city, a sales tax break from Nassau County and hoped-for insurance settlements. (He was injured responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.)

En route to Washington to lobby for passage of the $51-billion Sandy relief bill, Asher found out he had been turned down for a $250,000 loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. "We're just trying to survive, to move forward every day," he said.

In Babylon Village, Melissa and Frantz Laroque were able to reopen Babylon Fish & Clam restaurant and fish market. But they are counting the days until summer, when they hope crowds will again flock to their eatery -- providing the money needed to pay off the cost of storm-related fixes.

The Laroques, of Brightwaters, used funds they had set aside for winter to rebuild and to replace spoiled food. The storm damage exceeds $150,000, and the couple has yet to receive word on an SBA loan.

"We owe people money . . . One guy suggested we could pay him in food," said Melissa Laroque, 57. "But I know everything will be fine once summer gets here. We're going to make it."

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