Fusion Health & Fitness gym in Long Beach opens after Sandy

Jason Kerr, owner and president of Fusion Health

Jason Kerr, owner and president of Fusion Health & Fitness in Long Beach had planned to open his new enterprise on Oct. 29, 2012, the day superstorm Sandy struck. He managed to open in mid-December, but has had to work hard to pull in clients. (March 13, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa)

For any entrepreneur, opening day is unforgettable. For Jason Kerr, it was even more so.

Kerr had been preparing for 10 months to open his Fusion Health & Fitness gym in Long Beach.

Unfortunately, the day he picked to open, Oct. 29, was the day superstorm Sandy struck.

Despite the weather forecasts, "I was still telling clients we'd be open," says Kerr, 42. He quickly realized that wouldn't be the case.

It was two days before he could even assess the damage at the East Park Avenue facility. And even though his gym's second-floor space wasn't affected, the building's first-floor electrical system was damaged. Kerr couldn't open until Dec. 17.

On top of that, about 40 percent of the potential customers in his area still aren't back in their homes, he estimates.

"I realized I not only had to deal with starting a brand-new business, which is hard enough, but now I'm dealing with a community that was completely devastated," says Kerr.

For many entrepreneurs in storm-torn communities, doing business post-Sandy is still very difficult.

PHYSICAL AND ECONOMIC LOSSES

"Many entrepreneurs, whether they're a start-up or have been long-established businesses, are finding that they have to recover both physical and economic losses in the wake of the storm," says Lucille Wesnofske, regional director of the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State College.

Being a start-up certainly makes it more challenging.

"It is particularly hard on start-up businesses, because in all probability they've invested all their money into the grand opening" and have very little reserve revenue to fall back on, notes Wesnofske.

Kerr has already invested more than $300,000 in the 3,500-square-foot facility, between retrofitting and equipment costs.

"I had business loans, investors involved," says Kerr, who has been a personal trainer for the past eight years. "I had people expecting money come Nov. 1."

When he was unable to open on time, Kerr was able to defer some payments to lenders and also snagged a Small Business Administration disaster loan to help fund operations.

He was expecting to open with 250 customers who had expressed interest in joining the gym pre-Sandy, but instead he opened with just 60.

"I've had to work really hard to get where I am now," says Kerr, who has since built the business up to 150 members and 41 training clients.

But failing wasn't an option.

He had already suffered a business loss as the result of another disaster, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the aftermath, his 10-year-old limo company suffered drastic revenue declines, and he was forced to sell the business in 2002 at a loss.

But, says Kerr, "You can't give up."

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