The owner of the nearly century old Thatched Cottage catering hall in Centerport has filed for bankruptcy protection, but has assured clients that events at the popular wedding venue will take place.
Ralph Colamussi said he filed for Chapter 11 so his business could stay open while his debt is reorganized. He cited costs associated with damage from Tropical Storm Irene and superstorm Sandy.
"I would have had to cancel on 150 brides," he said, if he closed. "Instead . . . I am battling the storm on my own to make everyone happy."
Town business leaders said it's important the local landmark on Mill Pond stays open. The Thatched Cottage Caterers at the Bay has hosted numerous weddings, some of Long Island's first same-sex proms, and many bar and bat mitzvahs, and political and civic events.
"It is literally part of the fabric of the community," said Robert Bontempi, co-chairman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce.
The East Main Street business opened in 1915 as a restaurant. Colamussi purchased it about 26 years ago, running it as a restaurant and catering facility before closing the restaurant.
It flooded during both storms, sustaining damage to floors, walls, electrical, carpeting, and the heating and air conditioning systems. Wind took part of the roof, Colamussi said.
Colamussi, 58, of Centerport, said he decided to keep the business open and borrow money, including a second mortgage on the business, to pay for the damage, anticipating a federal small-business loan and insurance monies.
Since he hasn't received much of the funds, Colamussi said, he filed for Chapter 11 on Jan. 2 because he "needed some breathing room."
But his filing does not reflect a trend among businesses and individuals seeking protection since Sandy. On Long Island, there were 100 Chapter 11 bankruptcy applications on file a year before Sandy hit; and a year after, that number fell to 81.
"It's not to say they weren't affected by the storm, just that bankruptcy doesn't present a way to necessarily help them," said Jil Mazer-Marino, a partner at the Garden City law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, whose specialties include bankruptcy. She said she has seen more businesses trying to work with existing lenders outside the courtroom to stay open.
Colamussi's attorney, Avrum Rosen of Huntington, said his client refinanced his property shortly before Irene hit in August 2011, and part of that process included making sure he had proper insurance. Colamussi paid for the flood insurance, but the broker failed to put it in place, Rosen said.
Colamussi's application for a Small Business Administration loan was rejected because he lacked flood insurance when the storm hit. But he appealed and is expecting a low-interest, $2 million loan from the agency.
Colamussi again borrowed money to complete repairs after Sandy hit in October 2012, bringing the total for both storms to about $3 million. Colamussi also owes about $630,000 in state sales tax, Rosen said.
He said he hopes to emerge from bankruptcy and looks forward to the 100th anniversary of the business in 2015. "This is my love, this is my life," he said.