Piermont businesses scramble back in time for the holidays

The wineglasses are clinking and casual chatter is flowing again at the Freelance Cafe and Winebar in Piermont, not three weeks after Hurricane Sandy blasted through the Hudson Valley and knocked the restaurant out of business -- for a while.

The Hudson River surged into the restaurant's basement, forcing the owner to install a new electrical system and replace crucial equipment. The Freelance typically brings in between $3,000 and $5,000 in revenue each day, said Evan Edelbaum, 46, acting manager of the bistro on Piermont Avenue. That added up to $70,000 in lost business alone.

"We just buckled down and did what we had to do," Edelbaum said. "We were closed for two-and-a-half weeks. We got a plumber, electrician, everybody out here really fast. It was a big rush for everybody's sake: the restaurant, the workers, and even the town. This is our busy time, during the holidays, and we needed to pick back up."


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Shops and restaurants in the village's business district have been scrambling to get back on their feet in time for their holiday rush.

STRUGGLING TO RUN THE SHOP

For the last three years, Sheryl Fuhrmann, 59, has owned Paws By The River on Round House Road -- a pet store that sells novelties like glow in the dark collars and pooch-sized New York Giants and New York Jets jerseys. Her business was shuttered for two weeks after the storm due to power outages. While the store did not suffer any water damage, her home on Piermont Avenue wasn't so lucky, and that had consequences for the business.

"It's overwhelming," Fuhrmann said. "In trying to get things back together, you do as much as you can. My house was flooded. I lost two cars. That's why I can't be in the store because I have to tend to my house."

Jeri Leibman, a friend of Fuhrmann's, volunteered to run the shop so it could stay open during the busy holiday time.

"With Jeri being here, it's helped me tremendously," Fuhrmann said. "This is the last rush before the winter comes in and we can't afford to stay closed."

Abigail Rose and Lily Too, a ladies clothing boutique owned by longtime Piermont businesswoman Bonnie Chapin, reopened last week, after electricity was restored. Chapin used space heaters for days, until the heat came back on.

'THIS IS OUR BIG SEASON'

"This is our big season right now, running into the end of December," said Chapin. "It was hard to be out of business for two weeks because you're not seeing any revenue. You just can't go on like that."

Chapin estimated her loss of business could be as high as $18,000.

"For a small store like this, it's a lot," she said.

But not everyone is up and running yet. With a screwdriver in hand, David Gerhardt, 53 -- owner of Gerhardt's Automotive Repair on Piermont Avenue -- fixed a screen door while his workers continued to clean out his ravaged garage.

"Black Friday would normally be a busy day, especially when kids are home from college and they want work done on their cars," Gerhardt said. "But I'm missing out on that. The holidays are a busy time and then the slow time comes in January. Now is when you need to be a squirrel and store the nuts for winter."

Frustrated, Gerhardt said he is anxiously waiting on insurance adjusters to see what the total figures are to rebuild and what costs will be covered.

"FEMA is a waste, they hand you over to the Small Business Administration and they send you this big packet for a loan," Gerhardt said. "Their low interest rate is at 4 percent, but I can go down to the bank and get one for 3.66 percent. Why waste my time?"

HOPES TO OPEN BY DECEMBER

When it comes to estimating the costs in damages or loss of business at the shop his family has owned since 1938, Gerhardt can't guesstimate.

"That's not even something I can think about," he said. "I'd probably cry if I did."

He hopes to be open by the first week of December.

Merchants in Piermont are hoping Saturday will bring an influx of visitors. The day after Black Friday now marks the annual Small Business Saturday -- a promotional day driven by American Express to bring attention to mom and pop shops around the country.

"I hope that people do come out to Piermont. Most of our stores are open," Edelbaum said. "I think in this town, everyone could use a boost. There's so many of us who were affected."

Chapin said she had sent out a promotional email offering customers 10 percent off any purchases over the weekend.

She was hoping Small Business Saturday will work for her business.

"We've all been devastated and we could all benefit from it."

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