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Small businesses hit by superstorm Sandy still struggling, Fed survey finds

In hard-hit Long Beach, several bars became makeshift

In hard-hit Long Beach, several bars became makeshift rescue stations; others organized benefits to help relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Ian J. Stark

More than six in 10 small businesses in counties hit by superstorm Sandy reported losses or were breaking even a year after the Oct. 29, 2012, deluge of water and wind, according to a new survey.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York Monday said its poll of 950 small companies in the metropolitan region found that 39 percent had operating losses and 25 percent were at break-even 12 months after Sandy. Only 36 percent were operationally profitable.

Nearly 10 percent of the businesses polled between Oct. 10 and Dec. 31, 2013, were on Long Island, a bank spokesman said. The companies had fewer than 500 employees.

A year after Sandy, the biggest challenges facing small businesses were uneven cash flow, followed by rising costs. Nine in 10 said they still need financing; most up to $100,000 to cover day-to-day expenses or meet customer demand.

In Island Park, restaurateur Gary Steiner is hoping for strong sales around the May 5 Cinco de Mayo holiday and through the summer to help pay debts from the rebuilding of his Pancho's Cantina. The restaurant, a fixture on Austin Boulevard, sustained more than $500,000 in damage when 3 feet of water filled the bar, dining room, kitchen and storage areas 18 months ago. Steiner and his wife, Helene, borrowed against their home and used credit cards and insurance settlements to make repairs.

"We're probably doing the same amount of business as we did before the storm," Gary Steiner said Monday. "But we are saddled with debt from Sandy. . . . This summer needs to be good."

He plans to apply for a grant from NY Rising, a state program for distributing Sandy relief funds, and hopes for additional insurance money. Insurance has covered more than half the $750,000 price tag to reopen Pancho's in March 2013.

The restaurant has about 50 employees, most of whom worked there before Sandy.

Forty-one percent of the small businesses polled by the New York Fed said they had been impacted financially by the storm, either positively or negatively. Twenty-two percent had losses of more than $100,000, primarily because of lower sales and loss of power. Eight percent reported a sales windfall; most were in the construction industry.

Erica Chase-Gregory, acting director of the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State College, said the poll reflected the circumstances of downtowns in Long Beach, Freeport, Lindenhurst and other communities ravaged by Sandy.

If businesses "are break-even, they are lucky," she said. "They are just holding on."

Chase-Gregory and others urged small-business owners to apply for assistance through NY Rising, if they haven't already done so. Center counselors can be reached at 631-420-2765.

Chase-Gregory said, "Help is still available. . . . I hope to see more money awarded in the next six months."

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