Broken promises and Superstorm Sandy
Bureaucratic processes never cease to amaze me by how long they take to pass.
My partner and I own a 20 year old business located in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. It is a small event management company that takes care of all kinds of occasions, from baptisms and brises to weddings and 50 anniversaries, corporate or private parties, large or small, without differences. We are located right across the street from Gargiulo’s Restaurant, a 106 year old Brooklyn classic. That restaurant / banquet hall has been in my partner’s family since 1965, and is family owned and operated.
On October 29, 2012, all of our daily routines were washed away by the tide – literally! Hurricane Sandy came closer, bringing more than five feet of water from Coney Island Creek first and then ocean surge. All of Coney Island was covered in water and sand from the shore to the Belt Parkway. No property was saved.
Cousins had flooded the cellars; a cousin lost his beachfront home to the ravages of the Atlantic; at least a dozen personal vehicles all sunk; more than 10 inches of water on the entire first floor of the restaurant that rises more than four feet from street level; a 10 foot tall basement, over 20,000 square feet, filled to the roof with seawater.
And then there was our store.
All of our stock had just been delivered. We had some of the best opportunities and events of our careers during the week before the storm – a Halloween-themed nut soup birthday party, the American Cancer Society called us to make giant arches in Central Park early on, and finish lines of her main fundraising walk in New York City, complete balloon decorations on the set of Rachel Ray for her Halloween show. Everything seems blurry at this point, so far removed from our current reality. The counters smashed the front door, the items that had been lifted all fell to the floor and plunged into more than five feet of water, all the equipment for inflating balloons under the water, almost all the balloons we had disappeared. Not even the scissors drawer survived.
We were done.
The day after the storm, my partner and I decided to close. Everything that was ruined by the salt water went to the trash. Someone came and told us that FEMA was in the area and that we should go talk to them, which we did. It seemed surreal to me – we’d been on vacation in New Orleans a year earlier and sitting in front of the same trailers we’d heard from Big Easy residents was almost too much to bear. My partner was optimistic, even positive. All I wanted to do was cry.
With a restless night’s sleep in a house without power, we arrived the next day and decided to reopen because the representatives in the FEMA trailer sounded so optimistic. We would petition the SBA and NYCEDC; they would help us. Our staff came over and cleaned the entire store – young children who had come into our store looking for work years before stood in front of us and told us that “we were in this together” and that they would help us rebuild. We knew we could work as long as we had scissors, a helium tank, and some balloons. And that’s what we did.
As we did in 2001, after the September 11 attacks in our city, we went back to work. In 2001, our bank representatives showed up less than a month later to sign the “bridge loans” available from the government to “help us get back on it.” So Coney Island didn’t seem like a terrorist target to us, but the money came in and we were able to strengthen our business with the SBA behind us. This time, the SBA was behind us, basically kicking us while we were down.
All archived paperwork, interviews and meetings held. Over thirty phone calls and hundreds of pages later: I am the proud owner of a denial letter from NYCEDC (too high a risk), a denial letter from the SBA (we didn’t make a big enough profit in 2011) final denial of a private program since we owned a property – there was no way to get the funds we needed to rebuild.
We were told that we could reapply and appeal the decisions. All the money we have earned has gone to pay for the new electrical panel, new walls and insulation, new doors and trim. Jim Parker and more than 30 members of BalloonPlanet.com raised money to help us restock our balloon inventory. We received a $ 500 grant from the Alliance for Coney Island and a $ 1000 “Pay It Forward” grant from LiteWing Naturals in NJ. These grants have helped us tremendously; our thanks will never be enough to compensate for your kindness and consideration.
But as for my faith in government sponsored programs that are designed to help those who need it most, I can tell you this: I was always told to do good and that good would be returned. My partner and I have always tried to do the right thing: we have always tried to be fair, honest, supportive of our staff, eager to work and help others. That is something that will never change.
My faith in the promises of our government programs? Swept away by Superstorm Sandy.
Learned lessons? Trust yourself, treasure those who support you, work hard, and pray for sunshine.