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For Westchester County, Hurricane Sandy’s Effects Still Felt

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Hurricane Sandy rolled through Westchester County two years ago this October, leaving a trail of devastation that the governor’s office estimated cost the county and its residents upwards of half a billion dollars. Small business owners were among the most affected, but in the years following the storm, they’ve also proved a portrait of resilience as they continue to rebuild their lives and livelihoods in the wake of an unprecedented disaster.

Shawn Dyer, Managing Partner of the Tennis Club of Hastings, saved a flagging business struggling to get back on its feet: 

“After Hurricane Sandy, the Har-Tru on the tennis courts was completely washed away; the air structures were covered in mud from being underwater; the deck overlooking the Hudson River was gone. My partner and I leased it from the original owner and replaced or repaired everything. It cost us about half a million dollars. There was a client base here before, but, when we reopened eight months after the storm, it was very tough to rebuild those relationships. We only had 64 summer members all of last summer, but this summer we had almost 300. We just finished rebuilding the deck and had our first party on it. We’ve properly insured ourselves, repositioned some equipment. We’ve taken precautions to make sure that if it does happen again, getting back up and running would be a quick process.” 

John Ambrose, co-owner of Seaside Johnnies and the Pier Restaurant & Tiki Bar near Rye Playland, says he felt obligated to reopen his popular coastal hangouts on schedule:

“We had eight feet of water in our basement at Seaside Johnnies. When the water did eventually subside, we ended up with tons of sand in there, too. It took six guys with buckets and shovels a month to get rid of it. Over at the Pier, our freezer got blown to smithereens, so we had a couple thousand pounds of shrimp strewn across the sea walk area. We financed the restoration ourselves and immediately gathered a crew of people to put Humpty Dumpty back together again—we felt an obligation to open on schedule for the following beach season. If we had waited for the insurance company to cut us a check, we would have never opened in 2013. Either way, attendance at Playland was way down in 2013 [people didn’t know it was open], and it had a damaging effect on our business. [This year was] a whole different ballgame. We have a brand new boardwalk at Playland, and things are back to normal. I would never consider going elsewhere.”

Rex Gedney of Crozier Gedney Architects, P.C., is focused on planning for the future, and not just for his clients:

“With more and more frequent storm events, raising homes became a growing part of our business. People are lifting their houses and taking extra precautions to prevent possible damage. The government has also become much more restrictive of what you can do—if renovations exceed 50 percent of the market value of the property, you have to bring the entire structure up to compliance. We’ve lifted several buildings in low-lying coastal areas like Rye and Mamaroneck. Our own office has flooded three times in four years. It’s very disruptive to the business. Plus, our flood-insurance premiums tripled from pre-Sandy to post-Sandy. We decided it was time to [protect our property] ourselves. The project began in April of 2014, and it’s nearing completion now.”

John Cornelius, a business analyst at the Small Business Development Center in Yonkers, reminds us that even two years later, some people are still struggling:

“Development centers like ours are the face of the HUD’s New York Rising program, which offers small businesses grants of $50,000 and low-interest loans for disaster recovery, and it’s still very active. It’s mostly restaurants, marinas, shops doing industrial work along the Hudson River. We’ve helped hundreds of businesses, and there are absolutely still businesses out there that need help. The majority of the people we’re working with are up and running again, but they’re not at the level they were.”

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