January 24, 2013 at 15:50 PM EST
Funds go to small biz hurt by Sandy
For Triciann Botta, $5,000 means the chance to replace a storm-damaged awning and attract some precious foot traffic into her Red Hook wine shop. Ms. Botta was among the first to apply for a grant from the Department of Small Business Services. SBS on Wednesday announced that Barclays, Citi and UBS had jointly contributed $1 million to be disbursed in grants of up to $5,000 to businesses damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Barclays contributed half of the funding, while Citi and UBS each contributed $250,000. Ms. Botta and her husband Jeffrey own Botta Di Vino. The store's basement flooded during the storm. The Bottas were able to repair most of the damage, but they don't have the money to fix the awning because the storm caused her customer base to dry up. Many of the neighborhood's residents are still not back in their homes. One of Red Hook's biggest draw, a Fairway at the end of Van Brunt Street, has yet to reopen. Ms. Botta said the Fairway brought around 26,000 people to the neighborhood every week. Under normal circumstances, the Bottas would be making between $15,000 and $20,000 a week in sales. Since reopening after the storm, they've been earning between $5,000 and $7,000. "It's been pretty hard to be here day to day and sell a few bottles a day," Ms. Botta said. "We can't go spending money on our awning right now." Cowgirl Seahorse, a restaurant at the South Street Seaport, was closed for a month after the storm, said owner Sherry Delamarter. For her, the grant money will make a small dent in her $250,000 loss. The money could make up for costs in any number of areas, she said. It could buy a heating unit she needs, since she can't put up a protective screen while Front Street undergoes repairs. It could fix a piece of damaged equipment. "Five thousand dollars will replace the $25,000 we lost in our refrigerator," Ms. Delamarter said. By Thursday afternoon, more than 40 businesses had applied for the grant, said SBS Commissioner Robert Walsh. He said he hopes to raise more grant money once the initial $1 million is allocated. He said the amount, though small, can replace an essential piece of equipment or fill a gap in losses that were not insured. "It makes a heck of a difference if they have money like this that is flexible," Mr. Walsh said. Having the funding be a grant rather than a loan also increases its impact, said Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Council. "Obviously it's not going to rebuild a business, but it's free money," Mr. Bronstein said. Still, $5,000 only goes so far, said Robert Kaskel. His restaurant, Thai Rock, sits on a pier in Rockaway Beach. About five feet of water came into the restaurant, causing about $1.2 million in damage. "Five grand is kind of like a rounding error," he said. "I still applied for it."
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