Businesses Still Waiting for Relief in the Rockaways

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Despite all the fund raising and promises of recovery, when it comes to getting small businesses in Queens up and running after Sandy, the federal government has approved 37 loans for the entire borough, while the city has given out only 28. In the Rockaways, where much of the area was without heat and power for weeks after the storm, it’s given 9 loans.

At 116th Street in Rockaway Park, Queens, Paul Ohanas runs a commercial sign and awning company, ADL USA Inc. Ohana’s store front was flooded in the storm and his $35,000 sign printer and a router for carving wood signs was destroyed in the storm. He wants to stay in this neighborhood, but said he applied for city and federal loans and was rejected by both.

“I applied everything, I give all what they need to process everything, and I didn’t get nothing from all of them, so that’s why I really lost hope,” he said.

The city’s Small Business Services (SBS) has $15 million available for emergency loans. It’s received 800 applications so far, and processed 600 for its 6-month, interest free loans of up to $25,000. It’s processed about 600 of them. But has only given out about $5.5 million to 238 businesses citywide. The approval rate is about 40 percent

Video produced by Jennifer Hsu

The federally run Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved $32.3 million in loans for Sandy-affected businesses in all of New York State. In Queens, it’s approved 37 loans to small businesses for a total of $3.6 million.

Ohana said he was rejected by the SBA and SBS because his businesses didn’t make enough money to qualify. “They let the businesses die here,” he said. “Nobody really cares about the businesses from all these organizations.”

He employs four workers and a few contractors and is seeing work trickle in, so he took out a private loan to cover the $18,000 he needed to replace the circuits in one of his printers. But he’s worried it won’t be enough.

Robert Walsh, the city’s commissioner of SBS, said it’s true that only about $600,000 of the city’s $15 million in emergency funds available has gone to Queens, to a total of 28 businesses. 

“There’s 28 loans so far, not enough. The recovery has been slower in Queens,” Walsh said. “And that number needs to be greater, and it’s lower than others partly because the recovery has been slower.”

Walsh admitted there are a lot of stipulations to get a loan and a myriad of reasons why people are rejected.

“Some of them its going to be a problem in terms of cash flow, other times its low credit score, and other times it’s a new business and banks are hesitant to loan,” he said.

Rockaway hair-salon owners Michael and Laura Badalove spend their days waiting for customers to come back to the area. (Jennifer Hsu/WNYC)

One month ago, Michael Badalove was cautiously optimistic about the Rockaways. He’s the owner of a small hair salon, M & L Hair & Nail Salon, which was one of the first businesses to reopen on 116th Street after Sandy. He’d taken in four hairdressers whose salons had closed; hoping their rolodex of clients would boost business. In the spirit of charity, his landlord stopped charging rent, and the company he leases his equipment from replaced it all for free. Last week at the salon, Badalove and his wife Laura were watching the movie Home Alone dubbed in Russian on TV. The shop was empty.

“Very bad my friend, very bad. No money. Everybody left, the workers left everybody left,” Badalove, 33, said.

Badalove is still reluctant to get a loan even if the interest rates are low. But his landlord is asking for rent now. And the company that gave him new salon furniture is asking for monthly payments. And he has five children to provide for, and worries the recovery in the Rockaways is just too slow.

“Maybe I’m going to leave soon,” he said. “Leave. Close the store, go to different location.”

Between federal and state assistance, a total of 65 businesses affected by Sandy in all of Queens have received loans. Federal officials are hoping more local businesses will apply for SBA loans before the July 31 deadline. The city loans have no deadline.

Adjacent to 116th street is Rockaway Beach Boulevard, where the charred shells of 17 businesses that burned down, make the area seem like a war zone. A check cashing shop, a furniture store, a physical therapy office and two bodegas have opened. But transportation is still crippled in the area, and the A train terminus remains closed.

But local residents that never left, like Alex Ocasio, 37, want his neighborhood to get back to normal. He lives a block from the ocean with his wife and four children.

“If you look, we really have nowhere to go other than here, to leave and shop we have to pay. To come home, we have to pay. We did a lot of our shopping, our everyday things in the community,” he said. “And now we don’t have it.”