Four months after Sandy, few tourists and New Yorkers are plying South Street Seaport's cobblestone streets. The neighborhood's derelict feel conjures up a phrase no business owner wants to hear: ghost town.
"Eighty-five percent of the businesses are still closed in and around the Seaport," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "That creates a real economic hardship for the people who are not yet open...but also for the revitalization of the community."
Stringer met with officials from the city, state and federal levels, as well as small business owners Friday at Fresh Salt, a bar and cafe on Beekman Street. The restaurant had to be gutted after Sandy and recently re-opened.
The confab over avocado salads and tuna sandwiches was meant to draw attention to the travails of businesses in the neighborhood, but it also turned into a sort of fact-finding mission.
"We learned things today from the businesses that are not yet open," Stringer said. "They are having trouble negotiating leases with some of the landlords. They are facing trouble getting the kind of grants they need to stay open."
Fernando Dallorso, owner of the restaurant Stella, spoke of his need to secure $300,000 to $400,000 in order to re-open his French-Argentinean-Asian bistro.
"The grants are great, but if all I'm getting is a $100,000 grant, I'm going nowhere," he said.
Amanda Byron Zink, owner of the Salty Paw, was forced to relocate her business to the basement of a nearby animal hospital.
She told Stringer, City Councilmember Margaret Chin, State Senator Daniel Squadron and others that many displaced business owners are facing the threat of higher rents if they agree to move back into their storefronts.
"If we don't have favorable leases, there's no point in any of this aid," she said. "We'll all have to walk away."
Other neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan have bounced back much faster than the Seaport, where storefronts filled with as much as eight feet of water during the storm.
Ninety-nine percent of commercial office space below Chambers Street and 90 percent of retailers there are back up and running, according to a report from the Downtown Alliance published Thursday.