Small Businesses Need Loans, But Also Customers

November 29, 2012 at 4:00 am

Jeremy Holin sat in the back of his namesake Ale House on Front Street, across the street from South Street Seaport. In front of him: bills and a short stack of cash. We only took in around $600 last night, Holin said, with desperation in his voice but also an “it is what it is” attitude.

Jeremy's Ale House was flooded and saw thousands of dollars in damage after Sandy. They're open now, but need customers. MetroFocus/ Georgia Kral

He ticked off the invoices due:

“This one’s for $4,900, this one’s $1,600, $2,800, another $1,600…”

Jeremy’s Ale House has been located in four different South Street Seaport area locations since opening in 1973. Holin also owns another Jeremy’s in Freeport, Long Island, and the bar and pub Meade’s around the corner from the Ale House. All three “took on water from Sandy,” he said.

“But we’re open,” Holin said on Wednesday morning in the bar. “Luckily we’ve got friends to support us,” he added, gesturing to two men who had laid out an early lunch spread on one of the old wooden tables in the dive.

But while Jeremy’s has been open for the past two weeks after cleaning up from the flood, the customers have only trickled in — a meager reward for the accomplishment of getting back to business.

“We’re not doing any business. Nobody’s down here,” he said.

Holin has already “burned through” $100,000 of his own money, and was applying for all the grants and loans he could.

“Everything I can get my dirty little paws on,” he said.

Holin recently applied for an emergency loan from the NYC office of Small Business Services. The loans of up to $25,000 are available to small businesses and nonprofit organizations based in New York City for at least the past year, and that have fewer than 100 employees. The loans are interest-free for the first six months and one percent interest for up to 24 months. Holin has yet to hear if he will receive the loan.

Kings Custom Tailor in Lower Manhattan had to throw out 12 sewing machines that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy's storm surge. Photo courtesy of Janice Ooi.

Over the weekend, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an additional $5.5 million for small businesses applying for emergency loans. The additional funds are grants funded with $5 million from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, as well as $500,000 from the Partnership for New York City. The grants will provide an additional $10,000 to each business that is awarded a loan through the Emergency Loan Fund, and those funds don’t need to be paid back.

According to Merideth Weber, press secretary for Small Business Services, 304 applications for emergency loan funds have been submitted from across the city so far, with 90 in Lower Manhattan alone. Any type of business can apply for the loans, she said.

Weber said the number of applications received so far is what they expected. She speculated that businesses still cleaning up had not yet had the time to apply for a loan.

In Lower Manhattan, many businesses are either still shuttered, or hurting. Along Front Street and Water Street, near the East River, only a handful of businesses are open. Many of the closed businesses are major chains — from Verizon to Subway to Starbucks — and aren’t eligible for the loans because they are not based in New York City.

King’s Custom Tailor and Alteration, on the corner of Water Street and Coenties Slip, is open for business, but like Jeremy’s Ale House, hasn’t seen many customers.

“We have nothing to do. I don’t know if the people will come back or not,” said co-owner Janice Ooi. “My income is zero. I might have to stop everything.”

Ooi, who rents her space,  said her insurance company told her they won’t cover any of the damages, which were substantial. While the business is located a half-level above the street, all of the sewing and alterations were done in the basement, which was filled to the ceiling with salt water from the storm surge. Twelve sewing machines, worth at least $1,000 each, were destroyed. King’s Tailor has also applied for an emergency small business loan, but also has yet to hear if and when the funds will come through.

Kevin Barry of Grandma's Kitchen stands in front of a sign taped in the front window, which tells anyone passing by - and Sandy - that Grandma's will return. MetroFocus/ Georgia Kral

But not everyone is even eligible for the loans.

The restaurant Grandma’s House on Peck Slip, near the South Street Seaport, was filled with five feet of water after Hurricane Sandy came crashing into Lower Manhattan a month ago. They are still cleaning up, and are many thousands of dollars in debt, said manager and part-owner Kevin Barry. But Grandma’s biggest problem is her time on the block. The cozy restaurant opened just three months ago, and thus can’t apply for an emergency loan through the city’s office of Small Business Services.

“We’re pleading and begging for disaster assistance to get this put back together again,” said Barry.

Barry is hoping FEMA can help, and the Downtown Alliance, an advocacy and research group that runs the neighborhood Business Improvement District, is launching a small business grant program next week.

So while the neighborhood slowly rebuilds, and the loans (hopefully) come through, the few businesses that are open are hoping that customers will return soon. And many that are closed, including Grandma’s, are promising to re-open.

“Come hell to high water… Grandma’s is coming back,” reads the sign in the window.

To apply for a loan, visit one of the NYC Business Solution Centers. In Lower Manhattan, the center is located at 79 John St.


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