Looking Ahead to Summer at the Jersey Shore After Sandy

Thousands of East Coast small businesses are coping with the devastation and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Business owners are faced with figuring out how to get back up and running, and whether it’s even financially feasible to rebuild.

The hard hit Jersey Shore, which accounts for roughly half of New Jersey’s $38 billion yearly tourism industry, was a bull’s eye location for Sandy’s landfall. In a Nov. 9 press conference in Seaside Park, NJ, Governor Chris Christie pledged to be a partner in the rebuilding effort, but warned, “Next summer is not going to be like last summer.” He told residents and business owners that the devastation brought on by Sandy was not something that could be rebuilt overnight.

Click here to see photos of before-and-after Sandy for Jersey Shore businesses.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), forty percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster and another 25 percent fail within a year. The Small Business Administration (SBA) stands ready to help businesses recover through low-disaster loans of up to $2 million, but many small businesses cannot absorb that extra cost of a loan repayment. However, loans are the only option for many small business owners, few of whom carry flood insurance due to the impracticability of its expense compared to their budget and revenues.

Small business owners on the Jersey Shore who make a majority of their profit during the summer months have to not only absorb the costs of rebuilding, but also the uncertainty of whether the shore towns in which they operate will continue to attract the same type of business down the road. For information from New Jersey on what types of assistance is available for businesses trying to rebuild, visit http://www.nj.gov/njbusiness/.

Fox Small Business spoke to five Jersey Shore small business owners about how they are dealing with Sandy’s economic blow and whether they plan on rebuilding. Here are their stories

Dive!, Sea Bright, NJ – Owners Steven Graniero and Christine DiIorio

Steven Graniero, 43, and his fiancée Christine DiIorio, 32, own Dive!, a casual, coastal restaurant/bar previously owned by Jon Bon Jovi’s brother Matt Bon Jovi. Dive, previously called Elements under Bon Jovi’s ownership, is located on Ocean Ave. in Sea Bright, NJ – a 1.3 square mile oceanfront borough in Monmouth County that was crippled by Hurricane Sandy.

Graniero was police escorted to his restaurant days after the storm to find it engulfed with seven feet of water. Expensive kitchen equipment was found floating, plus food, furniture and other contents of Dive! were completely destroyed. Graniero said there was little to salvage and it would require a total gut job to rebuild.

Graniero didn’t have flood insurance, as he never expected a storm quite like Sandy, plus he says it wasn’t financially feasible to carry. In the wake post-storm, he says he has found it hard to get answers about what financial resources are available to help him rebuild. Currently, he is weighing his options.

For one, he’s not sure whether he wants to take on the expense of an SBA loan to rebuild in a community where the future is uncertain. Over 70% of Sea Bright is expected to be condemned, said Graniero, which begs the question if crowds will even be able to return in the summer.

“We make enough money in the summer to hold us over through the less busy winter months,” explained Graniero. “But if no one is going to be in town, I’m not sure how we’d survive.”

Graniero is leaving his options open, but admits being in limbo is unsettling.

Adrenaline Fitness, Sea Bright, NJ – Owner Monica Somers

Single-mother-of-two Monica Somers, 41, counted on her upscale fitness club to support her family, and has already made the decision that she will not rebuild. Adrenaline Fitness, located on Ocean Ave. in Sea Bright, had three levels containing workout equipment, a juice bar, a children’s daycare, locker rooms, fitness class space and massage rooms. Employing around thirteen people, Adrenaline Fitness had been in operation for five years with around 250 full-time members.

Sandy landed a major blow to Adrenaline Fitness, engulfing it with water and depositing six inches of beach sand throughout its first level. Somers lost a majority of the club, which she said is unrecognizable post-Sandy. Half of the club’s contents floated away, the rest were destroyed.

“It’s a huge blow,” admitted Somers. “But, you have a choice in life on how you handle things, and I’ll use this pain to make me stronger.” As of ten days after the storm, Somers’ insurance adjusters were not given access to Sea Bright. Yet, even without knowing how much could be recouped via insurance, she decided not to rebuild.

Somers explained that a fitness facility’s revenue is based solely on its members and by the time Adrenaline Fitness could reopen, those members will be gone. Fitness clubs in surrounding areas not affected by the storm had already reached out to Somers’ members offering them discounted memberships.

With the money she would have to put out to rebuild, on top of her already large investment, plus the unknown of how many members would return, Somers has decided to set out on a new path.

“No matter how bad, I’ve always been determined to pick myself up, and continue giving back to other people who need it,” said Somers.

South Street Salon, Manasquan, NJ – Owner Jaycee Cosentino

While floods ravaged some Jersey Shore businesses, others floundered from lack of power for an extended period of time. Jaycee Cosentino, 36, owner of South Street Salon, a hair salon in Monmouth County’s Manasquan, NJ, went without electricity for 12 days after Sandy hit. While he had a generator to operate some of his equipment, he was left without phone and Internet service, preventing him from being able to reach his clients and vice versa. In just one week, he lost over $12,000 in business, which is a lot of money for a small business running on razor-thin margins.

Cosentino said it was definitely a “perfect storm for his business because the week Sandy hit he had just placed an inventory order, taxes and rent were due, and payroll had to go out.

“A week’s loss of revenue can be devastating for a small business,” said Cosentino.

Cosentino said he also felt little reassurance in the aftermath of Sandy about how he could receive help as a small business. While he felt fortunate not to suffer any flooding, he insisted that you can’t underestimate how having no power can cripple a small business.

“No matter how loyal a customer is, if they turn to somewhere else just once, there’s a possibility you lose them for good,” he said.

Tangerine Boutique, Bay Head, NJ – Owner Diane Courtney 

Diane Courtney, 35, owner of Tangerine Boutique – a women’s clothing and accessory boutique – located in Ocean County’s Bay Head, NJ, prepared for Hurricane Sandy by moving all inventory three feet off the ground. Unfortunately, over four feet of water rushed into her 900-square-foot store, destroying inventory, merchandising equipment and the interior of the store.

Courtney has owned the Tangerine Boutique for ten years, building her business from one that thrived mostly in the summer to a year-round business with enough demand to be open year-round, seven days a week. Shocked by the devastation, she says she was grateful for a team of volunteers from two North Carolina non-profits who helped her with a major clean up.

Flood insurance for Courtney was “too expensive to carry,” so she is also looking into her options for rebuilding.

“You never expect this kind of thing is going to happen to you,” Courtney said.

Courtney says her amazing clientele and support from her family has given her the courage and strength to move forward with the process of reopening.

Rockn’ Joe Coffee Lounge, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ – Owner Dave Terra Nova

Dave Terra Nova, 43, owner of Rockn’ Joe Coffee Lounge in Ocean County’s Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, had just overcome the 3-to-5-year hump he said it takes to become a full-year business in a shore community. Terra Nova opened his business in 2009, and says he kept more than busy in the summer with traffic from the 2-million-plus people that visited Point Pleasant Beach’s boardwalk and beach annually. And, he had built a local following that started carrying him through the winter months. Terra Nova prepared for the storm by boarding up Rockn’ Joes’s and surrounding it with sandbags. But, it wasn’t enough to block the power of Sandy, which brought in over four feet of water.

Everything from major kitchen equipment to furniture to inventory was damaged beyond repair. Terra Nova also did not carry flood insurance because “a budget for a business like his does not allow for flood insurance.” So, like many other business owners, he is determining whether taking an SBA loan to rebuild is reasonable.

“If we decide to rebuild, there won’t be any income coming in during the process,” he said. “Plus, we just don’t know how the economy/tourism season will be next year.”

Despite the many unknowns, Terra Nova is researching the options available to him and hopes to be able to salvage his business.

Click here to see photos of before-and-after Sandy for Jersey Shore businesses.