Sandy-Ravaged Rockaways Prep for ‘Subdued’ Memorial Day


Seven months after Superstorm Sandy, businesses in Queens, NY’s Rockaways are still rebuilding after suffering devastating losses. On top of the flooding that damaged homes and businesses, the Breezy Point neighborhood endured a fire that burned down more than a hundred homes during the storm.

But many Rockaway businesses say no level of destruction would tear them away from the area – and they’re optimistic about the future.

“I think that the local business will come back,” says Robert Kaskel, the owner of the Thai Rock restaurant in Rockaway Beach. “A lot of people are still displaced, but I do believe local will be returning and will support us.” spoke with business owners in Rockaway Beach and Breezy Point on what it takes to rebuild after Sandy – and why the Rockaways will bounce back.

Not Enough Government Help As in the Jersey Shore and Long Beach, Rockaway businesses say they haven’t received any government help to rebuild.

Kaskel, who says the damage at Thai Rock came to $1.5 million, was denied by the SBA.

“I’m financing with savings and money I’ve borrowed. I’m scared, because I don’t know how I’ll be able to cover all my debts,” he says.

Kaskel is currently in the process of rebuilding the restaurant’s deck, but was able to reopen a small part of the restaurant earlier this week. He is worried that he won’t have the capacity to bring in enough revenue to support the business and pay off the debt he’s taken on.

At the Breezy Point Surf Shop, owner Donald Ritter says Sandy put him out of business for 8 months. His store was a football field’s length away from the houses that were burned down.

“I lost all my inventory, and there was structural damage,” says Ritter, who is right now working out of a temporary location while rebuilding the shop.

Ritter, whose damages total $100,000, hasn’t taken on any loans, either.

“After meeting four times for four hours each, I finally qualified for a 6% loan, which I found to not be helpful,” he says. Instead, he’s remodeling using credit cards charging 5% interest.

“I’m not looking for a handout, but give me a low-interest loan! 6% is not a deal,” he says.

Ritter had liability insurance, but no flood insurance. One company wouldn’t give him flood insurance because of flooding in the area from a Nor’easter in the early ‘90s.

“The quote was so high from another company that it was cost-prohibitive. It would have more than tripled my insurance policy,” he explains.

At Dalton’s Seaside Grill in Rockaway Park, owner Michael Dalton says, “It’s the Rockaway Beach community that has supported me through Sandy.”

“Not loans, not FEMA, not insurance – not anyone but the Rockaway community,” adds the lifelong resident. “There was so much paperwork – they wanted paperwork from when I was in my mother’s stomach!”

Dalton does praise New York City’s Sanitation Department, however, for their help in helping the community get back to normal.

“The Sanitation Department was unbelievable. For the eight weeks after Sandy, you have never seen guys work so hard.

“You could not walk the sidewalks because of the debris. The only reason it is the way it is now is because of Sanitation,” he adds.

The Community Maintains Long-Term Hope Though the rebuilding process has been slow, the business owners believe the Rockaways will one day return to normal.

Ritter says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the summer season. He reopened in a temporary location in order to bring in revenue before his shop is done, but says cold weather this spring has dampened the need for the flip flops and sunglasses he sells.

“I’ve been down here all day and sold one pair of flip flops. I won’t survive that way, but it will get better,” he maintains.

That said, he’s preparing himself for a “subdued” Memorial Day weekend. “It’s very important for seasonal [businesses]. I do the bulk of my business in April, May, June and July,” he says, adding that he hopes his store will be repaired by July.

“I’ve lived in Breezy Point since ’71, and I’ve never seen the water so high – a monster storm.My belief is that it will never happen again,” says Ritter, saying he wasn’t worried about coming back.

Dalton says the Rockaways will bounce back: “We have one of the best beaches in the world.”

He says the idea of leaving the area never occurred to him – and his commitment to the area was strengthened by the way the community came together after the storm.

While Dalton's downstairs kitchen was destroyed, he opened up his smaller one upstairs as a soup kitchen to feed the neighborhood.

“We ran it for free for three weeks,” he says, estimating that he served between 3,000 and 3,500 people.

When the restaurant reopened after two months, “I had people come in and just throw $10 on the bar and say, ‘I just want to support you because of what you did for us,’” he says.

While Dalton is confident about the long-term future of the Rockaways, he is less certain about Memorial Day weekend.

“People might not come because they think the beach isn’t ready, but maybe they’ll come because they want to check it out,” he says, adding that he doesn’t know how much food to order.