NJ Small Businesses Still Struggling After Sandy

By Lauren Wanko

Donna Ross depleted her inheritance money to rebuild her storm-damaged business. Now the Rosses are struggling to make ends meet. Their story is a familiar one.

“This winter was devastating. There was nobody in town, no business. I can barely make my payroll,” Ross said.

Jersey City business owner Kristen Scalia drained all available funds to rebuild her business. Still, she was left in the red. Her friends raised the money she needed.

“If it wasn’t for that, I know in my heart I’d be out of business and probably out of a home as well,” she said.

Scalia and Ross say the government dropped the ball in helping small businesses recover. And they are not alone.

This morning in Newark, New Jersey Citizen Action lobbied politicians to make the Garden State’s business owners a priority.

A Federal Reserve Bank of New York report polled 950 small business in the tri-state area. Half of those firms covered storm-related financing needs with personal resources while others increased debt levels.

About one-third of 950 firms polled incurred financial losses. Of those, 22 percent had losses greater than $100,000.

A year after Sandy, nine in 10 affected firms report persisting financing needs of $100,000 or less.

In Union Beach, you can’t grab lunch at JakeaBob’s Off the Bay Restaurant because the eatery shut down. Owner Gigi Liaguno-Dorr struggled to quickly reopen in a new location after the
storm. Now it’s closed.

“It was probably the hardest decision we ever made, to come to terms with it. It’s just not there, the business is just not there,” she said.

Liaguno-Dorr hasn’t left the restaurant completely. She partnered with a local church to offer a community kitchen, called a Spoonful of Hope. The landlord lets the church operate two days a week. But Liaguno-Dorr is volunteering her time. She isn’t earning a paycheck.

“Now we’re faced with what do we do? We have to find a job,” she said.

Liaguno-Dorr says the government doesn’t understand business owners’ urgency to recover. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is reportedly considering spending more than $1 billion of the federal Sandy aid package in a nationwide competition for disaster resiliency projects. HUD didn’t confirm that with NJTV News but the federal agency says, “no determination has been made on programming or allocations of remaining funds.”

As for the Rosses, the couple expects the Sandwitch Shop will be closed by this summer.