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South Street Seaport Businesses Struggle to Recover from Sandy Flooding

By Jeanmarie Evelly on November 2, 2012 11:34am 

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — It took nine months to build Grandma’s House, a comfort-food restaurant on Peck Slip in the South Street Seaport. The eatery was carefully designed with Americana-themed décor and furniture fashioned from recycled, American-made materials, according to manager Kevin Barry. The eatery opened in late summer, serving baby-back ribs and vanilla egg creams to the neighborhood.

But it was destroyed in just one night.

“We just opened three months ago,” said Barry, as he stood among the wreckage of the restaurant, stepping carefully over broken wooden chairs, a stray mustard bottle and sopping-wet sugar packets strewn across the floor. “It’s just like a nightmare.”

Hurricane Sandy swept through the South Street Seaport Monday night, sending several feet of flood waters into its shops, restaurants and residential buildings. On Thursday, the neighborhood’s many small business owners were working tirelessly to clean up — and some said the future of their operations are, as of now, uncertain.

Power in the neighborhood could potentially be restored Friday, according to a Con Edison officials, who said service should return to customers within the Fulton and Bowling Green networks — the area between Broadway and the East River south of the Brooklyn Bridge — but only for those whose electrical equipment has not been seriously damaged by floods.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also said during a press conference Friday morning that some areas of Downtown could have power restored by Friday.

Most of those interviewed at the Seaport on Thursday reported having several feet of water in their buildings during the height of the storm — some as high as 7 feet.

“This is devastating,” said Eve Luppino, who owns two businesses in the neighborhood — SamSara Café, at 277 Water St., and Manhattan Plant Design, a horticultural design firm on Front Street that’s been there for 22 years.

The basement was flooded at SamSara, a New American restaurant that opened about a year ago, ruining the walk-in refrigerator, freezer and wine room. Luppino said she expects the restaurant to be closed until at least December.

Damage at her horticultural design office was even worse, she said, as computers, furniture and other equipment were completely destroyed.

“I lost everything,” Luppino said. “There’s nothing we were able to save.”

The Bridge Café, at 279 Water Stt, was also damaged by the storm, according to Adam Weprin, whose family has run the restaurant since 1979. The building, constructed in 1794, was designated the oldest continuously operating commercial business in the city.

“She’s standing,” he said, as he lugged a water pump down the sidewalk on Thursday. “She is limping, she is hurting — but she’s standing.”

Weprin said the work ahead was daunting. Standing water was still in the basement, and it had ruined most of the restaurant’s kitchen equipment.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “There’s a water mark in the ladies’ room that’s knee-high.”

Cigar Landing, a cigar shop and lounge at 89 South St. that just opened in April, lost somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 worth of inventory due to flooding, its owner said.

“There was maybe one box on the top shelf that we could save, but everything else got wiped out,” said owner Andy Oh. The smell of damp cigars filled the shop on Thursday, and all of the shelves along its walls were collapsed.

“This is my insurance policy, that I can’t even look at because it’s too wet,” Oh said, pointing to a stack of wet papers, their damp pages lumped together.

Several shop owners said their futures are uncertain until they can determine how much of the damage insurance will cover, and to see if the government — whether the city, state or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — will be providing any financial help.

We want to open, we just don’t know what direction to take,” said Jackson Lim, the owner of Fishmarket Restaurant at 111 South St., which was completely gutted by flood waters.

“We’re just afraid. We don’t know what to do,” he said.

Some businesses were faring better than others. Pasanella and Son Vinters, a wine store at 115 South St., is hoping to be back up and running in some capacity in the next few weeks, according to general manager Ryan Ibsen.

“We managed to save a fair amount of our inventory before the storm, but we had a lot of structural damage,” he said, saying that a wall within the store collapsed.

On Thursday, workers all over the Seaport carried armloads of soggy debris out of buildings, used pumps to suck water from their basements, and swept huge puddles down the cobblestone streets with brooms. Many said they haven’t left the neighborhood since the storm, despite the fact that there’s no power, and all of the grocers and food stores are closed.

Kevin Barry, the manager at Grandma’s House, said he’s gone home intermittently to Brooklyn for meals and to change his clothes, but he’s spent every night since Monday sleeping in his car outside the restaurant, a precaution against looters who might try to take advantage of the darkened blocks at night, he said.

But there have been some bright points in the wreckage.

Steve Smith, owner of Cowgirl Sea Horse on Front Street, the sister restaurant to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in the West Village, said he was touched by the number of people who were pitching in. Over the last few days, he said they had about 40 volunteers — friends, family and even some strangers — join in the cleanup efforts.

“We had a couple of people who just walked by and said, ‘We love this place, what can we do to help?’” he said.

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