Gowanus Businesses Still Waiting for Power After Hurricane Sandy

By Leslie Albrecht on November 16, 2012 7:05am 

GOWANUS — It's been nearly three weeks since Hurricane Sandy sent six feet of water seeping through Paige Tooker's business, but she still doesn't know the full extent of the damage. Until power's restored, she  can't turn on her machinery to see if it still works.

"First I was in shock. ...Now I'm just worried," Tooker said. "If I don't get help, I really might not be able to open."

Tooker's New York Art Foundry is one of several businesses at the Gowanus Industrial Arts Complex that have been crippled since the superstorm. About half of the roughly 35 establishments in the complex still don't have power because the storm destroyed the complex's electrical main and transformer, property manager Joel Friedman said.

Replacing it will cost at least $70,000. He said he's hoping to have the job done in the next day or so.

In the meantime, employees at some businesses have been laid off because it's impossible to work without electricity. The complex, a group of industrial buildings perched on the edge of the Gowanus Canal at Ninth Street, looks unassuming, but some of the studios and foundries there produce work seen by millions of people.

When the storm struck Serett Metal Works, the studio was building two giant metal rings, one 6,000 pounds and the other 8,000 pounds, that will be installed along Park Avenue's median as a public art project. The studio has also created custom metal pieces for high-profile clients like Woody Allen and Annie Liebovitz.

About 40 people have been working around the clock since the storm to clean up Sandy's mess, but without power the studio can only operate at about one-tenth its normal capacity, said Rey Kemp, a bookkeeper who doubles as a blacksmith.

The studio has lights thanks to a jerry-rigged extension cord from a nearby business with power, but that doesn't provide enough juice to run essential machinery like welders, drill presses and band saws.

At Tooker's New York Art Foundry, several ornate door knobs the foundry was making for the renovation of the historic Williamsburgh Savings Bank floated away in the storm, and a giant bronze sculpture of two clasped hands by artist Luis Gispert now has green residue clinging to its crevices.

The water picked up a mold by artist Marianne Vitale — whose work has been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art — and wedged it in the studio's doorway.

The combination of polluted canal water and salt water fried many of Tooker's most important pieces of machinery, including a $15,000 furnace and a $9,000 turntable mixer. Tooker, who doesn't have insurance, is waiting to find out from FEMA what sort of aid she can get. This week she helped her six employees sign up for unemployment.

Tooker, who started her foundry business in 1986, moved to Gowanus two years ago after 20 years in Greenpoint. It's a decision she now regrets. "I made a mistake moving here," she said.

Tom Garcia, the owner of Gil Studio, is having similar thoughts. He's endured three floods in three years — one from a faulty sprinkler system, one from tropical storm Irene and the latest from Sandy.

His studio makes stained glass pieces used in restoration projects. Right now he's working on a series of skylights for the Daughters of the American Revolution library in Washington, D.C. He recently helped artist Kiki Smith on an upcoming public art project that will be displayed in Times Square.

Garcia has seven employees, two of which are still laid off. The other five came back to work this week, but only to help clean up his wrecked studio, which was submerged in more than five feet of water.

"I have another three years on my lease, at which time I intend to get out of there as quickly as possible," Garcia said.

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