Staten Island's North Shore Businesses Feel Forgotten After Sandy
MARINERS HARBOR — Business owners along a stretch of Richmond Terrace in Mariners Harbor say they suffered millions of dollars in damage during Hurricane Sandy, but many feel overlooked in a borough overwhelmed by severe flooding.
“This is the forgotten part of the island,” said Steve Villamarin, co-owner of the Villa Marin car dealership.
While Mariners Harbor didn't suffer as much visible property damage as neighborhoods like New Dorp Beach and Midland Beach, about 10 businesses along the block were hit hard, according to Steve Margarella, owner of Margarella Asphalt and Concrete.
Margarella and neighboring shop owners say they're having trouble getting noticed in a borough where homes and businesses vanished altogether, and the death toll outpaced any other borough in the city. Of the 43 deaths attributed to the storm in New York City, 23 were on Staten Island.
“Nobody’s paying any attention to us,” said Margarella, who is considered the unofficial spokesman for businesses on Richmond Terrace.
The storm surge flooded over Margarella’s 8-foot seawall and inundated his entire property. He lost dump trucks, equipment, tools and 12 smaller trucks — damage that exceeded $1 million, he said.
Villamarin’s entire building flooded, costing him about $100,000 in car parts alone, which he said aren't covered by his insurance company. He said he lost 60 cars, tools and equipment.
“Everything is destroyed,” he said.
Nine weeks after the storm, Villamarin said he’s still waiting on a check from the insurance company and has been unable to reopen what's been family-owned for 30 years and employed more than 40 workers.
“We’ve received not one dollar in insurance money,” he said.
Several other business owners in the north shore said they were having trouble getting money from insurance companies to make repairs at a recent public meeting hosted by Councilwoman Debi Rose, a spokeswoman for Rose said.
Villamarin said he's applied for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) disaster business loans, but said the process has been slow and is dependent on how much his insurance will ultimately cover.
“The SBA will not grant you any money until you know what you're going to get from insurance, so there’s no access to capital,” he said.
However, the SBA said that businesses do not have to wait for insurance claims to finalize before going and have been telling people to apply before they find out.
"We really encourage business owners submit your application as soon as you can," said Carol Chastang, a spokeswoman for the SBA. "We encourage business owners not to wait on their insurance, we can offset the difference between the insurance loan and whatever the amount is."
The SBA can provide a loan for a total loss of up to $2 million if the borrower agrees to use the insurance money to pay back parts of the loan when they get it, Chastang said.
A borrower gets a response in 18 days whether their application has been approved or denied, Chastang said.
But for Margarella, going through the SBA wasn't an option.
He said he was denied a loan of $25,000, which represents less than one week of payroll for him, because “they said I didn’t have the ability to pay it back.”
The SBA evaluates a company's financial situation, credit and tax documents, before approving or denying any loan, Chastang said.
The SBA does have an appeal process for business owners to try to get approved for a loan, but Margarella, who said he has excellent credit, has no plans to fight the denial.
“It was so idiotic that it didn’t even warrant a response,” he said.
But for Villamarin, who still has 80 vehicles that weren’t damaged, the process is still too slow because his building was completely gutted and he can't restart business.
“I can’t sell cars out of the street,” he said. “I need the building to work.”