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For Businesses in Central Brooklyn, a Silver Lining in Sandy's Dark Cloud

By Sonja Sharp | November 9, 2012 7:39am

CROWN HEIGHTS — Christmas came early this year for businesses in central Brooklyn.

While residents across the borough struggled with flooding, fires and days of frozen darkness after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the city last week, local merchants in Brooklyn's landlocked neighborhoods were swarmed by storm-stranded shoppers — leaving many small businesses an unexpected windfall.

"I knew it was going to be busy, but not like that," said Matt Roff, co-owner of the popular Franklin Park bar in Crown Heights, which saw a 50-percent jump in business in the week following the storm. "I thought it would be neighborhood people, but we got lots of people from other boroughs."

With most commuters stranded by subway closures and many locals sheltering friends and family through the storm, the region's restaurants found themselves similarly slammed.

Prospect Heights staple Tom's diner saw it's typical Sunday brunch crowd start showing up on Wednesday, with lines that stretched halfway around the block. Crown Heights favorite Chavela's was rumored to have run out of rice. Stranded far from their offices, laptop-wielding workers crammed into cafes instead.

"It was by far our busiest week ever," said Ron Brown, chef and owner of Crown Heights' beloved pizzeria Barboncino.

For those open shortly after the storm, the crowds brought more than just cash.

"The day after, people were just tired of being in the house — they couldn't get out, they were stuck," said Garnett Philip, co-owner of The Candy Rush cafe on Franklin Avenue. "People were introduced to our product that have never been here before."

Even those who were desperate to leave the area ended up helping local businesses on their way out. 

"Business more than tripled," said bike mechanic Edson Carvalho of Bicycle Roots in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a shop specializing in commuter bikes. "We had people who came in and said, 'I can't wait four hours for gas,' — people who hadn't ridden since childhood."

The boon to business had a silver lining for those outside the neighborhood, as well. Inspired by the unexpected lift Sandy brought, Roff donated his entire Sunday take at Franklin Park to the relief effort. That money helped local Chabad Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum shepherd groups of volunteers and caravans of supplies to storm-ravaged South Brooklyn. 

"We were short a couple of items, but everybody was extremely understanding," Roff said. "I wish they would go on like this forever."