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Avenue C Bars and Restaurants Fight for Survival After Hurricane Sandy

By Serena Solomon | November 14, 2012 8:03am

EAST VILLAGE — Since a 4-foot deluge of flood water crippled Summit Bar's refrigeration system during Hurricane Sandy, the Avenue C establishment has been going through 700 pounds of ice every day.

"We are treating every day like we are going to someone's lawn to have a party," said Hamid Rashidzada, owner of the 3-year-old cocktail bar between East 9th and 10th streets.

Even with the all-night $5 drink specials to thank customers for their support, the bar is still only doing a quarter of the business it once did before the storm.

"We are still at half mast and are not full sail yet," Rashidzada said.

Like many shops along the Avenue C strip that's dotted with dozens of unique bars and restaurants, Summit is doing whatever it can to keep doors open, repair damage and get precious cash flow moving again.

Many establishments are battling downed credit and debit card systems and the loss of customers who have relocated out of the neighborhood, while still working to replace damaged equipment and destroyed supplies.

"In this industry a lot of businesses survive month to month and losing one, two, three weeks' [income] can have a horrible impact on the bar moving forward," said Andrew Rigie, executive director of New York City Hospitality Alliance, which advocates for the city's nightlife industry.

Rigie did not have data on the total estimated damage done to the city's nightlife, but he predicted it could devastate some bars and restaurants.

Rigie and establishment owners along Avenue C spoke of Sandy's double hit.

First, the surge from the East River flooded basements filled with expensive equipment like refrigerators and compressor systems, ruining stock and damaging infrastructure.

Then the five-day-long blackout that followed prevented many from opening.

"You have no more cash flow, you lose your stuff, you lose everything," said Ben Alter, who was finally able to start serving drinks on Friday. His French-Caribbean restaurant, Arcane, is still unable to serve food.

"I am lucky I have faithful customers," he said.

He estimated he would need to find $25,000 to cover bills for damaged equipment, supplies and loss of income.

To make matters worse, when Sandy hit Alter was still reeling from the apparent accidental death of his sister and business partner Christine Ebel, who fell from a balcony at the end of October.

"In a way, the storm prevented me from thinking about it," he said.

At the East Village Tavern on Avenue C and East 10th Street, the flood knocked out draft beer and the debit and credit card systems.

"Business has been really quiet since the hurricane," manager Gary Woloski said.

For a bar known for its well-chosen and constantly changing tap beers, the loss of its coolers and compressors has driven customers away. About 70 percent of sales normally come from tap beer, according to Woloski.

"It is the only reason I come here," said East Village Tavern customer of four years Glen Waverla, who was forced to settle for a Corona. Waverla, an electrician, works in the area but lives on Long Island.

"I thought the taps were working again," he said Monday, admitting that he probably would not return until the draft beers were back on the menu.

But, while some customers might have gone elsewhere, others put up with inconvenience to support their local establishments.

"It is our home away from home and we also helped them clean," said East Village resident of four years and Arcane customer Julia Flores. She and her husband helped the restaurant regroup in the days following the hurricane.

Now that most bars and eateries on Avenue C have reopened, Flores has made an effort to patronize them.

"There is a big sense of loyalty," she said.

Alphabet City Beer Co., or ABC Beer, also lost customers because of its downed credit and debit card system, according to the artisan beer and cheese bar's co-owner Zack Mack.

"It was a barren area in terms of cash," said Mack, adding that most ATMs in the area were not working.

Less than half of the business' sales come in cash, he said.

Mack put his hurricane bill of damages and loss of income in the tens of thousands of dollars. He said he hopes to recoup some of it from insurance, but acknowledges he won't get everything back.

Mack said he was negotiating with his landlord and is hopeful to catch a break on the rent he owes.

"He doesn't want to lose us as a tenant," Mack said.