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Much-Needed Grants Awarded to Downtown Businesses Hurt by Hurricane Sandy

By Irene Plagianos | December 20, 2012 8:39am

LOWER MANHATTAN — Marco Pasanella, owner of South Street Seaport wine shop Pasanella & Son Vinters, says he’ll be able to pay his bills this month.

Thanks to the Downtown Alliance, Pasanella along with 16 other lower Manhattan small business owners affected by Hurricane Sandy were the first lucky recipients of the organization's Back to Business Small Business Grant Program.

The Alliance’s first round of grants, doled out this week, totaled $266,269. The organization also awarded a total of $120,000 in deferred grants to six other businesses that are still in the process of reopening their devastated businesses.

Pasanella said his $20,000 grant — the largest sum the Alliance awards — couldn’t come at a better time.

“This really gets us out of debt,” said Pasanella, who opened the popular South Street store six years ago.

Pasanella lost thousands of bottles — and dollars — when 6-foot floodwaters deluged his shop during Sandy.

He managed to reopen the expansive store — filled with wines and spirits from around the world, including his own label from Southern Tuscany — three weeks after the storm, but his venture continues to take a hit as much of the Seaport area remains shuttered

Pasanella, who lives above his store and owns the five other apartments in his building, said the rest of the area will need to get back up and running for his business and other local shops to sustain themselves.

"We've been doing OK with holiday sales," Pasanella said. "But, people are making a special trip to our store — we're not getting random passersby. That's going to hurt even more in January and February, which are already typically slow months.”

The Downtown Alliance announced the grant program on Nov. 19, hoping to give a cash infusion to the many small businesses south of Chambers Street severely damaged by the storm.

The Alliance contributed $1 million to fund the program and was able to raise an additional $500,000 from contributors including Goldman Sachs, the Howard Hughes Corporation — which owns the Seaport’s Pier 17 mall — and Trinity Church.

Still, within a few weeks of launching on Dec. 12, the Alliance announced that it would no longer be accepting applications for the grants.

The organization had said it would take applications through the end of December, or until the funds ran out. With more than 130 applicants, the Alliance said it simply ran out of money, for now.

“We’re continuing our fundraising efforts,” said Alliance spokeswoman Nicole Kolinsky. “But with the overwhelming demand, we’ve had to close the application period.”

The Alliance expects to continue handing out grants in the coming weeks.

Businesses were chosen on a first-come, first-served basis and also had to meet a set of requirements, including employing fewer than 50 staff and bringing in less than $5 million in revenue each year. They also need to have operated for at least a year or have a five-year lease, and they must be open already or scheduled to reopen by April.

But some shop owners in the Seaport community in desperate need of cash said those grant stipulations may have cut them off from being eligible from the money at all.

Thirteen restaurant and store owners in the Historic Front Street development remain closed due to the massive damage to their heating and electricity systems, which were located in the basements of their flooded buildings.

The development's landlord, the Durst Corporation — which also contributed money to the Alliance fund — has told business owners that repairs will take at least six months.

Amanda Byron Zink, owner of the shuttered Front Street dog grooming shop the Salty Paw, said she was pleasantly surprised to learn she'd been awarded one of the deferred loans, but without a definitive reopening date, she doesn’t know if she’ll make the April deadline for the grant.

Zink, who’s now operating out of a temporary space at the Seaport Animal Hospital, added that she needs the grant money — not disaster loans that need to be paid back within a few years — to stay afloat. But she's not sure when or if she'll be able to reopen in the same pre-flood location, another grant requirement.

Like her fellow displaced Historic Front Street business owners, Zink had no flood insurance and was recently denied funds from her insurance company — a decision she is fighting.

"Plain and simple, we need more grants — not more red tape," Zink said. "We love this neighborhood, we want the chance to rebuild."

Other Alliance grant winners include:

Plaza Deli
127 John St.
Lambda Foods
11 Hanover Sq.
Kastri Foods
94 Greenwich St.
West Spirits
56 West St.
Wine Window
79 Pine St.