Small shops in Big Apple fight to survive Sandy's destruction

NEW YORK Thu Nov 1, 2012 8:35pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pumping water out of basements and yanking rotten food out of refrigerators, shop and restaurant owners said on Thursday they wonder when the power will come back and, more importantly, how they will possibly recover from the damage left by Sandy.

Thousands of small businesses, without power since the storm hit New York City on Monday, face the likelihood of darkness at least until the weekend, if not longer, authorities say.

As to the bigger question of survival, many despair of their options.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said small- and medium-sized businesses will be able to apply for emergency loans of up to $10,000 to help them recover from the disaster.

"It's better than a kick in the butt," said Laura Tribuno, co-owner of Edi and the Wolf, an Austrian-themed restaurant on Avenue C in the Manhattan neighborhood known as Alphabet City.

"It might buy a deep freezer," she said.

Damage from Sandy, which swept through the neighborhood with flooding and dangerous winds, more than wiped out the year's profits, she estimated.

The cost of replacing equipment and merchandise will be about $80,000, and it could be weeks before paying customers can return, she said.

"I would at least expect some massive tax break," she said.

As she spoke, workers clad in wading boots carted out plastic crates filled with foul-smelling water and ruined refrigerator equipment. Inside the dark, cold dining room, staff and friends scrubbed the floor, wiped off furniture and stacked up grimy crates of wine bottles.

On the next block, Monica Pedreros, who owns a decades-old hardware store with her husband, said she fears her insurance does not cover flooding and that Bloomberg's offer of an emergency loan falls far short of what they need.

"To us, it doesn't seem like a lot of help," she said. "We don't want to get into more debt because we've lost a lot."

Insurance experts say small businesses effectively put out of business by Sandy may recover something from insurers, but only if they had policies that cover what is known as a business interruption or a contingent business interruption.

The first covers losses from damage to their property; the other covers losses due to problems with customers or suppliers. However, such policies often come with restrictions on coverage of multiple events, experts said.

Pedreros said she guessed the power drills, electrical equipment, sheetrock panels and other ruined merchandise would cost $15,000 to $20,000 to replace.

"At least we can sell what we still have," she said, as neighbors came in to buy cleaning supplies.

"Others have nothing to sell," she added, pointing to a darkened grocery store across the street.

David Hitchner, co-owner of a beer store nearby, said he was still figuring out what help to expect but sounded more optimistic than his neighbors.

"I don't know what the city is doing, but Bloomberg has generally been pro-business," he said.

Pedreros added that she was trying to clean up as much of her hardware store as she could while her generator, one of dozens filling the avenue with noise and fumes, still had fuel.

"Whenever this runs out, we just have to close and go," she said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jackie Frank)

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