Hurricane Irene dealt a major blow to Frank Vazquez's business. Now Sandy threatens to destroy it.
Vazquez co-owns Euro Lounge, an upscale Spanish restaurant and club in North Arlington, N.J., with Manny Alvarez. "The economy has been horrible, then we got hit with [Irene]," Vazquez said. "Sometimes we don't even pay ourselves just to keep the business alive, and now here comes something else."
Vazquez said he is "completely surprised, shocked" to be facing an even bigger hurricane just about a year after Irene. With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declaring a state of emergency, Vazquez is prepared with backup generators, sandbags and plastic coverings. He has staff on call, he said, and slept at the business on Sunday night. But Vasquez's main fear is the Passaic River. "If it flows across the street, there's only so much we can do," he said. "Once we're in the water, we're in the water."
Without flood insurance, Vazquez said his mindset as Sandy approaches is "depression."
"There's a feeling of helplessness," he said.
Vazquez was already seeing the effects of the hurricane on business Sunday night, when only about 10 people showed up to Euro Lounge's Halloween dance party.
"This is usually a big night for us, and it's pretty empty in here," said Vazquez. He said he spent $2,000 on decorations that he'll probably just take down, as he closed the business for Monday and planned to cancel a Halloween event scheduled for Tuesday.
It's just another loss for Vazquez and Alvarez, who were hoping the Halloween event would boost business. Vazquez estimates sales have decreased by 20 percent since last year, due to the economy and damages from Hurricane Irene.
In New Jersey overall, Irene caused more than $1 billion in damage and power outages.
Vazquez and Alvarez were in Spain when Irene hit. They had just spent $80,000 to $100,000 to remodel the club, Vazquez said, and then faced another $30,000 to $40,000 in damages to boilers, electrical work and inventory, including fine wines, when the Passaic flooded. "We were like in the middle of a river," Vazquez said.
The business owners didn't have flood insurance. At first, Vazquez thought he could get assistance through FEMA, but after spending a month speaking with FEMA representatives, filling out an application, getting denied and appealing, Vazquez said he was eventually told that the organization was unable to help his business. "It was unbelievable," he said. "The government takes our taxes but they won't help us."
A FEMA spokesperson responded to a request for comment via email, saying, "Businesses affected by disasters may have insurance to assist with disaster-related losses, or if available, through federal agencies like the U.S. Small Business Administration. For information on the types of assistance that may be available, businesses should visit http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/loans-grants/small-business-loans/disaster-loans. For information on what businesses can do to prepare for disasters in advance of the storm, visit www.ready.gov/business."
Vazquez did receive an application for an SBA disaster loan, he said, but he and Alvarez opted to pay for the damages out of their personal finances rather than take on business debt.
Euro Lounge is in a 100-year floodplain, meaning there is a 1 percent chance of a flood being equaled or exceeded in magnitude in any given year. Considering these odds, and because Vazquez was being quoted flood insurance prices of around $18,000 per year, he said, the co-owners opted not to get flood insurance after Irene.
Now facing a second hurricane, Vazquez said the pair's morale will be hit as hard as their finances if they are once again flooded. "My spirits have been down. It's hard to explain the feeling. Once you become a business owner, you think you've made it. You dedicate 60 to 80 hours a week and succeed, then this keeps happening. It's depressing. We should be in a better place than we are now, instead of struggling."
Whatever the outcome, Vazquez said Sandy is "starting off bad."
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