Mendel Ciment of Tower Computer Services, who overlooks Ground Zero from his office, was denied a loan.
Meanwhile, Caleb Hoag borrowed $16,800 for his North Dakota tanning salon.
Whale watching in Alaska. Scuba diving in the Virgin Islands. Panning for gold in Nevada. Full-body tanning in North Dakota. Whitewater rafting in West Virginia.
From the Hamptons to the Hollywood Hills, thousands of companies that offer pricey pleasures to the affluent have been larded with millions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized loans because of Sept. 11-related economic woes.
If only Uncle Sam had been so generous to the hard-pressed small businesses of New York City.
The Small Business Administration's disaster loan program is ordinarily limited to companies in an immediate disaster area and nearby counties. But on Oct. 22, the SBA expanded the program for the first time in its half-century history to cover companies in all 50 states that could prove an inability to pay bills and meet operating expenses because of the terror attacks.
Companies across America rushed to cash in on quick, low-interest, federally guaranteed loans. With terms up to 30 years and no interest or principal payments for five months, the loans provided a helping hand for thousands of entrepreneurs.
Like Forrest Johnson, who runs off-the-blacktop Humvee tours of the desert and gold fields outside Las Vegas—and borrowed from the feds so he could continue his quest for tourist dollars.
"After Sept. 11, it was the job of the SBA to help get America back on its feet again," Johnson said. "Mission accomplished."
Unfortunately, the battered businesses in and around Ground Zero did not fare quite as well, according to a New York Daily News analysis of SBA data and dozens of interviews with struggling downtown proprietors.
Owners tell of arbitrary turndowns. Mysterious, lengthy delays. Language barriers that often trip up immigrants. Take-it-or-leave-it collateral demands. Inept functionaries who lose critical paperwork. And a bureaucratic mind-set that spawns thickets of red tape.
So daunting is the process that thousands of New Yorkers have withdrawn their applications — or turned down the agency after a loan finally was offered.
Mendel Ciment, whose four-employee network-management company, Tower Computer Services, originally was located on the 21st floor of 1 World Trade Center, said he was horrified when the SBA demanded he put up his home as collateral for a $70,000 loan. He refused.
"My office was vaporized, my business was vaporized — and now the federal government wanted my house in hock," Ciment said. "This was 9/11 -- not some flood on Main St. or an earthquake out West, yet the SBA acted as if it couldn't tell the difference."
The bottom line: In the five boroughs, 54 percent of business loan applicants who claimed terror-related financial hardships got approval from the SBA. By contrast, more than 30 states — and at least five U.S. territories — had approval rates of 58 percent.
"There are an awful lot of businesses in New York City that we tried real hard to help —and gave every benefit of the doubt when it came to their ability to repay," said William Leggiero, the SBA area director for New York, New Jersey and 11 other Eastern states. "But these were businesses on the edge, barely making it and unable to take on any more debt, and much as we tried, we just couldn't help them."
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