Not eligible for grants, business owners, in addition to flood insurance, can apply for disaster loans for property damage and economic injury. But as of last week, few had taken that step, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
On Long Beach Island, Mary Cook, an SBA disaster assistance officer, said 31,937 business applications had been issued in New Jersey for Sandy loans but fewer than 400 received.
As of late last week, a dozen had been approved, worth $1.25 million. The deadline for property-damage loans is Dec. 31; for economic injury, July 31. In Atlantic, Cape May, and Ocean Counties, the SBA issued 11,782 business-loan applications and received 195. Eight were approved, for a total of $794,300.
Some business owners balked at the SBA's 4 percent interest rate. (Homeowner loans start at 1.68 percent.) "Many of us get lower rates from the bank," John Coyle, owner of Sink R Swim shops in Long Beach Township, told Marie Johns, the deputy administrator, who toured LBI last week to drum up attention for the loan program.
"Why as small businesses are we not getting the nice, low hanging fruit?" he said.
Some, like Daniel Fedeli, a restaurateur in Margate, are asking the state to set up 1 percent loans or give tax abatements while businesses still struggle to reopen.
Two bills were being introduced in the state Legislature to spur business recovery, said Tom Hester, spokesman for the Assembly Democrats. One would provide sales tax rebates on goods and services related to rebuilding.
The second, introduced by Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. (D., Middlesex), would create a monthlong, one-time sales tax collection exemption on meal purchases in state restaurants.
Cookie Till, whose Steve & Cookie's is in a 1936 building that includes original bar booths made of thick cypress brought up from Florida, was able to salvage the signature seating by sanding and resealing. The restaurant was gutted from waist down and redone, as food places on the island sent over meals for her workers.
At Heritage, owner Randy Young was operating out of one section while the rest of the store underwent a total renovation. Uggs and clothing soaked by Sandy were laundered and sold at half price.
Some businesses raised eyebrows by opening up quickly, while similarly flooded neighbors embarked on gutting and remodeling.
"Slice of pizza?" said John Vida of Restore One, a disaster recovery contractor, referring to one shop that had opened a day after being flooded. "No thanks."
Many of these landmarks had proven their durability in the storms of 1944 and 1962. But Sandy made those old high-water marks look like a kiddie pool. "If this ever happens again," Cookie Till said, even as her newly restored restaurant neared completion, "I'm throwing in the towel."
(c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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