Hurricane Sandy left many without power and for most, it was relatively an inconvenience. But for the strip of stores on Hillside Avenue just east of New Hyde Park Road, losing power meant losing business. For 13 long days, the 13 stores, from Empire Garden to Hot Breads, were without power and feeling equally powerless. It wasn’t until the late afternoon of November 10 that power was finally restored.
Some homes in the area near the stores were in a similar situation but the stakes weren’t nearly as high. Six of the 13 stores lost stock and produce in addition to the loss of business, from which they might not recover.
“We lost 95 percent (of stock) and 80 percent (of business),” Sal Tuzzolo at Horn of Plenty, which sells fresh produce, fruits, and vegetables, said. “We tried to stay open but it was very difficult. I was able to sell potatoes, onions, stuff like that but people weren’t buying real perishable stuff.”
The drop in temperatures brought some relief by using a truck outside the store as a natural refrigerator but Tuzzolo’s losses put him near the brink of closing for good.
“It’s bad, it’s real bad,” he said. “The money you lose you never get back… I was teetering on going out [of business]. If I was out (of power) another week, I might have closed. I went through my life savings trying to stay open.”
Cynthia Chen at Chen Brothers II Cleaners also tried to stay open as much as possible, especially with people in need of their dry cleaned clothes for work.
“I was here every day to give my customers their clothes. I still feel responsible for my customers,” she said. “I felt very helpless.”
Chen said there was no sight of LIPA trucks for a week and it was another six days before power was restored to the businesses. Finally, she was able to get a generator and began calling her customers to pick up their clothes. Since there was no physical damage, the business isn’t covered under her insurance. Like many of the businesses, this past Monday was her first day open.
Hot Breads, a staple of the Indian community, took serious losses too. Even as business returned Monday, they had no products to sell due to the loss of ingredients to bake their breads.
Like many of the shop owners, Sal Restivo at Piccolo Gourmet was in a similar situation with barren display shelves. The hardest decision for him was whether or not to purchase a generator. After multiple calls to LIPA he still was unsure when power would be restored.
The most frustrating part according to Restivo was that it didn’t seem to take long to fix the problem at hand as well as the utilit’’ys poor communication.
“The (utility worker) would say ‘we’ll be back in 25 minutes’,” Restivo said. “Twenty five minutes turned into a week, then two weeks… and LIPA wouldn’t answer the phones, they were annoyed when they did answer the phone.”
All of the storeowners were disappointed in the poor LIPA response, noting that it took a visit from North Hempstead Town Councilwomen Lee Seeman until utility workers were spotted in the area.
But still the loss of business for these past two weeks will be felt for quite some time. As far as liability, LIPA may be held accountable for poor preparedness, but many businesses have little or no recourse for recovering their losses.
Despite having lost flower stock, Maria Lykos at City Line Florist looked at the bright side.
“People lost their lives,” she said. “I feel like one of the fortunate ones.”
Phyllis Tuzzolo, also of Horn of Plenty and Sal’s mother said that “you have to do the best you can.”
Even one of her customers, John Puvagel, found some humor in the situation, saying that“I had no television (so) I didn’t have to listen to any of the political ads.”