Businesses on the east side of Second Avenue have been allowed to reopen in the wake of the apparent gas explosion that brought down three buildings near East 7th Street, but their neighbors on the other side of the block are still reeling from the disaster.
Roop Bring, owner of Sam’s Deli at 123 Second Avenue, said that no one from the Department of Buildings or the Department of Small Business Services has contacted him since his storefront was reduced to rubble Thursday afternoon, nor has he reached out to them. He’s been so overwhelmed that he hasn’t been able to even think about what kind of help he’d ask for.Mariann Marlowe, owner of Enz’s, a rockabilly boutique next-door at 125 Second Avenue, has received limited help since a seven-alarm fire spread to the building and prompted the Department of Buildings to issue a vacate order. Last night SBS helped her get access to her store to check for damage and remove her merchandise.
“They gave us 15 minutes to get everything out of the whole store,” she said. “Fifteen minutes!”
Acknowledging the two victims found at the site, Marlowe recognized that “looking for a pinup-style dress is superficial when you’re looking for a dead body.” But, among other things, she would like the city to help her set up a pop-up store. “I would like to continue business,” she said. “I have a strong following, people are saying, ‘When are you reopening? Where are you gonna be?'” So far the City hasn’t offered her any such help, but Marlowe understands the recovery effort will take a long time.
The first step, for Bring, is working with an insurance adjustor to determine what was lost, an overwhelming task. “I don’t understand how I’m going to count all these single things, how many I have, how many I don’t,” he said.
For Marlowe, recovery means cleaning over 800 dresses — which she estimates will cost her at least $3,000 — and determining whether to repair her store or move. Emily Boyd, a friend of Marlowe’s, set up a fundraising campaign with a $25,000 goal; so far it has raised a little over $8,000 — just $1,000 more than the April 1 rent she’ll pay tomorrow. Marlowe was hesitant at first, because she didn’t want to “seem like I’m looking for a handout,” she said. But she gave in when she saw the severity of the damage to her shop. She’s also been receiving help from the community; Sew Good Cleaners are cleaning her inventory at cost, and she said she’s received free meals from other neighbors and friends.
But the idea of businesses asking for support doesn’t sit well with everyone. B&H Dairy, another East Village institution that hasn’t yet reopened, posted to its Facebook page Friday that it will need “all the great customer [sic] to be with us in this hard time” in order to stay in business. On Sunday the lunch counter posted that it had received a message from someone calling this plea “selfish.” In its reply, B&H explained that it was surviving “day by day” and that despite the forced closure it still has bills to pay.
Even if help hasn’t yet reached business owners like Bring, Merideth Weber, communications director at the Department of Small Business Services, confirmed that it has been actively involved since the blast. The department canvassed the area on Thursday, March 26, alerting businesses to the supporting agencies and available services. The SBS is working with emergency response agencies to get affected businesses to reopen or, at the very least, be escorted to their stores so they can be surveyed and secured, Weber said.
“We will be setting up a Business Recovery Meeting in the neighborhood within the next two weeks to provide impacted businesses with an opportunity to access public/private resources,” Weber wrote in an email to Bedford + Bowery. In the meantime, available help includes one-on-one case management through the recovery process, connections to financing assistance, helping businesses access pro-bono legal services and various US Small Business Administration loans, accelerating the replacement of lost licenses and permits, and help with insurance and accessing documentation.
Despite the long road ahead of them, Bring and Marlowe are focusing on the positive. “If I was sitting in my office in the back there [at the time of the explosion] I was never going to make it out,” said Bring. “So I thank God I am with my family.”
“I’m strong, I’m an artist, and I have a lot of support from the neighborhood,” said Marlowe. “Who knows? Maybe some rich rock star will come around and help me out.”
Jimmy Carbone, owner of Jimmy’s No. 43, also seemed in the dark on the recovery effort’s timeline. “Our building is still vacated,” he said of 41-43 East 7th Street. “I know that next to us they’re sifting through some of the debris; they’re looking for some kind evidence from the explosion. So I’m not sure when we’ll reopen — it could be Friday, or it could be a week or two.” As reported yesterday, Carbone’s bar was forced to close along with two others in the building, Standings and Burp Castle.
Today’s update from the city indicated that about 4,000 tons of debris — more than half of the total at the site — had been hauled off as of this morning, with the remainder of the debris below or at street level.