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Businesses Still Face Challenges from Sandy [SERIES]

In the third part on our series on Sandy: Then and Now, businesses still struggle with the effects nearly a year after the Superstorm.

Hurricane Sandy Destroys Surf Club
Sandy destroys Joey Harrison’s Surf Club in Ortley Beach. (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

Beyond the winds and flood waters of Sandy, businesses are facing a myriad of challenges in their roads to rebuilding.

Businesses in 113 of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities lost more than $382 million in commercial property, according to FEMA. While merchants along the shore in Ocean and Monmouth counties suffered severe damage, Middlesex County also saw flooding by the Raritan River, as well as further inland.

“The Raritan Center in Edison had never seen water before and some of those businesses are just totally wiped out,” says Alex Hollywood, President of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce.

Additionally, North Jersey communities, such as Moonachie and Little Ferry had several feet of water.

Phillip Kirschner, Executive Director of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, says many businesses feared losing customers and tried to rebuild right away, however, “they did it from 80 to 85 percent, decided that was sufficient to open and now are looking to complete the job.”

While the summer season is officially over, time is still a factor.

Paul Barlo, who runs Brick Township-based architectural firm, Barlo & Associates, has worked with many companies recovering after Sandy. He says the “patchwork” approach was very common, but it could cause trouble as they’re now trying to finish renovations.

“New Jersey doesn’t have the nicest winters and we still need to get through building departments that are backlogged and are going through many many many building permits. So [the challenge] is getting through the permit process and leaving yourself with enough time for the constructions aspect.”

One of the other challenges many businesses struggled with (and still are battling), is insurance issues. Barlo notes the paperwork and hassle with companies has driven some businesses to get their own private adjuster.

FEMA points out the storm has cost businesses roughly $64 million in business interruptions. Kirschner says that is where he still sees disputes between businesses and insurers.

“It’s hindering people from opening their places until they get that resolved,” Kirschner explained.

Ultimately, he notes this year will be very important in terms of the long-term health of businesses.

“They’re going to take a final stab at what kind of financing they can get and make a decision shortly on whether they can be open or not. Particularly season businesses, those that couldn’t open in this year have to decide very soon. If they’re not open for two years, it’s going to be a very difficult time for them.”

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