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Businesses Hurt by Hurricane Sandy Are Forced to Rebuild on Their Own

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Three months after Hurricane Sandy crippled the New York and New Jersey coastlines, businesses from a tailor to a distillery are still trying to get back on their feet.

Yet all are frustrated with the drawn-out insurance process, lengthy and document-heavy requirements for Small Business Administration loans (and their caution about taking on more debt) and why there is little, if any, grant money available to them.

Late Monday, Congress finally passed a $50 billion aid package for Sandy victims, which comes on top of the $10 billion in aid approved earlier this month. Many businesses, unable to wait this long for money, are choosing to rebuild on their own with the help of friends, their communities and whatever savings they have.

Last May, the Jack From Brooklyn Distillery launched its first liqueur, Sorel. According to one of the distillery's owners, the "spiced, hibiscus liqueur" was making quite a stir, receiving acclaim from trade publications and strong support at bars, restaurants and retailers.

"We were poised ... to move into a dozen different states and then we got decimated," says co-owner and president Jack Summers.

The distillery, located in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, N.Y., got six feet of water in its basement and another five feet on its main level. Hurricane Sandy "completely derailed" the budding business, Summers says. "It was amazing how much product we could have moved" if the storm hadn't hit.

Now Summers is dealing with the slow process of getting back to normal, and much to his irritation, an "incredibly arduous" process in getting relief money.

"So far we haven't seen a dime from any government relief organization," says Summers, who estimates that his damage costs are in the six figures, including loss of supplies and equipment, electrical damage, physical infrastructure and lost income.

Instead, it's been the community of Red Hook that has kept the small distillery alive, with help from a community organization called the Red Hook Initiative. Neighboring Red Hook Lobster Pound let the distillery use its autoclave, a sterilizing device, to clean and sanitize 10,000 bottles that were deluged in seawater.

"By the time the relief gets here, we won't need it," Summers says. "We will have saved ourselves. I'm not saying the SBA won't come through, but by the time they do, we will be back on our feet."

Even so, Summers says he is still attempting to go through the difficult process of getting a disaster loan, made more difficult by the company's young age. "It's a funny thing when you get asked, 'So what's your credit score?' I put everything I have into my business in the last year and a half. I don't have a credit score," he says.

Two weeks ago, Jack From Brooklyn resumed production for the first time since Sandy struck, but the company is running on bare bones.

"So far, 50% of our rebuild has come from the fact that we have gone out there and sold product," Summers says.
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