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

Maura Kilgore, general manager and co-owner of Cowgirl SeaHorse on New York City's historic Front Street, says the restaurant's insurance company is claiming it's not covered for damage sustained. Not including loss of income, Kilgore estimates damage between $150,000 and $200,000.

"We are fighting that," Kilgore says.
Cowgirl SeaHorse just started serving its full menu again two weeks ago.

Cowgirl SeaHorse opened in 2009 as the little sister of Cowgirl in the West Village. The restaurant, which serves fusion southern coastal and Texas barbecue dishes, took in about eight feet of water during the storm. But Kilgore considers the restaurant, which re-opened in December and just started serving its full menu two weeks ago, very fortunate.

Of the 20 or so restaurants along Front Street that were open before the storm, she estimates that as few as six are open now.

Immediately after the storm, Kilgore and her partners of the S-Corp. knew they needed to take quick action. Several shareholders put up money in the form of loans so the restaurant could do the initial repairs it needed. And while Kilgore was cleaning up the restaurant, another shareholder was applying for all the loans and grants he could find.

So far, Cowgirl SeaHorse received a $20,000 grant from The Alliance for Downtown New York and a loan for $25,000 backed by Goldman Sachs' (GS) 10,000 Small Businesses initiative.

Kilgore says that while they applied for an SBA loan in early November, representatives just came to do a walk-through of the restaurant two weeks ago, telling her she would get an answer soon. As of Monday, she still hadn't heard. Still, if they are approved, she and her partners are unsure they want to take on the debt.

"We didn't know. We applied for everything at once and didn't know if we would get any of it," she says. "There's a lot of talk amongst our management that we may not want to take a loan, but we'd like to see what we would qualify for."

Dr. Sean Pastuch, co-owner of CrossFit King of the Beach and owner of Thrive Chiropractic of Long Beach, N.Y., says he's frustrated at the lack of streamlined resources available for small businesses to find disaster help and information. He wants definitive guidelines that show business' eligibility for assistance and where to apply.

CrossFit and the chiropractic office shared space in the same storefront, which suffered a "complete loss," between the water, sewage and fuel that rushed into the building. "Even my diplomas smell like gas and they didn't get wet," Pastuch says.

CrossFit has seen its client numbers dwindle because of displaced residents. But the slow process in rebuilding and the lack of space to use as a facility is making the process of getting new clients a challenge.

A third hurdle for Pastuch and his partner, Mike Abgarian, is the red tape they are running up against in opening a second CrossFit location in neighboring -- and storm-damaged -- Island Park. The partners have been waiting since June (and paying rent) for a zoning-variance permit to complete construction on the gym.

For now, the partners are choosing to use their own capital, with help from friends and other gyms (including out-of-state CrossFit locations). They're hoping to reopen the Long Beach location in July.

"We always try to keep six months of working capital in the bank. It was for a rainy day and it poured," he says. "We could use the [SBA] loan but we don't want to pay interest. We don't want to dig ourselves into a hole we can't get out of."

Pastuch is doing what he can. He's operating his chiropractic practice remotely and making house calls. And he plans to set up his office permanently once the Island Park gym is open.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to:

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