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Friday, September 30, 2011

Himes Tours Irene’s Toll on Downtown Businesses

By James Lomuscio

Though Hurricane Irene hit a month ago, its effect is still being felt on Westport’s Main Street, where U.S. Congressman Jim Himes got a first hand look today at business property damage and injury to the bottom line.

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The sign in Chico’s window on Westport’s Main Street seemed to say it all as Rep. Jim Himes (D-4) and Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff toured businesses impacted by Irene. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The sign in Chico’s window seemed to say it all: “Due to Hurricane Irene Our Boutique is Temporarily Closed.”

Chico’s was one of three businesses that remain shuttered due to Irene. The others are Lulumon Athletica at 91 Main St. and Theory at 89.

Himes, who was accompanied by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, state Rep, Jonathan Steinberg, and Tom Nocera, spokesman for the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA), called the damage Irene caused to businesses upsetting, especially since most have been struggling since the economic downturn.

“It was particularly poignant for me to see that sign,” Himes said, pointing to a small sign in Chico’s window, stating that the store was hiring. “Here we have a business that’s ready to hire, and then it gets hit.”

Himes was in town not only to survey the damage, but to let store owners know about SBA loans available to them to pay for damage not covered by insurance and to help those that sustained “economic injury” due to a loss of business.

Tom Nocera also spread the message and handed out “disaster loan declaration” forms, the deadlines for which are Nov. 3 for physical damage and June 4 for economic injury.

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Rep. Jim Himes (D-4)  and Westport Fire Chief listen as an employee of lululemon athletica explains damage suffered by the store during Irene. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“About 900 businesses statewide have applied,” Nocera said, noting that loans could be as high as $2 million. “It’s a federal loan, it comes from the U.S. Treasury, and we administer it.

“It’s a hand up from the taxpayers to the taxpayers who have gone through hard times because of the disaster,” he added.

Nocera said the economic injury deadline is nine months, “because it can take time for it to show up.”

Lynette Paschel, manager of Blue Mercury, a high end cosmetic store at 57 Main St., said her shop lost between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of merchandise as floodwaters moved from the front to the rear of the building.

Paschel also said sales were down 8 percent, $32,000 for the month. The hurricane not only forced the store to shut down for days, but kept customers away after it reopened.

Harvey Skolnick, owner of The Liquor Locker at 68 Main Street, told Himes that even though he had blocked the front and rear entrances with boards, water rose up though the floor, drenching his rug, leaving his floor warped and wavy.

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Bob LeRose,owner of Bobby Q’s on Main Street, briefs Rep. Jim Himes, Tom Nocera of the Small Business Administration, and Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff on the effects of Irene on his business—mostly food spoilage from the power outage. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“If you look at your sales, and they were off, we do loans,” Nocera told Skolnick.

Joseloff asked Skolnick if this had been the worst storm he had experienced in his 41 years on Main Street.

“Nothing ever came in from underneath,” Skolnick said, adding that he has never had flood insurance.

Lili Witthoefft, owner of Lili Designs, a jewelry store at 40 Main St., seemed pleased when Nocera and Himes told her about the SBA loans.

“We can provide loans of up to $2 million to help a business get back on its feet,” Nocera said. “I have applications with me.”

“Did you suffer much damage?” asked Joseloff.

“It was all wet in here, the run and the sheetrock,” she said. “Even after I was open, it was sort of intermittent. I still had to take things out.”

Joseloff and KIngsbury told Himes that when Main Street had become flooded, coursing like a river, all of the power had to be turned off.

Local developer David Waldman pointed out that his building at 125 Main St. had suffered no damage.

“We had solid steel floodgates put in,” he said.

Others held the water back with sandbags, some more successfully than others.

As the tour ended, Himes said he hoped that businesses that need SBA loans would apply.

Joseloff agreed.

“It was a good tour,” Joseloff said. “Hopefully the people who need to will apply.”

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Posted 09/30/11 at 08:19 PM  Permalink



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