by Nina Boutsikaris
In March, two separate New York Times articles celebrated the reopening of the Red Hook Fairway for the first time since Sandy demolished the Brooklyn neighborhood, noting it as a symbol of the community's recovery as a whole. Other recent coverage of Red Hook has mimicked this sentiment, highlighting how the neighborhood has bounced back, how small businesses have come back to life, and how patrons are returning to this once burgeoning mecca for artisan craftsmen. Anyone would assume Red Hook is back to normal. In truth, it's not.
"I don't know what it would take to make everyone whole again," said Bianca Miraglia, the founder of Uncouth Vermouth who lost over $100,000 and her entire launch production in the storm. The restaurant's Home/made, Steve's Key Lime Pie, and Dry Dock Wine Shop are just a smattering of her neighbors who are also in the process of rebuilding their life savings from scratch. Miraglia works closely with Mark Snyder, the owner of Red Hook Winery, which is still under construction after taking on nearly nine feet of water. While Red Hook Winery has been able to reopen the tasting room, thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of wine has been lost. Snyder put everything he had into opening the winery, and now with no new wine available until next harvest, the future of the company is up in the air.
Miraglia recalls that after the storm FEMA representatives were wandering around Red Hook telling everyone to apply for loans through the Small Business Association (SBA). If you qualified for a $25k loan, Michael Bloomberg would match it with a $25k grant. In theory this is a wonderful offer and it did indeed help some get back on their feet. But what the SBA didn't say was that they base loan qualification on the applicant's recent tax returns. In other words, if you opened your business in 2012, as Red Hook Winery did, it's unlikely you'd qualify for a loan. The damage to the winery was almost $2 million and little assistance has been available.
Grassroots community effort has been the only other support. ReStore Red Hook, a non-profit organization founded by the owners of Home/Made, donated two $4k grants to help keep businesses in Red Hook. Community-organized meetings are also helping to bring together those who sustained losses and aid them in preparing for a future disaster.
"It's a very inspiring recovery to be involved in," said Miraglia, "even though the recovery itself can feel very defeating."
Statistically speaking, 40% of businesses affected by a natural disaster never reopen, so Red Hook is lucky to have business owners who won't quit. Most of those affected never had grandiose plans for their businesses to being with — they just want to provide their customers with good, sustainable products while continuing to uphold principles similar to Slow Food. The storm has made those plans much more difficult and maybe impossible for some. While it may seem to outsiders that Red Hook is back on track, the damages from Sandy have set it back years. Only time will tell how well the neighborhood will be able to recover and donations from individuals like you are the best way to support them. Visit ReStoreRedHook.org to find out how you can help.
Fighting for Sunny's - NYTimes.com
Nina Boutsikaris is a freelance writer and a Slow Food supporter with a taste for locavore cuisine.