New York City Offers Loans for Blackout-Burned Businesses
BY Jess Blumberg
Mayor Bloomberg proposes $10,000 low-interest loans, but some small business owners say it’s not enough to cover damages from the 10-day power outage.
As record temperatures and humidity overwhelm New York City for the second time in a month, small businesses are weighing whether they will be properly compensated for loss and damages incurred during the last heat wave, when they suffered through a 10-day blackout.
On July 26, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would offer a $10,000 low-interest loan program for businesses, which many store owners feel is a good first step, but not nearly enough.
"Somebody should step up and do something that's more than a loan," said Charlie Cinquemani, owner of K & T Meat Market in Astoria, which saw nearly $30,000 of meat become spoiled due to lack of refrigeration. "I took on loss on top of loss and this is still something I'd have to pay back."
The blackout, which started July 17, was said to affect an estimated 100,000 residents and 750 businesses, which were without lights, refrigeration, and air conditioning on some of the hottest days of the year.
Consolidated Edison utility, which has come under scrutiny from local politicians and residents for its underestimation of the blackout, is allowing residents to claim $350 and businesses up to $7,000 worth of losses.
But, City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who represents Astoria, said that it is the least Con Ed can do for these businesses that are said to have lost millions of dollars.
"Con Ed is only looking to reimburse perishables, but these people lost income and mechanics, basically a week of their lives," he said. "They need to find a way to compensate for all of that."
Vallone is calling for a minimum of three months of free electricity for residents to get back on track and some business owners say that they need federal help.
Charles Marino, the fourth generation of his family to run Marino & Sons Fish Market, which is estimated to have lost $100,000 worth of equipment and product, said his business has been open for over 80 years and has never suffered like this.
"We don't need loans, we need FEMA to come down here and help us," he said. "We need the mayor to talk to the governor and declare this a disaster area."
In addition to the loans, the mayor presented a new ad campaign called Power Up Queens, encouraging residents to shop and eat in the borough in order to revamp some businesses.
The mayor's program comes after he received harsh criticism for praising Con Ed's performance at a City Hall news briefing on Monday, where local politicians, including Vallone, noticeably shook their heads and rolled their eyes in the background.
"Con Ed knew cables were out and they never gave people an estimate for the duration of the blackout," Vallone said. "Had people known, they could have closed their businesses or rented generators and the losses wouldn't be nearly as bad."
The state Public Service Commission said it planned a full investigation of the Queens blackouts, including four public hearings Aug. 9-10.
In addition, the Consumer Affairs Committee today will hold the first of several hearings to look into exactly what happened to cause the blackouts and Kevin Burke, Con Ed CEO, is said to be in attendance.
Meanwhile, the business owners of Queens have had their power back on since Wednesday, but many said operation is far from getting back to normal.
"Besides losing business for a week, people are now coming in and wondering if our merchandise is fresh," said Cinquemani. "Now we're dealing with the after effects."