Tomorrow in Red Hook: A Neighborhood In The Midst of Economic Recovery Faces Setback After Sandy

This post originally appeared at Sandy Recovery, where my classmates and I are filing reporting and coverage of recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

FEMA, and other relief organizations, operate from the cafeteria of IKEA in Red Hook.

Once abandoned to vacant warehouses and crumbling streets, small businesses have prompted an economic resurgence in Red Hook. But can a neighborhood already in recovery pick itself up after Hurricane Sandy?

Low-interest federal loans and graham cracker crusts don’t seem to go hand in hand. But the message to customers, vendors, and potential donors on the homepage of Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, tells another story.

“We want to thank everyone who has donated to our recovery via our GoFundMe campaign,” reads the message. “We’ve got a long way to go, and every little bit helps. Again, our sincere thanks and gratitude.”

Adjacent to the water on the northwest edge of Brooklyn, Steve’s is just one of many

businesses in Red Hook that has closed indefinitely in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Unable to estimate when insurance claims will be processed, mold removed, and structures restored, many owners have been forced to tell their customers to “keep in touch.”

The damage is of serious concern in a neighborhood that was cut off from public transit and other services following the construction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in the 1950s and 60s. Nonetheless, Red Hook has been seeing an economic resurgence during the last decade, fueled in large part by small businesses opening their doors in the neighborhood.

Jose Manuel de Jesus, the Senior Business Advisor at NYC College of Technology, provides advice and educational resources to small businesses and entrepreneurs. He describes the growth in Red Hook over the past five to ten years as “tremendous.”

“We’ve seen more people opening business in general. A lot of them are mom-and-pop, some are bigger industrial businesses,” says de Jesus. “Specifically I’ve seen a lot more progress in areas where the streets are lit, the services are better, there’s better police protection.”

IKEA Plaza, Red Hook, Brooklyn. Businesses like the Swedish furniture giant and Fairway Market grocery store helped spur economic development in the once-depressed neighborhood.

In the weeks following the storm, de Jesus has been working from the cafeteria of IKEA in Red Hook, alongside representatives from other organizations that provide resources to small business owners. Together, they are helping those affected by the storm fill out applications for federal and city disaster loans—some of which total as much as $2 million at 4-percent interest—and answering questions about the financial recovery process.

“Some people naturally are going to be more traumatized than others,” he said. “But some people are going to tough it out and hang in there.”

Gregory O’Connell, of The O’Connell Organization, says keeping retail properties in the Red Hook neighborhood occupied could prove as challenging as getting small businesses back up and running.

“In terms of the rental market, people are definitely going to start thinking about ground-floor retail businesses,” says O’Connell. “[Tenants] may shy away from Red Hook now that this happened. That could be a challenge in the future for sure.”

The O’Connell Organization owns Red Hook Waterfront and other commercial and residential properties throughout Brooklyn.

Though he says that commercial anchors IKEA and Fairway Market will continue to provide the local economy with a strong foundation, for many small business owners, closing down may be the more affordable option.

“[Tenants] will either bite the bullet and try to get a loan, or pack up shop,” O’Connell said.

While many are focused on weathering the present, de Jesus says he is urging Red Hook business owners to make the future a priority as well.

“I’ll pull people aside and say ‘Look, I don’t really believe this is going to be a one-time event.’ That’s my personal opinion,” says de Jesus. “I think as a business advisor you need to mitigate for the next time. Maybe there are some things you can do with this money to prepare for the next storm, along with put the patch on it now. There’s got to be a tomorrow.”


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