Theresa Punzi looked through a box full of hair-styling supplies, putting them back into a cabinet. Behind her, the ear-splitting noise of a tile saw caused the walls of her beauty salon, Claudine’s, located at 162-26 Cross Bay Blvd to shake.
When Hurricane Sandy blew through the community on Oct. 29, the 5-foot storm surge that submerged Cross Bay Boulevard flooded businesses, including Claudine’s. The salon’s furniture, wood floor and equipment were all destroyed. Punzi, who owns the salon with her husband Vincent, said they were able to reopen as soon as the power came back — which still took over two weeks — but even more than a month later, the salon is still a construction site.
They are, however, open for business.
“We are serving customers,” Punzi said.
The beauty shop saw no damage on its recently renovated second floor and the chairs used to seat customers survived, but construction is ongoing. As of Monday, the establishment’s new tile floor is being put down and better days are ahead.
“We’re going to be doing a grand reopening soon,” Punzi said, noting her salon also was hit by a fire not long ago.
Lenny’s Pizza, was also damaged by fire, less than a year ago, and suffered extreme damage from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge. The waterline is still visible on the restaurant’s windows at the corner of Cross Bay Boulevard and 164th Avenue. Though a piece of plywood advertises that the pizzeria is open, the storefront was dark at dinnertime on Monday.
Lenny and Claudine’s stories are the rule far more than the exception on Howard Beach’s main commercial strip.
A few blocks north, Sean Heaphy’s business, Clearwater Pools, sits directly on Shellbank Basin, where the Cross Bay Boulevard flood originated from. His office was inundated with 5-feet of water and he lost his computers and furniture.
Heaphy said even though his office was destroyed, he was only out of business for a few days. Most of his vehicles were moved to Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park, far from the flood zone, and survived. He only lost one dump truck in the storm.
“I’ve basically been working in a shell,” he said.
Since the storm, his business has been busy responding to customers whose pools were in the flood zone.
“Some people had sewage in their pools, oil, salt water,” Heaphy explained. “I have customers whose filters, heaters were destroyed by the flood.”
He acknowledged that the time of the year made the effect on his business less severe.
“If this was summer, it would have been bad for me,” Heaphy said.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway) said the signs of progress in Howard Beach are encouraging, but acknowledged that “it’s a long, slow battle.”
For the first few weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit, the stores and their parking lots were relief and governmental staging areas, and the initial cleaning and lack of power forced most businesses to stay closed. A select few, such as Ragtime, were able to operate under generator power.
The chain stores — like Burger King, Staples and Starbucks — are able to get repaired quickly, he said, but for some of the smaller business, it is relatively difficult.
Smaller businesses are trying to operate while renovations go forward. However, some chain stores are still closed. The CVS below Gold’s Gym at 157th Avenue and Cross Bay Boulevard is gutted. The Gap’s local franchise has been closed since the hurricane as its inventory is restocked.
Goldfeder noted the situation is worse the farther south you go on the boulevard, though the floodwater damaged every business as far north as Matteo’s on the Belt Parkway.
“The entire boulevard from the Belt to the bridge was underwater,” Goldfeder said.
He added that the timing of the storm is cause for concern because many businesses on the boulevard see an uptick in business this time of year.
“Typically, these stores will make in a few months what they’ll make in most other months combined,” Goldfeder explained. “It’s very problematic that they’re not seeing this business now.”