Madelaine struggles to reopen

Madelaine struggles to reopen
Photo by Karen Frantz
By Karen Frantz

The largest employer in the Rockaways, the Madelaine Chocolate Co., is hoping to reopen its doors in the next few months and rehire its workers after Hurricane Sandy ravaged its facilities, although one of the chocolatier’s owners says it is too early to tell what the future will bring.

“We’re very anxious to get everyone back as soon as we can,” said Norman Gold, Madelaine vice president and co-owner.

But, he added, “at this point we don’t really know what we can count on.”

Madelaine has produced chocolates for worldwide distribution at its Far Rockaway facilities, at 93-03 Beach Channel Drive, for more than 60 years. The day before the storm hit, the chocolatier employed about 450 people across its three adjacent facilities. Many of the employees were Rockaway residents and had been with the company for an average of 12 years.

But that changed with the storm. Gold said the floodwaters reached 3.5 feet high in the facilities, knocking out electricity and destroying much of the inventory, machinery and electronics.

“Whatever wasn’t tied down to the floor was floating around,” Gold said.

The buildings had to temporarily shut down and have been closed ever since. It was not until three weeks after the storm that the facilities had power restored and the cleanup could begin.

Gold said workers are still engaged in washing down the walls and mold remediation to bring the facility back to a state where it can safely produce food once again.

“We have to make sure the place is spotlessly cleaned,” he said.

Gold said the work has to be done in stages as finances permit. Madelaine suffered millions in dollars of damages from Hurricane Sandy, and although Gold said the business has received some insurance advances, he is unsure when and how much money it will receive as a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

But he said city officials have been reaching out to see how they can assist in getting the business back.

“They’re all very anxious to do whatever they can do,” Gold said. “Any help that they’re offering to us, they’re doing it with a good heart.”

The New York City Industrial Development Agency recently postponed to April from January the deadline for Madelaine’s payments in lieu of taxes for prior construction of their current building. The payment amount was for almost $155,000 — money Gold said can now be devoted to restoring Madelaine’s facilities and getting its employees back to work.

“That’s tremendously helpful,” Gold said.

But in the meantime, Gold said, the company is still a ways away from producing chocolate again. Although he hopes to be able to hire back all his former employees, he said a number of them also suffered personal damage in the storm and were dealing with having to put their lives back together without their jobs.

Some may need to move on before the chocolatier can reopen, Gold said.

“It’s a tough time for everyone,” he said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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