Small business owners in Queens either spent Wednesday night, Sept. 1, navigating rapidly flooding basements or woke up Thursday morning, Sept. 2, to calls of devastating damage to their shops, as remnants of Hurricane Ida brought unprecedented and deadly rainfall to New York City.
The storm — which brought a record-setting 7.13 inches of rain in the city on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service — left at least 10 people dead in Queens, nine of whom were stranded in basements, according to authorities. While streets and subways flooded, businesses and their owners also suffered the brunt of the damage.
Lois Christie, owner of Christie & Co. Salon in Bay Terrace, said she woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday to calls from the cleaning crew, alerting her that her marble-floored salon was flooded and covered in mud.
Christie said that while there were loose cars floating along the large Bay Terrace Shopping Center’s parking lot, she was disheartened by what she said was a lack of communication and assistance from her landlord.
“We’ve never had a flood, not this kind, in years,” Christie said. “I haven’t seen one police officer or anybody else come. It’s disgraceful.”
Christie acted fast to cancel hundreds of appointments as they cleaned the large space equipped with hair, nail and spa services, but managed to open by noon with services cut at 30 percent. Their computers and phone lines were down until the early afternoon.
Christie said it’ll take several hundreds of thousands of dollars to fully fix the space, but it will take several days to assess the full scope of the damage, she said.
“To walk in and see this is heartbreaking. We’re all still trying to regroup from COVID and now this,” Christie said. “The impact of this to small businesses is going to be catastrophic and expensive.”
Queens Chamber of Commerce President Tom Grech said Queens businesses “need our help and support” after more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. He encouraged business owners to report storm damages using the Damage Assessment Tool provided by NYC Emergency Management.
“We appreciate the efforts of our elected officials, including Governor Hochul, Mayor de Blasio, Borough President Richards, Congress member Meeks and the team at New York City’s Department of Small Business Services, who immediately sprang into action to help families, communities and businesses in Queens and throughout New York recover,” Grech said. “We encourage all Queens-based businesses with questions or concerns to reach out to the chamber. We are here to assist you.”
Residents and business owners reported major flooding and cars left stranded on the highway in northeastern Queens, as well as the western end of the borough.
In Ridgewood, the roof of a cleaners business collapsed Wednesday night, but no one was injured, according to reports.
Just a street away on Myrtle Avenue, chef Kevin Lenis, owner of Cantina 33, was thankful that his fairly new restaurant fared just fine, as did his nearby neighbors.
“We didn’t get any flooding at all,” Lenis said.
The same couldn’t be said in Sunnyside, where dozens of businesses reported basement flooding and other damages.
Jamie-Faye Bean, executive director of Sunnyside Shines BID, said she heard from multiple business owners from Skillman Avenue to 48th Avenue who’ve sustained serious damage after the storm, particularly involving sewer backup.
“It’s a long, systemic issue in the neighborhood,” said Bean, who’s advising businesses on how to file insurance claims and conduct proper cleanups.
Bean added that some business owners say they haven’t seen damage on this scale for years.
“Some merchants have said this is worse than Sandy, in terms of western Queens,” Bean said.
Cynthia Iglesias, who owns La Adelita on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside with her mother, Maria, was still trying to mitigate the devastating disruption the storm caused as of Thursday afternoon.
Their restaurant’s basement flooded with sewer water Wednesday night as the storm raged on outside.
“I was upstairs. I knew it was running outside, but this is something that typically doesn’t happen in New York,” Iglesias said. “I don’t think I was prepared enough, but I’m subscribed to organizations to know what’s going on with mandates and guidelines.”
Iglesias had to be on FaceTime with a plumber who couldn’t get to them due to the weather, in order to try to fix the issue. The water seeped into their large cooler and the food inside, which they later had to throw away.
She also “risked her life” trying to disconnect appliances in the submerged basement, so as to not cause a fire.
“It was a really long night,” said Iglesias, whose basement apartment nearby also flooded. She’d been in the restaurant all night and day.
The New York City Department of Buildings sent out an advisory Thursday, warning building owners that heavy flooding conditions have the potential to cause structural damage, hazardous mold and deterioration of building electrical and gas plumbing systems. These conditions can pose a serious hazard to New Yorkers entering flood-damaged buildings.
All New Yorkers are encouraged to call 311 to report any unsafe building conditions in their neighborhood, and 911 for emergencies.
For Iglesias, the recent damage is just another blow in an already difficult year. In January, she had to close another restaurant in Long Island City, Corazon de Mexico, as the landlord refused to re-negotiate a $20,000 lease.
That debt along with recent pandemic-related violations from the health department, coupled with close to no aid from the federal government’s programs, leaves Iglesias feeling less and less motivated to be in the hospitality industry, she said.
“We’ve been struck down in so many ways, me and my mom,” Iglesias said. “Food has increased 200%, and expenses don’t end. But my mom says to stay positive.”
In Astoria, Beatrice Ajaero is also remaining positive, as she assesses the damage to her two businesses: Nneji, a restaurant on 34th Avenue, and Ibari, a shop on 23rd Avenue.
Ajaero said that while Nneji “weathered the storm,” the same couldn’t be said of Ibari.
Ibari, located on the ground floor of a 100-year-old building, is a quaint shop with a basement for storage. Ajaero, who lives on Roosevelt Island, found the basement submerged in 7 inches of water on Thursday morning.
“The [property] owner said there had only been three floods, two of them this year,” said Ajaero, clarifying that one of those floods came as a result of Hurricane Henri nearly two weeks ago. “It was more severe this time.”
Ajaero said it would have been beneficial for her and other business owners to have a more clear message about the kind of damage that a storm like Ida could bring, in order to prepare.
“August to September is always a critical time. The last thing you want is some sort of weather problem,” Ajaero said. “If I could have wished this one away, I would have. We didn’t need another hurdle.”
Ajaero, who also said it will take time to assess all the damage, said her commercial and residential neighbors continue to lend each other a helping hand where possible.
“You might for a second think it’s isolated — my space, my issue — but then you go up and see people are also going through it,” Ajaero said. “People are giving words of compassion to acknowledge we’re all affected by this. It’s encouraging to see.”