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Op Ed: How We Can Help LES Proprietors Post-Sandy

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Many businesses on Clinton Street were shuttered for a full week after Hurricane Sandy hit the Lower East Side.

Thanks to Lo-Down reader and local resident, Kristin Anderson, for sending us her thoughts on the importance of supporting our community in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

I’m lucky. No personal damage. No property damage. A few days of discomfort and inconvenience. But once I had my power, heat and hot water back, and the dust from Hurricane Sandy had settled, I started to think about our neighborhood. Particularly our small business owners. Particularly those who lost not just a few days of business but a significant amount of perishable goods for which they had already paid. The major relief efforts are going to the people and places who suffered significant damage, as they should be. But that doesn’t mean that others didn’t take a blow. For those close to us, who is there to help them in a pinch?

Sure they can apply to FEMA, but that is really just for a small business loan, not reimbursement. And who knows how long it will take to get that processed. They can write off a business loss, but that is only a percentage of the cost so isn’t reimbursement either. But they had to buy replacement inventory, immediately, in order to re-open and serve us once again.

Forget the semantics; there is no difference between a small business and a small business owner. What hurts the business hurts the owner; the man or woman you know behind the counter. These are the people that make the LES my favorite part of NYC. Of the world. They are my extended support system, keep me fed, and keep my environment friendly and interesting. The convenience and variety they supply allow me to concentrate on my business and make my living (I work from home).

If I want the best fresh bagel and coffee, I don’t have to make them. If I want fresh flowers and produce I don’t have to grow them. I don’t have to go to Argentina to get a great empanada. Or upstate for a local cheese. Or Israel for hamantash. It’s all right here, within a block of home, in my hands within a few minutes. I rely on these people on a daily basis. And I am aware that right now they are caught in a financial squeeze. But I can’t do much about it on my own. I expect that others in the neighborhood may be feeling the same way.

There has been a lot of arguing in this neighborhood about whether to let in franchises, chains and “big box” stores in or remain a neighborhood of “Mom and Pops.” Now is the time to really show your support and help our local friends bounce back quickly with a little extra cash and a lot of good will.

Here is an idea to help them out. It is inspired by crowd-sourcing sites on the Internet, but without the administrative overhead and delays. And you get to decide where your contribution goes. It is simple. It only costs any individual a few extra dollars, but cumulatively it will add up for the proprietor and help tide him or her over. When you go into each of your favorite places, in addition to today’s purchase, pay for one item that spoiled last week. Or simply pay for the items you would have purchased over the past week but couldn’t because they were closed. Be a bit more generous on the tip for your favorite wait staff who rely on this income but lost a week. Let those who serve you regularly know that you appreciate their presence and don’t like to see them in a pinch.

Today I started by putting my money where my mouth is. I paid for a whitefish salad and some flowers that were thrown away last week. For lunch I will buy two empanadas, but only leave with one.  The list of establishments I will visit is long, so this should be a tasty weekend.

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